AUGUSTA — The most hotly, and only, contested local race to be decided at the polls on Election Day next week is between two candidates who aren’t even on the ballot.

No candidates took out nomination papers to run for the Ward 2 school board seat in Augusta, but since the deadline to submit papers passed, two residents have announced they are running as write-in candidates for the spot.

Chris Clarke, a 30-year-old bus driver and football coach, and Sara Squires, a 38-year-old public policy director for a local nonprofit organization, both say they want the school board seat, have the qualifications and skills for it and want to help Augusta’s schools and students be successful.

Clarke, who lives on Eastern Avenue, said he wants to make the city’s schools the best in the state and he’d advocate, and search for, more funding for the schools. He suggested the city could save money by cutting some administrative assistant positions. And he said the school board needs to fight back against the City Council when councilors, who have final aproval authority over the total city and school budget, order cuts to the school budget.

“It’s time we look at kids as an asset to the community, as a long-term investment, I look at them as Augusta’s future,” he said. “We need to start saying no to the City Council, tell them it’s time to cut budgets elsewhere, instead of the school budget.”

Squires, who lives in the Mayfair neighborhood, said she had a positive experience attending Augusta schools herself and she wants to give back to the community. She said she is thoughtful and diplomatic and would work, as a school board member, to improve communication between the school system, parents and others in the community.

“School should be a positive and safe environment,” she said. “I think a lot of what the schools do that are positive, people don’t always know about. I’ll try to highlight and play up the good things being done. Communications can always be improved.”

Squires said important issues facing the school district include drugs, ensuring students are ready, when they graduate, to further their educations or enter the workplace; bullying; and, in her neighborhood, residents’ concern about overcrowding at Farrington Elementary School and the placement of students who otherwise would go to that school in one of Augusta’s three other public elementary schools. She said the best way to address those issues would be to gather as much information as possible by talking to parents, students, administrators and teachers, and make the best decision based on that information, as a team.

“I don’t think I, alone, can magically solve the problems people see in the district, but I believe I can be part of a group that provides, if not the solution, steps toward resolving outstanding concerns,” said Squires, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College in Massachusetts and a master’s degree in public policy and management from the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. “I’m a team player and can work collectively. I have the educational and professional background that I think makes me well-suited for this.”

Clarke, a Cony High School graduate who also attended Kennebec Valley Community College’s business school, said the biggest issue he sees facing Augusta’s schools is high teacher turnover, which makes it hard to keep quality teachers in the school system.

“How we address that is we stand up for our kids and start paying our teachers what they’re worth,” he said. “We’re losing teachers to districts just outside of Augusta. I’d go after grants for teacher retention and attack the City Council and say ‘Hey, this is our budget. We’re paying teachers what they’re worth. You figure it out on your end.’ I’m willing to ask the tough questions and get the tough answers. I’m not somebody who is going to lay down just because someone says you should vote this way. I’m going to talk to constituents, teachers, parents, and students, and I’m going to vote the way they want me to vote.”

Clarke said his 13 years as a youth sports coach, and raising his own two children, have given him valuable life experience that would serve him and the city well on the school board.

Squires said her educational background and work in public policy have given her strong analytical skills she could use to help make Augusta schools as good as they can be.

The Ward 2 Board of Education seat now is held by Deborah Towle, who will be forced from the seat by the city’s term limits rule, which restricts school board members to three consecutive three-year terms.

Running uncontested are incumbent Jennifer Day, at-large city councilor; incumbent Linda Conti, Ward 1 councilor; Eric Lind, Ward 4 councilor; Edward Hastings, chairman of the Board of Education; and Jason Bersani, at-large board member.

The election is scheduled for Tuesday.

Polls in Augusta will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., at four locations, including a Ward 1 location, at Buker Community Center at 22 Armory Street, which is a change from the normal polling place at the Augusta State Armory. Other polling locations are: Ward 2, Augusta City Center; Ward 3, Augusta Civic Center; and Ward 4, Cony High School.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj