Each of the candidates running for two open seats on the Winthrop Board of Education has a unique connection to the school district.

One of the three, Joseph Pietroski, is just completing his third term on the school board and believes that continuity of experience would prove an asset to the board.

Another candidate, Margaret “Meg” Cook, recently retired after teaching Latin and French at Winthrop High School since 1973 and thinks her understanding of the needs inside the classroom would help her make informed choices for the district.

The third candidate, Jane Precourt, moved to Winthrop about 10 years ago and has two students currently enrolled in the school system. She also has served as co-chairwoman of the parent teacher association and mentioned several areas she’d like the board to focus on.

But while the candidates said they were running for different reasons, all agreed on one thing: that the district might need to hire a third party to review the school budgets proposed for the town in coming years.

In August, local officials discovered that a budgeting error made in 2015 left the district with a shortfall of about $700,000 this year. Officials accidentally counted twice a roughly $700,000 revenue item, a mistake that numerous officials, administrators, school board members and an auditor failed to recognize. Among the solutions Superintendent Gary Rosenthal has proposed is hiring a third party accounting service to give future budget proposals an added layer of scrutiny.

Pietroski, 69, the current school board member, agreed with that proposal and said it would not be costly.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we’ve all learned a lesson,” Pietroski said. “We can’t be complacent ever. The figures were given to us, and we never noticed the error. We regret that.”

But Pietroski said he is happy with the way the district has responded to the mistake. Rosenthal has declined to place public blame and found ways to make up for the shortfall without increasing local taxes or eliminating programs — although the district has instituted a spending freeze.

As a school board member, Pietroksi called himself “the continuity candidate” and said he likes to ask questions about any decision the school board makes. Though he didn’t want to take all the credit, Pietroski said the district has earned national recognition for its improvements during his time on the board. Pietroski, who has a son with autism, said he is proud of improvements the district made in its special education offerings in recent years.

Pietroski wants to continue making such improvements, and he also put forward one of his own goals for the district’s curriculum: offering enough college-level courses to allow high school students to complete a year of college before they even graduate, improving the quality of their education and sparing them the cost of one year’s tuition.

Cook, 65, the retired language teacher — as well as Precourt — agreed about the need for another set of eyes to review future school budgets.

But Cook declined to propose any big changes for the district, saying she instead wants to make connections and familiarize herself with its workings before doing so. Cook was president of the Winthrop teachers’ union for several years and said the administrative experience she acquired in that role would serve her well on the six-member school board.

She and Pietroski also said they support the strategic plan, a document established by the board in recent years that lays out the district’s goals and is meant to inform any curriculum, policy and spending decisions.

“You have to prioritize,” Cook said. “What are the most important things now? That’s where the strategic plan can guide us, if we feel like we don’t know what to do, or I feel like I don’t know what to do.”

As a retired teacher, Cook said she is generally supportive of putting more money toward teacher salaries. Cook also said she would like the district to do more to get students to think about careers in teaching, as the pool of teachers in central Maine is shrinking and she thinks that could help some local students stay in the area when they graduate.

Precourt, 47, has a daughter who attends Winthrop Middle School and a son at Winthrop Grade School. She also has worked as a grade school teacher and served in a number of volunteer roles with the local schools, including as co-chairwoman of the Winthrop parent-teacher association.

She identified three areas she’d like to focus on as a school board member.

To ensure the district is providing the best education to its students, Precourt said she would like to ensure that a range of subjects are offered and that students who want to take classes in areas such as arts and music can do so. Precourt also said the district should be vigilant about ensuring the safety of students at school and on digital devices.

“We recognize the need to get a kid a jacket if they’re cold,” she said. “We want to find ways to take care of the whole child.”

To attract younger teachers, Precourt said, the school board should consider offering more competitive salaries and working with local officials to promote economic development in town to make Winthrop a more appealing place for college graduates.

A third area Precourt said she would focus on as a school board member is communicating more with area residents.

“I feel like the school board could better utilize community experience in ways not represented on the school board,” Precourt said.

For example, she said, there might be a local accountant who — if he or she knew more about the goings-on in the school district — might volunteer to help with the budget. Or there might be someone who has marketing experience would could help the town promote itself better, Precourt said.

“I think I can reach out to people in community to fill in some blanks,” she said.

Each of the two school board terms up for a vote will be three years. Milton Hadley, who holds one of those seats, is not running for re-election.

On Nov. 8, there also will be two uncontested races on the Winthrop ballot.

The terms of Town Councilors Barbara Buck and Richard Henry are ending, and both are running for re-election to the council for three-year terms.

There are also three candidates for three seats on the Bailey Public Library Board of Trustees: Mary Jane Auns, Rita Moran and Maureen Whitestone.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker


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