Two incumbent members of the Winthrop School Board are running for re-election as their three-year terms come to a close, while a third candidate who hasn’t held public office before says that he’d bring a fresh perspective to the group.

The election comes as School Board members try to balance the financial challenges facing the town of Winthrop, including a $1.5 million deficit, with their ambition to make the local schools the best in the state.

It also comes during a period of friction between School Board members and the Town Council about several things, including the origin of that deficit, the amount of funding that should flow to the School Department, and the procedures that town and school officials should use to communicate with each another.

The chairwoman of the School Board, Virginia “Ginny” Geyer, and the vice-chairwoman, Kristin Shumway, are both former educators who are finishing their second three-year terms and running for re-election.

The third candidate, Stephen Farrington, is an advertising salesman for Turner Publishing, a company that produces direct-mail publications for towns around central and western Maine.

The election will be held on Nov. 7. On the ballot, voters will be asked to choose two of the three candidates.

Both Shumway and Geyer said they would like to continue the work they’ve already been doing to help teachers and administrators improve students’ test scores, while also offering a range of courses and activities. For several years, Winthrop students have achieved some of the best standardized test scores in central Maine.

Shumway and Geyer also said that the School Department has improved its finances in the six years they’ve been on the School Board. The department’s budget this year is $11.1 million, down 1 percent from last year. In 2015-2016, the district paid $11,969 per student, which is below the state’s average per student cost of $12,939.

Shumway, 42, has two children in the Winthrop schools. She used to teach middle and high school history in her home state of Massachusetts. After moving to Maine for her husband Peter’s job as a dentist, she now does part-time accounts payable work at his office, Evergreen Dental Associates, in Augusta.

She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Franklin & Marshall College and a teaching certification from Millersville University. Both schools are in Pennsylvania.

Given her teaching background, Shumway said, she is able to represent the views of educators when the School Board makes its programming and spending decisions. As a parent and former member of the parent-teacher association, she also sees the value in providing the best education to local children and has carefully researched changes, such as later start times, that the district is now considering, she said.

“I had to reflect long and hard about why I wanted to” run for re-election, she said. “It’s no secret that this past year has been difficult. It comes down to, I have such a great sense of pride for Winthrop. … I was very involved with PTA. I worked hard to make sure they succeeded, and I carry that in everything I do, especially School Board. It really is a part time job. … I don’t think anyone can question my dedication.”

Geyer, who declined to provide her age, is now retired after teaching physical education and health, and coaching sports for 39 years in the Winthrop schools. For about 35 years, she also worked as a flight instructor out of Augusta State Airport, and for some of that time, she co-owned a hot-air balloon business. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from University of Maine at Orono.

“I think I have a passion and experience and expertise in education, and because I’m retired, I’m able to donate quite a lot of extra time towards continuously involving curriculum and staff (in a way) that helps students’ future successes within financial realities,” Geyer said. “And I have to say that I love teaching anybody anything, whether adults or students.”

Geyer said that a strategic plan has guided the School Board’s decision-making, but that the district still has not accomplished all of its goals while she’s been a board member, such as attracting and retaining more skillful staff, providing robust teacher development and continuing to boost student enrollment.

One fiscal challenge that is facing the School Department is an initiative by Governor Paul LePage to regionalize educational services around the state, according to both Geyer and Shumway. The Winthrop schools already have integrated some services, such as special education and transportation, with about a dozen other schools in western Maine, Geyer said, so the department is now researching how those efforts can be recognized in any consolidation efforts.

“What’s happened with Winthrop is our superintendent has been so frugal and so efficient with the budget thats he’s already investigated, and the School Board has already investigated, many of these options,” Geyer said.

Some residents and Town Councilors have argued that the School Department has not kept its finances in check, given that the $1.5 million shortfall now facing the town originated when the School Department’s revenues were miscalculated two years ago. They think that Gary Rosenthal, superintendent of the School Department, should have caught the discrepancy.

But Rosenthal and members of the School Board, including both Shumway and Geyer, have said that the town has not clearly communicated what revenues are flowing to the School Department, and that municipal officials should have caught the error. After it was discovered, Rosenthal also accused the town of owing the School Department more than $500,000 for two unrelated reasons, but later walked back one of those accusations.

Shumway, Geyer and other School Board members renewed Rosenthal’s contract late last year and have praised his performance, even as the Town Council held a vote of no-confidence in him. More recently, Geyer accused councilors of harassing Rosenthal when they questioned him at some meetings, and she asked councilors to submit their requests of Rosenthal to the School Board first.

Some councilors, as well as Town Manager Ryan Frost, have said that new protocol will hinder the open communication and transparency of local government.

The third candidate in the upcoming election, Stephen Farrington, who is 34 and has a 7-year-old daughter in the school system, described himself as “the change” candidate. He didn’t submit a photograph to the Kennebec Journal by deadline for this article.

Farrington has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Thomas College. Prior to working as an advertising salesman, he said that he also worked in restaurants.

While he used to be a vice president in the local parent-teacher association, he said that he has stepped away from those responsibilities to have more time to look after his daughter. He volunteers for Winthrop Area Rotary and is active with several area business groups, he said.

Farrington also has a criminal conviction on his record.

In 2015, an Androscoggin County court found him guilty on a charge of unlawfully furnishing a scheduled drug, for an incident that happened in summer 2012, and sentenced him to six months in jail, according to the Sun Journal. Most of that sentence — all but five days — was suspended, and Farrington was on probation for two years, the newspaper reported.

In an interview, Farrington didn’t go into detail about that conviction, but he also didn’t dispute it.

“There’s not a lot to say,” he said. “Things happen. People are in the situations they are in.” Now, he continued, “I’ve cleaned up my act. I try to be involved with the community. I try to help and make a difference and stay active and work hard. We’re involved with sports. I volunteer around town. I volunteer in other towns.”

Farrington is running for School Board, he said, because “I heard that there was a spot open and I’d never done anything like that before. I know all the problems that have been going on with the School Board, and I’d like to know more about what is happening, and I’d like to make a difference. I’d like to know what I can do to help straighten things out.”

While Farrington doesn’t know how the School Department ended up with its current deficit, he said, “I think I can bring some change. I’m from the outside. Whether some stuff isn’t true or some stuff is true, I’m not necessarily on anyone’s side. I’m going to go in there with an open mind.”

But, Farrington added, his friends have also told him “the School Board was primarily responsible for” the funding error, and “I think that’s why it’s their responsibility to clean the mess up.”

Farrington said the School Board should work more with the PTA to raise supplemental funding for extracurricular activities, he said. It should also focus on preserving arts programs, trying to keep better records, and improving its relationship with the Town Council, he said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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