At the town election on March 12, Harpswell voters will choose either Ryan Larsen or Tyler Washburn to serve a three-year term on the Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors. While the election will go on, the business portion of the annual town meeting will not. Because of COVID-19 concerns, the select board opted for a town meeting by referendum on April 23.
The select board had hoped to have an in-person town meeting this year for the first time since 2019, but decided that the pandemic continues to make the gathering an unnecessary risk.
The school board race is the only competitive one on the March ballot. Voters also will elect a member of the select board, a tax collector and a town clerk, all for three-year terms.
The March 12 ballot also includes one referendum question, regarding the town’s annual contribution to Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. The agreement between the town and the library calls for a contribution of $159,089, an increase of $4,182 or 2.7% over the 2021 number.
Harpswell residents, taxpayers, business owners, school employees and town employees are eligible for free library cards at Curtis Memorial.
The polls will be open at Harpswell Community School from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, March 12. Absentee ballots are available from the town office and can be requested in person or by phone.
Ryan Larsen says he would bring an open mind and a collaborative approach to the Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors, where he would seek to improve on the board’s relationship with teachers.
Larsen, of Harpswell Neck, has three daughters in MSAD 75 schools — one each at Harpswell Community School, Mt. Ararat Middle School and Mt. Ararat High School. The family moved to Harpswell in 2010, the year before his oldest started kindergarten.
“We are incredibly happy that this is the school system that they’re in,” Larsen said. “We’re big proponents of public school.”
Larsen thinks his calm demeanor and his professional experience with finance and leadership would serve the community well.
“I want to hear opposing points of view. I want to listen to other people,” he said.
“I definitely like to work with others and interact well with others and welcome a team dynamic,” he added.
In his career with L.L. Bean, Larsen manages multimillion-dollar budgets. “I have experience with setting financial goals, meeting those financial goals and managing throughout the course of time to deliver upon those financial goals,” he said.
“I lead large teams of people,” he said, and a group like the 14-member school board needs members who can help lead it toward consensus.
“For me, leading is a lot about listening and being empathetic and finding common ground,” he said.
Larsen wants the board to develop “a more collaborative relationship with the teachers,” as well as administrators and staff, he said. The board-faculty relationship is “not as healthy” as he would like to see. He believes the board should listen to teachers and empower them.
He wants to make sure the schools are welcoming places where students and employees can “come 100% as who they are and be very comfortable,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the board debate mask-wearing and other protocols. Larsen said that when questions of public health come to the board, he will prioritize the safety of students and employees.
“I think that it’s pretty clear what measures we can take to ensure safety. I applaud the board for taking those steps this year,” he said. “What it’s done is, it has allowed our kids to stay in school.” He said he would “listen to the experts” on such issues.
Larsen said that the board has “seen some challenges” around how members interact with one another, but thanked members for recent efforts to be more productive and respectful.
He said it is important for members to listen to each other, even if they come to different conclusions; and to adhere to the board’s code of ethics, which says members “will support a decision graciously once it has been made by the majority of the Board.”
He expressed interest in the board’s finance and curriculum committees. “There’s lots of hot-button issues across the country that school boards are dealing with and having a seat at the table to participate in those discussions would be something I would like,” he said of the latter.
Larsen said it is not the right time to consider a proposal by his opponent, Tyler Washburn, to cut the size of the 14-member board in half. “I think that having fewer people to do the same amount of work isn’t going to help that work get done,” he said.
The Harpswell Democratic Committee is supporting Larsen in the race. Larsen said that he welcomes support from Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. He is not enrolled in a party.
He said that he has spoken with Harpswell Democrats at their meetings and has reached out to Republicans through Stephen “Bubba” Davis, a candidate for the Maine House of Representatives.
“I’m not a political person whatsoever,” Larsen said. “I’m a parent. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Larsen grew up in a small college town in South Dakota. “My mother and stepfather were both in education,” he said, working at the college. Larsen graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in zoology.
He moved to Maine in 2001 and worked at a ski shop in Bangor, where he met his future wife, Dustan. In 2010, he took a job at the L.L. Bean Bike, Boat & Ski store in Freeport, and the family moved to Harpswell.
He now works in merchandising and product development for L.L. Bean. He focuses on sporting equipment, advising the retailer on what products to carry from other brands and what products to develop itself.
Larsen likes to spend time outdoors with his family. They ski almost every weekend from Thanksgiving through March. In the summer, they spend time on the water — boating, fishing, paddleboarding — or doing other outdoor activities, like biking and camping.
Last summer, they set out on a nine-week road trip, hitting 17 national parks in their camper. “That was probably one of the most special experiences I’ll have in my life, getting to spend that time with my kids,” he said.
Tyler Washburn says he is running for the Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors because he is passionate about providing the best education the community can afford to its next generation of students.
Washburn was a Bowdoin representative to the board from 2018-2021 and chair of the board in 2019. He resigned from the board in January 2021 because he moved to Orr’s Island.
Washburn chaired the board at a “pretty tumultuous” time, he said. The chair rotates between the district’s four towns. When the board removed Washburn’s fellow Bowdoin representative as chair, he took over and became the youngest chair in board history.
Washburn tried to play a unifying role. During contract negotiations, the teachers union encouraged supporters to wear red in a show of solidarity. Washburn said that he and Vice Chair Linda Hall asked the board to wear red too.
“We called around to every one of the board members and said, ‘We should show our teachers that we support them,'” he said.
Washburn is proud of his advocacy for the food service program.
“I was on free and reduced lunch for a lot of my childhood,” he said. “I’m very passionate about making sure all kids have access to a good meal, because if kids are hungry, they’re not learning.”
When schools shut down early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the district set up state-funded sites for meal pickup in each of its four towns. When the state told the district to close its Bowdoinham site, Washburn pushed back.
He convinced the board to fund the Bowdoinham site itself. The state later backtracked and agreed to cover the cost. The day the site reopened, he said, it handed out 1,800 meals.
Washburn said that when faced with questions about COVID-19 protocols, such as mask-wearing, he will turn to the superintendent for direction.
“We hire a superintendent to be our educational leader, and I think that part of the problem that we’ve had is that we don’t allow our superintendent to do his job,” he said.
He added that he is “not running for the school board because of COVID-19 policies,” but instead wants to focus on the future of the district.
Washburn has proposed to reduce the size of the board from 14 members to seven. The reduction would maintain the balance between the four towns and improve efficiency, he said.
Growing up, Washburn moved often before settling in Bowdoin when he was in middle school. He graduated from Mt. Ararat High School in 2011.
Washburn benefited from excellent teachers throughout his time in MSAD 75, both academically and personally. “SAD 75 helped make me the person I am today and I want to make sure that the kids today have the same opportunities to succeed and grow,” he said.
Washburn was active in student government and, for two years, was a student representative to the school board. During this time, he worked with fellow students to save Mt. Ararat’s German program from budget cuts during the recession.
He attended the University of Maine at Orono and the University of Maine at Farmington before leaving college for a job as a committee clerk at the State House.
Washburn has held posts with the Republican Party, including two stints as chair of the Bowdoin Republican Committee. He resigned in 2016 after state Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, lost her primary to Guy Lebida, R-Bowdoin, a conservative challenger backed by then-Gov. Paul LePage.
Washburn criticized LePage for his involvement and Lebida for his tactics, The Times Record reported at the time. He predicted that Lebida’s victory had handed the seat to Democrats, and Lebida lost to Arrowsic Democrat Eloise Vitelli in November.
Washburn called the episode “ancient history.” He described himself as a moderate Republican, but said he is not active in party politics.
He works as a deputy town clerk and assistant tax collector for the town of Topsham, a job he finds rewarding. “Being an elections official, I try to step back from the partisan side of things,” he said.
Washburn said he was disappointed to see the Harpswell Democratic Committee support a candidate for school board — his opponent, Ryan Larsen. “For me, politics should stop at the schoolhouse door, especially at the school board level,” Washburn said.
“I think our schools — if we get past the talking points, we get past what’s on cable news, and we get back to the basics — are the things that really unite all of us in the community, and I think that’s really important,” he said.
He thinks board members often fail to listen to each other and decide how they will vote before meetings, but he pledged to do neither. Even if he disagrees with a colleague, he said, “I can learn something about my own position and maybe understand it a little better by hearing where you’re coming from.”
Washburn enjoys hiking and kayaking, as well as history and reading.