Three candidates are running for two of Harpswell’s seats on the Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors. Voters will choose among incumbent Eric Lusk and challengers William “Bart” Beattie and Gregory Greenleaf in the March 11 town election. Beattie is running as a write-in candidate after incumbent Margaret “Greta” Warren withdrew from the race. Warren’s name will still appear on the ballot.
(Editor’s note: Gregory Greenleaf writes the “Lost on a Loop Trail” humor column for the Harpswell Anchor.)
Polls will be open at Harpswell Community School from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 11. The town business meeting begins at 10 a.m. March 8 is the deadline to request an absentee ballot from the town clerk.
William ‘Bart’ Beattie
Beattie thinks the school board has been pretty dysfunctional in the last several years. The rapid turnover in superintendents — the district is now looking for its fifth in five years — is “a pretty good indication that the board is not able to come together,” he says.
He wants to help set the board on a new path. Beattie believes the school board can work better if its members are committed to working together productively. That means that members will trust one another and be ready to hold each other accountable, he says.
Changing the board culture will be hard work, Beattie says. But he describes himself as a pragmatic consensus builder. He thinks the board needs more people who believe in working together, as he does.
Beattie also thinks his experience working in mental health services will be an asset if he is elected. A social worker, Beattie spent most of his career working in the area of behavioral health with children and families. He moved into administrative roles with the counseling and behavioral health company Pathways Human Services, eventually becoming its chief operating officer. He is now vice president of operations for SaVida Health, an addiction treatment company.
From that work, he knows that addressing the needs of individual children and families has to be balanced against budgets and policies. “When it comes down to it, it’s how do you meet the needs of the individual in a way that you’re also making sure nobody else gets left out,” he says.
Beattie spoke to the Anchor only a few days after he announced he would run for the school board as a write-in candidate. That followed Margaret “Greta” Warren’s decision to withdraw from the race. Voters will need to write his name in, as he will not appear on the ballot.
He says he had considered running for school board for years but was never sure that he had the time or energy for the campaign or the board itself. His decision was helped by a group of people who encouraged him to run and offered to help him campaign. Beattie says his supporters see him as like-minded with Warren.
He acknowledges that he still has a lot to learn about the school board’s operation. He did not know what the board’s committees are, although he says he can see himself working on mental health issues and board bylaws.
He is not certain what the board’s current priorities are. Beattie thinks recruiting and keeping a superintendent should be the biggest priority at the moment. He sees that process as being not just about finding a good leader, but also supporting that person with resources and guidance so they feel empowered to do the job.
He also wants to make sure MSAD 75 is paying its teachers competitively so it doesn’t lose them to other districts.
Beattie says he will welcome parents’ input as a school board member. More than a decade ago, he was part of efforts to convince MSAD 75 not to close the West Harpswell School, where he had two daughters at the time. So he understands, he says, how emotional parents can feel about district decisions that impact their children.
He also believes that both parents and board members need to be respectful and constructive when they interact. “We live in a community and we have to make compromises,” Beattie says. He wasn’t happy with the decision to close West Harpswell School, but he accepted it.
All four of Beattie’s daughters have attended MSAD 75 schools. His three oldest graduated from Mt. Ararat High School, while his youngest attends the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland after graduating from Mt. Ararat Middle School.
Having four children showed him how different every kid’s needs are. Knowing that, he wants to make sure district schools have the resources they need to accommodate and support each unique student.
Beattie has lived in Harpswell for 15 years, and before that in Topsham. He grew up in Winthrop.
Beattie likes spending time on the water, and kayaks year-round. He is a cross-country skier and a hiker, both in Baxter State Park with his daughters and on treks in the Himalayas. Recently he has also been renovating his home.
Greenleaf has spent the last 25 years working as a teacher. He says his own teaching philosophy matches MSAD 75’s: to give students skills and perspectives that will let them lead meaningful lives. He thinks his classroom experience will help the school board meet that ambitious goal.
“It involves the three R’s, but also the social-emotional tools that come with growing up and making those decisions that lead to a satisfying life,” he says. “The three R’s” is a colloquial description of the basic academic skills reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.
Greenleaf supports Mt. Ararat High School’s Community Pathways program, introduced last year, which gives students opportunities to make connections and build job skills with community partners.
Greenleaf can tell that the students in his classrooms are growing up in a very different environment than previous generations. Smartphones give them easy access to all kinds of information and opinions. Trying to stop them from reading or seeing something is a lost cause, he says. Instead, he wants to make sure students learn to think critically about what they encounter.
He also knows that many students today are dealing with mental health challenges. He wants to make sure they get the resources they need. “Kids are not going to learn if they’re not coming to school because they’re anxious or depressed,” Greenleaf says.
Another goal of Greenleaf’s is ensuring the district is inclusive for all students, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality or socioeconomic status. He recalls a recent school board meeting in which a mother described a racist incident her Black child experienced at Mt. Ararat Middle School.
He says the school board’s student representatives — Daria “Dasha” Yushkouski and Kristina Roscoe — said they have also witnessed intolerance and racism. According to Greenleaf, some MSAD 75 students feel like staff and teachers don’t take these incidents seriously. That’s something he would try to change: “They need to know it is a big deal.”
Greenleaf thinks the district needs to find stability in the superintendent position after going through six superintendents in five years. Among other things, he says, a longer-lasting superintendent would allow MSAD 75 to write a strategic plan outlining educational goals, something he thinks the district needs. Current Superintendent Steve Connolly has also called for a strategic plan, although he announced in February that he would resign at the end of the school year.
To be most effective, Greenleaf says, that plan should be revisited every several years. And he wants to ensure that all stakeholders have a chance to contribute to that strategic vision, especially parents who may not have been included in such efforts in the past.
When it comes to the district budget, Greenleaf values efforts to cut costs, but he also wants MSAD 75 to offer competitive salaries for positions from bus drivers to teachers, so the district can ensure students’ needs are met at all levels.
If elected, Greenleaf would like to start by joining the board’s curriculum and policy committees. He sees those as the places he’d have the most opportunity to help students succeed.
Greenleaf teaches English at Greely High School in Cumberland and he lives in Cundy’s Harbor. He has two daughters currently in MSAD 75 schools, which he says also motivated him to run: “I’m very invested in making sure that they have a really good-quality education.” Serving on the board, he says, would be one way he can contribute to their education, as well as the education of other Harpswell students.
He sees the school board as a new way for him to get involved in his community. Previously, he has served as chair of the Harpswell Community School Parent-Teacher Organization and as chair of the Harpswell Democrats, and he works as a trail steward for the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.
He thinks his sense of humor, his preference for building consensus, and his “Yankee work ethic” will all make him an effective school board member.
Greenleaf likes to write, hunt ducks with his dog, play basketball with his daughters, walk on the Cundy’s Harbor and Bethel Point roads, and go out to dinner with his wife.
Lusk, first elected in 2020, wants to make sure MSAD 75 is using taxpayer dollars most efficiently to address students’ needs. He is running for his second term on the school board.
A financial advisor who has lived in Harpswell since 2012, Lusk says the district’s growing budget compelled him to run for the first time in 2020. Annual financial reports show the town’s share of the MSAD 75 budget was about $2.23 million more for the 2021-22 school year than the 2011-12 school year, far above the inflation rate over the same decade.
“That leads to a big property tax squeeze on senior citizens,” Lusk says. Lusk answered the Anchor’s questions by email.
Town and state records show Harpswell’s property tax rate grew from $5.80 per $1,000 of value in 2011 to $6.76 in 2021, before falling to $5.90 in 2022, after townwide adjustments in property values. Lusk says the number of Harpswell students in MSAD 75 schools fell by almost one-third between 2011 and 2021, even as spending increased.
At the same time, Lusk says, the district’s scores in national assessments have fallen, especially in math and science proficiency. And he says he hears from the district on a weekly basis about a mental health crisis in Maine schools. “Is the product of all that funding to get lots of unhappy kids with declining scores?” Lusk asks.
For Lusk, a key question is how to meet students’ academic and mental health needs with adequate staffing while making sure spending is both sustainable and productive.
Lusk thinks the district’s payroll may be one place to look for solutions. He says he will continue the calls he made in his first term for a district-wide personnel review. Lusk wonders if MSAD 75 employs too many non-teaching employees, and if some jobs could be outsourced.
He also wants the district to make sure that students are spending their time on useful subjects. He says, “Discussing the social and political issues of the day have a place within an educational structure but there’s such a thing as diminishing marginal returns on pretty much any non-academic issue.”
He believes there is a culture war happening in schools, saying that in his first term there were several occasions when parents were not appropriately notified before their children were given certain material. He thinks an effective school board must communicate clearly with the superintendent about how to execute district policies. The district had three different superintendents during Lusk’s first term, and he says such instances occurred under all three.
Lusk also continues to question the district’s decision to close schools to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. He does not believe that the risks to health outweighed the costs to students in terms of learning and mental health. He says he repeatedly brought motions before the board to reopen schools as soon as possible.
If MSAD 75 parents got more involved with advocating for school policies, he says, they could help the district deliver a better education for students.
From his own childhood in a rural community, Lusk remembers when public school provided not only a place for him to learn and dream about his future, but also a place he relied on for clean drinking water and a shower. He says he never forgets that there are MSAD 75 students who need their schools as much as he once needed his.
Lusk currently serves on the school board’s contract negotiations, budget, and policy committees. He would like to continue on those committees in a second term. He highlights the importance of the policy committee. Its work is sometimes overlooked, he says, but it sets the rules for how the school district is and isn’t supposed to function, and ensures that district policies align with state and federal policies.
He says his experience as a financial advisor helps him grapple with the district’s budget. And it has given him experience telling people things they might not want to hear. “I’m perfectly comfortable telling someone if their money is not being spent effectively,” says Lusk, who says he’s not afraid of unpopular opinions.
Lusk grew up in rural Colorado and suburban Connecticut, and moved to Maine in 2001. He has worked as a financial advisor since 1997, currently for Dow Wealth Management in Falmouth. He has not put kids through MSAD 75, but says his wife graduated from Mt. Ararat and served as a student representative to the school board during her time there.
He volunteers with the Maine Federal Credit Union and Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue, is a member of the Portland Rotary Club, and chairs the Insurance Committee of the Orr’s-Bailey Yacht Club. Lusk says he likes sailing, swimming, skiing, golf, watching high tide at the Giant’s Stairs, and history.
Correction: An earlier version of this article online and on Page 1 of the March edition incorrectly reported Lusk’s role with the Orr’s-Bailey Yacht Club. He does not serve on the board; he chairs the club’s Insurance Committee.