Superintendent Xavier Botana and Board of Public Education Chair Emily Figdor issued the following statements regarding city voters’ rejection of Question 5. The vote was 18,139 votes or 57.6 percent against that change to the City Charter and 13,341 or 42.4 percent in favor, according to unofficial results from the City Clerk’s office. Question 5 would have given the Board of Public Education the authority to set the bottom line of the school budget prior to submitting it to Portland voters for ratification.
“I am disappointed that this Charter change did not win approval,” Superintendent Botana said. “I continue to believe that this change would be best for public education in Portland. Moving forward, however, the district and Board remain committed to working with the City Council to achieve a responsible budget each year that responds to what our community needs. We hope that the issues highlighted during the debate on Question 5 will spur councilors to engage with us in that work, and seek to better understand the educational implications of the financial decisions they are empowered to make.”
Botana continued, “I am grateful to Rep. Michael Brennan, co-chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, who has committed to work with the Board and Council to help ensure that Maine’s largest and most diverse school district gets the financial support it needs.”
Chair Figdor said, “Meaningful change is hard to make. Question 5 would have been a game-changer for our schools. But we’re undeterred in our work to create a more equitable school district, and we’ll do our best advocating for our students and schools with the City Council. I want to thank the Charter Commission for its hard work—in particular to try to better structure our local government to prioritize public education.”
Election results for District 3 and at-large seats
Botana and Figdor also congratulated Julianne Opperman, who was elected to a three-year term for the District 3 Board of Public Education seat. Opperman bested Adam Burk, who currently holds that seat and is the Board’s vice chair, and another challenger, Samuel Rosenthal. Opperman garnered the most votes on Election Day, Nov. 8, winning 2, 861 votes or 46.25 percent to Burk’s 2,525 votes or 40.82 percent and Rosenthal’s 800 votes or 12.93 percent. However, because Opperman did not receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the contest went to a rank choice runoff on Nov. 9. The results show Opperman as the winner with 3,228 votes or 54.7 percent. Burk received 2,672 or 45.3 percent.
“I welcome Ms. Opperman to the Board and look forward to working with her as we continue the important work of creating a more equitable school system,” Superintendent Botana said. “I also wish to express my deep gratitude to Adam Burk for their three years of service on the Board, where they have been a dedicated and tireless advocate for students.”
Figdor said: “It’s hard to lose Adam, especially as we move into a superintendent transition. Adam contributed so much over the last three years and was a leader on the Board. I welcome Ms. Opperman and look forward to working with her to achieve the Portland Promise.”
Figdor and Botana also congratulated two Board members currently holding two at-large seats – Ben Grant and Sarah Lentz – for being elected to new three-year terms. Grant and Lentz faced no opponents on the ballot. Lentz won 18,219 votes or 44.58 percent and Grant received 17,107 or 41.86 percent, according to unofficial tallies from the City Clerk’s office.
Both Grant and Lentz were elected this past June to fill seats vacated by two at-large Board members who stepped down from the Board last fall after being elected to the Portland City Council. When Grant and Lentz won those at-large seats in June, only six months remained in the terms for the two seats, so both had to run again Nov. 8 for new three-year terms.
“In just a short time on the Board, Sarah and Ben have shown themselves to be engaged and hard-working,” Botana said. “I’m glad to be able to continue to work with them.”
Figdor said, “Congratulations to Sarah and Ben, who both in just six months on the School Board are already contributing in very meaningful ways. We’re fortunate to have such committed leaders in our community focused on our schools.”
The newly elected Board members will be sworn in at the Board’s inauguration ceremony, to be held at 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 5.
The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 50 languages. 51 percent of the district’s students are white and 49 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.