Tune in this evening at 7PM to the Portland Education Association (PEA) Zoom forum with candidates for school board and city council in Portland’s District 5.
“Portland Public Schools are facing a challenging time ahead. As the pandemic continues to stress district resources, we must organize against austerity budgets and defend our schools from private corporations seeking to gain a market foothold within our public schools. I will work with educators, staff, parents, students, and community groups to build the power necessary to fulfill and expand the Portland Promise.”Kate Sykes
Candidate Questionnaire Responses
The PEA believes that our schools work best when they are supported by the local community and elected officials. We feel strongly that front-line educator voices provide invaluable insight into the successes and challenges our schools face, especially in such tumultuous times. Please share the specific ways you ALREADY communicate with PEA educators. *
As a member and former Co-Chair of the Maine DSA, and a member of the Southern Maine Labor Council and Southern Maine Workers Center, I have contact with several PEA/MEA educators personally and am in touch with announcements that are made through those channels.
If elected, in what specific ways do you plan to expand your communication with PEA educators? *
I am running a campaign not just to win a seat on the Council but to organize our community to build power to enforce the demands of the people who live here. When elected I will dissolve the power of my office into the community by opening a community organizing office in my district and rolling out online channels for people to discuss issues, reach decisions and write policy. Teachers all over the country are raising the bar on power-building in the community, through social justice organizing and bargaining for the common good, which brings grassroots coalitions together to support teachers. Any PEA effort to involve parents and community groups in negotiating for better work conditions, wages, benefits, and school-based services will be naturally aligned with my campaign goals, and I look forward to working together to organize for power.
Please describe experiences you’ve had supporting public education and/or public school students and staff. What roles have you played, and how long were you active in each role? *
I’ve been involved in labor organizing in Maine for the last four years as an ancillary activity to my work as a writer and community organizer. Through Maine DSA, I initiated solidarity strike support for Westbrook teachers in response to a call for action a couple of years ago, however a contract negotiation was reached before any action was necessary. I’ve worked on several political campaigns for candidates whose platforms were strong on public education, and I follow and support the labor organizing efforts of teachers through my union.
The PEA is concerned that funding for public education has not provided what is needed in our schools. In 2004, Maine voters passed a referendum requiring the state to pay 55% of the cost of public education. Since then, the state has failed to meet its commitment (although they have recently improved) forcing schools to either cut programs and/or to pass the expenses for maintaining them to local property owners. Do you support the results of the citizens’ referendum of 2004 requiring the state to pay 55% of the cost of public education in Maine? Why or why not? *
Yes. I support full funding for public schools and oppose efforts to privatize schools through charter schools and the introduction of corporate and non-profit partnerships into public schools. The failure of the state to meet its commitment is really a failure of organization on the ground between teachers, parents, labor unions, faith communities and other grass roots organizations to work together to build the power needed to enforce the demand. It’s not enough to rely on one political Party or another to save us, we must organize and make it clear that no party can hold power if they do not uphold the will of the people.
If elected, we will likely face a further budget challenge because of the effects COVID is having on the federal, state, and local economies. Please describe your priorities and process for reviewing the budget that will be put forward by PPS next year. *
The current process for writing the budget in Portland is structurally undemocratic. It is written by un-elected bureaucrats and presented to the council for approval with no input from the people whom it most affects or the leaders elected to represent them. With my one measly vote, I will support a budget that teachers support, but I will also agitate for a change to the process to include participatory budgeting. I will also organize on the ground and use my connections with allied groups to enforce those demands.
Do you support the right of public school employees to bargain collectively? *
The PEA supports the Portland Promise, which seeks to narrow the opportunity gap by promoting equity and whole student interventions that seek to mitigate the dramatic toll that factors like racial injustice, poverty, and trauma can take on our students and their families. If elected, what actions can you take to specifically address these three issues? *
Implementing universal pre-K is an important first step in narrowing the achievement gap. School-based community centers should also include health clinics, adult education for ELL, and other parental and community support services that help disadvantaged children succeed.