Two of a kind? District 4 school board hopeful Lori Gramlich (picture not available) is challenging incumbent School Committee member Teri McRae (left) after failing to stop John Bolton from joining the U.N. (photos/Portland Schools, U.S. government)
After Ambassador Bolton, Gramlich takes aim at McRae
Democratic activist seeks school board seat
By Chris Busby
Lori Gramlich wasn’t able to stop John Bolton from taking a seat at the United Nations, but she may be able to keep another Republican from serving on a slightly less contentious governing body: the Portland School Committee.
Gramlich, a Democratic activist with experience in state politics, is making her first run for elected office against incumbent school board member Teri McRae, a Republican who also serves as Cumberland County’s Register of Probate.
Last summer, Gramlich was the state organizer of Stop Bolton, a national campaign opposed to President Bush’s nominee for the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton’s hard-charging style of diplomacy and past comments about the U.N. sparked a heated political battle over his nomination on Capitol Hill, but the president installed Bolton last August while Congress was in recess.
McRae has been a controversial figure in her own right. Last year, she publicly supported the state tax-cap initiative while nearly all of her fellow city officials were predicting doom if it passed (voters rejected it). As chair of the school board’s Finance Committee, McRae has been a bulldog on budgetary issues, aggressively questioning new spending in the face of declining enrollments and pressing for greater accountability of the money already being spent.
This last effort is continuing in the form of a new budgetary directive that the board will take up in the coming weeks. It seeks to tie the school budget to the rate of inflation and current enrollment figures. “There will be some heated conversations” over the proposed directive, McRae said, but “I feel we owe it to the taxpayers to be realistic.”
In past years, the superintendent has presented a budget to the board in the spring that reflects what the schools’ top administrator feels is necessary to maintain a high quality education system. The superintendent’s budget in almost invariably cut, often quite substantially, by the School Committee and the City Council during each spring’s budget debates.
Under this new directive, the superintendent would frame her next budget based on a figure determined in the fall – a figure based on the current budget, adjusted for inflation and enrollment. That figure “would not be a perfect number, it would not be a final number,” McRae said, but it would guide the board’s budget debate and could make it harder to justify any additional spending the superintendent may propose.
McRae said Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor supports the directive, as does the majority of the school board’s Finance Committee, though again, she also expects a fight when the full board considers it later this fall.
It’s unclear what Gramlich thinks of this directive. She did not return calls seeking comment before this article was posted.
The Bollard was able to reach Gramlich last month, after Portland High School student Sophia Njaa – one of two non-voting student representatives to the school board – dropped out of the race for the District 4 seat. Gramlich said she is a 42-year-old single mom who works as a self-employed consultant, helping non-profit social service organizations in the areas of public relations, fundraising and advocacy.
Gramlich is a former lobbyist for the Dirigo Alliance, a coalition of progressive organizations that advocates for social and economic justice. She also previously worked as the communications director for former State Senate President Beverly Daggett.
Asked why she was running, Gramlich noted her social service work, and said that puts her “in a position to advocate for less-fortunate populations.”
“It’s a life calling, a life mission,” Gramlich said. “It never feels like work if you’re doing something you love.”
McRae, 49, is married and has a grown step-son and a 13-year-old son at Lyman Moore Middle School. In addition to her part-time probate post – an office she won in last year’s countywide election – McRae is the financial controller of a company in New York. She is seeking what would be her second term on the school board.
McRae said she’s running again to continue to press for reform of the way the school system and the board do business. In addition to the budget directive, she said she wants school administrators to perform a more thorough assessment of each school’s performance, “something more concrete than the superintendent telling us the schools are good,” she said.