Jessica Barnes and Colleen Jolley won seats on Regional School Unit 22’s board of directors in Tuesday’s election, concluding a competitive race in which more than twice as many people ran as there were seats available on the Hampden-area school board.
Barnes and Jolley were the new members elected to serve three-year teams on the board. Lester French Jr. and Faye Anderson are sitting RSU 22 board members who won reelection. Jillian Sarnacki-Wood won an unexpired two-year term to the board after replacing Kimberley Moran in August. She ran unopposed.
The race in RSU 22, which serves schools in Winterport, Frankfort, Hampden and Newburgh, was a mix of newcomers and incumbents seeking reelection, a stark contrast to other Bangor-area towns that have seen few or no candidates step up to fill vacant council and school board seats. Nine candidates ran to fill four open seats on the board of directors.
The competition came after a contentious debate over masking requirements over the summer in which the RSU 22 board initially approved making student masks optional before it was discovered that vote passed due to a tabulation error, and the board changed course.
As Election Day approached, several candidates said they continued to hear questions about critical race theory from voters. School board races across the U.S. have become a point of contention as conservative groups have backed insurgents and ginned up interest in issues such as critical race theory, turning routine municipal elections into a culture-war battleground.
RSU 22 candidates like Jolley said they had focused their campaigns on issues like teacher retention and student support but received a flurry of questions about their stance on critical race theory in recent weeks. RSU 22 board members said that the concept is not taught in district schools.
One conservative group, No Left Turn in Education, has collaborated with the Maine First Project to train Maine parents in tactics such as public records requests. Maine chapter president Shawn McBreairty has made appearances at RSU 22 meetings complaining about critical race theory and masking policies, although he does not have children who attend RSU 22 schools.
McBreairty, who has since moved to Hampden, pleaded guilty on Oct. 22 to improperly influencing a Cumberland school board official and received a six-month deferred disposition.