Houlton school board, council candidates discuss issues

Posted Oct. 23, 2010, at 3:02 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:49 a.m.

HOULTON, Maine — There was little disagreement among the candidates who are vying for seats on the Houlton Town Council and the SAD 29 board during a candidates forum late last week, as all pledged to use their positions to make the community and its education system better.

The Oct. 20 forum, sponsored by the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, was held in council chambers.

Two seats are up for grabs on the school board, as incumbents Kim Thompson and Francis Grant are not seeking re-election. Four individuals — Terry Spurling, D. Scott White, Fred Grant and Carl Lord Jr. — are vying for those slots. All of the candidates attended the forum.

Spurling is a retired high school teacher who spent 36 years in the field. He taught at Houlton High School and has grandchildren in the district. Spurling said he believes the SAD 29 school system has top-notch facilities, and he wants to work to maintain and improve the current system. The district now has no superintendent, and Spurling said one of his main goals would be to hire a “strong superintendent” for the district, not just a “yes man.” He believes the district could cut costs by combining certain classes, such as health and physical education, in order to save money in the long term.

White has worked for more than 20 years in the automotive field and has children in the district. He said that he wants to be a part of the decision making in the district to improve education for his own and other children. He said he would work to make the best decisions for the taxpayers.

Grant, who is now a councilor, runs his own business. His term as a councilor is not up, but Grant said he could serve the community better on the school board. He said education is a personal passion of his and that the district needs to institute standards for students and staff to ensure that everyone gets an equal education. He believes more funding needs to be set aside for staff development, something the district has cut in the past.

“We need to find out what they need to do their jobs better before we look at things to cut from the district’s budget,” he said.

Lord is semiretired and spent 28 years at Louisiana-Pacific in New Limerick. The former town councilor said he believes there is a “black cloud” hanging over the school board because of a lack of communication. He pledged to inform the public about what is going on in the district and to cut spending. He said he wants to reform the budget process if elected, because the current process is not user-friendly.

He agreed with Spurling that the district has to hire a “champion” superintendent to lead SAD 29.

All pushed for more parents to get involved with the workings of the school board and pushed for the school board meetings to be televised on the local public access channel.

Four candidates are vying for two open seats on the council. Incumbent John Fitzpatrick hopes to retain his seat. He is being challenged by John White Jr., Matthew Carr and Philip Bernaiche. Councilor Paul Romanelli is termed out and cannot run again, so his seat represents the second open position.

Fitzpatrick, White and Bernaiche attended the forum, but Carr did not.

Fitzpatrick said that his main goal if re-elected would be to replenish the town’s surplus fund, which has diminished over the years. He also aims to maintain public safety and the town’s investment in its roads and sidewalks. White pledged to help the town grow economically if elected, and he said he wanted to bring more businesses into town.

Bernaiche also said he wanted to bring more business to town, particularly the downtown.

All of the candidates pledged to stay in touch with local business owners and to communicate their needs at meetings.

In terms of cutting the municipal budget, Bernaiche said he would start saying no to purchases, but White and Fitzpatrick said that they would lean on the town manager to keep the budget in check.

Each of the candidates pledged to listen to taxpayers and put their needs first.

Voting will take place at the Gentle Memorial Building on Nov. 2.

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