BANGOR, Maine — The public got a chance to meet the five candidates for three open seats on the Bangor School Committee at a League of Women Voters forum Wednesday night.
Incumbents Phyllis Guerette, Christine Szal and Warren Caruso took turns answering questions along with challengers Terri Adam and Joseph Knox at City Hall.
Moderator Barbara McDade, director of the Bangor Public Library, asked the group: Describe your ideal school system with no budgetary restraints.
Szal, 62, the committee’s vice chairwoman the last three years, had high standards.
“All students in grades six through 12 have individual laptops or iPads; we have over a 90 percent graduation rate with a dropout rate less than 3 percent; most students participating in athletics and other after-school activities; offering Chinese, Spanish, French, Arabic and Hindi language options; safe school facilities; and a high percentage of AP [Advanced Placement] students,” said the 30-year Bangor resident, wife, mother of three and United Technology Center board member.
Knox, a Glenburn Elementary School ed tech and University of Maine graduate from West Gardiner, also had specific ideas about an ideal school system.
“This question reminds me of the saying that it would be an ideal world where the military needs a bake sale to raise money for a battleship,” said the 37-year-old married father of one son.
“That ideal system has well-funded schools and would do away with standardized tests because they’re a lousy measuring stick, instead recognizing and rewarding intangible benefits; rewards curiosity and creativity and give kids a chance to discover what they’re good at; and it strikes a balance between technology and human interaction.”
The next question kept with the funding ideal. In view of funding reductions, what part of the budget would you cut?
“I wouldn’t want to cut anything,” said Adam, 45. “I’m very eager to look at partnerships with institutions and other schools and perhaps share burdens and costs. We also need to look at cutting costs like busing and other services. I would solicit thoughts and opinions and ideas from the community to do things more cost effectively.”
The next question: What do you feel is the biggest hindrance in providing quality education in Bangor?
“If there’s one thing I would change, it’s the federal and state mandates handed down to our system,” said Caruso, 46, a married father of two sons. “We have ideas we think are better than those that we are mandated to follow. I would change those.”
Caruso is a lifelong Bangor resident who has been Husson University’s men’s basketball head coach for 18 years and also serves as director of development.
Candidates also were asked: How would you help at-risk students?
“This fall our faculty stayed for three nights to do parent-teacher conferences and that was something new for us,” said Guerette, a two-term committee veteran and mother of three who has lived in Bangor for 34 years with her husband. “We also instituted an after-school bus to transport students who needed to stay later for more help from teachers or other after-school programs. We also have a reading recovery program, individual learning programs, Title I funds for low-income students, and parental involvement with 350 parent volunteers trained the last three years.”