BANGOR, Maine — From the role of charter schools to the importance of cursive, the three candidates for Bangor School Committee were largely on the same page during a Wednesday night forum.
Sue Hawes, a full-time instructor at Beal College and current city councilor who is terming out this year; Jay Ye, a physician and biomedical researcher who is wrapping up his first term on the school committee; and Sue Sorg, an 18-year adapted physical education specialist in the Bangor School Department who also has led local Special Olympics programs, are vying for two spots on the committee in November’s election. One seat currently is held by Ye and the other was vacated by former committee member Kate Dickerson when she resigned in October 2012.
All three candidates said the school committee will face significant challenges, with funding that has remained relatively stagnant and an increasing number of state and federal mandates. They said the committee faces the challenge of using that limited money to continue the school department’s push for “academic excellence for all.”
Sorg said the federal government shouldn’t play a role in public schools. Handing down mandates like No Child Left Behind without fully funding them has hindered what schools can accomplish, she said. Ye also felt that these education mandates were the result of federal government overstepping its bounds.
“Despite whatever regulations are coming our way, we always stay the course,” Ye said of his last three years on the committee.
Hawes said that the school committee needs to be thinking ahead, especially about the aging infrastructure in the school system and how to best meet the needs of students and staff in the future, while keeping in mind the department’s limited funding.
When asked whether they thought a charter school might help Bangor’s education system, the candidates were less than receptive to welcoming one in town.
Sorg said charter schools were “not a favorite topic” of hers and that she believes in public education and that the state should put its “time and energy back into public schools.”
Hawes said Bangor’s public schools are “top quality” and that funding of charter schools might overspread already dwindling resources.
Ye echoed those thoughts, but said he believes charter schools are useful in communities where public education is faltering and failing to help students succeed. Bangor isn’t one of those places, he said.
The trio also defended the teaching of cursive, after a member of the audience asked how the candidates felt about the decline in the teaching of cursive handwriting at public schools. Hawes said she was “distressed” at the abandonment of what was considered a few years ago to be “basic skills.”
Ye said that while technology provides countless new tools in the classroom, it shouldn’t crowd out essential skills that have been taught for decades.
“These basic, fundamental skills are a necessity,” Sorg said.
Wednesday’s forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Bangor Public Library. The same groups are hosting a forum for the six Bangor City Council candidates at 7 p.m. Thursday in City Council Chambers.
Council candidates, in order of their appearance on the ballot, are Josh Plourde, creative strategist at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center and member of Bangor’s Commission on Cultural Development; incumbent city council chairman Nelson Durgin; Gibran Graham, marketing coordinator at the downtown book and toy store Briar Patch and board member of the Downtown Bangor Partnership; Victor Kraft, a Bangor-based private investigator and former police chief of Indian Island and Thomaston; Hal Wheeler, a former councilor who served from 1983 to 1986 and again from 2007 to 2010; and current first-term city councilor Charlie Longo.
They will be vying for three open seats on the council.