BELFAST, Maine — Three candidates from Belfast are vying to win two seats on the board of directors for Regional School Unit 20, a consolidated district that in recent years has been hit by a slew of problems, including major financial shortfalls and persistent withdrawal efforts by some member communities.
But Caitlin Hills, Charlie Grey and Christopher Hyk each believe that they could do some positive work on behalf of the district’s children if elected.
Hyk, an antiques dealer, said he decided to run because he cares about finances and education, and is worried about what he’s seen in recent months happen to the district — particularly to the property taxes in Belfast. The city’s mill rate was set this fall at 20.8, and out of every tax dollar collected, more than 60 cents will go to the school district.
“I think the ship is sinking,” Hyk said Wednesday. “I think somebody has got to try to do something. I guess I can’t believe that the mill rate in Belfast is 20.8, and no one seems to be doing anything concrete to stop it.”
If elected, he said he would try to find cost savings through more school consolidation, as well as stress the foundations of learning, including early literacy and numeracy. Hyk said he believes Belfast Area High School and Searsport District High School should and could be consolidated, pointing out that Searsport’s graduating class had just 33 students last spring.
“This isn’t the separation of India and Pakistan we’re talking about here,” he said. “This is about [joining] a small high school and a tiny high school.”
Hills, a parent and online graduate-level business writing instructor who has been volunteering twice a week at her son’s elementary school, said she believes the district’s current path will not serve its children well.
“I want to be part of a dedicated group of people working to find solutions to the problems that RSU 20 is facing,” she said.
She would like to hire a grant writer for the district and reach out to the larger local businesses to see if they could help sponsor athletic teams, supplies or technology. She also would like to include the public’s input more on the school board and usher in other changes.
“The public absolutely has a right to have a voice,” Hills said. “I’d like to see the board be more transparent in their actions. I certainly think our goals should be focused the most on providing an excellent, holistic, comprehensive education for our children.”
Grey, who has a background in music education and pedagogy, said he is running because the board needs to be “more collaborative and less confrontational.” He would like to be a voice for music and arts education in the district and also examine the goals and effectiveness of the battery of standardized tests given to its students.
“I think standardized tests are a poor way to judge effectiveness of any educational program,” he said.
He also supports the notion of hiring a dedicated grant writer to pull more money into the district instead of just cutting programs in an effort to cut costs.