FREEPORT, Maine — Four candidates are on the ballot in November for two open seats on the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors.
Incumbents Nelson Larkins and Beth Parker will be working to keep their seats from challengers Charly Haversat Matheson and Lindsay Sterling.
With Freeport’s withdrawal from the RSU going to referendum, it is uncertain if the positions will exist past June 2015.
The candidates all said that is a risk they’re willing to take, with the incumbents saying they have the experience to handle the issue, while the challengers say change is needed on the board.
Larkins, who has been chairman of the board for the past five years, has been on the board since the RSU was formed in 2009. He is an attorney and has lived in Freeport for 27 years, and said his three children spent a total of 21 years in the town’s school system.
Larkins said he is neutral on whether Freeport should withdraw from the RSU.
“I think the RSU has been a lot of good for [Freeport, Durham and Pownal],” Larkins said. “We’ve been able to increase programming and extracurriculars, and keep taxes down in Freeport. That being said, I think Freeport will be fine either way it goes.”
Larkins said if Freeport votes to withdraw, he’d like to focus on educating the students about what it would mean for them. While the students have been kept abreast of the issue, Larkins said he’d like the board to continue informing them. He also noted that the withdrawal won’t be stressed too heavily, as keeping focused on their studies will be more important.
Larkins said the schools also need to work on meeting core curriculum requirements and standards set by the state. He said a goal will be “just seeing that our kids get the best education possible.”
Because the RSU currently has two interim co-superintendents, Larkins said it will be important to find someone for a permanent position. He said that while this is a top priority, he expects it will be difficult for the board to find someone.
“Statewide there’s been a crunch on superintendents,” Larkins said. “There aren’t that many.”
Parker has been on the board for nine years, including her time spent on the former Freeport board as it transitioned into the RSU. She said she knows what the board was like before the consolidation and that it’s something she doesn’t want to go back to.
“I don’t think [withdrawal] is a good idea,” Parker said.
She said being part of the RSU has been good for Freeport because it’s meant more students and more money. She said withdrawal would be hard on the town and the school.
“I just really want to get beyond this withdrawal,” Parker said. “It’s hurting our school.”
If Freeport does vote to withdraw and if Parker is re-elected, she said she would continue working hard even though the two Freeport representatives on the board could only stay on until June 30, 2015.
“I would aim to keep all the schools running smoothly, but [the Freeport representatives] won’t be able to make change,” she said. “[It] will be a year of treading water.”
Parker said her experience on the board will help when working with the decision the town makes regarding the withdrawal. She said the two challengers don’t have the right amount of knowledge or experience to do the job.
“Lindsay comes to the meetings, but Charly has not been involved,” Parker said.
She said “knowing the past is helpful.”
Parker has lived in Freeport for 21 years with her husband and two children, a college freshman and Freeport High School sophomore. She owns Pet Pantry in Freeport and General Store for Pets in Falmouth.
Charly Haversat Matheson
Matheson has lived in Freeport for approximately 18 years with her husband and three children, ages 23, 19 and 15. She is an alternative investments consultant at a Boston-based financial services company. Although she voted for consolidation of the school district five years ago, she has since changed her mind.
“I am pro-withdrawal,” she said. “We just need change.”
Matheson said she has “been very involved in the withdrawal process” and believes her career has given her the necessary skills to help the board make financial decisions.
“My work background lends itself to where Freeport is,” she said. “I have a huge skill set in looking at alternative funding methods.”
Matheson said that whether Freeport votes to withdraw or not, the board will need to make wise financial choices.
“We need to be mindful in being prudent with taxpayer dollars,” she said. “If Freeport doesn’t withdraw, we need to have a hard look at the [RSU’s] cost-sharing formula.”
She also said she’d like to explore looking for grants, rather than using town money.
Matheson said that if elected, she also would like to have great teachers and administrators in place, as well as a new superintendent. She said she wants children to continue receiving a strong education, despite the withdrawal process.
“We’re obviously at a critical juncture in the school board,” she said. “We need to ensure that educational needs are met.”
Matheson said that while Larkins and Parker have “done a great job,” she believes it’s time for new board members.
“I am always a believer that new blood and a fresh set of eyes is helpful to any process,” she said.
Sterling, a writer, has lived in Freeport for 13 years and has two daughters, one in sixth grade and one in third.
Sterling founded and led Friends of Freeport High School to promote the high school renovation, and has volunteered at Morse Street School and Mast Landing School. She has also worked with the high school interact club.
Like Matheson, Sterling supports Freeport’s withdrawal from RSU 5.
“I’d like to see Freeport have local control of its schools,” she said. “No matter what happens, I feel I have the energy to bring positive change to the district and town.”
She said the schools and towns are hurting as a result of being part of RSU 5.
“Voter records show that the towns fundamentally want different things,” Sterling said. “The cuts of compromise over the last five years have run too deep in my view.”
If elected, Sterling said her main goal would be to hire a new superintendent and that she would work hard to recruit a strong pool of applicants. She said she’d also like to work with teachers and administrators to make sure they’re asking for the highest quality of work from students.
Sterling also said she wants to be innovative on the school board and keep looking forward.
“How do we inspire innovation?” she asked. “I want to work towards that.”