2015-06-05 / Front Page

RSU 21 candidates champion bond

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

If voters in the three towns that make up RSU 21 were hoping to shake up the status quo on the school board, they’re unlikely to get their wish with the June 9 elections.

All five candidates running are either incumbents or staunch supporters of both the regular school operating budget and the $56.5 million bond request to renovate three District school buildings. What’s more, in two district towns the race for school board is no race at all.

In Kennebunk, no challengers emerged to oppose incumbents Brad Huot and Mike Mosher. In Arundle, Catherine Rush was to only person who took out papers to fill the seat being vacated by Susan Sinnott Curran, who did not respond to multiple emails asking why she chose not to seek another term.

Only in Kennebunkport is there a competitive race, with two candidates vying for the seat now held by Robert Domine.

In a May 18 email Domine said he felt comfortable stepping down now that a do-over of the building bond package – a $75 million version failed at the polls in January 2014 – has been safely shepherded back before voters.

“In deciding to seek election to the board of the newly formed RSU, my principal goals were to support the ‘three-town model’ and to help get our facilities renewed,” Domine wrote. “The three-town model is working now. There is clear support for the RSU among the majority of residents and, save Kennebunkport, town officials.

“Regarding facilities, the voters let us know what they did not want, and in so doing helped to craft the plan that we will vote on June 9,” Domine wrote. “I’m confident it will pass. So, while it’s been a privilege to serve, it’s also time to make way for others who share a vision of three great towns sending great kids to great schools.”

The two candidates hoping to fill Domine’s shoes — Valerie Lander and Peter Fellenz — are largely cut from the same cloth. Although Lander strikes a line that is slightly more conservative, fiscally, both are educators. Lander is a science teacher at Scarborough High School. Fellenz taught in public schools and at the college level before becoming a social services executive.

The main difference between the town candidates is generational. Lander is 37 while Fellenz is 75. Meanwhile, Lander is a Kennebunkport native, while Fellez is a summer resident who came to stay.

Regarding the big issue facing voters — whether Kennebunkport should raise $40,000 to fund a study into the feasibly of pulling out of RSU 21, Lander is the more sympathetic.

“I have been back and forth on that one,” she said. “Right now, I support us staying as part of the RSU, although I do understand the people in town who are talking about taxes. I can see both sides.”

Lander said her biggest concern about Kennebunkport striking out on its own is that it might end up costing locals even more.

“As an educator I know what goes into running a school, particularly in terms of special education, and I don’t know if Kennebunkport can support that cost on its own.

Fellenz took a similar view, although a harder line, urging his fellow Port residents to turn down the withdrawal measure, for the same reason Lander cites.

“They should absolutely vote against withdrawal. We need to work with out neighboring communities,” he said. “We are not big enough with 3,000-plus citizens to be running an independent school district.”

Meanwhile, both candidates are staunch in their support of the building bond.

“I am fully supportive of the bond. I believe those schools need immediate attention. I’d like to start on them June 10, the day after the election,” Fellenz said. “I think the budget is reasonable. They’ve worked this through again and again. Let’s get to work on these school.”

For Lander, the concern is less for the possibility the building bond might get rejected than for the (divide) it has created in the town, and between the Port and its neighbors.

“I think as a district we need to pull together,” she said. “The renovations aside, we need to be a community. That’s the only way we are going to move forward in a positive direction. I feel like there was more of a sense of community in the school district when I went through than there is now, and I don’t really know what happened in between.”

Fellenz says taxpayers should look at the return on an investment into education in terms other than dollars and cents. “We should look to the wonderful way our youth are learning and growing and moving into the wider community,” he said.

However, Lander also worries about the sustainability of the budget.

“The costs are going to go up every year,” she said. “That is the beast that is education, especially with the need to move forward with 22nd-century skills. But it would be nice to even it out the annual increases a little bit and that’s one reason I’m interested in being on the board, to learn more about how the process works in that regard.”

Over in Kennebunk, Mosher says the process, to some degree, does not work.

“I did not vote for the operating budget,” he said. “ I think our process needs to change a little bit. I think we’ve got to find ways to slow down the rate of increase that we are seeing in the budget year after year. It’s just escalating too quickly.”

That said, Mosher calls the building bond “more than reasonable,” as does Huot.

“I do believe that this is the best option for our children and our taxpayers,” he said. “Delaying this will only cost more money over the long term and will not address the urgent needs that have arisen in a timely enough fashion.”

However, Huot parts ways with Mosher over the annual budget, laying the blame at the feet of the state.

“Much has already been done in the last few years to constrain the growth of the budget,” he said. “Often not discussed is the failure of the state government to live up to its promise of funding education in the state of Maine at 55 percent. The contribution to RSU21 is far below that level and has continued to decline over the last several years. Along with this, any federal funding that was part of the stimulus package has dried up in the interval as well. And the steadily rising costs of health insurance have led to increased responsibilities on the taxpayers’ part.

“The board and the administration have greatly minimized the portion of the budget that we actually have control over,” Huot said. “I challenge those who complain that the budget is overinflated to do it better, without slashing programs and putting the educational curriculum of our district at risk.”

Rush said she supports both the building bond and the budget, although she says the latter “should be regularly monitored to ensure that ongoing growth is manageable.”

That may be within her wheelhouse, giver her occupation as a risk specialist for TD Bank.

However, Rush said her primary goal in running for the school board is to help support public education, not to micromanage its cost.

“Education is important to me, and I want to learn more about our district and be actively involved in my children’s education and the growth of this important pillar in our communities,” she said.



Arundel Arundel Name: Catherine Rush

Age: 35

Residency: Eight years (Augusta native)

Education: B.S. in business administration with a concentration in finance from the University of Southern Maine

Occupation: Risk specialist for TD Bank

Experience: None

Family: Married with three school-age children (and a fourth on the way)

Contact: 294-2324


Name: Brad Huot
Kennebunk Kennebunk

Age: 39

Residency: Seven years (native of Lyman)

Education: B.S. from Bates College, M.D. from the University of Vermont College of Medicine

Occupation: Physician at Martins Point Healthcare in Portland

Experience: RSU 21 Board of Directors (2011 to present)

Family: Three school-age children

Contact: bhuot@rsu21.net

Mike Mosher Mike Mosher Name: Mike Mosher

Age: 50

Residency: Kennebunk native

Education: Attended Southern Maine Technical Institute and the University of Southern Maine.

Occupation: Vice president of sales and marketing at Northeast Coating Technologies

Experience: RSU 21 Board of Directors (2014-present)

Family: Married, two children, one adult and one school age

Contact: mmosher@rsu21.net


Name: Peter FellenzPeter FellenzPeter Fellenz

Age: 75

Residency: Eight years (native of Wisconsin)

Education: B.S. in math and physics from St. Norbert College, master’s in theological studies from Marquette University, master’s in school research from Xavier University.

Occupation: Retired, former public school, college teacher, former social services agency executive

Experience: Kennebunkport Planning Board (2011-present), Southern Maine Health Care Patient- and Family-Centered Care Advisory Committee

Family: Married, three adult children, one grandchild

Contact: 967-8144

Valerie Lander Valerie Lander

Name: Valerie Lander

Age: 32

Residency: Kennebunkport native

Education: B.S. in environmental horticulture from the University of New Hampshire, working on a master’s degree in school leadership at St. Joseph’s College

Occupation: Science teacher at Scarborough High School

Experience: None

Family: One preschool age child

Contact: valerieleelander@gmail.com

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