2017-06-09 / Community

Four vie for Kennebunk seats on school board

Election 2017
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — While this year’s race for seats on the RSU 21 Board of Directors is an incumbent-only affair in Arundel and Kennebunkport, where MaryBeth Luce and Maureen King, respectively, are running unopposed, the largest town in the district features a contested race.

Four candidates are vying for two available school board spots in Kennebunk.

The ballot features both incumbents, Jeffery Cole and Lionel Menard, facing off against former Kennebunk selectman Rachel Phipps and business owner Tanya Alsberg.

Three candidates returned in questionnaires sent out by the Post. They are printed in alphabetical order.

The last day to request an absentee ballot was Thursday, June 8, although any ballots received by that date may be turned in through Election Day.

Polls will be open for voting from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13, in the town hall auditorium.

Name: Tanya Alsberg

Age: 47

Address: Not given

Residency: Three years (previous residency not given)

Phone: 204-0396 email: tanyamara@yahoo.com

Occupation: Co-owner for 20 years of knitwear shop JAK Designs, located at 24

Ocean Ave. in Kennebunkport
Family: Married.
Education completed: Not provided
Political experience: None listed
Organizations and activities: None
listed

Top three issues:
1. Supporting students and teachers.
2. Budget accountability.
3. Adequate representation for all RSU
21 students.

Why are you seeking a position on the RSU 21 Board of Directors?

I believe it is my responsibility to use my time and skills to assist and improve my community in the best way I can. I worked for eight years as a teaching assistant and mental health counselor with severely emotionally disturbed and at-risk youth. I collaborated with City College of San Francisco and other organizations as a guidance counselor and youth employment specialist, and served as the co-chair of the San Francisco Youth Employment Coalition. My wife and I have run our own business, JAK Designs, for over 20 years. Every day I make important decisions, balance the books, and create short- and longterm plans. I interact with the public and depend on the integrity of my reputation. I am always striving to improve, while doing good work in my community. Our business donates one dollar from every sale to non-profit organizations that promote social justice and a healthy environment, and we look for opportunities to volunteer and support good work. This is one of those opportunities.

If you could change any one thing about RSU 21, what would it be and how would you do it?

I would work to engage more residents in Arundel, Kennebunk, and Kennebunkport in the programming, curriculum and activities of RSU 21. Every member of the community benefits from the success of our public schools, and there are so many opportunities to get involved and help shape these outcomes. As one example, business owners and skilled residents can play a more active role in youth employment, job exploration and life skill building through hiring, training, apprenticeships and classroom presentations.

How would you describe your approach, as a school board member, to balancing the needs of the student, with those of school staffers and taxpayers?

Responsible decision-making that balances taxpayer concerns and quality academic programs will ensure the best use of limited resources. This requires long-term planning and immediate action. Applying best practices on a small scale, with transparent assessment and accountability, is a pathway to success that requires low investment with the best possible outcomes.

What, if anything, can or should be done to control the ever-increasing cost of public education in RSU 21 as a whole, and/or in Kennebunk in particular?

Looking long-term is the answer. The costs incurred by the district for the new construction and buildings are adding tremendous value to the schools and the community. By planning today to operate and maintain these structures efficiently we will save money. By investing in technology and records systems improvements now, we will save on future administration costs and streamline communications, further reducing expenses.

If you could wave a magic wand and create any class, program, or field of study not currently offered in RSU 21, what would it be, and why do you think it should be taught?

Media literacy. We owe it to our students to prepare them to adequately navigate the storm of media that is today’s reality. Media literacy is a way for students to deconstruct media messages to gain more control over them. Students need to understand how media content influences them and how they can influence others. It is imperative that they recognize the value of multiple points of view and learn to identify media sources and motivations. Every student should be media literate and think about the role media plays in their citizenship, and our democracy.

Name: Lionel Menard

Age: 62

Address: Sea Road

Residency: Six years (prior residency in New Jersey and Massachusetts)

Phone: Not provided email: lmenard@rsu21.net

Occupation: Retired. Previously executive director of Project PAUL (five years) and director of lab operations for Quest Diagnostics (30 years)

Family: Married, 40 years, with two children and one newborn grandchild

Education completed: Bachelors degree in chemistry from the Unviversity of Massachusettes,1976; MBA from Pepperdine University, 1981

Political experience: RSU 21 Board of Directors (2014-present)

Organizations and Activities: FISH driver Kennebunk Center (2014-present), church community food pantry driver (2014-present), Holy Spirit Parish Annual Fair Volunteer (2013-present), Maine Catholic Charities SEARCH volunteer (2011-2014),Knights of Columbus member (2015-present), plus “numerous other volunteering, 10 years CCD teacher and sports coaching.”

Top three issues:

1. Budgeting — As a taxpayer, I am concerned that the budget has increased almost $10 million since our 2013 actual spending, while the total school population has decreased. At this rate of spending, the budget will be over $50 million by 2020. The RSU is very fortunate to have so many taxpayers willing to support our schools. However in my opinion, what we don’t need are more programs and more staff. If re-elected, I will continue to pursue education excellence while questioning questionable spending.

2. Programming — In my opinion, another issue is improving our existing programs even if that means completely changing them so that they are more effective. For example, you can see from the RSU dashboard [on the Maine Department of Education website] that our SAT math scores are below the benchmark, and since 2009, 30 to 40 percent of the students are not meeting, or only partly meeting the standard. I know change is difficult but I believe that more change is necessary to improve effectiveness. Some of these program changes have begun, but this issue can be improved by accelerating our learning from those schools that are more effective. If we implement more “best practices” and swap out what does not work sooner, we can help more of today’s students.

3. Safety. We need to make our schools safer than they already are. With taxpayer support, we have made a huge improvement in the last couple of years. However, we continue to battle other safety threats such as negative social interactions and drugs, to name just two. It is complicated, however the RSU has to continue to work internally as well as externally with the community to support each and every student. Some of the tools are there, such as restorative justice, which in my opinion needs to be continued, expanded and embraced.

Why are you seeking a position on the RSU 21 Board of Directors?

I am seeking re-election to the RSU 21 board to continue to make our education more effective through fact-based decisions, results, and faster change, while spending sensibly on programs that work. I am also seeking re-election to help the RSU finish KHS by continuing to be a member of the facilities committee and seeing this renovation and expansion be completed on time and under budget. Further, I would like to continue to work on school safety by significantly reducing or eliminating potential destructive influences.

If you could change any one thing about RSU 21, what would it be and how would you do it?

Jobs have been changed or eliminated over my lifetime by personal computers and robotics as well as many other factors. In my opinion, our ability to adjust to this ever changing world will determine whether or not someone will reach their goals. In order to find your skill set, you need to have the basic tools that have survived over the centuries. Mathematics is one of those tools. So, if I could change one thing, it would be to improve our math capability for all students.

How would you describe your approach, as a school board member, to balancing the needs of the student, with those of school staffers and taxpayers?

Many of our taxpayers are on fixed or limited income and have only seen their taxes rise while their income has not changed. We need to question some of these increases and eliminate some while reducing others. For example, the RSU insurance costs are budgeted to go up 9 percent this year. Fortunately, we have been working on alternatives that, if approved, could reduce future increases to a more moderate level. Meanwhile, there are other costs that in my opinion can be eliminated or reduced, and if re-elected I will continue to try and do so.

What, if anything, can or should be done to control the ever-increasing cost of public education in RSU 21 as a whole, and/or in Kennebunk in particular?

[Referred to previous answers]

If you could wave a magic wand and create any class, program, or field of study not currently offered in RSU 21, what would it be, and why do you think it should be taught?

I hate to write this but I do not believe there is a magic wand. As I have stated earlier, I am not in favor of creating more, new programs or classes, and spending even more money on them. We need to improve areas and make them more effective at the same cost or less. Other schools are spending less and achieving the same or better results, why can’t we?

Name: Rachel Phipps

Age: 55

Address: Dane Street

Residency: 23 years (prior residency in Kennebunkport and Arundel. Born in Louisiana, lived 10 years in Missouri)

Phone: 985-4149 email: rachelphipps@gwi.net

Occupation: Social worker, The Opportunity Alliance substance use disorder treatment program (Previously, town of Kennebunk youth services coordinator, 2001-2009; Strategies for a Stronger Sanford project manager/executive director, 2009-2015)

Family: Married, 27 years, two children. Have also hosted four international exchange students.

Education completed: Bachelor’s degree in economic development studies from Brown University, 1987; Masters in social work from Hunter School of Social Work in New York City, 1991.

Political experience: Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, 1996-2001; Kennebunk selectmen candidate in 1995 and 2009.

Organizations and Activities: Kennebunk Economic Development Committee (2016-present); Kennebunks and Arundel Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit Committee; Rise Health Care Action Committee, chairman; Greenheart Travel international exchange program, local coordinator

Top three issues:

1. Implementation of state mandated proficiency-based diplomas — This issue is important because if done right, it will promote personalized learning, anytime/anywhere learning, competency-based learning, and student-owned learning. Our school district has made great progress in personalizing instruction and creating opportunities for real-life learning, such as the introduction of senior projects and internships. I would like to see this path of providing more student-owned and student-driven work continue.

2. To amplify student and parent voice and increase community engagement — I believe that as a community, we are all responsible for the education of our youth. They are our future. I don’t believe it can or should be just the responsibility of our school system. Kids spend only 12 percent of their time in school. We need to break down the walls between the schools and the community and recognize that we are all in this together!

3. Equity issues, including gender equity in STEM education — We live in an increasingly and wonderfully diverse town, state and world. Our students need to be equipped to understand and manage it. I want to see a focus on intercultural communication and get imaginative about how we can incorporate issues of diversity and civil rights in a comprehensive way within the school community.

Why are you seeking a position on the RSU 21 Board of Directors?

I am seeking this office for many reasons. First, I have worked in schools as a school-based social worker and partnered with schools for many years, so I know schools inside and out. Second, I want this to be the kind of community that my kids want to come to live in someday. I want our youth, our parents and our elders to all feel that they have a stake and a voice in the educational system and the future of our community. I hope to amplify student and parent voice in the educational system and promote strong collaboration between the community and the district because I believe that everyone is responsible for educating our young people and that is how we will build a strong and vibrant community. Third, I spent five years directing a school reform grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, partnering with Sanford schools, and I feel it is time to put my energy into my school district. Fourth, though not last, I am motivated to seek this office to ensure that issues of equity and diversity are addressed with a comprehensive, systematic approach. I want to have schools of excellence and empathy.

If you could change any one thing about RSU 21, what would it be and how would you do it?

I am disturbed that we are still using disciplinary approaches from the 19th century at the high school. I would like to see restorative justice practices as an alternative to detentions and suspensions. I would include restorative justice practices in the discipline code and engage in district-wide training. This is another area in which the community can be of service by participating in restorative circles. Confidentiality would be managed by signed consent by all parties. And, I expect there would be less need for disciplinary interventions if the middle school and high school started at a later time, as the brain science over the past 20 years has indicated would improve student concentration and productivity. I would join the committee that will investigate the best means of changing the start time of our high schools across the state.

How would you describe your approach, as a school board member, to balancing the needs of the student, with those of school staffers and taxpayers?

Everyone agrees that we should spend responsibly. As a board member, I will always review spending in a cautious and thoughtful manner. I believe that is every board member’s responsibility. My mother, who lives next door to us, is on a limited fixed income, so I see every day how our economy impacts her and how she works to manage her expenses. However, I don’t believe the needs of our students, our educators, and our taxpayers are in conflict. I hope we agree that investing in our students is how we build a strong future for our community, a community that our students are going to want to come back to. To this end, I am working on the Kennebunk Economic Development Committee to encourage opportunities for more work force housing to be built so young people can move here. It is worth noting as well that most of the planks of my platform would not require increased spending, just a rearrangement of educational policy and practices. Lastly, I strongly advocate for the State of Maine to fulfill its obligation to fully fund 55 percent of school costs, thereby placing less of a burden on property tax.

What, if anything, can or should be done to control the ever-increasing cost of public education in RSU 21 as a whole, and/or in Kennebunk in particular?

A large proportion of the school budget is nondiscretionary. While most organizations and businesses have 30 to 40 percent of their budgets tied to personnel and benefits, for public schools, on average, it is between 65 and 85 percent. The remaining balance needs to cover many requirements including transportation, facilities and energy, food, library and technology services, among others. Given that there are significant mandatory costs, and few discretionary funds, I would work for enhanced communication and collaboration between all the stakeholders in our community. I believe we can work within our democratic structures to grapple with how to allocate our limited resources in a way that will serve the interests of our students and therefore the future of our community. To serve this end, I would encourage more opportunities for the community at large to meet with school board members in an informal setting, like the Kennebunk selectmen are now doing, and more opportunities for the community at large to visit our schools and to collaborate with our students, providing extending learning opportunities. I will also advocate for the state to increase its funding to schools through progressive tax policies.

If you could wave a magic wand and create any class, program, or field of study not currently offered in RSU 21, what would it be, and why do you think it should be taught?

You usually get three wishes with a magic wand, so I will create three areas of study — the three my son came home from college and said he wished he had learned in high school: ethics, ecology and civics. I would add life skills such as financial literacy and the basics of child development and parenting. My last wish will be to add all this without adding a dollar to the budget or an hour to a teacher’s day.

Editor’s note: Candidate Cole declined to submit a survey, citing time constraints.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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