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12/24/2013 2:00:00 PM
Wiscasset School Committee Candidates Agree on Most Issues

By Charlotte Boynton

About 50 people turned out at the Wiscasset Middle School Dec. 19 to meet the seven candidates seeking to become members of Wiscasset's school committee.

The Wiscasset Budget Committee sponsored the Candidates' Night, which allowed the candidates an opportunity to express themselves on the questions asked by members of the public. The candidates also learned, for the first time, how each of them stood on the issues facing the new school committee.

Wiscasset School Committee candidates take questions from taxpayers at a Candidates' Night at the Wiscasset Middle School Dec. 19. Shown from left to right, Wenonah Wirick, Glen Craig, Steven Smith, Colleen Bennett, Sharon Nichols, Doug Smith, and Eugene Stover. (Charlotte Boynton photo)
Wiscasset School Committee candidates take questions from taxpayers at a Candidates' Night at the Wiscasset Middle School Dec. 19. Shown from left to right, Wenonah Wirick, Glen Craig, Steven Smith, Colleen Bennett, Sharon Nichols, Doug Smith, and Eugene Stover. (Charlotte Boynton photo)
 
Based on their responses, there were no major differences in the candidates' approach to developing a stand alone school system.

Budget Committee Chairman Robert "Bob" Blagden moderated the event, outlining the rules of the debate. Each candidate was given three minutes to introduce themselves, then questions were taken from the public. Each question asked was answered by each candidate. No questions were directed to a specific candidate.

There are seven people seeking five open seats on the new school committee. The open positions include: one seat for the term to expire June 30, 2014; two seats for the term to expire June 30, 2016; and two seats for the term to expire June 30, 2016.

Colleen Bennett and Wenonah Wirick are the challengers for the one seat for the term to expire June 2014. Wirick, a parent, an attorney, and a member of the RSU 12 school committee told the voters she is a firm believer in local control, and a quality education for all students.

Bennett, a mother, who has worked at Wiscasset Ford for 20 years, said she wants to work with the school committee, going in with an open mind, working with the community, the facility, and the students to see what will work best for Wiscasset students.

Eugene Stover and Glen Craig are the only two candidates seeking the term to expire June 2015.

Stover a retired educator and a former Wiscasset School Committee member, told the voters Wiscasset students deserve a better education than what is currently being provided. "We need to focus on our students, he said. "We have a group of excellent teachers that must be allowed to do their job."

Craig, the father of five children, said he was running for the position because he was tired of sitting on the sidelines. He said he looks forward to working with the town in local control of Wiscasset school system and believes that everyone's voice should be heard in making decisions for Wiscasset's 575 total students.

Three candidates are running for the two seats that expire June 30, 2016: Sharon Nichols, Doug Smith, and Steve Smith. Nichols, a retired educator and a member of the Wiscasset Educational Research Panel told the voters, WERP had been researching Wiscasset's educational options for the past two years.

She said the town must consolidate space in the town's three school facilities and stop wasting money on keeping all three facilities open, given the number of students enrolled.

Doug Smith, a former banker, former Wiscasset School Committee member, and the chairman of WERP said, "We need to focus on the students and restore the educational excellence in our schools."

Steve Smith, a father of two children that have graduated from Wiscasset High School, said the new school committee have some hard choices to make in their job of finding the best way to educate the Wiscasset students.

There were several questions asked by residents, in the 2.5 hour meeting, and it appeared the candidates agreed on what needed to be done and in many cases were uncertain just how their goals would be accomplished. All the candidates indicated their first responsibility was to provide a quality education for all children in the Wiscasset school system.

The first question asked was if the $250,000 requested by Doug Smith at the Dec. 17 selectmen's meeting was really needed. All the candidates, with the exception of Steven Smith, who said he didn't know, indicated that some money would be needed to begin the process of developing a school system that has to be ready by July 1, 2014.

The candidates were asked what they planned to do to have the townspeople more involved.

Stover said it would be important to maintain a good relationship with the public and encourage citizens to participate in school committee meetings. Wirick said the school committee could use Facebook and other social media to keep the public informed of what was coming up in their meetings. All the candidates agreed special efforts should be made to encourage public involvement.

Asked what could be done to encourage out of town students to attend Wiscasset High School, each candidate said the best way to encourage out-of town students was to provide a quality education, and courses that perhaps are not offered at other schools.

Doug Smith pointed out that Westport Island and Alna students are certainly going to be welcome at Wiscasset schools. He also suggested another option was to make an effort to influence Dresden to come back to Wiscasset.

Throughout the meeting the candidates made comments on the need to consolidate schools, closing a school facility in order to provide an affordable, quality education for Wiscasset students. The candidates unanimously agreed closing the high school was not an option they would consider.

Doug Smith said he would prefer to close the middle school. "We need to keep the high school open," Smith said. "We need to put the money back in the classroom." he said.

Sharon Nichols said she would be committed to Wiscasset remaining a K-12 school system.

"A high school completes a town," Colleen Bennett said. "I certainly would not be in favor of closing the high school.

Wiscasset High School dropout rate is very high; the candidates were asked how they would deal with that issue. Steve Smith said that could be solved by providing a better education.

Sharon Nichols said the high school needs an alternative program for students that have difficulty academically.

A student must have 24 credits to graduate from Wiscasset High School, and according to the question asked to the candidates, the average credits required is 17.5. The candidates were asked if they would consider lowering the amount of credits needed to graduate?

Steven Smith said, "No, I don't think my children were worked hard enough." Glen Craig said, "The issue should be investigated. I have no background in education." Doug Smith indicated he would not want to cut curriculum standards. "Credits are not the problem, the curriculum is the problem," Sharon Nichols said. "We need a comprehensive education for our students."

Wirick questioned why the high school requires the students to do community service. In her opinion the students would make better use of their time in the classroom.

The final question of the evening was, "Did the Wiscasset Withdrawal Committee sell out to the RSU?

Candidates that have read the withdrawal agreement agreed that Withdrawal Committee was out-negotiated.

Doug Smith said the new school committee will have do so some negotiating in some inconsistency in the withdrawal plan. He said there are teachers listed that are no longer with the RSU, and computers have been taken out of the high school.

Stover asked the voters if they had read the withdrawal agreement, "It's out of this world," he said.

Wirick agreed with Smith that there inconsistencies in the plan that needed to be addressed. "I would not say the town withdrawal committee sold out to the RSU, but they were out negotiated," she said.

The voters will make their choices for the new school committee in a special election Jan. 7, 2014 at the Wiscasset Community Center.





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