4 candidates for 3 Topsham seats on SAD 75 board

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TOPSHAM — Four candidates are running for three Topsham seats on the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors in the November election.

Incumbents Jane Scease of Western Avenue and James Cusano of Amanda Drive face challenges from Jeffrey Wolkens of Meadow Road and James Connors of Augusta Road.

Director Roland Tufts has chosen not to run again for the three-year seat.

James Conners

Conners, 69, is married and has 12 children and 20 grandchildren. He has lived in Topsham for 25 years.

Before his retirement he taught vocational building construction at Lewiston Regional Technical Center for 21 years, and prior to that he taught at Lisbon High School and was a carpenter.

Connors also taught night school at Maine Region 10 Technical High School in Brunswick, which serves students from Brunswick, SAD 75 and Freeport.

“I have been in the schools from seventh grade to 12th grade, and I’ve also done a lot of night school with adults, and I thought I might just have something to contribute when it comes to making some decisions,” Conners said.

He said he is interested in students having the opportunity to learn something that is useful to them, “and it may be going to college, and it may be vocational, it may be an apprenticeship. I think there are several different routes that are applicable today, and I don’t if they’re being made available to students.”

Conners noted that he and his wife had successfully raised a large family.

“I think being a parent is a great learning experience, because you take children from birth all the way up to a certain age, and you just learn a lot about what kids need and how they function, how they work,” he said. “And you also learn that there’s such a variety, and that one thing doesn’t work with them all. And I think that applies to schooling.”

James Cusano

Cusano, 45, is married and has three children. He has lived in Topsham for four years and is a vice president of retail sales strategy with TD Bank.

Although this is Cusano’s first campaign for election to the board, he has twice filled vacancies created when board members did not finish their terms, most recently for Claudia Beckwith, who resigned in December 2010.

“I’ve always been interested in taking part (in) the direction of the schools in the community,” he said. “Obviously having children in the school district, you have a little bit more interest in seeing the curriculum and the various activities.”

Cusano said he believes everyone in the community is concerned about the way state funding has been reduced, and the impact those cuts can have on SAD 75’s mission statement and how it educates children in the district.

“It’s a challenging time,” he said, “but sometimes the best challenges bring out the best opportunities.”

Cusano said he is passionate about the issues SAD 75 faces. “I clearly have a vested interest in how we run our schools,” he said, “and I think it’s important that we include the voice of all students.”

He said there is “great work” being done on SAD 75’s committees and in its schools, “and I would advise everyone in the community to come out and get more involved. … Whether I get elected, or another very qualified individual (d0es), the main thing is that we have dedicated and passionate people on the board.”

Jane Scease

Scease, 75, has six children and nine grandchildren. Now retired, she spent nearly 30 years as a medical social worker for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Maine, Texas and Washington.

Scease moved to Topsham in 1998, has served one term on the School Board, and was on the Board of Selectmen from 2001-2007.

“I think that education is one of the most serious functions of government,” Scease said. “And I’m very interested in having our children receive the best education that they can.”

She said “we make the case … to people that it’s really important for them to invest in education. … It’s the one investment that we really need to make for the future.”

Scease was elected Sagadahoc County treasurer last fall, and she serves on the Topsham Housing Authority, the Greater Brunswick Housing Corp. board and with MaineShare, a group of more than 30 Maine nonprofits that have joined to raise funds and awareness about their work.

She said she is dedicated to the cause of education and recognizes the issues involved with funding public education.

“In these days of budget challenges, it’s really important that we be very responsible in managing our schools,” Scease said.

Jeffrey Wolkens

Wolkens, 47, is married and has two children. He has lived in Topsham 11 years and works in inventory control at Staples in Brunswick.

“I’ve seen a lot of things progress basically backwards instead of forward, and I’m kind of (one of) those types that thinks that a parent needs to be more involved on the (School) Board,” Wolkens said. “Of course, we’re always asked about being involved in our kids’ education, and I agree.”

Wolkens said he would prefer to see fewer “outside influences” in the classroom setting. “They’re always working on the kids when it comes to their social skills … but they’re not spending as much time on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and that type of thing,” he said.

He said he has seen more evidence of this with his 9-year-old son than he did with his 21-year-old son. “I’d like to see a little less of all the outside stuff that really the family and the parents should be handling,” Wolkens said.

He said he offers “a basic perspective on education,” noting that “you spend a lot of hours with your kids, and you’d like to be able to see them come home and show you what they’ve learned for the day, instead of having you try to figure out what it is you have to teach them for the day.”

Wolkens has been a Sunday school superintendent with the East Brunswick Baptist Church for 15 years, and he is active in the Sagadahoc County Republican Committee.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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James Conners

James Cusano

Jane Scease

Jeffrey Wolkens

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.