Educator challenges incumbents for Freeport seat on RSU 5 board

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FREEPORT — Two incumbents seeking re-election to the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors are being challenged by a first-time candidate with a background in education.

Gurdarshan Gill has not sought elected office before. Incumbents Nelson Larkins, the current RSU 5 chairman, and Beth Parker, who has served on the Freeport and RSU 5 boards for six years, hope to keep their seats.

Gurdarshan Gill

Gill, 62, of Palmer Point Road, is married and has three grown children. She and her husband have lived in Freeport eight years.

She has master’s degrees in reading and education administration from the University at Albany-SUNY, and a doctorate in educational leadership form Nova Southeastern University in Miami.

Gill has taught and been a principal in the Schenectady, N.Y., school system and now is a program coordinator for the Greater Freeport Family Literacy Program.

She said her campaign slogan, “We need to move beyond business as usual,” represents her desire to provide a world-class education for students in RSU 5.

“I think Freeport can do a lot better,” she said. “I’d like Freeport schools to be stronger in math and science.”

She said adding programs and improving the curriculum can be done without raising the tax rate, by using creativity and innovation. She said as a board member she would look for alternative funding sources, would encourage grant applications and learn from other communities.

“The most important issue for me is knowing that money is an issue for everyone,” she said. “Let’s look at budgeting, look at hiring a full-time grant writer. Look at the curriculum and at how teachers and administrators are hired.”

She said she supports building a better community, and if residents want to approve a campus complex, that is for the voters to decide.

“If it’s good for the community to have (a campus complex) and if we could afford it, it would be good for not just the students, but businesses and the community,” Gill said. “I’m sympathetic to the athletic director, but the economy just doesn’t support it and we have to respect the people.”

She said she assumes consolidation has been a benefit financially to Freeport, Pownal and Durham, but said she would prefer if students from Durham and Pownal were able to take out books from the Freeport library for free.

“There has to be a better arrangement to accommodate all the students,” she said. “It is not their fault, they are being made to come here. … I always think there is a way to solve a problem.”

Nelson Larkins

Larkins, 50, lives on Shore Drive and is divorced. He has three children; two are enrolled in the Freeport school system.

He is a partner in the Prehti Flaherty law firm in Portland and focuses on workers’ compensation. He attended Allegheny College and received his law degree from Ohio State.

Larkins has served on the RSU 5 board since it was formed and said he is running again because there is still a lot of work to be done. He said he sees his role as a facilitator and, having served as chairman of the board, has been able to create conversations and help bring about unified decisions, even when there have been disagreements.

“I’d like to take what we’ve put in place – the strategic plan, professional learning communities, leadership in the schools and revamping the financial system – and better communicate that, so the three separate towns really feel they have one school community,” Larkins said. “That’s my biggest goal, to make everyone feel much more comfortable that it is their school and they do have input into it.”

As a member of the negotiations committee, Larkins said he would like to continue to work on reaching a consolidated teacher contract.

“I am pleased we could get the interim contract complete so that teachers could get pay raises,” he said. “With the addition of three professional development days, that meant a bump up in all teachers salaries as well. The negotiations have really been language issues and trying to bring it up to a modern contract reflecting the three communities and the schools, while the whole educational environment is shifting state and nationwide.”

While he said he felt as though the three districts had to consolidate “at gunpoint,” and there have been uncontrollable financial implications for Pownal and Durham, Larkins said consolidation is working well and sees the three communities fitting well into a consolidated district.

He said the administration has continued to do a great job keeping the budget flat in light of rising fuel costs, salaries and professional development days.

“It proves to a certain extend there is merit to the increase in numbers to the school,” Larkins said. “We’ve been able to actually recognize savings by consolidating.”

Adding more personnel, resources for the gifted and talented program, Advanced Placement courses and increasing the athletic budget will have an impact on the budget, Larkins said. But he said these additions are necessary to keep RSU 5 moving forward and in line with other schools.

Larkins supports the campus complex and said money, timing and communication played a role in the vote against building a track and turf field at the high school.

“My natural ability to facilitate matters will help continue the process of community building in the school system,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot in the past 2 1/2 years and want to continue that work.”

Beth Parker

Parker, 50, of Spar Cove Road, owns the Pet Pantry with her husband, and has two children in the school system.

She served on the Freeport School Committee before becoming a member of the consolidation transition committee and has reached the end of her first term on the RSU 5 board. She is a member of the negotiations committee and has been working on teacher contracts for the past 1 1/2 years.

“One of the main reasons I want to stay on (the board) is for continuity,” Parker said. “There’s been turnover on the board and turnover on (the negotiations) committee and getting people up to speed on a matter that is so important and confusing is difficult and timely.”

Parker said new leadership, administrative changes and highly qualified teachers are examples of progress and positive results of consolidation. 

“I think consolidation is working,” she said. “We are heading in the right direction with everything.”

As a resident and business owner, Parker said she is conscious of spending too much, but is also mindful of what is needed for the students.

“Each new item or program has to have a benefit for the kids,” she said. “If we need it, then we should add it. But I own a business and a home in this town. I am conscious of what taxpayers owe, because I am one, too.”

She said the campus complex is a good idea and is something Freeport desperately needs, but it is important to consider and weigh the importance of other needs, such as the high school infrastructure and improving the curriculum. She said the campus complex decision should be made by the voters, not the RSU 5 board.

Parker said she will use her dedication and knowledge of the board to serve the community.

“I bring history to the board, knowledge, and there is a lot of unfinished business to continue to work on,” she said. “We are doing a lot and making a lot of changes and laying a lot of good groundwork but there is still a lot that needs to be done and I am familiar with the process.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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Uncontested races

FREEPORT — One seat is up for election on the Water District Board of Trustees, along with two seats on the Sewer District board. All of the seats are for three-year terms.

The two Sewer District seats are held by incumbents Mike Ashby of Cove Road and Timothy P. Whitacre of Sandy Beach Drive. Both are unopposed.

Whitacre, who has twice unsuccessfully campaigned for a seat on the Sewer District, was appointed by the Town Council in February to fill a vacancy created when former Chairman Leon Arris left the board to become the district’s general manager.

The Water District seat is held by Edmond Theriault of Litchfield Road, an incumbent who is also opposed.

— Amy Anderson

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