FREEPORT — Residents of Freeport, Pownal and Durham will vote for their Regional School Unit representatives in a special election on Tuesday, Jan. 13.
Seven candidates are competing for the six available RSU board positions in Freeport, but they will not know their term lengths until after the election. The reorganization law prescribes that RSU members draw lots for the one-, two- and three-year seats.
The candidates include two current School Board members, a former member of the Reorganization Planning Committee, two former RPC subcommittee members and two political neophytes.
• Kristen Dorsey, 46, has a background in education with degrees from the University of Connecticut and University of Southern Connecticut. She taught at the Spurwink Therapeutic Nursery in Portland, and is currently staying at home to raise three children who are in kindergarten, third and fourth grades.
As a member of the RPC education and communication subcommittees, she said it was important to her to be involved in the consolidation process.
“Running for this board was something I thought about for a while,” Dorsey said. “It was interesting to watch the consolidation process unfold. I am curious to see how the communities will meld together.”
Dorsey said her experience on the education subcommittee ignited a passion she had when she was teaching. She said she enjoyed talking to the teachers from Durham and Pownal and hearing about their approaches to education.
“I am impressed with what Durham and Pownal are doing,” she said. “They have great ideas.”
Dorsey said it will be advantageous to pull from the resources of teachers from all three towns to expand the consolidated district’s educational possibilities.
“As an educator and a mother with children in the school system, I will keep the best interest of the students in mind,” she said.
Dorsey said she is also concerned that enrollment is down in the public schools and is concerned that parents are sending their children to private schools instead of public schools.
She said she wants to involve the community in the RSU process because there are so many different opinions and expectations from the public.
“There has been a surge in the last few years of residents getting involved,” Dorsey said. “People get fired up about the budget and the future of our students.”
• Brenda Kielty, 46, is an educator and mother of three. She taught at Merriconeag Waldorf School for six years and was a parent assistant coach in cross country skiing, triathlons and running. Most recently, Kielty used her law degree to act as a child protection advocate and a guardian ad litem.
She received her undergraduate degree in political science from Regis College, her law degree from the American University College of Law, and her teaching certificate from Antioch College New England.
Kielty was a member of the RPC communication subcommittee, and said she was impressed with the people who stepped forward to give their time to education.
“Freeport has been wonderful for my family,” she said. “I feel as though it is my turn to devote time to help in this way.”
She said her strength is her understanding of the children and their needs.
“These are difficult times and the issues are complex,” she said. “We need to be creative, realistic and work hard together.”
Kielty said her experience being a mother, an educator and a child advocate qualify her for a spot on the RSU board.
“I am a collaborator and a consensus builder,” she said. “We will come together in good faith to make this team work.”
• Nelson Larkins, 47, is a lawyer with Preti Flaherty in Portland. He has lived in Freeport for more than 20 years, and attended Allegheny College and the Ohio State University Law School.
Larkins has been a member of the Winslow Park Commission and has helped organize the Close to the Coast race and the original Lobsterman Triathlon. He is the vice president of Freeport Creative Arts and was a member of the RPC.
He said he has a lot to offer the RSU because he has worked with many of the residents of Pownal and Durham in the consolidation process.
“It is a natural step for me to keep working with them,” he said. “It was a pleasure and we truly have an opportunity to make a good consolidated system.”
Larkins said while he doesn’t think there will be any savings realized in the first few years of a consolidated school system, the current economy may create opportunities.
“By joining forces, we may find savings we didn’t plan on,” he said. “This could be a blessing in disguise.”
Larkins said he wants the budget process to be transparent, with input and guidance from all three towns and residents. Without transparency, he said, residents will not support the reorganization.
“People have a right to know where their money is going,” he said.
Larkins is the father of three school-aged children.
• Paul Lowe, 51, a resident of Wardtown Road, is a school bus driver with the Brunswick School Department. He attended Oxford Hills High School and has had involvement in the Norway-Paris Lions Club, the Masonic Lodge No. 23, and has been a Little League coach in Freeport. He has been a resident for 11 years.
Lowe ran for the School Committee in 2005, but was defeated by Beth Parker and Christine Monroe, current board members.
“Consolidation is a great thing, and it is the right time to merge districts,” he said. “I have been in support of it from the beginning.”
He said having eight years of experience in transportation gives him energy cost knowledge.
“I know this will be a learning process, but I am willing to take on the challenge,” he said. “Someone needs to step up and represent the town and the children.”
Lowe said he believes in the school and the teachers and said education is the foundation of every community.
“Strong schools make strong communities, and I am willing to put in time to help the cause,” he said.
• John Morang, 61, is the father of five and a current School Committee member. He attended the University of Southern Maine and received master’s degrees in math and school administration. He is the owner of John B. Morang General Contracting and was a high school teacher for 37 years.
Morang was a selectman in Durham, and was the head of the math department at Mt. Ararat High School for 15 years. He said he is familiar with the process of merging school departments, since he helped form School Administrative District 75. He said he knows the difficulty of joining towns with different property values and different cultures, but said it is possible to do so successfully.
“I am running because education should be the priority of the RSU,” he said. “My interest is in children and their education.”
Morang said he did not support mandatory reorganization, but has no problem with Durham and Pownal as partners. He said the high school needs the students and is in favor of improving the quality of education of all three communities.
“I am seriously looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “It will be an interesting endeavor.”
He said he is optimistic that the three communities can find financial savings.
“I know this start-up will take a lot of time and energy,” Morang said. “But the investment is more than worth the return.”
• Beth Parker, 47, of Spar Cove Road, said she is running for the RSU seat because the board needs people with experience in the system.
Parker, co-owner of the Pet Pantry on Lower Main Street and a School Committee member, has two children in the school system. She attended North Shore Island High School in Long Island, and has volunteered for the Morse Street School PTA, the Education Foundation of Freeport, the Freeport Merchants Association and the Farm League Baseball.
She said there will be a lot to learn in the beginning, but said her experience on the School Committee will help during the transition stages.
“We are starting everything a new,” Parker said. “There will be a lot to learn and it will be a lot of work, but I am confident we will make this a success.”
She said she supported reorganization because even though there may be no financial savings, there are undeniable educational benefits for the students.
“Durham students have already added a lot of benefit to the high school,” she said. “With the budget as tight as it is and only getting worse, consolidation may help all three communities.”
• Betsy Peters, 39 of Cortland Road, is the director of marketing and development for Concordia Partners, a
strategic marketing and business development company.
She is married with two children, received a political science degree from St. Lawrence University and studied abroad in Africa for a year. She said her time there sparked an interest in experimental and immersion learning, a process she equates to consolidation.
After college, Peters spent time in Steam Boat Springs, Colo., where she helped pioneer the first Web site for the ski industry in 1994. She received her MBA at the University of Texas and moved to Freeport with her family in 2006.
Peters said she found the consolidation efforts fascinating and was exposed to them through the Freeport Families for Education Web site.
“I found such an impassioned public, and sat back and watched the process unfold,” she said.
While Peters said she voted against reorganization, her decision to seek a seat on the RSU board came because she wanted to add something to a process she found flled with “doom and gloom.”
“I think this is a fine goal and a merger of this sort is positive,” she said. “I just feel that this decision was rushed and it is time to be proactive.”
She said her ability to plan ahead and work with large budgets will be a benefit to the RSU board.
“There is so much passion of the community, hopefully we can get a fresh start and engage the parents in a positive way to support the merger,” Peters said. “Whether it is a pro or con position, communication and feed back is important.”
Voting will take place at the Town Hall Council Chambers. Absentee ballots are available from the town clerk’s office.