RSU 5 board member from Pownal faces re-election challenge

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POWNAL — A parent who volunteers in the school system stands in the way of a board member’s third term on the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors.

Lisa Pardus, 56, is challenging Kathryn Brown, 36, for a three-year term in the June 13 election.

Polls are open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. at Mallett Hall, 429 Hallowell Road.

Kathryn Brown

The two-term incumbent and Pownal Elementary School parent said she considers herself “an alternative point of view” who isn’t afraid to speak her mind from a minority perspective on the board.

“I choose to stick with my values,” Brown, who works part time for an environmental consulting firm in South Portland, said May 26. “I vote with my gut, even when I’m in the minority, which is most of the time.”

“I think for Pownal, I reflect much of (the town’s) viewpoints on a lot of things,” she said, which are often conservative in “keeping taxes down,” given Pownal’s comparatively small tax base.

“I think we need to invest strategically where impact to students is greatest,” she said, clarifying that she is “always rallying around math,” including the district’s recent adoption of new math curriculum.

Brown said her views are often “an uphill battle because we are a minority voice on the board,” noting that Pownal’s two votes have less weight on the board than the larger towns of Durham and Freeport.

For example, Brown cast the sole opposing vote in moving forward a special election to approve a major track and field facility at Freeport High School. Voters – carried by widespread support in Freeport – approved borrowing an additional $1.5 million in January to supplement $2.3 million raised by the nonprofit Tri-Town Track and Field Committee and a $1.3 million gift from Nike.

“My opinion was that the project approval was being rushed,” she explained. “I did not agree with holding a special election in January,” adding that “I didn’t think that that shortage (of fundraising) should be placed on the shoulders of taxpayers.”

In her six years on the board, Brown said she has overseen changes in leadership and direction across the district – notably, hiring two superintendents, and a major outreach survey.

As a member of the Strategic Communications Committee, she helped conduct the district-wide survey that gathered direct input from the three towns on key issues.

The responses, for instance, “finally put to bed” the issue of whether to rename Freeport High School to reflect the entire district.

“We were able to come to a final decision that ultimately the majority of people in RSU 5 did not support changing the name of the high school,” she said, commending the process for its role in uniting the three towns through a healthy public dialogue.

Not that there isn’t still work to be done on that front, she cautioned.

“We have a lot to do to improve relations and trust between the three towns,” she said.

Pownal voters don’t always feel “welcome to the table,” Brown said. “I bring kind of that voice” to the board.

Lisa Pardus

Pardus, who has two children approaching middle-school age, has been treasurer of the Parent Teacher Organization for two years. This is her first time running for elected office.

“I see this as the next step,” Pardus said in a May 26 interview.

Like Brown, Pardus believes Pownal’s representative on the board ought to consider the town’s small tax base and make smart fiscal decisions.

“Fiscal responsibility is really important representing Pownal,” said Pardus, who has a corporate financial background working at TD Bank. “To me, it’s about the value. …We should be focusing on (creating) curriculum (that) provides the highest value for our investment.”

Pardus said her professional background gives her experience building budgets and “strategic actions plans.” While she didn’t name specific committees she would like to join if elected, she identified finance as a strength.

She supports this year’s budget, which she described as well-prioritized.

While she and Brown both emphasized their fiscal responsibility, Pardus supported the new track and field project.

“Sports is not my big platform, but if you look at the feedback from RSU as a whole, having the athletic fields at the school improved (was) key to the programming,” she explained. “It will also be a source of pride and it will build community and spirit. It will bring the system together.”

She also praised the direction of the district under the new oversight of Superintendent Becky Foley, and the board’s attempts to expand outreach to the school community.

“I like the strategic priorities that have been put in place recently,” she noted.

“One of the things I liked was the survey that was done last fall” – the same Brown had referred to – “(where) they took a lot of input of the community” that will be used to inform “the next round of objectives for next year,” she said.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Lisa Pardus, right, is challenging Kathryn Brown for a three-year term representing Pownal on the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.