Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling firstname.lastname@example.org
FAIRFIELD -- The four candidates who are seeking to fill Fairfield's two open seats on the School Administrative District 49 board are evenly split on their biggest priority at the district.
Michael Bolduc, 56, is a supervisor at Sappi Paper in Skowhegan, where he has worked for 34 years. A Lawrence High School graduate, he has been active in school community activities and spent three years working with the Somerset County Republican Committee.
Danielle Boutin, 30, is an administrative assistant at CB Davis, a sheet metal company in Waterville, where she has worked for three years. She has also worked at a private school in Belgrade as an administrative assistant. A Lawrence High School graduate, she has taken classes at Kennebec Valley Community College.
Dawn DiBlasi, 51, is working as an employee advocate at Maine’s workers compensation board, a position she has held for two years. Before that, she worked as an attorney in Waterville. She is a University of Maine School of Law and Waterville Senior High School graduate. She has been an active advocate in various local political issues.
Christopher Goldsmith, 37, is a self-employed concrete contractor who has been in the industry for the last 17 years. A Lawrence High School graduate, he described himself as an independent who has gotten involved with politics for the first time because of rising property taxes.
Two said they were most concerned about maintaining or improving the quality of education for students, while two said that they were most concerned about the impact of the school's budget on local property taxes.
While their priorities differed, Michael Bolduc, a 56-year-old paper mill supervisor; Danielle Boutin, a 30-year-old administrative assistant; Dawn DiBlasi, a 51-year-old state employee advocate; and Christopher Goldsmith, a 37-year-old concrete contractor all agreed that both budget and quality of education are important.
Bolduc said his biggest priority is improving the quality of the education kids receive.
"We're almost at the bottom of the list as far as high schools go in school grades," he said. "I'd like to see us in the top 25 percent instead of in the bottom 25 percent. The name of the game here is our students and we give them the best education we possibly can."
Bolduc said that the quality of the education could be improved without having a major impact on the level of funding the district receives.
He pointed to the Cape Elizabeth school system as one that Fairfield should emulate.
"They really don't spend that much more than us per student," he said. "What are we doing differently? Obviously, there's a gap between there and what we're doing at home and in our schools, the mindset we use. What can we do to change that mindset?"
Boutin was the second candidate who identified the quality of education at the district as the main reason she is running.
She said she valued the education she received in the district and wants the same quality to be available for her children.
"Some of the current administrators are going to be retiring soon," she said. "I'd like to see it set up that we have another great administration coming in for my kids that we feel comfortable with."
Boutin said she worries that a tight school budget created by a reduction in state resources will limit the district's ability to hire and retain high-quality administrators and teachers.
"I want to have highly qualified people," she said. "I think there is a funding aspect to that. I want to make sure the funds are there to hire these teachers."
Boutin said that having the right administrators in place will make sure that "the education piece doesn't fall to the side."
DiBlasi was one of two candidates who said the biggest issue facing the school is its budget on local property taxes.
"I think it's the fact that the budget keeps going up and that causes people's taxes to go up," she said. "We've got unemployment at an all-time high. This isn't the time to push people into foreclosure."
DiBlasi said ignoring the impact of the school budget can have bad long-term consequences for everyone.
"If you're losing kids in school because people are moving away or losing their homes, that's not going to benefit the school district either," she said.
She said the budget can be kept in check without having a negative impact on education by targeting waste within the district.
She questioned the district's decision not to consolidate into a regional school unit, as happened with most schools across the state and said that empty classrooms in Benton elementary school might be a sign of inefficient use of resources.
Goldsmith was also worried about property taxes. He said that he was motivated to run for the board when he saw that property taxes in Fairfield went up because of school, rather than town, expenditures.
"I'm trying to get in and see if I can get a tighter budget, basically," he said. "Why does the school budget keep rising? I want to get in and find out and do my part as a citizen."
He said that he wanted to make cuts without hurting education.
"Athletics are very important," he said. "They teach leadership and such but there's got to be room for cuts."
Goldsmith said that he was politically independent and had no preconceived ideas about what should be cut from the budget. Instead, he said he planned to review the budget components seeking waste.
"I'd go down through the budget and do my homework and see what can be cut. I'm not going to make any drastic cuts," he said. "I'm not going to cut anything educational-wise."
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287