Four running for Lamoine School Committee

LAMOINE — It’s election season for the town and residents are gearing up to vote for members of the Select Board and School Committee on March 8.

To kick things off, the Lamoine Grange is organizing a forum for voters to meet the candidates on Wednesday, March 2, at 6 p.m. at the Lamoine Consolidated School.

The only contested race is for two open seats on the School Committee. Four candidates are vying for the seats.
The American reached out to those running to talk about current issues and what is driving them to run for, or try to remain in, public office.

School Committee incumbents Robert Pulver and Chairman Brett Jones are being challenged by newcomers Michelle Rollins and Katie Dandurand.

Pulver has been on the School Committee for over 10 years.

“I’ve been in education my entire working life,” he said of his decision to serve. For 30 years, Pulver worked for a school district outside of Chicago, first as a teacher and then in the office of the superintendent.

In Lamoine, Pulver said it’s been a “pleasure to work with something so successful” as the town’s school.
As school committees have faced many challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Pulver said, “I take my responsibility for someone else’s kid’s health very seriously,” while still providing quality education.

Regarding decisions made with COVID-19 safety guidelines in mind, “I want to hear from everybody who has an interest in this,” Pulver said. “My job is … to bring these voices together and reach some sort of compromise.”

Pulver noted how the school remained open throughout the pandemic and its 100 percent staff vaccination rate, according to the Maine Department of Education.

If re-elected, Pulver said he will work to preserve the success the school has achieved.

“I want to maintain the high quality of education that the students get, which I think is really high right now,” Pulver said.

He wants to support the work of all who contribute to the school.

“The parents and teachers work together to provide the best possible environment for their students,” Pulver said. “I want to keep it that way.”

Jones, the current chairman, has been on the School Committee for about eight years and represented the school for roughly four years when it was part of Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24). He was part of the school’s effort to withdraw from RSU 24, something he said has been a benefit for Lamoine.

He wants to continue serving because “there’s unfinished business.”

Plans have been in the works to renovate the school and Jones wants to continue working on the those plans to present to the town and give voters a chance to weigh in.

Needed renovations include expanding storage space and the gym.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to do that and get the most bang for the buck,” Jones said.

“I hope to continue to build a great organization,” he said of the school. Jones spoke of the school’s high-quality staffing and that he would like staff retention to be a “foundational element” of the institution that will continue regardless of who is serving on the committee.

Regarding the tough decisions school committees have faced the last two years, “We tried to make the best choices we could with the information we had in front of us,” Jones said. Implementing a mask policy meant that, due to policies at the state level, more children could remain out of quarantine and in the classroom.

Rollins is running for the School Committee (and public office) for the first time. The mother of two children who attend the town’s school started attending committee meetings last year and her interest was piqued. “How can I plug myself into the community?” she asked.

The issues facing school committees are part of what drew Rollins into attending meetings.

“I know those are tough decisions,” Rollins said about issues such as masking. She noted that because of the stipulations set by the state, implementing a masking policy was encouraged.

“So, I understand and can appreciate the difficulty in the board’s decision making,” she said.

“One of the reasons I’m running is I believe I can represent the parents’ voice,” Rollins said.

She explained that she is concerned with the mental health and well-being of students after following COVID rules for two years, including their ability to learn.

If elected, she hopes to reinstate programs that were halted due to COVID, such as the after-school program.

“I know that’s put a strain on parents in this community,” she said.

She also hopes to be part of the budgeting and planning for the renovations the school needs.

“[I] just want to be a part of those fiscal conversations and help to represent the taxpayers here responsibly while still meeting a need for the children in the community.”

Dandurand is also running for public office for the first time. She has municipal experience as the current town clerk for the town of Tremont.

“I’m a full-time working mom and my engagement is limited to any school activities or joining any parent group, so I felt that applying to be elected to the school board is a way I could give back to the school and to the community,” Dandurand said. Her experience includes working with multiple boards, committees, policy updates, agendas and budgets.

“I feel those qualifications will be a good asset to the board,” she said.

Regarding decisions made related to the pandemic, Dandurand is concerned that the COVID guidelines have made it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn.

She would like to see guidelines relaxed so that teachers and students can return to a sense of normalcy.

“The ultimate next pandemic is going to be uneducated children,” Dandurand said, adding students will also be dealing with mental and emotional issues.

Additionally, Dandurand would like to see lines of communication improve, including advance notice to parents of upcoming School Committee meetings.

She suggested that meeting agendas could be attached to the school’s weekly bulletin that goes home to parents.

“That’s an easy way to notify at least the parents,” Dandurand said.

For the Select Board, Kathleen Rybarz is running unopposed to keep her seat that she has held for two terms.

She wants to continue serving so that she can keep being a voice for the “niche” she specializes in — promoting conservation and water quality. That includes advocating for how Frenchman Bay is used.

Rybarz said she wants to keep engaging with the community about these kinds of issues, including the pending application from American Aquafarms for a salmon farm in the bay.

Previously, Rybarz talked with 14 lobstermen who fish out of Lamoine State Park. They signed a petition that was presented to the Select Board for the town to become an intervenor in the American Aquafarms application process.

The town will vote on the issue at its March 16 Town Meeting.

“It really does affect our economy here,” Rybarz said, adding the proposed project would change the ecology of the bay.

Larissa Thomas is running to serve on the Select Board for the first time. She is running unopposed for the seat vacated by Bob Christie.

Like Rybarz, conservation is important to Thomas, who serves on the Lamoine Conservation Commission.

Thomas said she is impressed with the current board’s ability to work together while representing different perspectives. She said she knows what the role requires and has the skills to offer but was disappointed that no one else chose to run for the seat. She said having choices is valuable to voters.

Thomas is involved in a grant proposal effort to address climate change issues. If awarded, the town can use the funding to help install heat pumps and enter into solar power purchase agreements.

“I anticipate leading the charge in its implementation,” Thomas said.

Thomas also hopes to deal with projects that involve large, capital investments, such as road repairs and school renovations.

In other business, Jane Fowler is running unopposed for a three-year term as tax assessor.
The March 2 candidate forum will be moderated by Carol Korty. Masks will likely be required.

Rebecca Alley

Rebecca Alley

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]

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