BENTON — After months of debate, the school board is scheduled tonight to decide whether Benton Elementary School should be renamed after hometown Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Brian L. Buker.

The School Administrative District 49 board of directors will meet at 7 p.m. at Clinton Elementary School.

If board members follow the advice of residents at the recent Benton town meeting, the answer to the name change is “no.”

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, an Army veteran who initiated the proposal, conceded on Wednesday that it’s unlikely the school board will go against the town meeting results. The proposed name change was defeated 45-22 in a secret-ballot vote.

“It was an important part of the process, to have people speak their feelings at Town Meeting,” Liberty said. “But since the initiative was turned down by a two-to-one margin, it would be difficult for the school representatives to vote it in.”

Even so, Liberty said he plans to offer a final pitch to the school board — similar to one he made at the March 26 town meeting — by summarizing Buker’s military service and his Medal of Honor.

Buker grew up in Benton and graduated from Lawrence High School. He died in 1970 while serving in Vietnam.

Liberty sees a silver lining even if the school isn’t renamed after Buker. The Legislature has renamed a local bridge after Buker, and his medals are now on display at the Lawrence High School library, which has also been renamed after Buker. In addition, the debate has resulted in news stories and widespread community discussion.

All that has helped honor Buker and his service, Liberty said.

“It’s been very beneficial,” he said. “Everyone in central Maine has had an opportunity to learn his story.”

Liberty said he and his brother, Ron Liberty, also plan to propose the addition of a school curriculum for SAD 49 students about Buker. They already have a PowerPoint presentation ready to go, he said.

Buker’s platoon was on a mountain in southern Vietnam on April 5, 1970, when they came under fire. Buker, 20 at the time, charged through a hail of gunfire and destroyed an enemy bunker with hand grenades. He was shot, but he crawled forward to destroy a second bunker before he was mortally wounded.

Liberty proposed the name change after Buker’s family donated his medals to the high school this fall.

But many people have said they are attached to the Benton school’s name and don’t want it changed.

Most staff, students and parents who responded to a school survey said they were opposed to the name change, while the elementary school’s student body also voted during a mock election to keep the current name.

The school board asked for the advisory vote at the annual town meeting to gauge public opinion. Many residents who spoke at the meeting said they thought Buker’s service should be honored, but they didn’t think renaming the elementary school was the best way to do that.

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]


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