FAIRFIELD — Two incumbents and a former district special education teacher are in a three-way race for two spots on the School Administrative District 49 Board of Directors.

Andrew Carlton, a special education coordinator and high school special education teacher in Bingham-based School Administrative District 13, taught last year at Lawrence senior and junior high schools.

Shelley Rudnicki, who has served one full term on the board, and Sherry Tompkins, who joined the board last spring, are both employed in the private sector and both have daughters who attend Lawrence High School.

Last fall, Carlton accused Rudnicki of harassing him after he had resigned the girls junior varsity basketball coaching post then applied to coach the boys junior varsity squad. He was eventually approved for the position; Rudnicki voted against it.

This fall, now that he is employed in another district, Carlton said he wanted to be valuable school board member in Fairfiled-based SAD 49, which also serves Albion, Benton and Clinton.

“I currently have a daughter who is attending school in SAD 49 and will have another one in a few short years, and I want to make sure that they, as well as other students in SAD 49, receive the best possible education,” he said.

Given the economic climate, the state’s reduced fiscal commitment to local education, and numerous state and federal mandates, Carlton said a large burden of the cost of education is dumped on local taxpayers.

“Every year at budget time this brings about a constraint between the school district and its taxpayers that I think is unfortunate,” he said. “I think that as an entity the school district should be educating our community members as to why the cost of education is what it is before we ask them to just submit their hard-earned dollars to the cause.”

Making sure educators have tools they need to excel would be one of his priorities. “I think, at times, it is forgotten how powerful of a role teachers have in the lives of children and instead people blame them for the educational system’s faults,” he said.

Carlton, who called teaching the most important profession on the planet, said his educational background would give him a superior vantage point from which to make board decisions about students. “I continue to see individuals running for school boards across this state who have no experience in the field of education,” he said. “I continue to ask the question how are these individuals qualified to be a part of the decision making at the highest level in public schools in regards to the education that our future leaders of America are getting. The fact of the matter is they are not.”

Rudnicki, who has volunteered with the Parent Teacher Organization at Benton Elementary for more than a decade, said she considers both taxpayers and students when she makes decisions.

She said taxes are too high for many people and that she works to ensure a quality education for children “without going back to the taxpayers for more and more money.”

Rudnicki said she is committed to finding and eliminating waste in the budget. Throwing money at education, she said, does not guarantee student success and she said recent student test scores in the district back up that statement.

“I joined to make a difference,” she said. “I am interested in the budget and (breaking up) the old boys’ network. I bring a passion to the board. I am a very vocal board member and it gets me into trouble sometimes.”

The manager of Gerry’s Used Cars in Oakland said she knows district teachers are good at their jobs but said they should not have gotten raises last spring considering many taxpayers on fixed incomes are struggling to pay bills.

She said the board needs to figure out how to provide gifted students with more opportunities and how to address renovating school buildings without passing on additional cost to taxpayers.

Rudnicki, a worthy matron of the Order of the Eastern Star in Waterville, said she is enthusiastic about serving and listens to people who contact her with concerns.

“I believe it’s my civic duty to give back any way I can,” she said.

Tompkins said she joined the board last spring because she wanted to make a positive difference in her daughter’s education and in the education of children throughout the district.

“I am passionate about the curriculum and making sure students get what they need,” she said.

The budget, Tompkins said, is also a primary concern and she said it’s important to let teachers know they are appreciated in tough economic times.

The physician recruitment coordinator at MaineGeneral Medical Center said she was pleased that teachers received a portion of the raise they wanted during the last budget cycle.

Something as simple as a thank-you card to educators can also be a powerful and meaningful gesture, Tompkins said.

Parents, she said, can be contributors at area schools and make a difference by attending board meetings, voicing concerns and making suggestions about how to solve challenges.

“I think I am a good listener and I’m willing to take on battles other people might not be willing to take on,” she said, and gave the example of advocating for the graduation date to be changed so seniors won’t have to choose between attending project graduation and a post-season track meet.

“I go to church and to work and to her (Hannah’s) events. I am involved with teachers and at school because she is,” said Tompkins, who also helps teach tumbling to children at the Young American Dance Center.

When Carlton filed his harassment complaint against Rudnicki, he said Rudnicki had told him she was unhappy with his decision stop coaching the girls team and would speak against him being hired to coach the boys team. At that time, Rudnicki said she believed the harassment complaint, made to Superintendent Dean Baker, was an attempt to get her to “sit down and shut up” about her disapproval of Carlton’s decision.

At a November school board meeting, Rudnicki said allowing coaches to quickly change teams sends a message to girls that they’re not good enough.

Carlton said he had aspired to be the girls varsity coach, but wasn’t chosen for the job. He said he didn’t see any chance to advance within the girls program and resigned. After the 2010 school year commenced, Carlton said he was approached about the boys junior varsity job.

Baker confirmed at the time that a harassment complaint was investigated by the district, but wouldn’t comment further.

The school’s attorney, Bruce Smith, wrote in a letter that Carlton’s complaint did not fall under the school’s definition of harassment.

At the November meeting, Rudnicki urged board members not to hire Carlton for the boys post. The board, though, approved all 20 nominated coaches, including Carlton. Rudnicki cast the lone dissenting vote.

Voting on Tuesday, Nov. 8, will be from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Fairfield Community Center on Water Street.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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