The candidates for Oakland’s seat on the Regional School Unit 18 school board have different views on the district’s two hottest topics: a shift to a fundamentally different education system and the budget.

Incumbent Donna Doucette, 56, and challenger Mary-Anne LaMarre, 48, are both small-business owners who say they want to serve the best interests of their community.

Doucette has more concerns than LaMarre about Mass Customized Learning, a system of learning being explored by the school that would group children according to the academic skills they need rather than by age.

Right now, children in a traditional classroom are grouped by age and pass or fail according to their average grades on tests.

Under the new system, which is being implemented in some schools around the country, a student’s proficiency in a particular skill is assessed; students at the same level learn that skill together, even if they are different ages.

Doucette supports the idea, but she expressed concern about the newness of the concept and the mixing of ages.

“I wish we had gone a little slower to make parents more comfortable,” she said. “I want to see the results.”

LaMarre expressed fewer reservations about the system, which she said is needed in order to better prepare students.

“I think we need to respect the fear of change that these parents have and work with them to overcome their fear,” she said. “Right now in our school, nearly four out of 10 students are not meeting standards. We have a responsibility to help students, and we have to look for ways to help them.”

This year, the school district made two failed attempts to pass a budget in its five towns of Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney. The third attempt, a flat budget, was approved this month.

Doucette said that one effect of the flat budget will be more costs next year.

“Whatever we don’t do this year becomes a larger problem next year,” she said. “I’d like to think we can afford to continue the education these kids need. I’m here to support teachers and parents and kids. One bad winter could just bankrupt us with such a tight budget.”

Doucette said that she is sympathetic to taxpayers who are feeling the strain of rising property taxes.

“Every homeowner, they feel the increase in oil and food and just about everything, and the school does too,” she said.

Doucette said that, if cuts are needed next year, she would like to see administrative expenses reduced. She also said that the district would be better off with increased involvement from the community and better communication among parents, teachers and administrators.

LaMarre said that Oakland’s rejection of the larger budgets demonstrates that its taxpayers do not support a larger school budget.

“The voters of Oakland have voted overwhelmingly to not raise taxes and we have to find a way to make that budget work for our students,” she said.

LaMarre said that she thinks a tight budget can be managed without hurting education in the district.

“The quality of education should not be linked to dollars,” she said. “It blows my mind when people think that. We have one of the finest teaching staffs at RSU 18. I don’t think that they would allow the quality of their teaching to be impacted.”

Doucette has owned two businesses for more than 20 years: an accounting service, Central Maine Business Services, and Kids Korner Nursery School.

She has served on the school board for 19 years and previously worked as a teacher for 10 years. She has led the Mid-Maine Regional Adult Education Board for 17 years and also has served for more than a decade on the Kennebec Valley Community College Child Education Board and the Mid-Maine Technical Center.

She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Maine at Augusta and an associate degree from Kennebec Valley Community College.

LaMarre owns LaMarre Management, for which she serves as executive director for the Maine Sheriff’s Association. She is the former executive director of the Giving Tree, a charity for children, and has worked as an auditor for school districts for Medicaid billing.

She is a former member of the Waterville City Council, she has been involved with a number of organizations, including leadership positions within the March of Dimes, Crisis and Counseling, Maine Youth Leadership, the Maine Commission for Community Service and the Waterville Library.

She is a Mt. Blue High School graduate and has taken some college courses.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

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