OAKLAND — The newest board member of Regional School Unit 18 has significantly different positions on key issues than the member she is succeeding.

Mary-Anne LaMarre, who was chosen by the Town Council from a pool of three candidates last week, told the council she supports the district’s switch to a proficiency-based education system, but believes the school budget could be trimmed, both positions opposite to those expressed by Donna Doucette, who resigned as Oakland’s representative to the board on June 6.

The Town Council voted 4-0-1, with Byron Wrigley abstaining, to approve LaMarre’s appointment after posing a series of questions to three candidates, including Oakland residents James Stewart and Tom Burton. LaMarre was the only one of the three who had run against Doucette for the seat in November. She received 921 votes to Doucette’s 2,004.

LaMarre expressed support for the district’s shift toward its own new education system, a version of mass customized learning that draws from a variety of education models.

The system, as with most standards-based education systems, teaches individual students the required material at their own pace, but critics say it is failing students and leaving many without proper incentives or clear benchmarks of success.

The learning system was brought into the district’s middle and primary schools in the fall of 2012 and will make its debut in Messalonskee High School in September. The district has schools in Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

Doucette was a vocal opponent of the district’s implementation plan and urged administrators to slow the transition, but LaMarre told the council that support for the new system is the only ethical choice for an incoming board member.

She cited the board member code of ethics from the Maine School Board Association that asks board members to support the majority decisions of the board.

“The board has made these changes, and I will graciously support their work,” she said.

She said the change is consistent with the district’s vision statement, which she said supports customized learning.

“It’s a bold commitment, and I believe it’s in our reach,” she said.

LaMarre was not asked about the learning system, but she offered her thoughts about it during the closing comments of a structured question and answer session between the council and the three candidates.

Council Chairman Mike Perkins said the council members agreed not to ask the candidates specifically about the learning system, because they didn’t want a position on the highly divisive issue to take center stage.

“We won’t make it solely on that,” he said. “We wanted the best candidate overall.”

Doucette has also advocated for strong education funding, another contentious issue in a district that has struggled to get budget increases passed by voters in recent years.

When council members asked, through Town Manager Peter Nielsen, about Lamarre’s position on the district budget, she said she would go through it line by line and look for things, other than teaching staff, to cut. She said she would look at recreation and building maintenance costs as potential areas that could be cut without harming education.

A former member of the Waterville City Council, LaMarre has been involved with the March of Dimes, Crisis and Counseling, Maine Youth Leadership, the Maine Commission for Community Service and the Waterville Public Library.

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

LaMarre will serve until June 30. A candidate elected in November will serve the following term. LaMarre is eligible to run for the seat in November.

Perkins said Stewart and Burton were also strong candidates and said he hoped they would pursue office in the future.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

 

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