AUGUSTA — The two candidates running write-in campaigns for the Ward 2 school board seat both said, at a candidates forum Wednesday, funding should not be cut for arts or athletics in schools; but other board candidates said they’d be willing to consider implementing “pay to play” as a way to fund such programs.

Christopher Clarke and Sara Squires both said arts programming and athletics in schools are crucial programs, and their funding should not be reduced.

“A priority is to keep kids in school,” Squires said. “Some of them may not be strong in math, but they may have phenomenal artistic abilities, or a fantastic singing voice, or they have a role on the athletic field. If you take those things away, some kids won’t be engaged in school.”

She expressed disappointment that only athletic programs have booster groups that help support them.

Clarke said booster programs are begun by people involved in those activities, not by the school system, so it’s up to parents or others involved in those student activities to form boosters to support them. But he agreed arts and athletics are crucial and help keep students engaged in school, who might not be engaged without them.

“If you want to end the drug epidemic, then you continue the sports programs and you continue the arts programs,” Clarke said. “You can’t take these programs away from these kids that otherwise have nothing to look forward to at home.”

Edward Hastings, the only candidate for school board chairman, said he’ll support arts and athletics programs, but as a school board leader, “you’ve got to look at all options that are available, otherwise you’re not doing your job.”

Jason Bersani, the only candidate for an at-large Board of Education spot up for election, said everyone wants to include everything in the budget, but the reality is that’s not possible.

“Sometimes you need to put everything on the table, and if pay-to-play is a model that’s going to keep something going, then you have to at least look at it,” he said.

Clarke said high teacher turnover is a problem not being looked at enough in Augusta, and that more money needs to be provided for classroom supplies.

Squires said times are changing and the school district needs to be more active in finding ways, including social media, to give parents opportunities to learn what their children are doing in school.

Neither Squires nor Clarke will have their names on the ballot Nov. 7, as neither of them took out nominations papers before the deadline to be included on the ballot for the Ward 2 board seat. Nor did anyone else take out papers to be an official candidate for the spot on the ballot, thus leaving the position open to be filled by whoever’s name is written in on the ballot more than any other residents.

Both Clarke and Squires have announced they are running as write-in candidates for the Ward 2 school board seat. That is the only contested race for Augusta City Council or Board of Education in this election.

Squires, 38, who grew up in Augusta, said she was in special education programming as a student in Augusta schools. She said she wants to show that can be a positive, and she wants to give back to the community.

Clarke, 30, said positive things going on in Augusta, but other aspects of the city are falling apart. He said the key to addressing the city’s problems is concentrating on the future, which is best done by providing a quality education to youths.

The Ward 2 Board of Education seat now is held by Deborah Towle, who will be forced from the seat by the city’s term limits rule, which restricts school board members to three consecutive three-year terms.

Running uncontested are incumbent Jennifer Day, at-large city councilor; incumbent Linda Conti, Ward 1 councilor; Eric Lind, Ward 4 councilor; Edward Hastings, chairman of the Board of Education; and Jason Bersani, at-large board member.

The forum was organized by Augusta First, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to raise awareness of local elections and issues and encourage people to seek local elective and appointive municipal offices.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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