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Kennebunks sound off on upcoming election: Letters

In World
June 08, 2024

Kirstan Watson makes bid for RSU 21 School Board

To the Editor:

My name is Kirstan Watson. I’m 44 years old, and I’m running to fill the vacant seat for Arundel on the RSU 21 School Board of Directors. I was born in Arundel and attended ML Day through fifth grade. In sixth grade, I enrolled at Sea Road School, then Kennebunk Middle School and graduated from Kennebunk High School in 1998.

As a child, school was my refuge. I had a challenging childhood with a difficult home life. I faced adversity that threatened to undermine my learning and development, and to be candid, at times, it did.

Attending Kennebunk schools was life-changing. Immersed in a world of encouragement and support, I thrived. I realize this extraordinary educational environment exists because deeply caring, engaged adults work hard to ensure our schools are safe, nurturing environments that honor each student’s unique identity, skills, and needs. They are also places where new skills are introduced and encouraged.

This school system saved my life.

I write this not to inspire sorrow but to emphasize and celebrate how critical and meaningful public education can be, especially for kids whose resources are limited. I feel called to repay the tremendous debt of gratitude. That’s why I’m running to serve on the RSU 21 School Board of Directors. I passionately believe every child in this community deserves an education, affording each of them the opportunity to reach their full potential. I’d be honored to carry forward our tradition of excellence while also building and improving in an ever-changing world.

Kirstan Watson

Arundel

Realign RSU 21’s budget to support real education

To the Editor:

Few things in my life have mattered more than the Mildred L. Day Elementary School and the community it supports—its staff, students, and families. Even after leaving my role as principal of the school in 2022 to pursue a position at the Central Office level, I still feel a deep connection to this gem of a school.

I’m writing to address a recent letter to the editor at the Portland Press Herald from a fellow Kennebunk resident, suggesting that the RSU 21 budget reflects well-defined and appropriate priorities. A closer look at the budget and its changes over the past four years reveals a different story. It’s clear that RSU 21’s priorities are misaligned. When comparing budget allocations with those of similar districts throughout York and Cumberland counties, RSU 21’s spending on “systems administration” exceeds neighboring districts by anywhere from 30% to 100%.

This top-heavy approach doesn’t support the core needs of RSU 21’s students. Superintendent Cooper’s claim that creating a heavily funded HR department, along with budgeting over $120,000 for the salary and benefits of a communications director, are the types of priorities that lead to a “world-class” educational experience for students doesn’t align with the realities I know as a long-time school leader.

It’s time for RSU 21 to redirect its focus, supporting the dedicated teachers and staff at schools like Mildred L Day Elementary, where incredible work happens every day.

Kyle Keenan

Kennebunk

Robin Phillips for Kennebunkport Select Board

To the Editor:

In these changing times in our small town, there is a candidate that my husband and I would like to personally endorse for the Select Board of Kennebunkport.

Robin Phillips is a local who was born and raised here with multi-generational roots in Goose Rocks. She strongly supports farming and fishing in Kennebunkport and will work to bring balance to our town.

My husband has fished out of Cape Porpoise for over 40 years. In 2003, Robin was instrumental in preserving the right to farm in Kennebunkport. We appreciate Robin’s interest in keeping the fishing and farming industry healthy and thriving.

We have known Robin to ask the hard questions, and she will welcome input and participation from the voters in Kennebunkport. She is dedicated to making sure that the changes proposed at the state and town level are in the best interests of our town and the future generations.

Robin is keenly focused on retaining the character of Kennebunkport. Please voice your choice on June 11th and vote for Robin Phillips for the Kennebunkport Select Board.

Sincerely,

Melinda and David Anderson

Five Acre Farm

Kennebunkport

RSU 21 prioritizes student success and staff development

To the Editor:

Over 70% of the RSU 21 budget is employee salary and benefits. Continuous professional development of all staff is a fiduciary responsibility to the students and taxpayers of RSU 21.

Look at the results. The core curriculum has been completely updated starting with literacy, social studies, and mathematics. This year’s focus is English and language arts, grades 6-12. Next up is science PK-12. Continuous professional development is a core tenet of this effort. It is paying off with a 23% increase in reading growth K-8 over the last two years, and KHS remains No. 2 in the state three years running.

The $4.2 million athletic complex was completed without an additional bond and on budget. It is a facility supporting all athletes and state championship teams! KHS safety issues threatening our accreditation were completed. The quiet haven now at KHS’s center courtyard was initiated by students and supported by the School Board and administration. The district also joined forces with a community-driven effort to fund and install the first inclusive playground at KES.

Dr. Cooper drove grants to start and support “Summer Boost” programming to help students who needed some extra time to keep them on track. Salary increases for teachers were adjusted to increase competitiveness across the first 15 years while eliminating three-year stagnation points. Allied arts were restored, and 60 plus reclassified educational technician IIIs are now compensated to provide more support for teaching. Recent initiatives are addressing bus driver staffing shortages.

The school year now opens with a Symposium for all employees. I’ll share a comment from a 40-plus-year employee of RSU 21, “In all the years I have worked here, I have never experienced anything like this. It has truly been an incredible day. Fantastic.” Dr. Cooper has put the professional development of all staff front and center. The School Board, administrators, and staff at all levels are driving for improvement in everything they do, and we as a community are better for it.

Art LeBlanc

Kennebunk

Plattes for Kennebunk Select Board

To the Editor:

“A pillar of the community” is a description I would give to very few people these days. There is, however, one person most deserving of that title, and fortunately, she has decided to run for the Select Board of the town of Kennebunk.

Karen Plattes exemplifies public service. She has enriched Kennebunk as a board member of No Place Like Home, the senior living/thriving nonprofit; and as a chair and board member of the Kennebunk Free Library, including 13 years on their fundraising Road Race Committee. Karen has mentored medical students from UNE, participated actively on the Coordinating Committee of Many Towns One Circle, served on the KKA Chamber of Commerce’s Inclusive Community Initiative, and has been a Kennebunk election official for three years. She has come to Town Hall meetings to speak her mind on pressing issues.

Professionally, Karen has 35 years of experience working for nonprofit organizations. In diverse capacities, she has been an able planner, manager, teacher, childcare center director, and collaborator. She has managed state and federal contracts, overseen statewide outreach campaigns, hired and supervised 20 employees, and organized large community events.

It is a distinct pleasure to endorse Karen Plattes for Select Board. Not only is she aware of the pressing need for planning and preparation for some challenging years ahead, she is keenly aware of short and long-term budgetary and quality-of-life impacts on seniors, children, modest-income residents, newcomers to our town, and both established and incoming business-owners. I know she can thoughtfully balance it all and move our town forward.

Susan A. Bloomfield

West Kennebunk

Karen Plattes for Kennebunk Select Board

To the Editor:

We write in support of Karen Plattes candidate for the Kennebunk Select Board.

We’ve gotten to know and respect her during our years serving together on the coordinating committee of a local social justice group – Many Towns/One Circle.

Effective representative government is a must for Kennebunk. Karen will work hard to make that happen. Here’s how:

She’s an excellent listener and also has the temperament to let others speak.

When she speaks, she expresses herself based on facts, not from a partisan position.

She does her homework. The portfolio for every board meeting is extensive. You can be assured that Karen will both read the material thoroughly and do her own research.

Often described as a pleasant, quiet leader, she can also be forceful when she speaks to challenge, for example, statements which aren’t fact-based.

Some leaders are described as having a “moral compass.”  As we’ve worked with Karen, we’ve been impressed with this aspect of her personality. She’s running for the Select Board because she sincerely cares about Kennebunk and all its citizens.

Her agenda will be what she hears from us, her constituents, not from partisan groups.

If we’ve made our case above, we urge you to vote for Karen Plattes – Kennebunk Select Board.

Bob and Joan Wuerthner

Kennebunk

Joe Rafferty has a winning record in the Maine senate

To the Editor:

Joe Rafferty has proven he gets things done in Augusta. We need to send him back!

When I met Joe and his wife, Norma, during his first campaign for Senate District 34, Joe knew exactly what he wanted to do if he got the opportunity. He did, and two terms later, he’s done it.

Joe’s leadership as chair of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee has earned him the respect of his colleagues and unanimous support on several important pieces of legislation aimed at helping Maine’s youth. He’s a husband and father of three with keen insight, experience and good ideas. After 42 years of coaching at Kennebunk High, he thoroughly knows the wider Kennebunk community and our kids.

His 100% voting record and energetic support have helped bills pass that make life better for Maine’s children, seniors, families, and small businesses, and secured property tax relief for veterans.

Vote for Joe Rafferty, so we continue to benefit from his excellent representation and winning record!

Jane Card

Kennebunk

J.R. Fallon for Kennebunk Select Board

To the Editor:

One evening recently, my husband and I answered a knock at our door to find a young man who introduced himself as J.R. Fallon, a Kennebunk resident who is running for the Kennebunk Select Board. We invited him in and had a 30-minute engaging conversation about his past and present, and about his goals for the future.

We learned that J.R. is a fourth-generation veteran, joining the U.S. Air Force and serving as a JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer for more than six years. His service continues today as a Major in the Air Force Reserve. He took the time to answer a plethora of questions from us. We were impressed with his answers, and equally impressed with his demeanor and candor, and his drive to serve the people of Kennebunk. He aims to “Listen, Learn and Lead” and describes himself as fiscally prudent. He believes that we need a Select Board that, among other things, weighs preservation and expansion concerns.

J.R. and his wife, Kacy, live in town with their three young children, and he practices law in Kennebunk.

As a 30-year resident of Kennebunk, it’s refreshing to see a new face and hear new, fresh ideas from a candidate! I fully endorse J.R. Fallon in his pursuit to serve on the Kennebunk Select Board. His energy, as well as the “veteran attitude” of service before self, perseverance and humility, will surely represent the residents of Kennebunk well. To learn more about J.R., go to www.VoteFallon.com and his Facebook page: J.R. Fallon for Kennebunk Select Board.

Audrey Williamson

Kennebunk

Kennebunk Land Trust backs Drala Drive Road acceptance

To the Editor:

As a representative of the Kennebunk Land Trust (KLT), I am glad to be able to voice my support for the Drala Drive Road acceptance application, referendum Question H on the upcoming town warrant.

This a crucial step toward ensuring public access to our newest nature preserve, Tributary Preserve. The 50-acre preserve was donated to KLT in 2022 and includes a parking lot to welcome trail users.  KLT has built nature trails with local volunteers and students and has fundraised over $5,000 from the community so a new nature preserve can be enjoyed by the public. These efforts underscore the genuine public interest in accessing this preserve, and is part of our commitment to preserving natural spaces for the enjoyment of all.

However, without public access, this respite remains out of reach.

Drala Drive remaining a private road has effectively closed off access to the preserve, hindering our community’s ability to get out in nature and enjoy the benefits of outdoor recreation.

Under the new town ordinance, public road acceptance hinges on demonstrating a clear public benefit.Access to the Tributary Preserve offers a unique opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy nature and outdoor recreation, including extensive hikes, wildlife viewing, and birdwatching.

Similar preserves, like nearby Alewive Woods, saw over 1,100 visitors this time last year, highlighting the community’s appreciation for such activities. A public roadway to the preserve will ensure that this natural gem remains accessible to residents and visitors in perpetuity.

We are hoping Kennebunk voters will equally see access to Tributary Preserve and its nature trails as a public benefit, and approve the Drala Drive Road application on referendum Question H. With the guaranteed access of a publicly accessible road, the preserve will remain open for residents and visitors so everyone can enjoy nature and outdoor recreation in all seasons. Thank you for your time and consideration of this important matter, and please reach out to KLT with any questions.

Lori Beath

Chair of Kennebunk Land Trust board of directors

Rachel Kennedy Smith for RSU 21 School Board

To the Editor:

I strongly endorse Rachel Kennedy Smith for Kennebunkport RSU 21 School Board Director. Rachel’s experience and perspective make her exceptionally qualified for this role.

As a parent of three, with two children currently in our school system, she has a personal investment in the quality of education. Her background as a former educator provides her with firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in education. She is committed to ensuring all children receive the best education in a safe, welcoming environment and is passionate about advocating for effective and equitable education policies and practices. Rachel is a dedicated, knowledgeable, and compassionate candidate who will bring a thoughtful and informed voice to our School Board. I encourage the Kennebunkport community to support Rachel Kennedy Smith in the June 11 election.

Sincerely,

Loreta Vallar McDonnell

Kennebunkport

Keep taxes low in Kennebunk, please vote no on questions A through D

To the Editor:

Dear Kennebunk voters,

Do we really want to take over $5 million from our unassigned fund balance to pay for another huge budget increase and a church that has not been maintained?

Please vote no on questions A through D. The reasons are numerous.  Kennebunk’s total operating expenses, according to the town’s voter guide, are increasing by 28.7%, way above inflation. If approved, we are looking at an 8% increase in property taxes and more than a 15% increase for the 1000 seniors no longer protected by the state.

Question D is really about the 19 parking spaces near the town hall. The cost of church maintenance is not in question D. In the town’s guide, it’s guestimated to be up to another million dollars and more over 20 years.  If we, seniors, have to visit the town hall, we would rather walk and keep our taxes as low as possible.

Lionel and Cindi Menard

Kennebunk

Kirstan Watson for RSU 21 School Board

To the Editor:

I am writing in support of Kirstan Watson, who is running as a School Board member for School District RSU 21.

I have known Kirstan for over 15 years. She is a person of great integrity and is an avid lifelong learner. She believes that quality education is paramount to raising current students to become the best prepared, and productive well-rounded citizens for our communities.

What Kirstan will bring to the School Board is a fresh perspective, dedication, and a mindset to put what is best for the school and children first when making very critical decisions. Kirsten Watson will have my vote, and I urge all of you to get out and vote as well.

Peggy Hill

Arundel

Why I support RSU 21’s proposed budget

To the Editor:

Using data from the FAQ section of the RSU 21 website, I would like to summarize why I support the proposed budget on June 11th.

During the time of budget and contract development these past few months, I have seen posts on social media and listened to public commentary that have used data bites proven to be inaccurate yet continue to be circulated. I received Friday’s RSU 21 newsletter, where the FAQ page presents real data and answers core questions that have been raised in the community.

Administrative spending is not out of control at RSU 21. Compared to Cape, Falmouth, Kittery, Wells-Ogunquit, and York, RSU 21’s 3.09% in 2023 is well below the group average of 3.65%. This is the same group that is frequently cited as our peers when it comes to staff compensation.

I have heard and seen posted as an example of out-of-control administrative spending that the communications position is paid more than a teacher of equivalent experience.

In the FAQs, a side-by-side comparison is made between the teacher scales and the communications position when normalized to the same number of working days. The communications position with 15 years of experience is paid $63,448 per year, which would fall on the teacher’s BA Scale at Year 11.

It has also been stated that RSU 21 is losing teachers at an alarming rate. The district has a turnover rate well below the national average of 23% in 2022-2023 and has been declining since the peak during COVID.

This is a contract negotiation year for RSU 21 and KAKEA and it is important that the community continue to support the budget, our teachers, and all staff so that gaps in compensation can be closed to reach fair pay scales at all steps using data from competitive school districts in our relevant markets.

After a careful review of the budget and the FAQs, I fully support this year’s budget and the extraordinary work that the entire RSU21 community has achieved in the past year. With total administrative spending at 3.09% in 2023, I support the work being done within RSU 21.

Art LeBlanc

Kennebunk

Let’s seat Karen Plattes on Kennebunk’s Select Board

To the Editor:

Please consider voting for Karen Plattes, who is running for a seat on Kennebunk’s Select Board.

Karen’s extensive work experience includes proficiency in the building and overseeing of budgets, applying for and managing grants, and negotiating and overseeing federal and state contracts. Privately, she has successfully and responsibly owned and managed rental property for more than 35 years.

I’ve worked on projects with Karen. She diligently devotes the amount of time needed to fulfill her responsibilities. She understands the importance of “doing her homework”. She researches complex issues. She is exact in identifying important details. She’s an excellent listener and is skilled in asking relevant questions. As a communicator, she seeks to be as clear as possible, while remaining unfailingly civil.

Recently, I questioned Karen about exceptions to existing zoning ordinances: Why are there so many exceptions (was something wrong with the ordinance in the first place); who gets these exceptions (individuals, businesses, developers); and is the playing field a level one (do some people have more clout than others)? She responded thoughtfully about what she currently knows and what she has yet to learn. She also stated that it’s crucial Kennebunk have an effective plan for the town – one that prepares us for the changes and growth that is inevitable. With such a plan, then exceptions to approved zoning ordinances would truly be the exception.

Joanne Hulsey

Kennebunk

RSU 21 superintendent and leadership are under attack

To the Editor:

Here’s the thing about bullying: in its most elegant performance, a target is badgered and tormented discretely until they have a lapse of self-control and try to strike back at the perpetrator. Then, the perpetrator highlights this moment and portrays themselves as the victim.

I’ve experienced it myself, and seen my children and many others experience it. Usually, the perpetrator makes sure they have a sympathetic audience or group of supporters who are ready to condemn the victim who, in their act of self-defense, has unwittingly handed the bully yet another weapon.

I was at the RSU 21 District Budget Meeting on May 6 and was appalled by the behavior of some of those in attendance, amped up by mock outrage and baseless grievances. Personal attacks and insults were hurled at district leadership, and some of those in the crowd did, in fact, cheer in a way that I found sickening. Further, this meeting didn’t happen in a vacuum. From the beginning of her tenure as Superintendent, Dr. Teri Cooper has been under attack from certain parts of the community for simply doing her job. Many of the same people who instigated the recall of two RSU 21 board members – a recall whose premise was demonstrably false – are also behind the most recent attack on the district, and they have been clear that the aim of these assaults is to remove the superintendent.

Former Board Chair Erin Nadeau may have used poor judgment in posting candid thoughts online (to a private group, it should be noted), but please consider these facts if you think that her assessment of the situation was incorrect. First, it is the superintendent’s job to ensure the school district is run according to best professional practices and in a financially responsible manner. Dr. Cooper brings greater professional experience to this job than any previous superintendent of the district. Second, teachers in the district have received higher rates of pay under Dr. Cooper’s leadership than under any previous superintendent of the district. Though I agree that most U.S. workers deserve higher pay, RSU 21 teachers are certainly not suffering financially under Dr. Cooper. Third, Dr. Cooper and this board have budgeted and negotiated teacher contracts in exactly the same way that every superintendent of the district in recent memory has done it.

Now, please consider that Dr. Cooper is Black, a woman, and not drawn from the same rotating network of York County administrators (overwhelmingly white and male) from which the district has historically drawn leadership. Consider, too, that right-wing factions within the community have latched on to the issue of teacher pay to form solidarity with the union and blame the administration for the realities of budget constraints. (Disregard the bitter irony that many of those screaming about low teacher pay are the same individuals who routinely complain about high taxes).

My view of what happened on May 6th aligns pretty closely with Ms. Nadeau’s. Before members of the community condemn her for her choice of metaphor, I suggest that they take a look at the broader context in which it was used. I believe that her comment was just the final exasperated response to a four-year campaign against district leadership with highly questionable motives.

John Costin

Kennebunk

Vote for Diane Franz for RSU 21 School Board

To the Editor:

Diane Franz of Kennebunkport is a gentle, patient woman who has worked well with others on the RSU 21 board. She supports Superintendent Terri Cooper’s efforts to focus on academics.

Given Newsweek’s educational ratings assigning Maine 50th place nationwide, this is highly commendable.

The atmosphere of the recent RSU 21 budget board meeting has demonstrated that common civility is a greatly underrated behavior. Diane’s positive example in this regard benefits members of the RSU 21 community, as does her ability to assign priority to the most important item at hand, the academic education of the town’s children.

Kennebunkport voters, support academics, and give your vote to Diane Franz.

Susan Boak 

Kennebunkport

Why you should vote ‘no’ on RSU 21 school budget

To the Editor:

I attended my first RSU 21 School Board Budget meeting on Monday, May 6, 2024, to better understand the process. I attempted to place a fresh set of eyes and ears on the meeting. I was disappointed by what I viewed and heard. The RSU 21 School Board is attempting to put a “Positive Spin” on its current budget. It did not take long to gain a clearer picture. I sat quietly and paid close attention. I listened closely as our “moderator” read each article.

Voters then had the opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns. What the RSU 21 School Board failed to present was how they arrived at the overall budget dollar amount for each article. There are Articles 1 through 11 with a “Grand Total of $59,672,702.” They did not bring the “Receipts/Proof” to our meeting to clearly illustrate the actual costs associated with each article. Before any constituent can vote for approval of a specific article, one needs to know the line items regarding how each dollar amount was arrived upon. Taxpayers deserve to see actual receipts for these expenditures. Otherwise, there is no accountability within the budget that we are asked to vote upon. Accountability is critical for individuals in our town to make an educated and informed decision as they enter the voting booth.

One School Board member shared that one can find the information on their website. Why not share this information with residents who took the time to come out to the meeting? Full transparency is the way to deal with their taxpaying citizens. Particularly when the town is requesting more in taxes from everyone.

The RSU 21 School Board wants additional money. Our property taxes will increase. We are all living in difficult financial conditions. A trip to the grocery store costs 25 to 30% more for identical items once purchased. We all feel financial pressure daily with each purchase we make.

The RSU 21 School Board and Superintendent of Schools (Terri Cooper) should factor in how financially overburdened residents of our town have become. Everyone is experiencing a minimum 30% increase in their yearly expenditures for goods and services. How can the RSU 21 School Board and Superintendent of Schools (Terri Cooper) ask, with a clear conscience, for each resident to dig deeper into our already strapped household budgets to pay money we cannot spare? Every citizen of our town faces the potential of increased taxes along with increased daily living expenses.

Summary:

▪ RSU 21 wants your money without explaining clearly where your dollars are going

▪ There are residents of Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport that are living week to week, already overburdened financially.

▪ Terri Cooper, Superintendent of Schools, has presented an increased budget for approval without clearly detailing where our money is heading.

▪ People expressed a loss of faith in Terri Cooper, Superintendent of Schools, during the meeting.

▪ The residents of our communities deserve accountability from the RSU 21 School Board in these trying financial times.

▪ Teachers and students are leaving the RSU 21 School District. Why?

▪ RSU 21 has outstanding lawsuits against our community. We deserve to know the reasons for these lawsuits and what potential legal fees and settlement costs we may face down the road.

▪ RSU 21 School Board and Terri Cooper refused to reveal the nature of these outstanding lawsuits during our public meeting. Why?

▪ RSU 21 School Board and Terri Cooper are not forthcoming with the requested information, not allowing all taxpayers the ability to make an informed decision and vote.

▪ RSU 21 School District must be transparent to the citizens of this community, who collectively pay taxes to fund their requested budget. Taxpayers deserve the right to know where, how, and why their hard-earned dollars are being spent.

Finally, the tax-paying non-resident property owners in the RSU 21 School District do not have the ability to vote on this budget, because they are not full-time residents. They are full-time property tax payors, why should their voices be silenced? Why do their opinions not matter on how our collective taxes are spent? No taxation without representation.

During these exceedingly difficult and tenuous financial times, I hope people will vote with their personal financial well-being in mind. Now is not the time to increase spending. Now is the time for belt-tightening and accountability, like each of us does within our own household. We have been facing financial headwinds that may continue.

The residents of our town are fair-minded, hardworking, and giving people. Always quick to lend a hand to those of us in need. These qualities are what makes our town special. All we ask in return is for our officials to be fully transparent with our hard-earned tax dollars. To date, I feel their answers have been murky at best. Shine a light on your proposed budget and pending litigations. Please vote no on our upcoming RSU 21 School Budget June 11th vote. Our town officials need to provide far greater transparency as well as leadership. We are not asking for too much, other than straightforward facts and answers that will allow each of us the ability to arrive at a logical decision. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Mark Smith

Kennebunkport

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Kennebunks sound off on upcoming election: Letters

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