BENNINGTON >> Two candidates are running for a three-year seat on the Mount Anthony Union School District Board, incumbent Ed Letourneau and Sue Plaisance.
Also running unopposed for three-year seats on the board, representing Pownal and North Bennington respectively, are current chairman and vice-chair Timothy Holbrook and Leon Johnson. The MAU board is elected by voters from all the towns of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, and operates MAU Middle School and High School.
Letourneau has served on the MAU board for three years, after defeating incumbent Robert Sherman in 2013. He has also served on the board of the Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District, which operates the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, every year except one since 2003. He has also been a teacher at the CDC, and a substitute at several schools throughout the SVSU. He said he was running for the position to continue giving back to the community he grew up in. "I think one of my assets is integrity and understanding the spirit and letter in the oath of office which states "equal justice for all," which in a school board setting means providing for students, and within the means of the taxpayers," he said.
Asked about the recent successes of the MAU district, Letourneau responded, "At first glance the graduation rate has improved. Looking objectively, it is probably because the graduation requirements were reduced. However, we have to acknowledge that not all students are leaving college or career ready. We know there are A and B students who have to take remedial classes in college, which indicates a disconnect between the material being taught or the quality of the instruction, or what colleges expect, or some of each. There is limited follow up with graduates to see what they are doing after graduation, so we lack the data to make an accurate analysis of MAU performance."
"I think we need to raise academic standards," he said, "I think we took a step backward years ago, and I think we need to put them back where they were."
"In my next term I want move the school culture towards better management in all areas," he said, "Some problem areas include bringing fringe benefits in line with business practices, understanding why there are significantly more special education students here than other districts, bringing the 10 percent increase in busing cost down, developing rational practices to assure that we do not have class rooms with fewer than 15 students, unless exceptional needs are documented, and developing a method to identify and certify existing teachers to fill the shoes of retiring teachers instead of hiring more teachers."
Plaisance, who does not have a background in education but who has had two children go through the MAU school system, said that she decided to run because, "I think that it's certainly time for change. I thought it was really time to give back to the system that did well for my kids." Plaisance has served on the board of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce, and also served on the board of Generations Child Care, which previously existed in what is now the home of the SVSU's early childhood education program, on Division Street. In addition, Plaisance said that, "I was very active in extracurricular fundraisers and activities throughout my children's academic careers."
Asked what she thought the school district had been successful at in recent years, she lauded the Twilight Program, in which students considered at risk of dropping out take after-hours classes and are given employment opportunities during the day, which she said had had a positive impact on graduation rates. She also praised the faculty and staff saying, "the teachers, everybody there goes above and beyond for the students." Finally, she cited the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, which the SVSU became a part of the year, as a major help in combating poverty in the district. The program provides free breakfast and lunch to all students. "Now we know that kids are getting two square meals a day," she said, "which is excellent for our community."
As far as the direction of the school, Plaisance said she wasn't ready to comment, as she was still learning about the board, by watching recordings of the meetings and studying issues such as Act 46.
"I'm a hard worker," she said, "and I want to do what's right for the kids, because that's what it all boils down to."
Voting for the MAU board will take place on March 1.
DISCLOSURE: Plaisance is the Sales Manager of the Manchester Journal and is an employee of New England Newspapers Inc., the parent company of the Bennington Banner.