Twelve candidates will compete for nine positions when the new Windham-Raymond school board is elected next month.

Residents of both towns will vote Tuesday, Jan. 27, with Windham choosing among seven candidates for six positions and Raymond electing three members from five candidates.

The Windham-Raymond school merger was approved overwhelmingly by voters in both towns at the polls Nov. 4. The new Regional School Unit 14 board will take office July 1, 2009. Until then, the current boards for each town will operate as usual.

Candidates for the RSU 14 board from Windham include current Windham School Committee members Kate Brix, Mike Duffy, Marge Govoni and Toby Pennels, as well as Stephen Bow, Kane Loukas and Michael Mack.

In Raymond, the candidates are Jeraldine Keane, Abigail Davis, Jennifer Mains, Catriona Sangster and Alizah Shriver.

This week, the newspaper profiles the five candidates vying for the Raymond seats. Next week, the Windham candidates will be profiled.

Abigail Davis, 36

Family: Married, three kids

Occupation: Stay-at-home mother, formerly a legal secretary

A spot on the new regional school unit, Abigail Davis said, is the opportunity to tackle the challenges that come with combining two school districts, and to make sure education in Raymond continues to flourish.

“Tough decisions need to be made, and I want to be a part of that,” said Davis, a University of Southern Maine graduate who has lived in Raymond for three years. “Raymond by reputation have made their schools a priority, and I want to make sure that doesn’t change.”

For Davis, the top concerns in education are safety for the students and staff, and maintaining small class size.

“Good education comes with safety and with as small class numbers as possible,” she said.

With budget cuts hitting the school districts now, and more to come in the next budget cycle due to a decrease in state aid, Davis said she would like to see more parents become involved in schools in ways that can better education and save money.

She is also looking forward to sitting with other new board members to discuss creative ways to cut the budget in the new environment presented by the combined district.

“It’s going to be tough,” Davis said. “We are going to have to sit down and see where we are. This is all new. You are going to have to take into account other board members’ opinions.”

Jeraldine Keane, 57

Family: Married, three kids

Occupation: licensed psychologist, adjunct faculty member at St. Joseph’s College

Keane has twice been a member of the Raymond School Committee, during 1999-2005, when a new elementary school opened and the Jordan Small school became the middle school, and again for the past year, when she served as chairwoman.

Her experiences during that time, especially the last year, when residents demanded budget cuts from what she saw as an already lean budget and there was an intense debate over school choice, have made her realize what it takes to oversee a school department, Keane said.

“I believe that sitting as a board member and again as board chair has provided me a wealth of experience on board issues, budget planning, facilities, policy and legal matters facing school boards across Maine and the United States,” she said. “I also believe my education, training and experience has given me a unique perspective as a board member.”

While Raymond will have just three members on the board to Windham’s six, Keane believes the board will lead the way as the communities overcome any difficulties involved in the transition.

“I believe that all the board members will come tegether in a collaborative and supportive manner to establish a school district that does not differentiate between Raymond and Windham students or concerns,” she said. “This goal of the new board will focus on the students of the district and what is best for all of the students.”

One of the first hurdles the board will have to overcome is the loss of state aid and the resulting budget gap. Keane would like to see student programs preserved as much as possible. The board could look at the impact of cutting academic programs versus extracurricular activities in order to decide what should be cut and what should be left alone, she said.

Jennifer Mains

Family: Married, four children

Occupation: Stay-at-home mother

Both of Jennifer Mains’ parents were teachers, her aunt was a principal, and her mother-in-law, Margaret Mains, currently teaches at Raymond Elementary School. Add in her degree in education from the University of Maine, and Mains believes she has the knowledge of schools and education to be an effective board member.

“I spent many an hour at the dinner table listening to them talk about education,” she said with a laugh.

She moved in July to Raymond, where her husband David grew up, and before that they resided for a few years in Windham, where her kids attended school. This experience gives her a unique perspective that will help as the towns transition to one combined school district, Mains said.

“I know both towns,” she said.

Mains’ children, including one with special needs, have been educated well in Raymond, and with the new district coming she wants to make sure that the quality of the schools only gets better.

“I want to make sure that all of the students are taken care of,” she said.

The new board will have to address a budget gap, and Mains hopes that can be done without eliminating jobs. Small classroom sizes have greatly benefited her boys, now in fifth grade and kindergarten, she said, and she would like to see that continue.

As far as melding the two school districts, Mains sees that going smoothly, especially since the Raymond and Windham students already go to school together at Windham High School.

“They have very similar philosophies,” she said. “They are very similar in a lot of ways, and because so many of the kids go to Windham at the high school level, so I don’t foresee that as a problem.”

Catriona Sangster, 39

Family: Married, two children

Occupation: Director, Camp Wawenock in Raymond

Sangster, who holds a master’s in education from New York University and taught high school in New York for a few years, now uses her skills to help educate and enlighten children at Camp Wawenock, a summer camp for girls.

She hopes to use all that she has learned in educating children to mold the new school district into an organization that benefits all the students, and the community as a whole. With Raymond the smaller of the two communities involved in the district, she said, it is important for its representatives to have clear goals in mind.

“It is a very important time for Raymond to have a voice, and one that is going to be best for the children,” said Sangster.

Town lines will quickly disintegrate as the new board members work to bring the once separate school districts together, Sangster said. It helps that the towns have a history together, she said.

“Raymond and Windham have been working together in many ways for many years,” Sangster said. “People in Windham have the same kind of goals for their kids. I just think that it will play out.”

A financial crisis has already hit Maine’s schools due to cuts in state aid, Sangster said. Work is being done in both Raymond and Windham by administrators and teachers to identify possible budget cuts and improvements to the educational structure, she said. In tackling the financial issues, the new board members will first have to review the results of that work.

“Teachers and administrators have done their due diligence and really looked at where they can save money,” Sangster said, adding that she can contribute to the collaborative process needed to cut budgets in this tough time. “I think I have the ability to listen and hear people out and work with others toward a common goal.”

Alizah Shriver, 36

Family: Married, two kids

Occupation: Stay-at-home mother

As president of the Raymond Parent Teacher Organization, Alizah Shriver has found how to work within a group setting toward common goals, regardless of the personal feelings of the individual members. She has also gotten to know just how a school system operates.

“Having spent this last year and a half in this position, I have a much better understanding of parents wants and needs, as well as those of the students and the staff, and of course the budget issues.” Shriver said. “Most importantly, I have the drive to learn as I go and work to maintain a safe and healthy school environment for not just students and staff, but parents as well.”

How the new school district will operate has not been fully worked out, but Raymond’s representatives have to make sure in any case that the town benefits, Shriver said.

“I am not sure what this consolidation will bring,” she said. “I do try to remain open minded. However I am looking out for Raymond’s interests first and foremost.”

It is important to her that Raymond residents maintain a strong voice in the new district, regardless of the unforeseen challenges that pop up along the way, she said.

“I am not sure what can be done to make certain that does not happen, but I certainly believe in keeping a very open and constantly running dialogue within not just the board, but the towns at all times. No good can come by playing behind-the-scenes games.”

It is going to be difficult to cut funds from the budget over the next year, Shriver said. She hopes the new district will look at other ways to save money, through such things as more efficient energy use, rather than “quick and dirty” job cuts.

“Everyone loses when we do that,” she said. “I understand the need to fit the new depleted budget, but getting rid of teaching positions cannot always be the answer. The quality of education must remain a priority.”

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