OLD ORCHARD BEACH — There are two incumbents and two challengers for two, three-year terms on the RSU 23 School Board in the Nov. 3 election. In Old Orchard Beach, candidates run at large, with the top two vote-getters elected.

In the running are incumbents Peter Flaherty and Christopher LaSalle and challengers Donna Moutsatsos and Samantha Sauls.

The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier asked candidates questions about themselves and their thoughts on issues. Here are their emailed answers, in alphabetical order:

• Flaherty is retired after 34 years as a teacher and administrator in the Saco schools, holds a master’s degree in school administration and has been an RSU 23 School Board member for six years. He volunteers with the OOB Historical Society, is president of the MSPS Scholarship Foundation that provides scholarships to OOB High School seniors and enjoys power walking. Flaherty is married and has two grown sons.

Peter Flaherty

Flaherty said Superintendent John Suttie, the administrative team and staff have done a great job preparing for what he described as the “COVID-19 dilemma,” adding that students and staff safety has guided all decisions.

“Our biggest immediate challenge will be to ensure that we keep everyone’s safety, the most important issue until the virus has been contained,” said Flaherty. “These are very unusual times. We are fortunate in OOB that we can offer four in-person school days. We also have a very good Remote Learning Academy for those students who need to learn remotely.”

Asked how to keep property taxes at a reasonable rate while providing necessary services, Flaherty had this to say:

“I feel that the current board has done a very good job with the budget,” said Flaherty. “Our first budget this year for 2020-2021 was asking for a 2 percent increase. However, when COVID-19 reared its head we decided to submit a revised ‘COVID Budget’ which called for a negative increase to the taxpayers of OOB.”

As to goals, Flaherty said RSU 23 is fairly high on Maine’s school construction list.

“I would very much like for us to be able to secure the funds and to build a new school,” he said.

• LaSalle, a software development manager at IDEXX Inc., has a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems and volunteers with Boy Scout Troop 310 in Saco. Married, LaSalle, 49, has two children who attend district schools. He is seeking his second term on the RSU 23 board.

Christopher LaSalle

He said the RSU 23 administration did a good job over the summer preparing for three possible back-to-school formats — 100 percent remote, hybrid, and 100 percent in the classroom.

“They acted quickly to obtain items needed to ensure students and staff safety, including PPE, additional desks, and a new school bus, to name a few,” said LaSalle. “They consulted with outside experts on best practices that needed to be implemented for returning to school safely. And they communicated frequently and with transparency to families and the community.”

LaSalle said the budget is RSU 23 board’s largest area of focus annually. “Unfortunately, the shutdowns in 2020 related to COVID-19 have had a financial impact on our community, and I see that potentially putting some constraints on our budget over the next one to two years,” he said. “The good news is that the RSU and school board finance committee are already looking at various budget scenarios, so that we will have options in hand when finalizing the budget with the town and community of Old Orchard Beach.”

LaSalle said he believes RSU 23 does a good job prioritizing what is critical for the budget in the current year and what can be deferred to the next school year. “I am fortunate to work with an experienced group of board members and administrative staff who have consistently shown that they are fiscally responsible with the RSU budget each year,” said LaSalle. “Each year the budget is different, but put together with specific goals and targets in mind, balancing both the needs driven by our strategic plan and the impact to taxpayers.”

He said his primary goal as a member of the school board is to be a strong supporter of students, staff, and the community’s schools.

“I am there to listen to families about their concerns and desires for their children’s education,” said LaSalle. “I am there to oversee and help set the budget and policies being put in place for our district. And I am there because I want to help make our schools be the best they can be for the children in our community.”

• Moutsatsos, 69, is retired after 36 years as an Old Orchard Beach school employee, attended local schools, and has taken classes at the University of Southern Maine and the University of New England. She was president of the Maine Education Association support staff local union for many years and is involved with the Atlantic Courts project of the OOB Community Friendly Connection. She gardens, golfs, enjoys art projects and spending time with her life partner of 40 years.

Donna Moutsatos

Moutsatsos was chair for two of the seven years she served on the OOB School Committee during the 1980s, and was a member of the building committee and others.

She said she is impressed with the reopening of OOB schools.

“A lot of planning and preparation went into opening safely,” said Moutsatsos. “Students, parents and staff were well informed and prepared. I continue to be concerned as colder weather approaches. I believe opening and staying open while keeping everyone safe is a work in progress. I am confident school administrators will stay informed and make tough decisions as we move forward. My hat is off to all school employees during a very stressful time.”

She said the biggest challenge facing the school system is currently unknown.

“We don’t know what the challenges will be during COVID and moving on,” she said.” I will face every day and every challenge with an open mind, always supporting students and staff. I will stay informed and work to ensure everyone is safe every day.”

As to balancing needed services and a reasonable property tax rate, she said she believes it is possible to give children a quality education and experience while being fiscally responsible.

“There is no question keeping our schools open and safe will cost money. I will be open and will support any changes as they come. I’m sure there will be changes and hard decisions to make, but I will work to keep OOB schools open.”

She said her goals include keeping everyone safe, keeping an open mind, staying informed and connected to the community.

“I want every child in this community to experience a quality education,” said Moutsatsos. “I want every teacher and support staff to feel appreciated. My job, if elected will be to support students, parents, and school employees.”

• Sauls, 39, manages the gift shop at York’s Wild Kingdom, a zoo owned by her family. She has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, is married and two of her three children attend RSU 23 schools. She has been president for four of her six years with Loranger-Jameson PTO. She enjoys crafting, walking the beach, reading, and volunteering for the school district.

Samantha Sauls

“As a former educator, I am familiar with the daily challenges that can take place in a school,” said Sauls.” I am so proud of RSU 23 and how this system has worked to make it possible for our students to attend school, in person, four days a week. I also feel that if we needed to return to full time remote learning our school system has a thoughtful plan in place to meet the needs of all students. This was demonstrated back in March, when we were abruptly thrusted into distance learning. RSU 23 has the benefit of having a small school system with wonderful class sizes. ”

Sauls said the school budget will be “a front and center challenge as we move forward ” in the wake of coronavirus. “I am prepared to work together to use creative ways to keep our schools running strong,” she said.

When it comes to balancing service needs and property tax rates, Sauls said RSU 23 must continue to work for a fair share of state funding.

“This has been an ongoing challenge for our town,” she said. “As a board member, I would like to work toward seeing this happen. If elected, I would also enjoy working towards helping RSU 23 receive grants to better meet the financial needs of our school system, thus removing some of the burden off the taxpayers.”

If elected, she said, one goal is to maintain and strengthen the curriculum.

“Music, art, and theater are important aspects of education,” said Sauls, by helping students be more culturally diverse, offering opportunity for individual expression and allowing a different type of learning to take place.

She noted RSU 23 is on the state’s list of districts in need of a new building.

“It is vital that we work together towards this goal while striving to not put a heavy burden on our town and its taxpayers,” she said.

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