ORONO, Maine — Frances M. Neubauer and Michelle K. Smith, who are running for the single open Regional School Unit 26 board seat, answered questions at Wednesday night’s candidate forum about integrating transgender students, taxes and reducing recess, among other topics.
A plan under discussion by the school board to build an auditorium and improve the athletic field also was an item discussed at the forum.
Later in the forum, two of the three people running for two open Town Council seats said they supported protecting the environment and gave their opinions about partnerships with the University of Maine and other issues.
The best way to integrate transgender students is “by not treating them differently than any of the other students,” according to Neubauer, a former teacher and school board member. “By encouraging other students to be kind to them and included — it’s about more than being legal, it’s about being kind to these people.”
Smith, a University of Maine School of Biology and Ecology professor and member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, responded by saying the community needs to “celebrate our diversity” so “students can get to know people as people.”
Both said they disagreed with any plans to reduce recess for younger students, and when it came to taxes, both agreed school budgets require give and take.
“It’s a balancing act to provide the best education possible and not increase taxes,” Neubauer said.
Shortly after the two candidates answered the tax question, council candidate LaPointe asked the candidates whether they support the auditorium proposal.
Smith said she wanted to learn more about the idea, but added, “we’re looking for resources and options.”
LaPointe then asked, “how can you even contemplate an auditorium?” citing a possible tax increase with a projected reduction in state education funds.
“I would be in favor of a new auditorium if it can be worked out so we can do so,” Neubauer said. “I think kids on the other side of the block would benefit.”
Her opponent agreed.
“I also agree if it’s possible … that would be wonderful,” Smith said.
One of the two school board candidates will replace Megan Sanders, who decided not to run. Because of the timing of the recent resignation of Shari Kinnison, who had one year remaining on her term, town councilors are working to fill her seat.
Residents also will vote in a thumbs-up or thumbs-down local RSU 26 referendum asking if they want newly elected school board members to be sworn in at the first meeting after the election and be allowed to vote at that meeting.
During the town council portion of the evening, candidates discussed the relationship with the University of Maine.
“I think we sell ourselves short,” council candidate Clint Relyea, a Maine Business School professor, said. “We limit ourselves and isolate ourselves from the University of Maine. My sole platform is to engage the students more in the community. There are some great people in Orono. Why not give them the opportunity to work together?”
He later suggested internships that pair students with local professional talent.
Incumbent Councilor Thomas L. Spitz is running against Relyea and Daniel R. LaPointe in the March 8 local election. Spitz was not present because of a prior engagement, but an opening statement about his 12 years on the council was read by his son, Mike Tipping.
Polls will be set up at the council chambers and will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the March 8 election.