Incumbent school board member Gail Hawes said class size is one of the critical issues as the school district faces tough budget cuts driven in part by decreases in state funding.

Hawes is running for re-election to the Maine School Administrative District 40 Board of Directors in the June 14 election. She faces a challenge from Norman Theberge. The annual town meeting will be held 7 p.m., June 20 at the town office. The municipal election will be held 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., June 14, at the town office.

In an e-mail survey, Hawes answered a few questions about her campaign for another term.

Why are you running?

I’m running for several reasons. First and foremost, I grew up in Union and have a strong commitment to the community. I went to school here from kindergarten through high school at Medomak Valley. The education I received was very good and gave me the foundation and encouragement to pursue higher education leading to a graduate degree and a successful profession in medical research.

I would like to have the kids going through school today in MSAD 40 to have that same sense of pride in their community and school. Serving on the school board is one way that I can give back to the community and hopefully help kids other than just my own children.

As a landowner in Union, I also want to know that the district is doing everything it can to be efficient in how it is spending our tax dollars. It’s in my nature to ask questions on everything and try to find new ways of doing things more efficiently. I want to know that there is good data that supports decisions. Being on the school board is the best way to ask those questions.

Class size has been an issue raised in the district. How do you feel that should be handled?

We have been reducing class size and are not seeing any corresponding big gains in achievement, particularly at the high school level. I think the class sizes could be larger, without jeopardizing student learning and would be more cost effective.

This is at the high school where we have multiple sections of one class. The scheduling needs to be revamped to make it more efficient.

At the elementary level it’s different. In one classroom, there is a very large range of abilities within one group whereas at the high school, the students tend to group closely aligned. Our elementary class sizes across the district are within a good range for size. I don’t think they need or should be larger.

The very small classes tend to be at the rural schools with lower population. The only way to increase those classes is to close and combine schools, and I’m very opposed to doing that. The district is also looking into shifting some students from one school to another, but my opinion on that is that it should be a voluntary agreeable shift, not forced if a family has a particularly strong tie to a town.

Short and sweet, I think we can and should look into larger classes at the high school, but we need to leave the elementary school class size alone for now. We’ve been cutting at the elementary level and I think we are at the point where increasing elementary class sizes will hurt student learning, or hurt the communities and the bonds the elementary schools make.

How should the district balance the rising school costs with the pressure on taxpayers in Union, who are facing a difficult economy?

Every penny the school board approves for spending needs to be scrutinized. Our district has been cutting the educational as well as the administrative portion of the budget every year that I’ve been on the board to balance out the increases in areas of the budget that are out of the board’s control.

The two biggest areas of increase are fuel costs and special education costs. Our school population’s needs have been fairly consistent, but the amount of subsidy we receive from the federal and state funding to provide special education services has decreased drastically.

We need to provide the same services and education to our kids, but have less of the money to do it. Furthermore, the state is not meeting their goal of providing 55 percent of education costs, which was approved by the voters of Maine at referendum in 2004. That money has to come from somewhere, and that’s out of local pockets at the moment. We are now at the point where we have to make very hard decisions by eliminating programs, and thereby eliminating the teachers from those programs. This is also why the class size issue is of importance. We need to look at all areas to see where we can be more efficient.

You will hire a new superintendent this year. What are you looking for in a successful candidate for the district’s top position?

My most-desired quality in a superintendent is, and has always been, the desire to provide a challenging education for all students, with the emphasis on all.

Funding is so dependent on all students meeting a given standard that it is easy to lose sight of that goal. Every student should be taught to their potential and be stimulated to love learning. I’m less concerned with a student meeting a standard than having that student learn what they need to have a happy and successful life after school.

Leadership in the area of curriculum implementation and data analysis will be key. Good consistent curriculum expectations and high quality teachers will get the results we need on the standards. But student success after MSAD 40 should be at the top of our goals. The challenge for the superintendent will be how to do more with less. Looking for alternative methods of delivery is going to be more important. Using 21st century tools and changing the way we do things is going to be essential.

Financial understanding is also of utmost importance. MSAD 40 has had its share of financial difficulties in the past but is organized well now. The school board needs to continue to have confidence in the superintendent and his/her ability to work with the team maintaining financial stability. The school board cannot become complacent when it comes to school finance and needs to continue to have communication from the superintendent to understand the challenges. Planning and anticipating financial problems such as curtailments in funding is essential in a superintendent.

Do you have children in the school district?

Yes, I have a daughter at Medomak Middle School. I also coach or lead various groups of youth that are students in MSAD 40 as well.

How long have you lived in the town?

I grew up in Union. After attending the University of Maine, I lived in Boston for a couple of years, then went to graduate school in the Netherlands. I moved back to Union with my husband and children in 1999.

Can you tell me a little bit about your work history and education background?

After completing a B.S. in microbiology at the University of Maine, I worked in Boston at Mass. General Hospital on an experimental project with Dr. James Kurnick with cancer immunotherapy. After a year and a half in Boston I went with Dr. Kurnick and his family to Holland as his research assistant to learn new techniques while he was on sabbatical there. I ended up staying in the Netherlands in graduate school and received a Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Leiden. I was in Europe for 10 years working on autoimmune disease at the Academic Hospital in Leiden before moving back to the U.S. with my husband and small children. At that time I became a stay-at-home mom.

What boards and committees have you served on in the past?

As a school board member, I have served on the curriculum, budget, technology, and facilities committees. I am a member of the Union Fair Association Board of Trustees. I have also been a 4-H leader and a coach of a Destination Imagination team since moving back to Union.

How long have you been on the school board?

I have been on the MSAD 40 board for two terms — six years. Before that, I also regularly attended middle school building committee meetings as a concerned parent and taxpayer.