PARIS — Former Harrison Selectwoman Kathy Laplante has been appointed that town’s representative to the SAD 17 Board of Directors replacing controversial director Robert Celeste who resigned last month after members of the community called for his resignation after discovering comments he had made that they deemed as racist.
Laplante, who will serve until the next annual town election in Harrison in June, said she has already taken out nomination papers to run for Celeste’s remaining year of his three-year term.
Laplante said she hopes to bring an atmosphere of transparency and better understanding of the school budget to the community at large.
“I am particularly interested in helping to make the budget more transparent and clear,” said Laplante in responding to questions from the Advertiser Democrat. “I think more concise figures and less data would help everyone to better appreciate and understand costs.”
Laplante, who served two terms as selectwoman on the Harrison Board of Selectmen until 2016, has recently appeared at the SAD 17 Board of Directors meetings asking questions during the public comment section of the board meetings concerning several issues including funding and participation in next week’s China trip.
Superintendent Rick Colpitts will travel to China with 13 students and several administrators including Oxford Hills Technical School Director Shawn Lambert. The suprintendent is obligated to travel to China every five years to renew the sister school/teacher exhange agreement with China officials.
The trip to China is one of about half a dozen trips students, teachers and administrators have taken since establishing the sister school and exchange teacher program in Jinhua almost a decade ago.
Negotiations for what was believed to be the state’s first Chinese-Maine teacher exchange program were concluded in April 2007. The delegation was led by former SAD 17 Superintendent Mark Eastman during a 13-day trip.
He and other officials, including Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Principal Ted Moccia and and high school social studies teachers Craig Blanchard and Jason Long, traveled to the Zhejiang Normal University Middle School in Jinhua to make the arrangements.
The negotiations created a sister school and provided for a Chinese language teacher to come to Maine for a year or two to teach Mandarin and for SAD 17 students to go to China, in part, to stay with host families from the school.
Leplante said her questions reflect issues and concerns brought to her attention during conversations with individuals throughout the school district.
Laplante said she has no agenda in coming on board and intends to serve in a “responsible,” manner, but she does intend to pursue answers to questions she has.
“If nothing else, I think a healthy discussion would benefit everyone,” she said.
During her first meeting as a board member on April 3, Laplante questioned the requested permission to allow a field trip to the Peabody Essex Museum and the Salem Witch Museum, a combined trip for sophomore students in American Literature English and Mandarin classes, that is being paid for by the Asia Society Grant.
The trip, set for April 27, will include a tour of the Chinese exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum and a Chinese hot pot meal.
The trip was billed by Blanchard as a way to “prep student(s) for the China trip” and “to bring to life” American Literature.
Laplante took exception to the rationale saying, “Let’s call it what is is. It’s not prep for the (China) trip.”
Laplante joins her fellow Harrison representative Al Lisowksi and 20 other members on the board.
“I hope that I can present a positive image for my town of reasonable thinking and help to create healthy discussion of issues,” she said.