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IL Board candidates share philosophies

February 23, 2011
SANDWICH — The two candidates for a seat on the Inter-Lakes School Board shared their respective philosophies toward negotiating and education finance during a recent candidate's forum.

Incumbent Richard Hanson of Center Harbor and Mark Billings of Meredith are both vying for the Member At-Large seat on the Inter-Lakes School Board. Both candidates spoke on their strengths and plans during a candidate forum in Sandwich on Sunday.

Richard Hanson has served as the At-Large member of the Inter-Lakes School Board for the past 12 years, currently serving as the board's chair. He has been a guidance counselor in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, including working at Plymouth Regional High School until 2008. He is also a member of the New Hampshire Bar Association and on the board of NEA New Hampshire as well as serving as chair of the SAU 2 School Board.

Mark Billings has a BS in Business Administration from Babson College and has worked in the financial sector for decades in places such as Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco before settling in New Hampshire. He is currently Vice-Chair of the Meredith Conservation Commission and a member of the Meredith Energy Committee, working with organizations such as CoRe and the Trust for Public Lands.

Billings said he had great respect for the work Hanson and the rest of the Board have been doing, but said he had a different vision for the board and the district going forward. Billings said the decisions for the future are "no longer a choice between what is status quo and what's not. Status quo is gone."

"The change is coming and the real decisions that we all face is here and whether we lead that charge or weather we fall victim to it," Billings said, saying this was not coming from any one political direction. "This is about the mathematics of public education."

Billings said the Inter-Lakes should strive for excellence and should be one of the best school districts in the country. At the same time the district is faced with declining enrollment and increasing costs in health insurance and contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement system due to state mandates. Billings said solutions can be found in spending so the district can spend smarter and maintain a high quality education for its students. This could include a defined contributor system for health insurance and health savings accounts.

Hanson said he had a "lifetime dedication to education."

"It's been devoted to getting people to get along with each other, it's getting people together," Hanson said. "I think I have some pretty good skills in terms of listening. I think I have some pretty good skills in terms of conflict resolution."

He said his strengths lie in seeing different sides to an issue and looking at matters in an analytical way. While Billings said the district should strive for perfection, "I would say we are continuously striving for that right now," Hanson said.

Hanson said this year the board asked for the leanest possible budget, which was achieved, and he believed the district had some of the best administrators in the state.

Hanson said he was part of collective bargaining negotiations, utilizing problem solving and coming up with a one percent increase for teachers.

Billings said the collective bargaining agreement will equate to a much higher increase for teachers at certain ages and steps than the one percent.

"I'm not a union buster, I'm a 'sit down, let's to the math,'" Billings said.

Billings said he is not advocating for a reduction in staff but different discussions and ways of pooling resources. Billings said he understands the dynamics of negotiations and said his concern was at the school board level "that negotiation dynamic is not what it should be." Hanson said negotiations for management focus on profit and negotiations for labor focus on what is best for the workers. In education negotiations have to be a team effort.

"I realized that the old adversarial system takes you nowhere," Hanson said.

Hanson also said the district has been working toward forming collaborations, including partnering with the Moultonboro School District on athletics and offering classes to students from each school.

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