First of four stories on Auburn School Committee races in Nov. 5 election.

Next: Daniel Herrick challenges Tom Kendall.  For information on L-A candidates:

AUBURN — Lawrence Pelletier is running for re-election to the Auburn School Committee because “my job isn’t done yet,” he said. “There’s so much to do. I want to continue to be a part of it.”

His challenger, former City Councilor Stanwood “Joe” Gray, says he’s running because programs and spending must be justified.

“We need a School Committee that’s responsive to the needs of students,” Gray said.

Pelletier and Gray are running to represent Ward 5, which includes all of New Auburn and borders Durham and the Androscoggin River. They differ in their views, as well as their styles.

Pelletier, 66, is soft-spoken; Gray, 49, is stern. Gray was part of six former city councilors who this spring called for members of the School Committee be recalled, an effort that was dropped.

Pelletier said one big problem for the Auburn School Department is image. “We’re desperately trying to get our hands around it” and have formed a communications committee, he said.

More parents and residents ought to get involved with schools, Pelletier said. Too few parents are involved. “That’s got to change,” he said.

Gray identified a big problem in Auburn schools as not enough spending to support classroom teachers. The money is spent in the wrong places, he said.

“We need to focus more money in the classroom,” he said. “During recent community conversations, teachers are without pencils and paper. We just (approved) a $37.12 million budget and a month later we’re out of pencils and paper. That’s not right.”

There are places where savings can be had, Gray insisted, such as closing the maintenance facility on Industry Avenue and moving it elsewhere. “There’s no reason we can’t house them on Gracelawn Road and close that building.”

Asked what’s going right in Auburn schools, Pelletier cited iPads for students and a new way of teaching, called mass customized learning, which tailors lessons to individual students.

“The biggest challenge was getting everybody on board with mass customized learning,” Pelletier said. “Parents at first were reluctant. We need to hear from students what they’re getting out of it. It will improve education.”

Early test scores show iPads are helping, Pelletier said.

Gray said he’s not opposed to new programs and efforts, “but things happening need to be justified.” With iPads, “I don’t see the need for each student to have his own. They have them in classrooms. I’m told students use them 20 minutes to an hour a day. Why can’t they share them?”

Candidates were asked what they want to see in next year’s budget.

“The bottom line is every year we don’t know until the 11th hour where we stand with the state, the federal government” and what those numbers mean for how much taxpayers will be asked to pay and what they can afford, Pelletier said. “It’s hard to propose a budget without having hard numbers.”

Gray said a big problem is “it’s hard to tell what they’re doing. … I don’t mind spending money as long as it’s spent correctly, if the money is needed.”

He said, for example, he’s tried to find out how much grant money Auburn schools have received. “Nobody knows exactly how much the school system is spending.”

As for early release Wednesday, when elementary students attend school in the morning and teachers meet for professional development in the afternoon, Pelletier said it should stay. Gray said it should go.

“I never liked early-release Wednesdays,” Gray said. Schools do have day care, but it’s hard on working families,” he said. “There needs to be a more logical way of doing it.”

He’d like to hear from teachers and has emailed several asking for their input. “I did not get even one response,” he said.

Pelletier said he supports early-release Wednesdays “until we find another way to provide professional development for teachers. I don’t know how else you do it.” If that were to change, “you’re playing with teachers’ hours,” which are part of labor contracts.

Early-release Wednesdays help teachers “so they can prepare themselves to learn new things,” he said.

Election coverage:

Lawrence B. Pelletier, 66

Office sought: Ward 5 Auburn School Committee

Address: 129 Second St.

Family: Married

Occupation: Retired from Maine Oxy but still works there part time; helps his wife with her business, Bonnie’s Day Care.

Education: Graduated from Edward Little High School in 1965.

Political experience: Two terms on School Committee, served on several municipal boards, including Zoning Board of Appeals.

Office sought: Ward 5 Auburn School Committee.

Home address: 1200 Sopers Mill Road.

Family: Married, two grown daughters, two grandchildren.

Occupation: Farmer and builder.

Education: Graduated from Westbrook High School, attended college classes “all over the place” while in the Army.

Political experience: Appointed to Auburn City Council for several months in 2011 to fill a term for Eric Samson.

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