Charles Grey has been a music teacher for more than 20 years and is seeking a place on the Regional School Unit 20 board of directors to advocate for a strong arts and music program, which he says are critical for a well rounded education.

Grey has taught music at nearly all levels including training other music teachers at the college level and since coming to Belfast in 2004 he has substituted in many of the RSU 20 schools. He praised the work of the teachers there, but felt more help is needed for those programs. As such he began volunteering with fifth-grade band four years ago.

"It is pretty difficult for one person in a 45 minute class to get anything across," Grey said, which is why he offered his help.

The added benefit to students who participate in art and music education is apparent, said Grey. Keeping these programs intact and working to strengthen them, he said, will have positive effects across the board educationally.

"Music and art have tremendous benefits for students," Grey said. "There are knock-on effects in nearly all other subject areas."

However, with the district coming out of a highly contentious budget battle mere months ago, and with a reported $2 million shortfall in next years budget, Grey admits that there needs to be balance between property taxes and the district's budget.

Grey says he has attended many of the board's finance meeting and sees several ways to address the budget difficulties. He supports the addition of a grant writer to seek out additional money to bring into the district. He also suggested reaching out the the City Council to coordinate their budgets.

"I'm in the schools and they deserve a better attitude than 'you'll just have to do without'" Grey said. "We should work with the City Council and say 'you might have to do without something.'"

Grey suggested that putting off some city projects could help mitigate increases in the school budget. He also said the board should communicate the real dollar amounts the increase in mill rates have, suggesting they are often manageable.

He did not rule out consolidation of schools as a way to realize savings in the school budget, but said there must be educational benefits to consolidation, not just financial.

"It could be that some form of consolidation would be beneficial for education and for saving money," Grey said. "But I'm also not sure putting everyone in one big pot is beneficial either."

Grey said the board should look to other districts that are facing similar problems and learn from what they have tried, seeing what has worked and what has failed. One idea Grey favors is holding a yearly workshop or retreat to discuss goals and long-range planning.

Ultimately Grey hopes to bring more collaboration to the board rather than taking a confrontational approach. He said in working together, the board can find solutions better than any one board member or candidate could.

"There is too much 'us and them' on the board," Grey said. "I much prefer to have other ideas feed my own and we can produce something greater than either idea."

Charles Grey is one of three candidates for RSU 20 board of directors running to fill two open seats for Belfast representatives. The other two candidates are Caitlin Hills and Christopher Hyk. Voting in Belfast will be open Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at United Methodist Church on Mill Lane and the Belfast Boathouse.