Before she moved her family to Belfast five years ago, Caitlin Hills worked in Washington, D.C. as an advocate for issues concerning children, animals and the environment.

She said she wanted to lend a voice to those who did not have one.

In her bid for one of the open seats on the Regional School Unit 20 board of directors, Hills said she wants to do the same for the residents living in the city and in the greater district.

"The board needs to hear more from the public, and be more transparent in their actions," said Hills during an interview with The Republican Journal Wednesday, Oct. 24.

Hills and her son, a second grader who attends the Drinkwater Elementary School, moved to Belfast after her father bought a home here. Her dad passed away a short time after settling here, and Hills said he left the home to her.

While Hills, who is an attorney by training, said she enjoyed living in the city, she has grown quite fond of her new community.

"I was instantly embraced by the community," she said.

Since her arrival Hills started a website, midcoastmainekids.com, a go-to place for families to find activities that are child friendly. She has recently developed a mobile app for the site. Hills is also an online instructor to graduate students, to whom she teaches persuasive writing.

If she is elected, Hills said she would suggest enlisting local high school students to attend meetings and assist with child care. It would give the high school students credit toward their community service hours — which are a graduation requirement — and also make it easier for more parents to come to meetings.

Hills also said she would like to see the board present information in a simple way so that all who come to meetings fully understand what the board is discussing. For example, including a brief explanation of a budget along with the line-by-line rundown might make it that much easier for voters to follow along.

When asked how she would propose tackling the estimated $2 million budget shortfall the Finance Committee is predicting for the next budget, Hills said even that figure should be clarified.

"I'm not sure if the $2 million deficit takes into account the money owed by some of the towns from last year," she said, noting Belfast owes a $1.5 million school bill. "This is the kind of information we need to know."

To address any shortfall, Hills said the district should hire a full-time grant writer, and that despite the belief on the part of some who feel grant money is not as available as it once was, Hills said that is simply not the case.

"There are many grants to be had," she said.

Hills would also recommend reaching out to the area's major employers, like athenahealth, Front Street Shipyard and Bank of America, to see if they would be willing to help. Perhaps one business would sponsor an athletic program, while another might help the district address its technology needs.

"Those businesses receive benefits for operating here in Belfast," said Hills.

Giving those businesses a chance to give back to the community in a different way, Hills said, could bring other benefits. Better schools could bring in more families with school-aged children, and more potential employees.

What Hills does not want to see in the next budget cycle are cuts to programs that would have a detrimental impact on students, like athletics and art. Hills said she believes the district could also find savings if the board considered possible reductions of existing administrative positions.

No matter what happens, Hills said she hopes to help facilitate productive discussions among board members and with members of the public.

"We want Belfast and the region to grow. We want people to want to live in Stockton Springs, Belfast and Northport, and the way to do it is to have quality schools," she said. "I want to work to improve the educational system in a creative, collaborative way. I just really want to hear from people."