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Elected RSU 17 school board member criticized over social media posts

HARRISON (NEWS CENTER Maine) — "It’s sickening that anyone in 2018 feels this way and it’s sickening to me that someone has that kind of power in our school board," Liesha Petrovich said Monday, as she scrolled through Facebook and Twitter posts.

The content has prompted parents in RSU 17 to ask publicly: "Should there be controls over what elected officials here in Maine post on social media?"

RSU 17 is an area that covers the towns of Oxford, Norway, Paris, West Paris, Hebron, Otisfield, Waterford and Harrison.

Petrovich stops scrolling and points to an image of a 30-something mother in the grocery store with her young daughter. "It’s a picture, and it says, ‘listen to mommy, never betray your race,’ and that’s chilling to me."

Petrovich reads from Facebook and Twitter posts she says are linked directly to an elected school board member in RSU 17. "I don’t know what this one means but by ballot or bullet restoration is coming."

Petrovich said she represents very concerned parents who she says have also discovered a link to the board member with an Oxford Hills-based hate group that targets Islam and Muslims.

"We stumbled across a school board member’s name as a friend of the person claiming to be the head of this hate group in town," she said. "[His name is] Bob Celeste."

Celeste is serving a three-year term on the school board, representing the town of Harrison. He is also the senior pastor at ChristianPatriot.com. He lives with his wife in Harrison.

"Why did I want to be on the school board? I guess the biggest reason I wanted to be on the school board was to be able to articulate knowledgeably the reasons that Christians should not put their children in public schools."

Celeste, who is in remission from stage-four colon cancer, ran a one-man race for his seat on the school board. He argues that born-again Christians should educate their children at home, or send them to Christian schools.

"And so the schools themselves would have the nonbelievers, the Jews and everyone else?"

Nodding in agreement, Celeste said, "I would hope, and my prayer is in my work, I believe that Jews who are really Jews will listen to what I’m saying and realize what their children are really being taught in the public schools."

Celeste argues the education system needs major changes — that sex education has replaced history education and that any posts he’s made on social media are covered by the 1st Amendment: free speech.

"I think we should be checking out our elected officials," Petrovich says.

She helped create Oxford Hills Indivisible. The group is planning to send school board members screengrabs from Celeste’s social media accounts, hoping that leads to change, and a wakeup call to voters to do their homework before they head to the polls.

"I think that every town should be doing that," Petrovich explains further. "The citizens of the town, before they vote somebody in, should be doing their due diligence to check to see what these people are saying."

They also want towns to create a code of ethics, something Harrison’s retiring town manager says does not exist. Bud Finch, who argues the RSU 17 school board is responsible for vetting what members post publicly, says if enough residents complain about it, things could change.

Celeste’s term ends in 2019 and he says he won’t be running for the seat again. He holds firm that there is nothing wrong with his posts.

The group Oxford Hills Indivisible argues Celeste’s posts are racially charged and very concerning. It said it will be putting up signs that say "hate has no home in Oxford Hills."