Moving past school consolidation UPDATED

(Cross-posted at Augusta Insider)

Gov. Baldacci’s school consolidation plan could possibly go down as one of his most controversial. School consolidation may have been able to be sold easily to the public with a little education and openness from Augusta. Baldacci’s PR fumble stalled chances of an easy passage.

Many were downright offended by what they saw as Big Government trying to tell them how they should run their schools. The bill, bristling with penalties for non-compliance, rather than helpful incentives, helped it grind to a halt in some communities. Rural communities are presumed to be the biggest resistors, but Yarmouth, Falmouth, and Cape Elizabeth are holdouts as well, though some have received exceptions.

Some towns balk the consolidation because of nothing more than petty turf wars. A state representative said recently that parents of Town A didn’t want to consolidated and have their kids go to school with children from Town B. Parents from Town B expressed similar sentiments. You’d think someone suggested the Jets and the Sharks share the same classroom. One can understand the sentiment that citizens felt this consolidation proposal pushed on them. One can understand anger that districts rush through consolidation efforts. It takes time to sort out tax burned issues and what schools to close, etc. What is not understandable is how adults can be so petty and act like their town is the John D. Rockefeller to their neighbor’s Clark W. Griswold. If that is your only hangup, move on.

Finding the right formula to save towns money, the whole purpose of consolidation, is still a valid concern. 72 districts or towns operate at $1 million or more over EPS standards. The reduction of our bloated district system is a noble goal. However, if it isn’t being reduced into something more efficient then what’s the point. Still, every day legislators spend on school consolidation is a day they can’t focus on another aspect of our children’s education.

What are some of the topics the legislature could not discuss:

  • Establishing statewide curriculum standards
  • Moving toward 21st century standards
  • Exploring graduation requirements
  • Improving college attendance rates
  • Charter school implementation
  • Integrating schools with the university and community college systems

Mainers have been dealing with consolidation for close to 15 years, 50 years if you count the Sinclair Act. School district consolidation can be worked to save communities money on overhead in the long run, and put that money back into the classroom. We could all argue till the Sun burns out how to best do that. What we adults are forgetting here is the whole point of education; the kids. While we are bickering back and forth they are the ones who are losing out. No matter the outcome of the November’s referendum on school consolidation it is time to move on.

(Cross-posted at the Augusta Insider)

UPDATE(9/30/09):  I wrote this piece quite a few months ago.  A lot has changed since then.  There was one looming issue I had yet to consider; what will happen if consolidation is repealed?  I’d like to think we could just move on no matter what happens November 3rd.  After reading a recent article in Matthew Stone’s The Report Card it looks it will not be that easy.

Maine can’t afford to roll back the law, the Web site says. “School district consolidation can save taxpayers $36 million every year and hundreds of millions of dollars in the future. Repealing the measure will wipe out those savings and will make local property taxes will (sic) go up much, much faster.”

It’ll be tough to convince voters in towns like Monmouth and Pownal that repealing consolidation will have an adverse effect on their property tax bills. Those two towns experienced significant property tax swings while budgeting for this school year, the first one they were members of consolidated school districts. Voters in both towns have said they want out of their consolidated districts. Problem is, there’s no provision in the consolidation law that would allow them to withdraw.

The budget for education is so tight cutting learning days for students has been placed on the table.  Taxes are such an important issue in Maine there are two ballot questions relating to them.  If you cast a yes on question 3 you will possibly ad $36 million to an already overloaded education budget.  Also, no one has explained what will happen if school consolidation is repealed.  What will districts that have consolidated do?  Many have cut jobs and positions and generally reworked operations already.  Wont be easy, if not impossible, to back to the way things were.  If you cast a no on question 3 you will possibly ad to already tough property taxes in some towns.  Pownal saw a 35% increase in education costs when it joined RSU 5.  Towns like Pownal are seeing a shift in costs, from state to localCatch 22. Damned if you do damned if you don’t.  Between a rock and a hard place.  Pick your adage.  That makes it all the more important you take the time to think on your choice.  Either way it wont be as easy to just move on as I once thought.

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