A Blue Hill Resident on School Consolidation

Robert Webster of Blue Hill posted this comment earlier today on a piece featuring a statement from Rep. Seth Berry on school consolidation.  Mr. Webster has given his statement as to why the school consolidation law should be repealed.  You can read Mr. Webster’s full statement after the cut.

The consolidation law should be repealed. A “yes” vote on Question #3 will restore fairness to the organization of school systems in Maine. Mandated consolidation does not work for rural areas. People throughout Maine should recognize and honor the votes of over 200 communities that rejected consolidation. Large school systems will not meet the needs of eastern and northern Maine.

The consolidation law has been inconsistently applied and sometimes unfairly interpreted and implemented by the Commissioner of Education.

• Maine laws since 1897 have always included a method for towns not well served by a school district or school union to withdraw. As interpreted by the Commissioner in 2007 and 2008 consolidation plans were not allowed to include withdrawal provisions in the proposed consolidation plans – even though the consolidation law was silent on this matter. Yet in 2009 the town of Allagash was allowed to include a withdrawal provision in its consolidation plan with Ft. Kent.

• Schools systems exempt from consolidation (those with 2,500 or more students and the off shore islands) were required to submit plans to the Dept. of Education on how savings would be found in administration, special education and transportation. Exempt schools filed these plans. NONE of the exempt schools were required to implement any of those savings plans.

• School systems with 1,200 up to 2,500 students were among the school systems required to create and vote on consolidation plans. School units of this size that voted down their plans were let off the “penalty” hook by the Commissioner. No penalties were imposed for these “middle size” districts. School systems with fewer than 1,200 students will suffer subsidy penalties in July of 2010.

• The Commissioner rejected consolidation plans that did not find savings. Consolidation planning committees were told to list savings even if there were none. The Blue Hill-Deer Isle area consolidation plan was rejected twice by DOE and only approved on a third attempt after “savings” were included for subsidy that would be lost due to the subsidy penalty built into the law. Some communities that voted to consolidate felt “bullied” into it.

A “yes” vote on Question #3 will restore our liberty and freedom. Maine citizens should be able to organize local schools in ways that make sense to us – without the threat of financial coercion from our own Dept. of Education. Repeal will re-establish the local authority of Maine towns and cities to organize local schools in the best interests of our own children. The consolidation law curtailed our freedom. Repeal will restore our freedom.

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