Five-Town District backs repeal proclamation

From the Maine Coalition to Save Schools

The Five Town CSD school board has voted to adopt a proclamation supporting repeal of the school consolidation law on Nov. 3 – a grassroots approach it is urging other districts to take.

The vote of the CSD, based in Camden, was unanimous. A group of citizens is raising money to get the proclamation printed in the local paper.

Board member Betsy Saltonstall, who worked on the proclamation, said it is important that boards opposed to the consolidation law urge residents to get out and vote yes on Question 3.

“The law penalizes some communities that voted not to consolidate, and exempts others. It simply isn’t fair,” Saltonstall said.

“To make matters worse, the $5 million in penalties on those communities will hit next year when state aid to schools is being drastically cut. We need to repeal this law before it does irreparable harm to schools, particularly in smaller towns,” she said.

Five Town CSD includes Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport, which face $604,000 in penalties for rejecting the consolidation mandate.

Saltonstall is encouraging other boards and communities to adopt similar proclamations because she believes the campaign will be won at the grassroots level.

The proclamation cites multiple problems with the law including:

• The school consolidation law is a rigid mandate that lacks flexibility needed for districts to find real cost savings, regardless of size or location.

• The Legislature did not recognize voluntary cooperation among districts as a legal alternative to mandated consolidation.

• 65 districts, representing 55 percent of the state’s enrollment, were exempt from consolidation based on size, location or other special dispensations. Of the others, 106 communities rejected consolidation.

• Despite a goal of reducing the state’s 290 districts to 80, 218 remain because the people of Maine have rejected the consolidation mandate.

• Mandatory consolidation has actually increased costs in some schools and municipalities, increasing property taxes by as much as 25%.

• The law already has cost the state an estimated $4 million to implement, but the Department of Education says it’s too soon to quantify any real savings at the local level.

• Any cost savings that are finally achieved will be eaten up in many districts by the need to level teacher pay scales.

• Communities that voted against consolidation face $5 million in penalties next year for exercising their rights at the ballot box.

• Repealing the law will give districts that have reorganized the opportunity to reconsider, and redress unforeseen negative consequences.

• The spirit of finding a better way is the Maine tradition, and repealing the school consolidation law will give districts the flexibility to work together through voluntary cooperatives for the benefit of communities and the children they serve.

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