School Consolidation Remains in Place

(Cross-posted @Augusta Insider)

Voters rejected a repeal of school consolidation in Maine yesterday.  Question 3 failed 58% to 42%.  Pundits almost universally predicted Question 3’s failure.  Even those that called victory for Yes on 3 weren’t particularly solid on those predictions.  This was a hard one to game, so it’s understandable.  What do the final numbers tell us about school consolidation and Governor Baldacci?  The answer might not be as obvious as you would think.

Question 3 lost for two reasons.  The first is money.  To say that No on 3 outspent the Yes crowd is a vast understatement.  You have to look at the numbers.  No on 3 spent $253,494.38 on their campaign. Yes on 3 spent $4,291.93. Yes on 3 was a grassroots campaign for sure.  No matter how well organized they were Yes on 3 could not compete with that sort of spending.  Yes on 3 had a mountain to climb to convince much of Maine consolidation wasn’t working to begin with.  They had to reach out to Southern Maine and other areas exempted from consolidation or where consolidation was working.  With No on 3 spending nearly 59 times as much as Yes it just couldn’t happen.  Recall any Yes on 3 ads?  Signs?  Bumper stickers?  Unfortunately for Yes on 3 you likely didn’t.  Skip Greenlaw of Yes on 3 said, “I suppose when you can spend $300,000 on television ads and we had no money for ads, this is what happens. We know we were right, but a lot of people were not able to hear our message, and that’s unfortunate.”

The lack of money, combined with lack of widespread negative impact of consolidation, at this point, killed Yes on 3.  The final tally shows this.  All of the counties facing the highest percentage of penalties supported the repeal.  Washington and Piscataquis counties had the highest percentage of penalties, both over 90%.  They both supported the repeal 64% to 36%.  The further south and west you move the more support erodes and the more exemptions increase.  The support of  Cumberland (Y-69% 86% exempt), Androscoggin (Y-67% 73% exempt), York (Y-65 76% exempt), and other populous counties tipped the favor for No on 3.  Those counties were for the most part given passes on consolidation, faced next to no penalties for refusing to consolidation, and had effectively come to working agreements on districts that had consolidated.  Pownal and Durham are of course two exceptions.

The rejection of Question 3 should not be view completely as a victory for Governor Baldacci.  As mentioned earlier, most districts were given exemptions from consolidation.  Those districts voted heavily to maintain school consolidation.  Given the lack of visible push in those areas, few had reason not to.  If you weren’t negatively impacted it would have been hard to reject consolidation, especially without greater outreach.  This, like TABOR, was not a support of Big Augusta.  Rather, the rejection was a support of local interests.

Yes on 3 can claim some victory however.  They brought attention to what has not worked in school consolidation.  Forming actual savings in a time of budget cuts, combining teacher contracts, reducing penalties, and giving the option to leave an RSU will, hopefully, be on lawmakers minds this January.  David Connerty-Marin of the Department of Education said new amendments are expected including a likely proposal allowing towns out of their new Unions if they choose.  The results may be disappointing for those who supported the repeal.  All is not lost.  The lawmakers in Augusta may just get consolidation right yet.

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