Yes On 3 Statement from Skip Greenlaw

Yes On 3’s Skip Greenlaw has provided The Maine View with his argument for repealing consolidation.  Mr. Greenlaw cites lack of actual savings, harsh penalties, and more in support of a consolidation repeal.  Please read his full statement after the cut.

Brian Hubbell did some calculations of the plans provided by the DOE and that were approved by the towns and savings were $1.6 million. She [Commissioner Gendron] said in June of 2007 that [school consolidation] would save $221 million over three years.  She was way off base in terms of his estimate and now she doesn’t even want to acknowledge it saves $1.6 million because in reality it will cost more than it will save.  Once the [unified] negotiated contracts come in it will be a big cost.

We are having a hard time communicating some of this.  I think we’ve made a pretty good argument.  I think we have a good argument to make.  A couple of arguments the opposition is making is that repeal will cost money.  It will cost nothing if [consolidation] is repealed.  There seemto be some people who think there is a connection between $36.5 million and what has been saved from consolidation.  That is not true.  There was a $36.5 million reduction in educational subsidy in 2008-2009 that was connected to consolidation, but had nothing to do with any cost savings.  It was strictly a reduction.  The Commissioner again has said if consolidation were repealed they would need to add a couple lines in an appropriations act to assure that the reduction is still continued.  So repeal isn’t going to cost anything, which is what the opposition is trying to say.

Another thing the opposition is trying to say is that if these towns that have consolidated want to continue that the repeal will obliterate that.  Our organization has never said that we’re opposed to all consolidation.  We said that we were opposed to mandatory consolidation.  There are some consolidation efforts that have taken place that may be OK,  although I am beginning to think there are more consolidated units that are unhappy.  I just got an email from someone in the Belfast/Stockton Springs area and I just found out last night about people in the Sheepscot River area who are very unhappy with this.  So there may be a lot of these consolidated units that may come apart if they have the opportunity to.  For the ones that want to stay together that’s fine.  We support the idea that all the legislature has to do is basically write two sentences in the law that any unit consolidated under the RSU laws will now become an SAD and any unit consolidated under the AOS statutes will now become a school UNION.  The burden for consolidation is all on the small school systems of the state.

There are two things I agree with the Governor about.  The state cannot maintain this level of education funding.  Of course they’ve had to cut back because of the recession.  The vote that took place in June of 2004 where people voted to go to 55% was ill-advised.  It has basically bankrupted the state.  I don’t think the state can ever get to 55%, as desireable as that may be.  The money isn’t there and I think it has caused a lot of money problems all across state government, although the Governor and legislature worked very hard to get there.  I think that is the genesis of this whole problem.  I agree that the government cannot maintain this level of funding.

I also agree with the Governor that there has been a significant decline in enrollment over the past few years and probably will continue.  We certainly have had an enrollment decline where I live.  We’ve gone from 550 to 379 or something like that.  I really question whether or not the decrease needs to come at central office administration or, as what has taken place, a decrease in teaching positions.  I don’t know at what point the reduction of students means that we combine two school districts and still have them function.  I know that we have reduced the number of teachers in the past few years as enrollment has dropped.

I think the assumption of what he [Governor Baldacci] is after is incorrect.  I think the whole bill wasn’t well thought out.  They had to go back and amend it.

Initially the bill was enacted in June of 2007.  They wanted consolidation done by December 1st of 2007.  There was only one unit that wasn’t an island that had complied.  They had to go back and amend the law to give districts another whole year.  There are units they hold up as a standard of saving money around Bath and Aroostook, which is fine.  It took them five years to come to the conclusion they wanted to consolidate.  Let other units have the same type of time to work things out.

In the Machias area they voted against consolidation.  After they voted against consolidation the superintendent Scott Porter got all the towns together and they voted to go under his superintendency.  There are eleven towns under his administration.  Four do not have any tuition students.  So I called and asked them why they voted to do this after they voted against consolidation.  Superintendent Porter said to me that he didn’t recommend consolidating because the DOE would not break out the educational subsidies to the various units.  They would just send one check for the whole eleven towns and that was it.  The DOE has not been very helpful in this whole thing.  Many legislators who thought this was a good idea now agree that the thing is a disaster.

There are a lot of people that understand that consolidation has not worked well.  How would you feel if in your community the legislature told you that you had to do something and that if you didn’t do it the way they said it you would get fined?   That’s not a very good feeling for anybody.  That’s what happened to maybe 135 towns.  If this law doesn’t get repealed they are going to be fined $5 million dollars for voting their conscience.  People have looked at these plans and decided the plans cost more than they save.  They are willing to take the penalty even if it will mean less subsidy.  I think those are people with a lot of courage.

I sometimes wonder why the Commissioner said she would not be an advocate for this.  Why all of a sudden after advocating this for two years has she stopped now?  I don’t know if they have backed away because they realize this law has lots of problems and they don’t want to get involved?  It seems to me they were they ones that spoke about it, they ought to be able to come out and defend it.