AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents of the school consolidation law on Friday filed their petition with the secretary of state calling for the law’s repeal.
Loaded into 12 boxes, the citizen-initiated petitions contained 61,142 certified signatures, according to Lawrence “Skip” Greenlaw, chairman of the Maine Coalition to Save Schools, the group that began collecting those signatures a year ago. That is 6,055 more than the number of signatures the law requires to send the issue to the Legislature, he said.
Previously, Greenlaw said the Secretary of State’s Office indicated it would not review the petitions until January because of the busy election season. The next session of the Legislature begins in January. If legislators fail to act on the petition, Greenlaw said, the question would go to the state’s voters in a referendum.
He also has said the coalition worked closely with the state to eliminate most of the typical problems that result in signatures being disallowed.
Greenlaw said 552 Maine residents and 52 professional circulators had gathered the signatures over the past year. Although he said he was relieved the petitions finally had been filed, Greenlaw said the group still has a lot of work to do.
“Collecting the signatures was the easy part,” he said. “The hard part will be convincing the Legislature to repeal the law. We don’t want this to drag on for a long time. If the Legislature doesn’t repeal it, we won’t vote on it until November . There’ll be a campaign, and that means big money.”
He said the group hopes the 124th Legislature will act quickly to repeal the law.
The coalition has sent a survey to all candidates running for legislative seats in the coming election asking them if they will commit to repealing the law. The majority of the 10 percent responding so far have said they would vote to repeal it.
During a brief gathering in Augusta, Greenlaw repeated one of the coalition’s main complaints about consolidation: It will cost more than it saves.
“Our message is quite simple,” Greenlaw said. “The governor, the commissioner of education and some members of the Legislature told us that school consolidation would save us millions of taxpayer dollars. Having worked with the law for a year, we now know that there will be no net savings.
“In such stressful economic times, why are our elected leaders in Augusta so adamant about imposing a law which costs more than it saves?” he said. “This insanity must stop. The law must be repealed.”
Regional planning committees around the state have been working for the past year to design plans for new school districts that would meet the requirements of the amended consolidation law. Voters in the towns in many of those new districts will vote on their plans during the Nov. 4 elections, Greenlaw said.
He added the coalition members will be talking with those communities in the coming weeks to determine what the financial impact of consolidation will be.
“I think the commissioner will be surprised on Nov. 4 at how many vote it down,” he said.
Despite the prospect of the law’s repeal, the Department of Education will continue to work with the districts around the state to get their reorganization plans developed, passed and implemented, DOE spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Friday.
He pointed out that there have been four community votes already on district reorganization plans and that three of them have passed.
“The response so far has been positive,” he said. “If you look at the economic and financial situation in the country and the state, I think people understand that we can’t sustain the system the way it is. If we want to maintain and expand educational programs, we need to make changes outside the classrooms.”