As an outdoorsman, I am compelled to tell of a recent finding while in the Sherwood Forest of Maine. I usually keep these things to myself as a sacred experience, precious moments shared between family members or a few close friends from camp. There is nothing quite like a surprise visit from a barred owl while taking a tree stand or the gracefulness of a white-tailed deer as it crosses beneath only five yards away. The Maine woods are in my blood.
I also have spent many years in the woods of education, learning and caretaking for the land (students) as a high school principal. This year, however, I have come across something in the thicket of the seven towns that make up SAD 4 that I have never experienced in any of my outdoor adventures.
I was walking and working, as I regularly do, throughout the pine-tree hallways of rural Maine, trimming the limbs and fertilizing the soil of learning when, out of nowhere within the dark of night, pounced an army of people all wearing green tights. They swung from the limbs that I had labored to grow and swooped down from on high and took a large bag of our dough.
Piscataquis Community High School is Maine’s first one-to-one laptop high school, recipient of numerous educational awards over the years and host to one of Maine’s 2009 Teacher of the Year semifinalists. The area struggles with several socioeconomic issues that residents tackle head-on through innovation, creativity and good old country work. We do this at a historically lower cost than 95 percent of the state. Our Nottingham is not perfect but it is a pristine jewel (Shhhh! Don’t tell those in green tights). We now face the better of two evils — consolidate at $300,000-plus or take the $125,000 penalty. Which would you choose? Either choice hurts our students.
As a contributor to an innovative school system, it is baffling to stand by and watch those at the state level, wearing their money-colored green tights, swing in from on high, landing on their political tree limbs and penalizing our successes and wisdom by snatching a bag of money away from the student body. The state is, in effect, the antithesis of Robin Hood, now taking from the poor and giving to the wealthy.
We all know the story of Robin Hood and his plan for the redistribution of wealth and his fight against tyranny and injustice. While a lawbreaker, we still applaud his efforts for helping the poor. But how did this sly hero change his ways and reverse his principle — a level playing field for students? The truth is found in fiscal and social science. Thirty-four school systems were exempt from having to reorganize. SAD 4 spends less per pupil than 33 of them. The larger systems in each of the new 12 units currently spend an average of $9,971 per pupil. This is 37 percent higher than SAD 4. We are an exemplar that will face penalty for good management.
What does the loss of $125,000 do to a rural Maine high school and how do we find this money? We could stop offering breakfast to students who need the school for sustenance. We could ask our most needy students to attend school fewer days, allowing us to downsize our staff or eliminate our nationally recognized science program. We could use the bark from the local white birch tree population for composition paper. We could use the Sears catalog trick, but that should be left for camp life. Lastly, we could cut our nine-year-old laptop program, a shining star for Apple Computer, and I would suggest an exemplar for a former King and the new “kings’” high school laptop initiative.
It is a difficult choice. My best idea is to get a pair of those state-money-green tights (though I prefer our school colors of blue and gold) that are just my size. I would wear these with pride, swing from vine to vine, take back what was ours and restore the spirit of the legend of Robin Hood.
Jim Chasse is the principal of Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford.