AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci has weighed in on the school consolidation repeal question urging Maine Democrats to vote against the repeal.
In an e-mailed letter sent out by Maine People for Improved School Education through the Maine Democratic Party last week, the governor said repealing the law would be “a disaster for our schools and our students.”
The repeal issue will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot as Question 3 asking voters whether they favor repealing the 2007 law and replacing it with the laws previously in effect.
“Question 3 would be a terrible step in the wrong direction,” the governor wrote. “We cannot afford to go back to the old, inefficient, overly bureaucratic way of doing things in Maine, especially when it doesn’t do anything to help our kids.”
Baldacci said the consolidation reforms are working well for students and cited statistics that 85 percent of them are in districts in compliance with the law. He said districts that have reorganized have seen an expansion of gifted and talented programs and foreign languages in the first year.
The governor also said consolidation would save more than $37 million every year once it is implemented. That amount refers to the amount that was cut from the education budget as part of consolidation and that repeal opponents argue will have to be added back to the budget if repeal passes.
He urged a no vote on Question 3 and ended the letter with the No on 3 slogan: “It costs too much and hurts our schools.”
The governor is making incorrect claims about repeal, according to Skip Greenlaw, chairman of the Maine Coalition to Save Schools, which initiated the repeal petition, and particularly about that $37 million. Greenlaw responded to the governor’s letter through a press release in which he blasted Baldacci for trying to confuse voters.
The $37 million was never a savings from consolidation, Greenlaw said, but was funding cut from state aid to schools as part of school consolidation.
“Basically, the governor needed to cut $37 million in expenditures to balance his budget last year,” Greenlaw said. “Now he’s trying to influence the outcome of the referendum vote by rewriting history.”
Repeal of the school consolidation law would not cost Maine taxpayers 1 cent, he said and repeated his argument that consolidation will cost more than it saves. The largest hidden costs come from the merging teacher contracts which, Greenlaw said, will lead to a leveling upward of pay scales in reorganized districts. That cost has been estimated at $18 million statewide.
Greenlaw also pointed out that the tally of conforming districts was misleading, noting that 65 districts, making up 55 percent of the students in Maine, were exempt from the mandate to consolidate. The districts that did consolidate under the law serve 27 percent of Maine students, he said.
Greenlaw argued that consolidation has resulted in cost shifts that have resulted in increased property taxes in some districts and that the law does not recognize regional cooperatives as a legal alternative to mandated consolidation, which could produce cost savings regardless of the size of the district.
“Repeal will cost Maine taxpayers nothing; consolidation may cost Maine taxpayers much more in the long run,” Greenlaw said.