If you are someone who wants state government to spend taxpayer money wisely or someone who wants to improve the quality of education for our children, it is critical that you vote No on Question 3.
You may not have heard much about Question 3 amid the discussion of other ballot issues. But Question 3 will have a more damaging impact on taxpayers and public school students than any other issue on the ballot.
If Question 3 passes, it’s going to cost taxpayers as much as $30 million every year. That’s not a one-time loss — that’s $30 million year after year after year.
That money is going to be pulled out of classrooms, away from our students and sunk back into a tired, old, bureaucratic system that we don’t need and that we can’t afford.
As of 2007, Maine had 290 school administrative districts. That’s ridiculously high for a state our size. By comparison, Idaho, which is geographically much larger, has 75,000 more students and is every bit as rural, has only 125 school districts. Idaho students regularly score well above the national average on reading and math tests.
Maine’s school district consolidation laws were passed to reduce the number of these districts. These reforms are reorganizing the 290 school districts in Maine into a more sensible and affordable number.
And the reform is working. Already, 96 old districts, representing a third of all students in Maine, have consolidated into 24 new regional districts.
Eighty-five percent of all kids are now in districts in compliance with the new law.
Throughout Maine, district consolidation has resulted in tremendous improvements in access to quality educational programs, especially in our high schools — courses like Advanced Placement, dropout prevention, foreign languages, gifted and talented — the type of opportunities our kids need to be successful when they graduate.
But the opposition wants you to throw this away. They want to spend your hard-earned tax dollars to keep the old, bureaucratic system in place, even though it does nothing for our kids. They want to trick you into thinking that Question 3 won’t cost you anything, even though every reputable study that has examined the subject has concluded otherwise.
Maine people have more common sense than to fall for that shell game. And now we have hard proof, from every corner of our state, that Question 3 would be a financial disaster.
In Arrowsic, Bath, West Bath, Phippsburg and Woolwich, school district consolidation has saved $1.5 million.
In Dixfield, Mexico, Rumford and seven other towns in the Western foothills, it has saved $600,000 simply from consolidating the administrative buildings of the three former districts.
In Dayton, Old Orchard Beach and Saco, the center of York County, school district consolidation has saved more than $250,000.
In Ellsworth, Sorrento and ten other towns in Hancock County, it has saved $300,000, a good portion of that by reducing insurance premiums more than 50 percent.
That’s more than $2.5 million saved from just four districts in just four months — savings that will continue year after year after year. Those districts and many others are confident that there will be even more savings in the future.
Over the last 25 years, the number of students in the public school system has fallen more than 20 percent. We have fewer kids, but the system hasn’t adapted.
As this paper appropriately noted in an editorial last week, Maine has to make government more efficient and less costly, to deliver the same or better services for less money. We can’t go back to business as usual. Otherwise, our economic situation will only get worse.
Question 3 would be a significant step backward at a time when we can least afford to make mistakes. It costs too much and hurts our schools. Maine voters would be wise to reject it by voting No.
Dana Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.