Consequences of Question 3

By Bill Webster, Special to the BDN
Posted Oct. 29, 2009, at 12:44 a.m.

Let us assume for a moment that Question 3 reads “Do you want to repudiate the tactics used by Gov.Baldacci to pass the school district consolidation law?” I have no doubt that such a question would pass by a large margin as all opponents and many proponents of district consolidation agree that the process used was seriously flawed.

Question 3, however, says nothing about the governor, and only reads “Do you want to repeal the 2007 law on school district consolidation and restore the laws previously in effect?” Gov. Baldacci departs office in two years regardless of the outcome of this vote, but the consequences of the vote will affect Maine education for decades to come. Thoughtful voters will forget about the governor and consider what is best for our students going forward.

If the referendum does not pass, the consolidation law will remain and new districts, such as Regional School Unit 24, will continue. If the referendum passes, the Maine Legislature will need to enact legislation detailing what will happen in the new districts such as ours. One option might include making all RSUs school administrative districts. This would result in RSU 24 continuing to operate but with one significant difference: Unlike the existing consolidation law, the MSAD law previously in effect has a provision by which municipalities may withdraw from the MSAD. A second option would be having another vote for all municipalities in an RSU to decide whether each municipality would continue in the district. These options would present interesting challenges as separate central offices no longer exist to assist local municipalities in establishing separate districts.

As school superintendent, my role is not to suggest how readers should vote, but my role is to provide information about RSU 24 in four key areas that will help voters make a more informed decision. The four areas are governance, cost, educational opportunity and keeping schools open.

Governance

Every municipality in RSU 24 is represented by at least one member on the school board. In addition, residents have the opportunity to be active in their local schools through either the parent-teacher clubs or the local advisory committees. Our schools have benefited from the active participation of individuals who were not involved in education before district consolidation.

Cost

Our new school unit already has saved more than $400,000 through the consolidation of four central offices and nine separate school districts. The annualized savings likely will exceed $600,000 next year even after the negotiation of new teacher contracts. Every dollar saved is a dollar that can be used to reduce the local tax bur-den; to mitigate against the coming State curtailment and-or to maintain staffing and programs in the education of our students.

Educational opportunity

The resources of our larger school district will ensure the continuation of key educational programming even with state funding cutbacks. This includes guidance, music, art and physical education in all schools, and high school courses such as advanced placement. Furthermore, our teachers are sharing resources and best practices with colleagues in ways not possible in our previous smaller districts.

Keeping schools open

As superintendent, I am committed to maintaining each of our local schools. The new consolidated district is providing us the opportunity to have combined administrative and other services that will allow us to accomplish this at a lower cost than would be the case in separate districts.

Please vote on Nov. 3.

Bill Webster is the Superintendent of Regional School Unit 24, which includes the municipalities of Eastbrook, Ellsworth, Franklin, Gouldsboro, Hancock, Lamoine, Mariaville, Sorrento, Steuben, Sullivan, Waltham and Winter Harbor. He may be e-mailed at super@rsu24.org .

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/10/29/opinion/consequences-of-question-3/ printed on December 28, 2014