Bangor school board nixes ad hoc funding committee

Posted April 29, 2011, at 6:58 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor School Committee member Kate Dickerson got the debate she wanted Wednesday night, just not the end result.

Two weeks ago, Dickerson attempted to initiate a discussion on whether the board should create a citizen advisory committee to look at alternative sources of educational funding. The debate never happened because a majority of School Committee members voted against putting an item on the agenda.

It was the first time in more than three years that the Bangor School Committee disagreed in a public vote.

Dickerson regrouped and went through the proper procedure for placing an item on the agenda for the April 27 meeting.

Committee members discussed the idea at length but ultimately voted against creating what Dickerson called an advisory funding committee.

“We had a fairly forthright discussion about a range of funding issues, and the general consensus was that this was not the right proposal for our vast needs,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Many comments were made that we cannot look solely at grant funding, but at all levels, and that we should address those as a full School Committee.”

Dickerson and Nichi Farnham voted in favor of creating the committee. School Committee Chairwoman Phyllis Guerette and members Christine Szal, Beth Grant and Warren Caruso voted against the proposal. Member Jay Ye abstained.

For Dickerson and others, the creation of an ad hoc committee was more about engaging and encouraging outside ideas and input than taking powers away from the elected body.

The Bangor School Committee has earned a reputation as an elected body that votes in unison and rarely initiates discussion that could be controversial. Past members have alluded to a system of tight control in which the superintendent calls the shots and the committee offers unflinching support. Prior to the April 14 meeting, the last nonunanimous vote had been on Jan. 28, 2008.

Dickerson was elected last November to her first term on the Bangor School Committee and has challenged the status quo on a couple of occasions so far.

A couple of months ago, Farnham initiated a discussion about changing the way meetings are conducted. Dickerson thought it was a good idea and suggested creating a subcommittee to explore changes. Others disagreed. Guerette did not call a vote but instead settled the matter by instructing Superintendent Betsy Webb to come up with some ideas on her own.

Although Wednesday’s vote was divided, Webb said, the committee was unanimous about keeping the funding discussion going as a seven-member group.

“It was a wonderful discussion about a complex issue,” she said. “I think what was agreed upon was a commitment of the seven members to commit to working together and be proactive about how can we get additional funding.”

Webb also said that, sooner or later, that discussion may need to be a regional discussion.

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