Orono struggles to find ‘courageous person’ to fill vacant school board seat

Posted Dec. 24, 2011, at 12:29 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 25, 2011, at 4:12 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — In the face of a $2 million RSU 26 budget shortfall, Orono is struggling to find someone willing to represent the town on the regional school board.

The town manager, councilors, school board members and others have sent emails and reached out to people in their networks. As of Friday, nearly 200 people had been notified of the opening, according to Town Manager Sophie Wilson, but none offered to take the job.

The seat became vacant when chairwoman Alison Mitchell announced the resignation of Jim Bird of Orono during the Dec. 14 board meeting.

“It’s really unusual that somebody wouldn’t have come forward by now,” Wilson said Thursday.

Wilson said most of the people the town has reached out to have been too busy to take on the volunteer position or “haven’t wanted to walk into a difficult situation.”

State subsidy money for next year has been slashed, federal funding has expired and the carry-forward money — the amount of surplus each community brought into the RSU at its formation three years ago — is almost depleted.

Superintendent Douglas Smith called it a “perfect storm of financial difficulties.”

The only way to close the $2 million gap, RSU officials have said, is to cut positions at each school and raise taxes by 1 mill or less in each community.

With the networks exhausted, the council is looking for someone from the public to fill the school board position until the six-month term expires on June 30, 2012, according to Town Council Chairman Geoffrey Gordon.

“The whole cohesiveness of the district itself is going to be stressed,” he said Friday, adding that the town is looking for a “courageous person” to take on the issues facing the school board.

“We have to find a path forward that gives us good schools but still keeps the costs under control,” Gordon said.

Any Orono residents interested in serving on the board may fill out a form available at orono.org under “Departments/Human Resources” or at the town office. Applicants should submit a letter of interest to the Town of Orono, 59 Main St., Orono ME 04473, by 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.

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