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To Hampden school board: Heed voters, save teachers

Posted June 17, 2013, at 1:29 p.m.

History teachers tend to be a troublesome bunch. Having dedicated their life to sharing the stories, principles and mistakes of democracy past, they often have much to say about the present. Luckily, that is the point of a civics education: to instruct kids to be better, more active citizens, capable of preserving the power of “we the people” from Washington, D.C., to town hall.

In defense of one such history teacher, David King, who taught me and thousands of other students what it means to be an American citizen, I am writing this to continue the grand tradition of being a troublemaker.

We pay taxes, and in return we expect governing bodies to work for our long-term collective good. If we believe those bodies are acting against our interests, we have a duty to speak up in the hopes that the ship will right itself democratically. Recently the people of Hampden-based School Administrative District 22 spoke loudly and clearly at the school budget meeting that they are not willing to sacrifice experienced teachers for short-term budgetary needs, voting their hard-earned dollars into the budget to preserve positions they consider vital and valuable.

Legally, however, the board is under no obligation to actually carry out that public mandate and can allocate the money as it likes. I urge the board to heed history and not act against the wishes of the people it serves.

I am not without sympathy for the need to cut budgets in tight times. I have a master’s degree in public administration, and I studied where and how to make such cuts to get the desired result without the damage. I believe that SAD 22 is proposing to do long-term damage with the current budget and that there must be another way.

From everything I have ever learned, seen or experienced — in business or government — you skimp on luxuries when times are tough, you delay investments and sometimes you cut. But the one thing you don’t do is reduce your resiliency. You don’t undermine your core strengths. To touch those assets makes achieving your return on investment nearly impossible.

And what is the proper return on investment of our tax dollars? Is it new programs, fields and classrooms? Those are nice, but it would be wrong to think they alone cause learning. I want a return measured in the immeasurable. Sullen students forced to grudgingly see the point, know-it-alls coaxed into accepting new points of view and challenging their assumptions and an endless supply of stories that inspire, intrigue and inform when the books just aren’t enough. For that return you need a seasoned educator.

Years do not always mean wisdom, but they also do not guarantee stagnation. Whether you are a top student or you struggle to keep up, it is a relief to be in a well-managed classroom with clear and high expectations for performance and behavior. Experience brings a calm center to the classroom that allows both struggling and advanced students to learn better.

I am dismayed that SAD 22 has made the short-sighted decision to cut core staff positions instead of luxuries. In particular, I am distressed by the seemingly unjustified dismissal of David King. My relationship with King is colored by my positive experience running track for him, but I equally enjoyed and gained from my history class and just general conversation with him.

There is no way to fully describe the extent and depth of King’s influence on my education and character, but he will always be my coach, and his continuing opinion of my accomplishments and moral fiber is extremely important to me. So I find it hard to believe that he would be deemed lacking. Kids learn from people they respect. Kids run their guts out for people who are there for them and believe in them when they can’t. This kid succeeded in so many ways as a person and a citizen because of the life and history lessons she learned from King.

Good teachers are worth every penny. The people of SAD 22 believe that, and I sincerely hope the board, and all school boards in Maine facing tough choices, do too.

MacKenzie Rawcliffe earned her master’s degree in international affairs and public administration in 2012 from the University of Maine.

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