ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland area school district took heavy criticism Thursday night for the administration’s refusal to add teacher positions even though voters approved the money.
“This was a slap in the face to the informed electorate,” said St. George Select Board Chair William Reinhardt.
He said St. George was instrumental in getting the Regional School Unit 13 budget approved when a second referendum was held Aug. 13. The town board chairman said St. George residents turned out in large numbers to pass a budget that the superintendent had sought. He pointed out that the messages posted on the signs outside the two high schools — “Thank you for your vote” and “Your vote counts” — were at odds with the action taken by the superintendent.
“That was hypocritical, wasn’t it?” Reinhardt said.
The Select Board had directed Reinhardt to speak on behalf of the town.
He also said that some recent high school graduates had registered to vote in order to support a budget that included money for added teaching positions. He asked what kind of civics lesson was being given to those students.
Superintendent Lew Collins defended his decision not to retain a high school arts post, a high school social studies position and a sixth-grade teaching position at the St. George School even though voters had approved the money.
Collins said that he already knows the district will face a $700,000 gap next year between increased expenses and revenues because of rising health insurance costs and pay raises.
“I don’t want to hire someone in August and tell them in March that they are being laid off,” Collins said.
The board was divided on the superintendent’s decision but even opponents said they would not offer motions to add the positions back, knowing they would not get majority support from board members.
“This sends a bad message if we go in the opposite direction of the voters,” RSU 13 Board Vice Chair Loren Andrews of Cushing said.
He said education has to stop being blamed for property tax increases.
“We have to draw a line and say we can’t cut anymore, we need to invest,” Andrews said.
Board member Sally Carleton of Owls Head, a retired teacher and principal, said she understood the concerns about not adding the positions but added that the board has to also consider the tax impact on citizens.
“I wish we could have every bell and whistle but we can’t afford them,” Carleton said.
Carleton said that there are homes for sale on nearly every street in Rockland and there are still many foreclosures of homes throughout Knox County.
RSU 13 consists of Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing. St. George is developing a plan to withdraw from the district.