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I’m ready for a culture change in Bangor’s council-school board relations

Posted July 12, 2014, at 8:54 p.m.
Last modified July 13, 2014, at 9:20 a.m.
Bangor City Councilor Joshua Plourde.
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Bangor City Councilor Joshua Plourde. Buy Photo

I would be remiss if I didn’t begin by mentioning that the following is a reflection of only my perspective, as only one of nine members of the Bangor City Council. I do not speak for the full council.

At Monday night’s city council meeting, the last item on the agenda is an order that would authorize a public hearing for an amendment to the city charter that would grant the city council veto authority over individual categories the school budget. It’s likely that this particular issue will create some excitement with members of the public and media, as it has proven to do since last week’s government operations committee where the item first surfaced.

When the item came to committee last week, I voiced opposition to granting veto authority to the council, stating that I wasn’t ready for a charter change, but that I am ready for a cultural change. I was one of three council members on the committee who voted in favor of moving the item to the full council for discussion. Rest assured, at the full council meeting on Monday night, I will be at least one of several members of the council voting to “kill the bill.”

This may seem like a strange course of action, but I voted in favor of the item in the committee so we might start a discussion.

I’ve taken some heat for my committee vote, being accused of wanting to harm public education in Bangor or wanting to question the skill and quality of our school board or superintendent.

The reality of the situation is to the contrary: I simply want to attempt to advocate that nobody wins by maintaining what feels to me like a rather bizarre, yet historically pervasive iron curtain when it comes to substantive dialogue between our two groups.

I understand the tremendous, high-quality education that students in Bangor receive. I understand that school board members are elected by the public and do their best to become experts themselves when it comes to what’s best for Bangor’s students. I fully understand and acknowledge Superintendent Betsy. Webb’s expertise as a vital asset to the success of our schools and community. Webb is one of the best, and being rated the top superintendent in the state is only one example of proof to that end.

And perhaps most importantly, I’m both a product and an advocate of the public school system.

I voted to allow the item at committee, not because I’m on a warpath against public education, the school board, or Webb, but because it became immediately apparent upon my election in November that the current relationship between the full school committee and the city council could be considered strained.

I do not feel that we need to micromanage the school budget through a line-item veto authority, but a genuine discussion regarding the current school budgeting process is desperately needed. The outcome of those discussions, as at least one former council chair has suggested, would be a process that better reflects the needs of the citizens of Bangor, the school committee, and the city council. I hope that this current issue will provide the council and the school committee the opportunity — and most importantly, the will — to begin an open and meaningful discussion.

I believe that Bangor’s students, and taxpayers, would benefit.

Joshua Plourde is a Bangor city councilor.

 

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