City Council action served public in school budget debate
Some school employees, members of the public and even a fellow councilor questioned the right of the Rockland City Council to take a stand opposing the school budget this week, but the controversial resolve served the public well.
We support the council's action, but perhaps not for the same reasons they did.
First, a little background. In June, voters in the six towns rejected the proposed $27.1 million school budget.
The school board went back to the budget with sharpened pencils and came up with a new $26.9 million proposal.
Then, at the end of June, school officials learned that with the passage of the state government's budget in Augusta, our school district would receive an unexpected $343,000 in funding. So the district is receiving more state funding than anticipated to support its budget.
The next step in the budget process was to hold a district meeting July 24 to talk about the budget. For a change, more than 100 people showed up at this meeting rather than leaving school officials to talk to a lot of empty chairs and listen to crickets. Many of those present, according to all reports, were from St. George and this "stacked" crowd of education enthusiasts voted to add $334,162 to the instructional budget.
However, St. George is not facing as steep a tax bill to pay for the school budget as people in some of the other towns, so Rockland residents, who apparently had better places to be July 24, cried foul.
City Councilor Larry Pritchett did some research on the school budget and argued in the resolve he wrote that the St. George delegation did this "knowing these added costs would be paid for by Rockland and other communities, while St. George's costs could go down."
Readers, depending on where they live, how much they pay in taxes and whether they have children in local schools, will have a number of strong opinions on how this has progressed so far.
The city council had a strong opinion Monday night when it voted 4-1 to pass a resolve saying it strongly opposes this school budget.
At the meeting also, City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson, who also serves as a teacher in the district, argued to support the budget. Cutting this money back out will mean the loss of teachers at the school and that is bad for students.
Mayor Will Clayton pointed out that the financial struggles of taxpayers in the district also affect the students whose parents pay those taxes.
The good news is, that it does not matter what the school officials, teachers, or even Rockland City Council thinks you should do Aug. 13 when you vote on this budget. You will decide.
Thanks to the strong showing at the budget meeting July 24 and the strong reaction by the city council, the public has had a robust and informative debate on this school budget. Pritchett, who sponsored this resolve, has done the community a service by keeping this debate alive going into the final week before residents go to the polls.
He also provided an opportunity for the city council to debate the issue and the public to share in it at Monday night's meeting. As a result, Dickerson's equally important opinions on this budget were heard and helped balance the debate.
We reject the argument that the council has no right to talk about this budget.
If there is a large turnout in the referendum next week, we can all feel comfortable that whatever the outcome, it represents the will of the people.
Keep school closure and merger talks open
Earlier this week, we learned that the RSU 13 board planned to hold a meeting Aug. 13, the same day as voting on the school budget, to decide whether to merge Rockland and Thomaston middle schools and move ninth-graders to Oceanside High School East.
The board was also expected to take a "straw vote" on whether to close Owls Head Central School and Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston.
These have been big debates in the district in the past, but this particular meeting and the topic seemed to be flying under the radar.
We called over to the central office, got some information and posted the story about the upcoming meeting online.
Seems like within a matter of minutes, the school district was calling us back to say the meeting was postponed and now we do not know when it is going to take place.
Whenever the district picks up this issue again, it should be in a meeting with plenty of prior public notice. It should really be treated as a public hearing because closing and merging schools is a big deal to many people.
Parents and members of the community also need to start preparing themselves for a change. The thinking by some on the board and in the office is that there are 11 school buildings in the district and too few students to justify keeping all of them open in the present configuration.
The question is, how do members of the community and school officials work together to make changes that serve the needs of the students while keeping costs under control?