RSU 13 on the way up?
No sooner had I announced my candidacy for Regional School Unit 13 board than many of my friends began questioning my sanity in running. A couple just this past Saturday related, “We turned on the school board meeting the other day to watch the meeting. It was painful to watch. Are you sure you want to put yourself through that?”
“Are you suggesting I should not run?” I queried back?
“No, we think they really need someone like you. We just wonder if you want to put yourself through all that.”
So, call me insane. I think we can change. I think I can make a difference and make my being on the school board a benefit to our community.
But what is it that gives people the idea that being on the school board must be difficult and frustrating?
I think a great example is the recent budgeting controversy. Even though it really is within the scope of the budging process, it finally took two district wide meetings, two elections, and three budgets before we were finished. Meanwhile, it seemed that the district had been marginalized into two distinct camps, the “I can’t or don’t want to spend another dime” camp and the “don’t cut my teachers or programs” camp. As well it seemed, according to the news, that communities had become pitted against one another.
During the height of this community labor, Lew Collins, our current superintendent said, “I think the trick is, for school boards, is reading the tea leaves. We don’t know why people voted the budget down. We don’t know if the budget was too little or too much. We don’t know if people were upset that we reduced 13 teaching positions or that we didn’t get the budget down more.”
Mr. Collins, in his attempt to manage by worn out cliché, seemed to speak for the rest of the school board in its absence of “knowing” why the budget had failed. I might add that Mr. Collins had used the same tired platitude when explaining the failure of Vinalhaven’s school system budget back in 2011. With that, the superintendent and board proceeded to fail again in the process.
I have a different point of view about why the process became so convoluted and cantankerous. It has nothing to do with an absence of “knowing." I feel it has to do with an absence of “leadership.”
My view of leadership is that it is based in communication, relationships, and inspiration. So how did this superintendent and board fail?
First, communication is a two-way street. Most of us get the part about sending out our message, however the most important part of communication is in listening. To listen means you must be available to listen and you must hear and understand. To relate that one must “read tea leaves” indicates those in leadership roles were out of touch with our community. Simply put, whether they were unavailable, too busy, not connected, or just asleep at the wheel, they were not listening.
Second, when communication is hampered or missing, working relationships cannot be cultivated and cooperation breaks down.
Then lastly, with no relationship, there is no basis for a spark of inspiration or motivation. No one wants to follow.
What you have, as a result, is the experience of someone giving orders and others resisting.
It does not have to be this way.
Our school board and superintendent do not have to be out of touch. The community does not have to be divided into two separate camps feeling the other’s wants are mutually exclusive of their own. Communities need not feel pitted one against the other.
How? By finding our common commitment and leading with that commitment in view.
What is our common commitment within RSU13? I feel it should be delivering the finest education we possibly can to the students of our region so that they are prepared and equipped to live satisfying, productive, and successful lives of their own making. Doing this while squeezing every ounce of value from every dollar we have the responsibility of managing for the region.
I feel if we do this, we may actually be able to do both, reduce the cost of education in RSU 13 and improve the educational results and options for our students. They are not mutually exclusive.
We start by accelerating the process of merging schools that were agreed upon by the board this summer and fall. These mergers represent hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings each year. The board and superintendent have delayed these changes for years, representing hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, that will be used inefficiently or wasted and never seen again. These dollars will not be recoverable. If we accelerate the plan we accelerate these savings.
With the process of mergers moving along, long-term planning can take place now for both programs/curriculum and the staffing that supports it. The earlier we have a plan the more opportunity we have to listen and to lead.
We need to accelerate the implementation of the RSU13 Strategic Plan so that it is fully in effect prior to the end date of its scope. And we need to update the plan annually so that it becomes a rolling five-year strategy.
We need to set an early deadline for a long-term facilities plan. Our region needs a visionary plan for schools farther into the future than just five years.
These are a couple of the nuts and bolts decisions for continuing the operation of our schools, but more is needed.
Our schools, according to the recent A-F Maine Department of Education grading, are mediocre at best. One school receiving an A, one a D (South School), and the rest all C's. No matter how you feel about the process of assessment, I feel we can do better. Our children deserve better.
There is a school just up the road a few miles ranked sixth in the state. There is no reason we cannot have that too. I feel we locally can make changes to the way we do business, to the way we go about education, and to the way we as a community relate to education so that we create a regional school unit that excels and competes successfully with the best in the world.
With a sense of pride we can as a region say, “These are Our Schools!”
As a member of the school board, I will bring the type of leadership that will set us in this direction. Let’s begin this journey together. I ask for your vote as a candidate for the RSU 13 board.
Steve Roberts is a candidate for RSU 13 Board of Directors. He can be reached at 701-7022, by email at email@example.com or at facebook.com/SRRobertsME and @SRRoberts on Twitter.