School debt — the elephant in the room

In budget making for Maine School Administrative District 28 and the Five Town Community School District, the “elephant in the room” is debt service.

For SAD 28, the total debt service for fiscal year 2009-10 is $1,650,739. There are currently 790 students enrolled in SAD 28. That means the cost of debt service per student is $2,090.

That number compares with an average debt service per student for fiscal year 2008-09 in six other districts (that have any debt at all), with which SAD 28 was compared, of $873 per student. Were the debt service per pupil in SAD 28 just $873, the saving would be almost $1 million this year: $961,430.

In the Five Town CSD the fiscal year 2009-10 debt service is $1,600,141. As a result, the average per pupil debt service in the Five Town CSD is $2,403.

It is important to note that a portion of the Five Town CSD debt service for construction of Camden Hills Regional High School (in contrast to that of SAD 28 for construction of the elementary school) is state funded. Because state funding is not dedicated to specific budget items, that fact does not change the impact of this debt upon the Five Town CSD budget. And, as we also know, this state support has been drastically cut.

Among seven other districts with which the Five Town CSD has been compared, the average per pupil debt service for fiscal year 2008-09 was $1,014. Were the debt service per pupil at the Five Town CSD just $1,014, the saving would be another $925,074.

Between the two districts we are looking at debt service that is almost $1.9 million higher than the average debt service in other districts with which SAD 28 and the Five Town CSD have been compared. The greatest possible impact on school budgets would be achieved by reducing debt service in SAD 28 and the Five Town CSD.

Steps have been taken to reduce some of the interest costs in the current low interest environment. It would seem, however, that every effort should be made to re-structure this debt in order to further reduce the present annual outlay for principal and interest. Such steps would increase the total interest cost of the debt to maturity, but could provide significant assistance in the short term in reducing school budgets.

Alexander Armentrout

Citizens for Value In Education



Library talk

It was great to see the letter from Jory Squibb in the Jan. 13 edition of The Herald Gazette that referenced my recent presentation at the Camden Public Library. I did want to correct one thing: my talk was titled “Regional Entities with Local Identities” rather than “Is Maine Going Anywhere?”: the more provocative title belongs to the series as a whole as named by the library.

On the subject of the library series, I was extremely heartened and inspired by the conversation that has flowed, both that evening and in the days since. The attendance and energy in the room were great and I hope we can keep talking — as a region and as a state — about how we approach the future on a number of fronts.

Dan Bookham



Boar’s Head Festival

What can I say about the Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival? One word: brilliant! Beautifully presented true theater with a reverence and joy for the season. Thank you players, thank you quintet and bagpipes, thank you wardrobe and art, thank you producer who had a cast of thousands to inspire and control. Those who have not seen this epic should go next January at the Rockland Congregational Church. It is a moving experience!

Renee Hutcheon


A place to sing

I am still feeling the warmth of the Midcoast Community Chorus concert at the Strom Auditorium Jan. 10. They sang their hearts out, some 140 singers, in glowing hearth colors, between beautiful panels painted by Kathryn Oliver with symbols of the “Coming Home” theme. And the audience sang, and Mimi, our boundless director, sang, and Anne Dodson and Matt Szostak sang, and the drummers drummed like mad and the piano rocked it all along.

This giant chorus is a place to sing, in rehearsal, every week, a place that opens our lungs to breathe, revives our voices, and provides a community for hope and good will. (It’s even good exercise!) I know we can’t fit everybody in the region into the chorus, or even into the packed Strom, but the will is there.

The chorus just announced that we will be raising funds for Five Town Communities That Care, a group that works with families to prevent suicide, substance abuse and other youth distress ( at our June concert. Last year we fundraised successfully for New Hope for Women. So watch for the concert date and come hear us, or join, and in the meantime, please support us as members and volunteers (

Beedy Parker


Talented singers

“Brought down the house” is such a cliché, but anyone who was lucky enough to attend the Midcoast Community Chorus performance at Camden Hills Regional High School’s Strom Auditorium Jan. 10 would have to agree that is exactly what this sublimely talented group of singers did. The program ranged from spirituals, to an old, haunting Appalachian piece, to a Finnish folksong, to modern and original compositions by Maine residents. One number might bring a lump to your throat, while the next one simply invited you to dance for joy.

As always with this group, we were treated to spine-tingling harmonies, many of them a capella. At other times a variety of amazing instrumental performances accompanied the songs, including piano, African drums, bass, harmonica, guitar and banjo. What a treat on a cold winter’s day to be wrapped in such glorious sounds and to participate in a true community event. How exciting to hear and witness the outstanding talent that exists right here among our very own friends and neighbors. Mimi Bornstein is the chorus director who elicits such memorable performances through her own artistry and personal warmth. As an added bonus for this concert, Mimi brought in two well-known local musicians, Anne Dodson and Matt Szostak, to put their own stamp on the day.

The chorus will be doing its spring concert, a performance to benefit the Five Town Communities That Care program (, at the Strom on June 12. If you want to be thrilled, uplifted and simply carried away by beautiful music, mark your calendars now. In fact, since these concerts usually sell out, it might be a good idea to check the Midcoast Community Chorus Web site ( for ticket information just to be sure you won’t be left standing outside on the day!

Nancy Dorsky

Singing in the Midcoast Community Chorus

I remember moving from Cambridge to Camden in the early 1980s: There wasn’t a whole lot going on. Our bright little library was perched on the knoll, and mainly you waited for inter-library loan to bring you something good. The Knox Mill and the Tannery were humming, there was a well-worn YMCA on Chestnut Street, there were contradances at Simonton’s Corner, and you had pretty plain fare at the choice of three restaurants. You met the mailman with the anticipation of a good letter, and spent Thursdays on the couch reading The Camden Herald. The first crude home computers were a decade away. In the evening, after the children were fed and bathed, you curled up with your mate and a good book. It was quite a change, coming here from the city.

Fast forward 30 years, and the monthly calendar is now crammed with an overload of possibilities. This is a welcome change since with the nest now empty, there’s more time and energy. And many of those events are not second-best fill-ins, but really class acts.

The Midcoast Community Chorus is one of them. If you love to sing, you have lots of choices in our area. You could audition for the Quasimodal Chorus, the Downeast Singers, Stella Maris, or any number of church choirs. I’ve found a home in a large, non-auditioned chorus that meets every Monday at the John Street Church, and hosts two concerts at the Strom every year.

I love to sing, but I need to be carried on a stretcher between two music-reading neighbors, so that “non-auditioned” adjective is important. This chorus will take anyone willing to work hard, over the age of 10, and now numbers about 150 voices. The result is truly amazing.

The founder and inspiration of the chorus is Mimi Bornstein, who was choir director for the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockland, and later came close to leaving the area for prospects further afield. Forming this nonprofit entity gave her a natural next step, as someone who loves to teach the empowerment of singing.

If you’ve never sung in a chorus, you probably can’t grasp how professionally intimate we singers are with the conductor. The best analogy is the locked-in relationship between a mother and an infant: a confidence-giving, cue-giving, caution-giving, eye contact. If your attention lapses for even a second, you can find yourself singing an unwanted solo. There’s a constant telepathy between conductor and chorus. We share the exhilaration — and the hard patches — that characterize any prolonged effort. The songs Mimi chooses usually have a theme of inspiration, of teaching us how to live our lives more fully, more connected, more compassionately. The songs keep teaching you, worming their way into your life. A plaintive Hebrew chant from last week’s concert
ran: “… return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are, born and reborn again.”

It’s sometimes said that the greatest challenge of life is learning how to live with your heart fully open, vulnerable and soft, in the face of conditioning that encourages you to armor and protect yourself. How can we live happily with life’s mystery, without
fully knowing its outcomes; while the safer path of measured control beckons to us? And we so often think we must edit ourselves — smooth out the rough bits — before we can fully do our life’s work. I find Mimi a good role model for this courage: her willingness to use her gifts without holding back, and her steady faith in the result. In just a moment’s flash, during last week’s concert, it seemed I could see deep into the magic: There was Mimi, her hair backlit by the spotlights, absolutely confident, beaming, leading this musical bagatelle in front of a packed Strom, taking us to the very cliff-edge of our abilities, and sending us into flight.

Jory Squibb



Snow Bowl lodge

You have got to be kidding! I just read about the new proposed Camden Snow Bowl lodge. I think I saw a similar facade on the JFK Museum in Boston. Very appropriate for Boston, but for the Snow Bowl?

I took my young boys to the Snow Bowl when the lodge was at the shore of Hosmer Pond. It did burn down but the atmosphere then was Maine. We joined other families from church and with picnic baskets, the children with clamp-on skis, a rope tow, we enjoyed the day. When the new lodge was built it had long practical sloping roofs, allowing nature to remove the snow; I was overjoyed. It was practical and Maine.

I agree with the local architect Stephen Smith and commend him for trying to have a facade representing a look of Maine to the Maniacs and out-of-staters. The practical applications with regard to deck access, locker placements, and a circular drive are just Down East common sense.

I live in Thomaston now, in a senior complex, but my heart is always with the Camden area, having raised my children in Hope. Lincolnville, Hope and Appleton are linked to decisions as they are part of the Camden area. Please, I urge the public to reject the offensive and unpractical flat roof plus other inconveniences within the architectural design.

Mary A. McKeever


Passing a school bus

We all want our school children to be safe when they enter or exit a school bus in our Maine cities and towns, but recently in a Maine newspaper in the court news it read as follows: Mr. Jones fined $750 for passing stopped school bus.

Do we have a new appointed judge on the bench? I’ve always thought in the past that the fine was $250 for passing the bus. I’m asking Chief Justice Leigh Saufley if she thinks the fine of $750 was correct with unemployment for many citizens in the state.

Gordon Wotton