The clamor over Central Maine Power tree trimming in Rockland unfortunately mirrors Lincolnville’s own tense experience last year with that same company. Disgruntled Rockland citizens stood at the city’s podium during a meeting Feb. 1 and relayed to the City Council their distaste over felled trees and destroyed bushes.

The same scenario played out last winter and autumn just 15 miles up Route 1 in Lincolnville, where the town took the power company to task for how it was implementing its vegetation management project. In October, Lincolnville residents gathered with CMP representatives in a public hearing that stretched over two nights, and plowed through communication obstacles. By the end of that meeting, Lincolnville resident Liz Hand sagely predicted that other towns in the region might face the same issues her town had. Why not pass on what Lincolnville learned, she suggested.

Rockland was wise to call in Lincolnville’s tree expert Will Brown, who spoke at the Feb. 1 meeting. CMP’s goal is to carry out its power reliability plan so fallen trees and branches do not leave us in the dark. That’s a goal we all can endorse but its success lies in establishing clear communication and respect between property owners, the municipality and the company. That wheel does not have to be reinvented for this one. Other towns would be wise to prick up their ears and follow the examples set by Lincolnville and Rockland.

 

Trim school budgets — but with care

After a long sleepy spell of ignoring ever-increasing public education budgets, the lumbering public is waking up. Sure, there were voices here and there questioning budgets, but more often than not, the majority of residents who turned out to vote were adamant that educating children was paramount. No matter that the broad rubric of “educating our children” included annual increases in benefits packages or expensive facility improvements or an ever-growing list of stipends for extracurricular activities. School boards just had a hard time saying no — to parents, to proposals, to unions, to health insurance companies, even to laptops.

Now the coin is flipping and another mantra emerges: cut spending, trim budgets, reduce taxpayer bills. Can district budget committees accomplish this without reducing the quality of education, without cutting a successful curriculum? Not without the interested public getting involved. It is not enough to shout from another side of town that school budgets must be cut. The gritty work of reducing expenditures this coming year will take place in administrator conversations, and then in budget committee meetings, and then in full school board meetings.

In all of those places, advocates for special interests will speak up, just like in the hallways of Congress. Who will watch to ensure that class sizes don’t swell in size a la 1973, that quality programs are not eliminated for the sake of the mediocre, and that fresh ideas never get a chance to get off the ground.

Managing $7 million, $11 million, $23 million school budgets is a monumental task. Collectively funding public education, just like collectively funding our fire departments, town libraries and town offices, relies on public participation for its success.Those who advocate strongly for trimming school expenditures, but say not at the expense of academics and quality education, must also get involved in how those expenditures get reduced. That may very well mean long March nights locked in debate, but in the end, everyone will get educated.