Eating with style

Students in the Nature Club at Warren Community School have got it right, sending their plastic forks and knives back to the cupboard and hauling out the old silverware (or stainless steel). Tired of watching the plastic pile up in the trash cans after every meal, members of the Nature Club took the fork into their own hands, asking Maine School Administrative District 40’s food service director if the washable metal could return to the cafeteria.

The switch to plastic cutlery happened in the first place because students were tossing their silverware into the trash, along with whatever else was on their trays. Bad habits, laziness, or just a lack of being mindful, who knows, but those days are over. Plastic forks, knives and spoons are out and the washable silverware is back in — with a campaign under way by students to teach others that no, metal does not go in the garbage bin.

Plastic dinnerware is a product of our disposable society, and it is useful in some situations. But not in a school with a high-functioning kitchen, plenty of hot water and sudsy soap. And with no provisions for recycling the plastic, it is even less desirable on a daily basis. That’s a lot of plastic being bagged, hauled and eventually burned in Orrington at the region’s trash incinerator.

Congratulations to the elementary school students for recognizing something that needed changing, organizing and effecting that change. Maine collectively accomplished a similar exercise in self-discipline and recycling back in the 1970s with the highly successful bottle bill, and most of us got over tossing trash from our car windows.

Besides, not too many people like eating with plastic cutlery. “Having real silverware rocks!” a fourth-grader said.


Cleaning with care

The Five Town Community School District, which governs Camden Hills Regional High School, has plodded through a series of budget committee meetings trying to determine where to cut expenses and reduce a $1.2 million tax increase on local citizens. While the discussions, arguments and advocacy on the part of citizens, staff, teachers and students have been reasoned and often heartfelt, it was the straightforward five-minute presentation by Keith Rose, director of maintenance, that earned much respect.

Rose produced a four-page synopsis of traffic at the high school during school and evening adult education hours, and a breakdown of what his seven-person staff accomplishes. Then, instead of falling in line behind the standard approach to cutting costs, which is to cut staff, he presented a list of alternative spending reductions, which included $3,500 in locker parts, $3,000 from a line to replace desks and chairs, and $7,196 in summer and vacation help.

In total, Rose cut $13,696 from his maintenance budget — not a lot, but closer to the $15,000 that was suggested in the proposed list of maintenance cuts by eliminating staff. Without belaboring the issue, Rose said he was concerned about the extra load placed on remaining staff, and that cleaning the building is integral to its long-term condition. The school, he explained, is more than 25,000 square feet in size, the equivalent of 10 to 12 “pretty good-sized homes.”

In these days of layoffs and reduced salaries, keeping one steady job is more important to the overall economy than new locker parts and chairs. Custodians work hard, especially at cleaning, clearing snow and wiping desks down with disinfectant at all hours. Rose was spot-on in finding his way around layoffs. If all unions and administrators could be so sensible.