The Courier-Gazette editorial

Reason should rule over emotion in RSU 13

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | Jan 16, 2014

It is easy to cast blame for the situation we are seeing at Regional School Unit 13 board meetings.

Many in the community are criticizing Superintendent Lew Collins for resigning and taking a severance package. He has been subjected to pretty harsh public discourse now for a number of months. One question that remains to be answered: Did he get a fair chance to do his job, or were the wheels turning against him before he arrived for his first day?

Some are calling for the members of the school board to resign. This is driven by the fact that the school board is now divided into deeply entrenched, combative camps rather than working together for the greater good of the district.

Teachers and administrators have also taken some hits during the fighting in the school district. How much of this fight is being driven by the upcoming contract negotiations? How much by anxiety over what jobs may be cut in a district that is facing dropping enrollments?

Business Manager Scott Vaitones is on paid leave and will make his case to the board later this month. Some are blaming him for budget problems in the food service department, while others are publicly defending him.

We all like the idea of accountability, but what good is all of this blame really doing?

All of the players that we see on local TV on Thursday nights are under tremendous pressure. The school district is in an uneasy situation. One town is working to withdraw from the district altogether. The merger four-and-a-half years ago of SAD 5 with SAD 50 may have left the district with two camps. Do teachers and administrators still see themselves as SAD 5 or SAD 50 people? Which group has more power and gets better treatment?

In addition, the district has 11 schools and shrinking state aid and enrollment, which is driving plans for a middle school merger. At some point in the near future, we may be looking at closing some of the small neighborhood schools, even though the state, using data that is not always fair, characterizes these as the better performing schools.

If you are a school board member, teacher or administrator, parent or student, this can seem overwhelming.

There is one thing that could help in this situation. The school board members need to take the lead in the district by thinking about these problems and issues in a professional, reasonable manner.

The reports we are hearing seem to indicate that board members and some other players in the district drama are acting out of emotion rather than reason.

The school board needs to examine the Maine School Management Association guidelines to discover the duties of its members and carry them out in a professional manner.

Chaos results from acting out of emotion at a school board level — of voting based on who you like or don't like, or dealing with personnel matters in open sessions, throwing employees under the bus. The pandemonium that gives the impression that these matters cannot be solved will disappear when people calm down and act out of pure, rational professionalism.

Every employee, past, present and future, has a right to be treated fairly, honestly and with respect. If a person cannot separate their personal emotions and views from their professional requirements, they should not serve on a school board or as an administrator.

We expect that is what the professional facilitator will tell the board later this week.

It also helps to remember that good things are happening in this district. Just one example is Cushing Community School kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Heidemann winning the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Good for her.

As a community, let's honor the good work that our educators are doing and remember the need for civility.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jan 16, 2014 17:43

Excellent insight from the editorial board. There is much more positive than negative going on here in the mid-coast area. Was at a meeting of local clergy this morning where that was confirmed. We'll get through this like we have many things before by tough people making difficult decisions. Don't leave yet, Ms Reitman, it will get better because we really do know how to work together for the common good. :)

Posted by: Susan P Reitman | Jan 16, 2014 13:07

Funny you DO NOT mention the poor homeowners residing in the RSU-13 school district whose backs are being broken by their outrages real estate taxes.  Our taxes are paying for the RSU-13 fiasco!!!  It is disgusting!!!  What is going on here is one of he reasons Maine is called A DEATH SPIRAL STATE in Forbes Magazine and people are advised not to purchase a house if you move to Maine and businesses are advised not to locate in Maine.  I only wish article had appeared in Forbes Magazine before I moved to Maine in 2006 and bought my home.  Now I can't sell my house for enough to pay off the mortgage so I can get the heck out of here.

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