Voter turnout crucial at Thursday's school budget hearing

By Kathreen Harrison | May 18, 2015

The Rockland City Council and the Courier-Gazette have rightly urged the residents of the towns of RSU 13 to attend the very important school budget hearing that will be held this Thursday, May 21, beginning at 6 p.m. at Oceanside High School East. By the end of the hearing, those attending will have voted on the specifics of the school budget that will then be either passed or rejected by the public in a referendum June 9.

For those who have a child or grandchild in the school system – or younger children –Thursday’s meeting will decide what kind of schools they will attend in the years to come. Sports and arts programming, world languages, gym, tech. ed., music – any and all of these could be eliminated from the schools as a result of decisions made at the meeting Thursday. Some outspoken residents of the towns are working on getting out the vote to accomplish just that -- to slash programming to absolutely bare bones, to increase class sizes and cut the teaching staff, to close buildings without a plan – in other words, to create a parody of the education described in the Strategic Plan -- which they themselves voted for just a few short years ago.

To those who pay property taxes in the towns of RSU 13 and live on a fixed income, the budget proposal passed by the School Board – higher than last year’s -- undoubtedly appears at first glance to be irresponsible. Taxes have been too high for many residents to shoulder easily for years. The Rockland City Council has suggested the board should have submitted a flat budget or a budget with more modest increases. The School Board, however, is tasked with overseeing the education of the children of the towns. With unavoidable rising costs (everything in schools costs more – paper, pencils, heat -- just like in our own homes), the loss of revenue due to the withdrawal of St. George from the district, and the governor’s cuts to the towns for education, the flat budget proposed by the City Council would translate to deep cuts in quality of education. The more modest increase suggested sounds good – but when you look at the line items, it’s pretty hard to find any fat. Keep in mind that Superintendent John McDonald did revise the budget down prior to submitting the second version to the School Board.

If you are a property owner in the towns, home values correlate in large part with the quality of schools. If the outcome of the meeting Thursday is that we plan to offer an increasingly inferior education in comparison to that available in neighboring schools, families will not move to RSU 13 towns – they will move in ever-increasing numbers to St. George and Camden and surrounding towns. If that happens, the declining tax base will make the tax hike we contemplate this year seem like small potatoes.

Instead of voting to cut programs and increase class sizes, work toward a brighter future for RSU 13. Demand that the state fund the district at a higher level. The district has a low median income and should be helped more by the state – contact your legislators. Insist that work start on a carefully thought-out plan beginning this summer so that by budget season next year building resources will be used efficiently.
 Strengthen existing programs to improve the education offered and inspire newcomers to move to the district.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | May 20, 2015 11:47

I still maintain that if education isn't important to the parents it will not be important to their child. Blaming teachers makes no sense. It's like any job, if you have a passion for it and feel appreciated more like than not you will be satisfied. With all this political correctness and not violating someone's constitutional rights education has taken a back seat. Why be a teacher when you can make more money with less grief being a handyman.

Posted by: Sonja Sleeper | May 19, 2015 07:00

I find it difficult to support a system that is so complicated it has become dysfunctional - teachers are paid way more than other staff members, supplies are low, the buildings in disrepair and things like desks or toilets cannot be replaced without a special line item in the budget or a grant application.  Now that St George will have their own system.  I see this budget planned to make up for that gap rather than reducing staff and programs accordingly.  Everyone is struggling to pay bills, taxes, gas and groceries.  There is no extra money even at the state level.  I have been watching the process on local TV.  Grades are not better so something is wrong.  We do not need new programs or new ways to measure learning.  We need to go outside the box to find innovative solutions.  Why not go to more video classes where one teacher or a specialist can teach several classes at once.  Why bus to a central school when parents have indicated they like local.  With video links you can have all grade levels in one school.  Oh right regulations, well it is time to write the state and tell them it is not working.  Tell the federal government too many strings attached.  You all have experience and college degrees, use them and get creative.   Trust me yes you can, you might find people are more willing to get involved if they feel like progress is being made.

Posted by: Doug Curtis Jr. | May 18, 2015 14:34

It is a pretty sad state of affairs when our elected legislators do not make the school funding formula there top priority for revision.  For every winner there is a loser and Rockland is definitedly the loser.  The citizens of this city can not afford this and we have done our part by closing North/McDougal and McLain schools and totally funding the middle school with local funds and NO STATE AID.  If consoldidation is good for the kids great, but at what price?  It is time for Rockland to take a hard look at where it wants to be and what action it must take to control its own future.  It won't happen this year, but if you don't know what direction you are going, any road will get you there.


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