School budget dilemmas

Please note that this post refers to one particular consolidated coastal school district in Maine. I believe the situation it describes pertains to other districts. If your school district faces the same kinds of problems as RSU 13 please let me know in the comment box. School districts could possibly help each other out with shared problems.

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 21st, beginning at 6:00 p.m. at Oceanside 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 at a referendum on June 9th.

If you 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 on Thursday. Some outspoken residents of the towns are working on getting out the vote to apparently 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 educational model described in the district’s Strategic Plan.

If you 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. Those living on fixed incomes in homes they inherited from their forebears generations back struggle to make ends meet partly because of high municipal and school taxes. The Rockland City Council has suggested the board should have submitted a flat budget or at least a budget with very modest increases.

The school board, however, is tasked with overseeing the education of the children of the towns, and cannot in good faith submit a budget that worsens the quality of education for children. 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 this budget proposal is far from what Superintendent McDonald and the administrators really want in order to improve educational outcomes – he revised it down by cutting prior to submitting this 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. Just look at a Zillow ad if you want confirmation of the connection!

If the outcome of the meeting Thursday is that the district plans 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 this 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.

Does this post reflect the situation in your district?






Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.