In our schools: Limit spending; increase security

What is the first step in addressing a crushing municipal budget problem?

Alienate members of the local school committee by not allowing them to join in the problem-solving discussion.

At least that’s the first step in the negotiation manual used by Paris First Selectman Sam Elliot.

On Thursday night, Elliot refused to allow members of the SAD 17 Board of Directors to join a round-table discussion among local public officials regarding rising school costs. The school representatives weren’t permitted to participate, or even speak.

The purpose of the meeting was for public officials from the SAD 17 sending towns in Oxford Hills to discuss the impact of the preliminary 2013-14 school budget, a budget that may result in a 11 percent increase in property assessments.

Last year, the towns absorbed a 6.03 percent increase in local assessments in the district’s $35.1 million budget and — for good reason — are trying to avoid that again.

So, wouldn’t it make sense in trying to solve this problem to hear from the folks who set the school budget? And who can explain the increase?

It would, except — apparently — not to Elliot.

The selectman’s decision not to recognize the school directors prompted them to leave the meeting, and they were followed out in camaraderie by Otisfield Selectman Rick Micklon.

SAD 17 Chairman Ron Kugell of Oxford was one of the directors who walked out. He is a member of Oxford’s Budget Committee and a former police chief, so he is definitely used to people getting up in his grill, but even this was too much.

“We wanted to hear their concerns and how we could help each other,” Kugell told the Sun Journal. “It’s too bad,” he said, because the school directors could have added to the discussion but “Sam (Elliot) wasn’t interested in that.”

If Elliot — a former member of the SAD 17 board himself — is truly interested in avoiding a hefty increase in local assessments to pay for schools, he really must hear school directors out. He doesn’t have to like or accept what they say, but to refuse them the opportunity to provide information creates an unnecessary and damaging stalemate.

Plus, it just seems petty.

This isn’t Congress, after all.

*

For the past week, following the horror of the Newtown, Conn., shootings, school officials have reviewed security plans and politicians have made promises about enacting legislation to keep us all safe.

In RSU 10 on Monday, administrators sought input from teachers about how to make the district’s 10 schools more safe. By that afternoon, several ideas had been suggested.

In SAD 44 in Bethel, administrators planned to review school crisis plans, which each school is required to have in place.

In RSU 73, school administrators intend to meet with police officials to review their safety plans. Administrators had already been planning to improve security during the renovation of Spruce Mountain High School in Jay next year, but will now review security in all buildings.

In Lewiston, Superintendent Bill Webster asked building administrators to review security plans and then sent a robo-call to all parents assuring them that “We take seriously our responsibilities to your children whom you entrust in our care” and that employees are doing all they can to make children feel safe and comfortable in their schools.

On Wednesday, Mayors Against Illegal Guns — a national nonprofit organization of 750 mayors — sent a letter to the White House urging the president to do everything in his power to end the “gun madness” in America and not to “become a party to the mayhem by supporting the efforts of the NRA.”

On Thursday, the head of the Maine Gun Owners Association said he believed that teachers with firearms training and concealed weapons permit holders should be allowed to carry guns in schools and other "gun-free zones." He also suggested schools should recruit teachers willing to be trained on the use of firearms.

And, on Friday, the NRA held a press conference to make a plea that an armed police officer should be posted in every school in the country because “the next Adam Lanza” is already plotting an attack on another school.

And, while all this was going on, our teachers were being asked to keep the routine in their classrooms as normal as possible.

What is normal now, anyway?

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Follow the dots.......

If the United States spends trillions of dollars maintaining hundreds of bases around the world and setting itself up to be the policeman of the world to maintain its Empire, there is always a price to pay. Added to that the reluctance of corporations and the ultra wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, well, anyone can see that there is less money for many programs back here at home, including education.
Less money given to the states means less money getting to communities from the state.
Right now, it seems like we are in a time of constant war so we can expect less. No surprise there.
The onus of funding schools should be taken off the backs of property owners but we are the low hanging fruit, easier to pick our pockets than to admit to the trillions of dollars wasted on the military/industrial complex.

Remember what Ike warned us about before he left office.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

...and one more thing....

when I was growing up, we had "duck and cover" drills in school in response to the Soviet Bloc threat; many well armed foreign nations who might do us harm with nuclear weapons. It was something, though horrible, we could all understand in our world.

Now we have security drills in our schools due the actions of one man in our own country.

We are now arguing about why, many of us know why but no one seems to listen.

Is this what we have become America?

God help us all.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

The system we use to fund schools is BROKE...

and the result is teachers, teachers unions, administrators, municipalities, school boards, parents of students, and taxpayers are pitted one against the other in a crazy tug of war we see in our local and national media during budget time.

Each party demonizing the other and many times deaf to each other’s concerns until a budget is passed and we have winners and losers. I have been involved as an active member of most of the groups mentioned above so I speak from experience.

Unfortunately, many times, each group works in a relative vacuum and presents their work when completed, sure the meetings are open, but busy lives intrude, so MOST folks do not get involved in the budget creation process only in the final phases, where a lot of the acrimony takes place. Many members of our town didn't even know we voted on two budgets school/municipal each year! I guess you can say shame on us, we get what we deserve.

In addition, If we think the current system provides equal education under the law; it is a delusion. All one has to do is travel the state, and country for that matter, and you will see the educational haves vs the have not’s. One school has a cafetorium, while the other has a state of the art performance center as an example.

The state published an Essential Programs and Services (EPS) funding formula for schools, it is my understanding that this formula is used when the percentage of state dollars sent to school units are determined and covers the essentials for students. Anything over that must be voted in. This by town meeting, city council, etc. and monies over EPS are funded 100% by the local taxpayers. Therefore, and I make no judgment here, affluent areas can afford to vote more dollars toward their schools; they can afford it. Some not so affluent areas try to do the same, and it has a negative impact on existing taxpayers. Thus the conflict and the result is the more affluent areas providing, if you believe that more money equals better, more educational opportunities for their students; I'm just describing the system.

If you can ill afford another increase in your property taxes and vote against the budget you are labeled "anti-education" If you question the budget at voting time you are asked; "why didn't you participate in the budget formulation process". I've heard budget advocates tell their follow citizens to "just move away" if you don't want to vote for the budget as presented; and that comment is just what can be printed here.

There has to be a better way...all the stakeholders need to be at the table and come up with AFFORDABLE school and municipal budgets that we can all live with and sustain; the bottom line should be a solid education for our children balanced with an essential (needs based) municipal budget.

We don't have the luxury of owning a printing press like the federal government therefore we need to learn to either live within our means or we will certainly lose what we have to the tax collector at every level of government.

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