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