Former councilors want to recall Auburn school officials

Update: 

Auburn activists redrafting petitions to recall school officials

AUBURN — Citing frustration with school officials and the School Department's budget, five former city councilors intend to chase most members of the Auburn School Committee from office.

The group, led by former Councilors Ron Potvin and Mike Farrell, filed petitions to form a recall committee with Auburn City Clerk Sue Clements-Dallaire on Monday afternoon.

Clements-Dallaire said the committee — which includes former Councilors Bob Mennealy, Dan Herrick and Joe Gray — has 90 days to collect 2,395 signatures for each School Committee member they hope to recall. That includes all sitting members except Ward 4's Tracey Levesque.

Potvin said Levesque seemed like the kind of School Committee member the group could work with.

"Basically, she's conservative," Farrell said.

Members targeted by the recall group are William Horton of Ward 1, Bonnie Hayes of Ward 2, Tom Kendall of Ward 3, Larry Pelletier of Ward 5 and at-large representatives Francois Bussiere and Laurie Tannenbaum.

The group also submitted a petition targeting David Young, a city councilor who sits on the School Committee as the appointee of Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, but Clements-Dallaire said she did not know whether Young's School Committee seat could be recalled.

Potvin said frustration with high taxes led the former councilors to act.

"They are out of touch, completely out of touch, with the needs of the citizens of the city of Auburn," Potvin said. "In the times that we are going through, to come forward with these astronomical increases shows no restraint. They think they can just do what they want."

Farrell said the recall effort was the first part of the group's activist effort to completely change Auburn's school system.

"When a business is broke, you replace it from the top down," Farrell said. "Your CEO goes, the board goes and then you do a product replacement. This organization has admitted the product is broken, that Auburn has not had a good education system since the city was born. They've tried to fix it with iPads and everything else. The problem is, we can't afford their fixes. So we need to rethink the organization's structure."

The recall effort gives Potvin and Farrell's committee until about Sept. 9 to collect signatures, and the recall vote would be scheduled soon after that. However, all seven School Committee seats, as well as all seven council seats and the mayor's seat, are up for election on November's ballot, meaning all of the recalled committee members could be up for election for a new term soon after the recall vote.

Farrell said his group's decision was not political but has grown out of a genuine frustration with how school officials work.

"We may be forced to spend money by the state, but at least we'll be forced to spend it with people we actually trust," Farrell said.

Potvin agreed.

"We don't' have any confidence in this School Committee or this school administration," Potvin said.

staylor@sunjournal.com

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Mike Farrell, right, his son Reese, 12, and Ron Potvin stand outside Auburn Hall on Monday after filing the five signatures needed to petition for recall of the Auburn School Committee. The former city councilors are unhappy with the proposed school budget.

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Comments

Chuck Lafean states: "In the

Chuck Lafean states: "In the meantime, all our leadership seems to want to do is merge services with Lewiston. To continue the business analogy, combining two failing businesses does not a successful one make. Lewiston will and should maintain control over their own economic destiny, just as Auburn should."

Wow Chuck, we agree twice in one day. ;-)

Chuck Lafean's picture

Tempest in a Teapot

Talk about a tempest in a teapot. Assuming you make this recall happen, by the time you succeed in forcing them out of office, the election results will be just coming in in November.

By the way, Tracey voted for this budget, too, and I didn't see any reservation on her part. That ought to tell you something about either Tracey herself and her conservative chops or about this budget.

BTW, if your business is broke, you don't necessarily start from the top down; you go out an sell more. It is the top line not the bottom line. Sure, you might cut positions in an attempt to shore up the bottom line, but you don't do it by cutting on the production side of the house.

There is, in my mind a lot that is wrong with Auburn city politics. You just added to it!

MARK GRAVE's picture

Chuck, it is always about the

Chuck, it is always about the bottom line. Since the school has nothing to sell, do you mean raise taxes to get more revenue? Isn’t that what voters just rejected?

This is not a business and there is no "top line"; who are you trying to fool?

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

When will it be about the

When will it be about the students?

Chuck Lafean's picture

Kathy, I don't even know how

Kathy, I don't even know how to answer that question. The education system in Auburn is the product we have to sell, and the value of that product is determined by how well it serves the students and the community. It is all about the students!

Chuck Lafean's picture

There is a Top Line- It is Called Growth!

Top line in the case of municipal government in a free market economy is economic development, be it from business relocating to our community or new residents coming to live here, either in existing homes or new development. These things would have the effect of increasing the value of the tax base, increasing property value and lowering tax rate. Without this economic growth, those of us in Auburn will be asked to fund increases in budgets, be they municipal or school, while receiving fewer services, regardless of our ability to pay for them. We have to grow our tax base.

In the meantime, all our leadership seems to want to do is merge services with Lewiston. To continue the business analogy, combining two failing businesses does not a successful one make. Lewiston will and should maintain control over their own economic destiny, just as Auburn should.

MARK GRAVE's picture

“Lewiston will and should

“Lewiston will and should maintain control over their own economic destiny, just as Auburn should.”

How is that working?

Maine is routinely ranked as one of the hardest States in which to do business. While I don’t know how Auburn compares to the overall business climate in Maine, I’m not sure if your goal is achievable.

That said, consolidating L-A education resources might be the only choice even if it extends the time to extinction, which I see as the inevitable end unless Maine ceases to be a hostile business environment.

Maine is in a death spiral trying to get more revenue from a shrinking tax base, which furthers business hostility. I don’t have any suggestions as to how Maine can recover at this point. The tax and spend mindset has been sowed for decades.

Chuck Lafean's picture

Mark, you just made my point.

Mark, you just made my point. What we have been doing and are continuing to do, at least as the City of Auburn, if not the State of Maine, isn't working. We can't tax our way to prosperity, but neither can we cut our way there, either! We need to grow our way out if this; clearing the way for business investment and making our state and city more attractive to new residents. Isn't that exactly what Lewiston is doing?

While the conservative side of my brain (there actually is one, believe it or not, though I admit to being a late in life hippie) agrees with what you say about Maine's business climate. The trouble is, we are in transition from a manufacturing region to a service-based economy. There is still a lot of activity in the manufacturing sector and the industries that support it, but we are pushing against time. That is why investment in technological infrastructure is so critical. I count education as part of that infrastructure.

I am not going to give up though, in spite of my cynicism, which could easily overwhelm me if I let it. It sounds like you might be right there, too.

Bob Mennealy, then make the

Bob Mennealy, then make the needed changes this November. What does this recall accomplish? All the seats are open this fall. How much is this recall going to cost?

MARK GRAVE's picture

Good point Bob, spend tax

Good point Bob, spend tax revenue on the recall election means there are less dollars in the system - are these the economic Einstein people want to elect to fix budget problems?

Zack Lenhert's picture

Actually they're a

Actually they're a conservative group of ex councilors that organized the effort to vote down the proposed school budget, the same people you gave kudo's to.

Chuck Lafean's picture

Bob, I am astonished... you

Bob, I am astonished... you and I agree on something concerning the schools. I knew that would happen eventually.

Former councilors want to recall school officials

Alot of Auburn citizens must feel change is needed as evidenced by the vote on the school budget!

Chuck Lafean's picture

No, That is Not What The Results Indicate

That is not what this vote indicates, Bob. It indicates a concern that the household of the voter wouldn't be able to afford the tax increase this budget represented. Sure, there are people that feel change is needed, but I sincerely doubt they are in the majority in the population of no votes.

Won't you defeated in an election once? No, really, I don't know the answer, you may have walked away. How did that happen again?

MARK GRAVE's picture

Yet you are denying voter

Yet you are denying voter results. Moreover, let's talk about the changes you think are necessary then.

Chuck Lafean's picture

My Changes, Thanks for Asking

Mark, I am hardly denying voter results, I am simply saying that while perhaps some of those against this budget do want change, many just don't want their taxes increased.

In terms of the changes I see necessary...

1. A city government that understands that we are all in this together and that the solution comes from unity and not contentiousness between the two elected bodies of the government. We need officials that inspire, not build distrust.
2. A focus on making Auburn more attractive to business investment and new residents alike. That, I believe is going to take investment, and that I believe is going to require a short-term increase in taxes. I will acknowledge here, that once given taxes are hard to get back, but that is the voters task at this local level. This investment needs to be in several key areas;
a) infrastructure; roads need to be repaired; main inbound arteries need to be cleaned up and at some point, public transportation needs to be addressed.
b) schools; while it is true that throwing money at education won't necessarily make it better, the converse is also true. The cuts that are coming down the pike as a result of this vote are going to do little to improve education in Auburn.
c) selling Auburn, to outside investment by government. I'd be curious to know if any of our elected officials tries to convince Jason Levesque to buy in Auburn, while the news stories seem to portray Mayor McDonald as almost begging for him to come to Lisbon Street. I am coming to believe that the LAEGC should be defunded by Auburn and we should form our own Economic Growth Council. This selling of Auburn needs to, in addition to attracting business investment in our community, attract new residents.
3. While this is going on, here in Auburn, there needs to be a movement, likely state wide, to address the legislation that is driving the cost of education up; both in Augusta and in Washington. This has nothing to do with Auburn's situation, but these are changes that I want to see; in accordance with your question to me.

What changes do you want to see?

DAVID BURKE's picture

ridiculous

I don't agree with all of their decisions, but they've done nothing worthy of a recall. If you're so unhappy, vote them out at the next election. Better yet, run for the school committee yourselves. Politics like this is the worst kind and needlessly tears apart the community.

John  Guy's picture

Yes

Don't forget David, they once were council members as well, and you know the rest...

MARK GRAVE's picture

You mean they failed too and

You mean they failed too and were replaced in a subsequent elections?

DAVID BURKE's picture

key word, 'former' council

key word, 'former' council members.

DAVID BURKE's picture

key word, 'former' council

key word, 'former' council members.

John  Guy's picture

Really?

I was in manufacturing for nearly 30 yrs, and was retrained at the age of 47. At age 49 I graduated from college, and now work in education. I was also not on board with what was happening in our schools until I became an employee....These people I work with opened my eyes to what really goes on behind these walls. We not only teach, but we are there to help all the students make it, and yes support them 100%. These men need to come in and check it out with an open mind... they would be surprised. I am proud to be in this wonderful school system....

MARK GRAVE's picture

Yet the school system is

Yet the school system is failing to keep pace globally and costs too much compared to other industrialized nations. When the message to the community is that all problems are fixable with more money, I and others get suspicious we are being scammed. I cannot remember the last idea to improve education and costs less than current methods – never.

John  Guy's picture

Yet the school system is

I appreciate your comments, and take your opinions as well. We can have a great conversation, and through this maybe we cn fix this together. There is always a way, and a reason for everything. Thanks!

This is foolish! All school

This is foolish! All school board seats are up for grabs in November. You want the school board replaced, then take out papers in July and run against them.

MARK GRAVE's picture

I’ll say it again, these

I’ll say it again, these people are the budget geniuses to lead Auburn to the promise land? This speaks volumes about their skill and abilities to fix budget and education issues.

Joe Gray's picture

I'm a bit confused

Are you talking about the former councilors who petitioned or the current council and/or school committee members?

The petition has already started a great debate. Yet in all the posts I've read here there are precious few ideas for moving forward. Most of the petitioners have, in fact, reduced the city budget when they were in office. I did not have the opportunity to do so as I was only a fill in councilor at the end of Eric Samson's term. I have, however, made many suggestions in the past to try to drive costs down and bring a bit of frugality to the city budget. Many of the suggestions I have made have fallen on deaf ears or been discounted outright with any sort of vetting. For example, I suggested using part time police and fire personnel as a way of decreasing our overtime costs - which are exorbitant. The last time I made that suggestion the police chief and CM Aho stated we cannot get that from our unions. Whether that is true or not, I don't know, but I do know it was not given a second thought. I have been waiting for council to take up the report regarding the fire department and its operations. This council listened to the report and then shelved it. The report calls for 47 different specific steps to take to make the fire department more efficient. This council shelved the report without comment.

I have started to look into the school department. I have been disappointed by the way the school committee has conducted itself in the past couple years. I was extremely disappointed the school committee gave Ms Grondin the $5,000 raise last year - her first year. When I asked committee members about it prior to them voting it in, I was told it "must be in her contract". To me that answer was akin to "get out of here kid you're bothering me, you're bothering me" (think WC Fields). The school committee has spent money on several unpopular ideas in the past couple years. I understand they are elected to make decisions, but they should be able to defend those positions.

But the final straw for me was the cavalier attitude they took when deciding on this new budget to put forth. They actually had the nerve to suggest "white hairs" in Auburn should fore go a meal out so they could pay their school tax increase. This was met with laughter and joking among committee members, except Tracey Levesque who defended our elders. I found the attitude among school committee members to be disgusting and disrespectful of the community in general.

The EPS formula is being used to bring Auburn taxpayers in line. Simple math tells us we spend $10,000 or so per student. The EPS formula puts that figure at about $8,000. So, somewhere, the school admin is using $2,000 per student for something other than the students - at least according to the EPS formula. And the school committee is charged with looking after both the students of Auburn and the Auburn taxpayers. It is a tough situation, but that is what they signed up to do. I for one think they are failing one, if not both, of those groups.

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