Education not a priority

Congratulations to those opposing Regional School Unit 16's school budget. They won. They can keep the $35 per year it would have cost Minot’s taxpayers to educate the children. Our children's already stripped-down, bare-bones education won't require any more tax dollars than last year's budget.

Through all of their hard work, they've convinced 12 too many people that education isn’t a priority. Money in their pockets is.

They've stood loud and strong, claiming no one can afford one more penny in taxes to educate our children.

The truth? I think they're against quality education.

Their logic is a bit twisted. My family recently got a letter from an opponent to the budget trying to convince us that our children's education isn’t worth the extra money. That’s right. Time, effort, electricity, ink and stamps were used to mail letters out to convince people that the budget costs them too much.

I don't buy it.

What was spent on stamps and ink alone was as much as it would have cost in a yearly tax increase.

The wrangling over pennies in the budget process has made these towns very unattractive to young families looking to move here. Our schools are not what any educated adult could rightly state as "lucrative," "Cadillac," or "excessive." Carefully check surrounding towns for that.

But don’t worry. I’m sure that my kids will grow up just fine, and will move away to raise their own families elsewhere — where a quality education isn't the cause for community wars.

Brian Gagnon, Minot

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 's picture

Throw more money at it...

This seems to be the mantra of far too many people. I don't understand why you think more money is the key to a better education? A poster here pointed out that third world countries can educate their children for far less than we do. How without our money?

Maine has had laptops for about a decade and how have the test scores progressed? I know, the tests are flawed. What is the right answer? Many educators tend to see the answer to all their troubles to be money. More money, as much money as possible. And the public wants some accountability. If we can't use the test results because they are flawed, what should we use to ensure we are getting some results for the millions and millions of dollars we are paying.

I will agree that property taxes are not the answer. That can only take us so far. We are being stretched as thin as possible right now and simply can't take anymore. Enough is enough.

You complain that the public is not giving enough, but what is the solution? Either the youth must leave to find better opportunities, or we can raise taxes again and again and then everyone but the youth can leave because the burden is too high.

Instead of just complaining that taxpayers aren't giving enough, why not come up with some valid suggestions for easing the situation and providing some middle ground? Why do the coaches need stipends? There are many people who volunteer to coach little league or youth basketball, etc. why should school sports be any different? Why do we need so many different sports?

There are many many areas we could save money. Fewer actual buildings would reduce expenses, but everyone wants to keep the neighborhood school. Fewer buildings means fewer principals and office personnel, therefore less overhead for salaries.

There are many things that can be done, try working with the public instead of just chastising them (us) when we don't want to open our wallets even more.

 's picture

Joe, I chastise them (you)

I chastise them (you) because your "solution" is just to keep taking away from education. Let's just use your "valid suggestions" toward a "middle ground" to help solve this impasse. In your comment, you suggest to offer fewer sports, not pay the people who coach them, to close buildings, have our youth leave to find better opportunities, cut principals, office personnel, and reduce "overhead" for salaries. You even suggest that we should look to "third world countries" in order to "educate...children for far less." Your comments speak for themselves. You make my argument for me. Are you serious? This benefits our children, how again? You fail to mention that. That's because--as my letter states clearly--you don't value quality education. In fact, you could have written my letter for me! Earlier in your rant, you imply that test scores equal success. Maybe when you were in school every kid tested well--except for the "dumb" ones, right? They probably didn't count when you were in school. They were the ones who slipped through the cracks and were tracked into certain classes, right? Well nowadays, we teach in such a way as to try to reach EVERY kid. But remember the kids who didn't test well? They still exist. We just don't call them "dumb" anymore. Should we? Qualified teachers spend countless hours planning lessons to give kids the chance to show deeper understanding than what one can show on a standardized test. Maybe a kid can produce a PowerPoint presentation--on their laptop--complete with video and an audio soundtrack to show deep understanding of a concept. But for some reason, they can't fill in the right dot on the test screen. That drives you crazy, doesn't it? But the fact is that the PowerPoint presentation is a much more valid way to put their knowledge to use. It's the kind of thing that they'll use time and time again, not only throughout their school career, but in their career, period. Like it or not, the world has changed a lot since you were in school, and technology has played a big part of the world we are preparing kids for. Do you remember every answer you filled in on a standardized test? I do: it was either A, B, C, or D. A lot of good those tests did for me. But I remember the oil derrick I made out of toothpicks much better--because I put the information I learned to USE! It didn't show up in my test score, though. I never was very good at those tests.

Looking back, I'm glad that my test scores weren't used to determine the financial worth of my teachers. You clearly imply that test scores should be used to determine what a teacher is worth. Kids take tests--not teachers. You can't draw a direct correlation from how effective a teacher is to how well a kid performs on a single test. There are too many variables. Besides, I can show you teachers who'd end up with merit pay they certainly do not deserve! (Yes, I'm writing that I agree that there are bad teachers out there--I've met several along the way!) But what if they benefitted from a pay raise because they got lucky enough to end up with a class where the vast majority are high performing kids? Some kids will always do well, with or without the help of their teacher. Meanwhile, the teacher across the hall busts her tail trying to get her room full of low-performers to succeed on the tests, but they can't perform well because of a host of reasons out of anyone's control.

You say with apparent authority that educators tend to see the answer to all their troubles to be money. I'm sure that's because you've seen firsthand what goes on in a classroom? Teachers are always screaming about money! That's all they care about, right? Believe me, if teachers cared about money, they wouldn't be teachers. The level of education that is required of teachers could earn them a lot more money in another field. But their dedication to kids is second to none. But you don't care about any of that. You don't want to hear about any successes. We should skip all that and just "try working with the public" to find the "middle ground". I just re-read your comment, as well as the beginning of my reply, and I can't believe I just wasted 30 minutes of my life trying to make you understand where I'm coming from. I should have just ended at "Your comments speak for themselves."

 's picture

EVERYONE values education

If you would take a minute to breath and think about what someone says without attacking it would certainly help.

With regard to limiting the number of schools thus reducing expenses, money would be saved and then that money could be used elsewhere to educate kids. I never said we should simply reduce to save money and put it back in the taxpayers pocket. I was trying to offer up suggestions where money could be saved to help with the actual education of our kids. And immediately you brand me and others as tightwads who don't value education. That is unhelpful.

As far as tests are concerned, what would you suggest is a good method of evaluating teachers performance? The test scores are abysmal. The graduation rate is ridiculous. What can we look to to show how well the teachers are performing? You talk of power point presentations and such. Great. But if a kid has deep knowledge of a subject that kid should be able to answer a question about that knowledge. There has to be some mechanism in place to put a value on teachers' work.

I'm not sure why you assume I have been out of a classroom for a great length of time. You assume a lot. You assume everyone is against you. I don't believe anyone wants our children to fail. The public is frustrated with ever increasing costs and diminishing results. Why don't you spend your next 30 minutes not ranting about my response and some up with a solution other than to throw money at it. If we work together, we can tackle this problem. But your insistence that everyone is against you simply because money is one of many issues is, again, not helpful or accurate. What is your solution?

 's picture

Joe, If you read my earlier

If you read my earlier post, because of the face-to-face conversations I've had with people, with some of the suggestions they've come up with, I do assume a lot up front. And with your opening of cutting sports, coaches stipends, and closing schools, it appeared from the start that it would be easy to assume where you stood. I do apologize, though. You're right. If we were face-to-face, we could hold a better conversation. Reading blogs and emails, it's impossible to infer tone of voice. I just read those comments, and hear the voices of the people of Minot and Poland who just oppose education--which comes through loud and clear in their tone.

I am actually one of the more conservative teachers you'll ever meet. I do not believe at all that throwing money at the budget solves everything. There are many areas in which I wholeheartedly disagree with the majority of my colleagues--too many to get into here. But you've asked for solutions. I don't have much time here, so here goes: 1) The federal and state government should scale back new spending until the educational mandates that they've put in place are funded. Special education costs are through the roof, and are not always funded, so the cost gets passed onto the property owner. 2) Everyone should share the cost of educating children--NOT just property owners. I used to teach in a city (that shall remain nameless), and many students would walk to school from the dozens of apartment buildings in the school's neighborhoods. Many came from abhorrent living conditions, single parent households (and I use the word "parent" here loosely), and were unrested and malnourished. Some of these students required more help from the school than other kids (who may have taken the bus in to school from a stable home), yet the "parent" of the kid who came from the apartment building didn't have to "shell out" money in property taxes to go toward educating their child. This is wrong. 3) Give school administrators the ability to deal with ineffective teachers. Currently, the union is the biggest obstacle in letting this happen. I've seen far too many times where a teacher is totally ineffective with their students, yet the administrator can do very little to change it because the teacher has years in. The union will immediately come to the aid of an ineffective veteran teacher over the younger, fresher, energetic teacher with only 1 or 2 years in. This is a huge issue, as when budget cuts come (and believe me--they've come in a BIG way to RSU 16 over the past 3 years!), instead of being able to "weed out" ineffective teachers, you lose the youngest and sometimes brightest teachers in the building because they're "low man on the totem pole." Now, just writing this could get me in hot water with my colleagues, but I've had this conversation time and time again. The union is the biggest obstacle to effectively changing school climate. (Now I'll have to deal with a whole other group ticked off at me--great!)

I'd love to continue, but I've got to go. I'll close by saying that although I am very fiscally conservative, I believe we've cut all we can in RSU 16, in particular. I'm not privy to too much else in other districts, but my point is that the programs that are being offered in RSU 16 after very drastic cuts is unacceptable.

 's picture

Well, I don't want to put my

Well, I don't want to put my nose where it doesn't belong, but I know of many people who rent, and send their children to school, too. Yet many of them don't get caught up in the "battle for a budget" because their kids are going to be educated one way or the other--and their rent won't change one way or the other. The cost of educating their kids should not be put on the backs of the property owner, solely. There needs to be an overhaul on how education is funded because it affects everyone's children--not just those who pay property taxes. But that's a debate for some other time, perhaps.

Gerald Weinand's picture

Extend the logic of your

Extend the logic of your argument - why should those that don't have a child in the public schools pay taxes that support these schools?

And rents will be affected by increased costs of the building owner, whether they are fuel, taxes, etc. Even demand will drive up rent.

 's picture

"Why should those that don't

"Why should those that don't have a child in the public schools pay taxes that support these schools?" Gerald, the ignorance behind this question is baffling, and yet not surprising. I can't believe I'm going to waste my time with an answer, but here goes: There are certain expenses to our society that are shared, because the benefit of an educated society is shared by all--even those, nay ESPECIALLY those, who never attained a good education themselves. It is in your best interest to have a society of educated people to solve tomorrow's problems, and to create tomorrow's innovations. Think of the "we've got to start somewhere" mentality...

Gerald Weinand's picture

Brian: My question was

Brian: My question was rhetorical, and extending your own logic about building owners. I've heard the same argument from empty nesters - why should I be paying for public schools when I don't have children attending them? I fully understand that an educated populace is in society's best interest, which is why I support increasing spending on public schools, not cutting it.

 's picture

Sorry, Gerald. Throughout

Sorry, Gerald. Throughout this process, I've stopped assuming that any questions are rhetorical anymore. For example, during one of the meetings, someone who opposes the budget proposed that we could save money by allowing volunteers into the school to do things, "like teach the younger grades..." When this is the mentality we're up against--to suggest that anyone off the street could just "volunteer" to "teach first grade"--you get pretty defensive about your profession. It's really gotten ugly up here. I've held very productive and friendly conversations with people with whom I entirely disagree--sometimes outnumbered 5 or 6 to 1--and those talks have ended with little or no progress, but at least a handshake and a "take care, drive carefully on the way home." I'm actually a pretty friendly, agreeable person, but many of the people who oppose this budget have brought out a side of me that I am just not proud of. I think I'm going to stay out of the paper and off the blog for awhile!

Gerald Weinand's picture

No problem Brian - I

No problem Brian - I appreciate your response.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"They can keep the $35 per

"They can keep the $35 per year it would have cost Minot's taxpayers to educate the children."

Question: If the $35 per year per taxpayer increase is so trivial on the one end, why does its absence have such an impact on the quality of education of the children on the other? Just askin'.

 's picture

Paul, That is a very good

That is a very good question. And believe me, the answer doesn't lie in the $35. It lies somewhere between Washington DC and Augusta ME. I'm not your typical "tax 'em for my kids' sake" kind of guy. In fact, I think it's shameful that we've been put in a position that the property tax payer is forced to fund education to the levels it's at. Why is it that only people who own their homes have a stake in funding education? Don't get me started on that one. The state has not met its end of the bargain to fund education, and the feds certainly haven't either, despite all their mandates. Believe me, I think my property taxes are plenty high. I think that the out of control spending in Washington has led us to a place where otherwise friendly people have been pitted against each other. If Washington would just fund education mandates that they already have in place, rather than looking for new, creative ways to spend tax dollars (ie, national health care, and other "shovel-ready" projects), we probably wouldn't be fighting as much. And, yes, I believe that some school systems have room to trim budgets and save taxpayer money. But seriously? RSU 16 is already stripped down. They started way behind other districts locally, and they're only falling further behind. It's becoming a joke. I also think that the teacher's union has made way more enemies than friends over the years, and the NEA certainly hasn't done anything to make it easier for teachers locally to keep their jobs. A lot of good that intense lobbying has gotten teachers around here, huh? So, it's not the $35, believe me. There are a host of things that need to change before $35 makes a difference. But I don't see any buses heading to DC or Augusta from around here, so I've just got to stick up for the teachers and kids around here and do what I can do to keep the status quo. But believe me, if there are any decent alternative ideas that you're keeping from us, I'm all ears. Until then, I'll just go back to the quiet of the crickets up here in Minot.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Very well stated, Brian. I

Very well stated, Brian. I particularly like the part where you say, "Why is it that only people who own their homes have a stake in funding education"?
If you stick around long enough Brian, you'll find that many participants in these blogs (I won't name them; they know who they are) would be supportive of renters being entitled to a tax deduction similar to the mortgage interest deduction which is currently being enjoyed by mortgage holding homeowners. They don't realize that there's a reason why homeowners are allowed that deduction and, unfortunately, that reason does not exist for renters.

 's picture

Mark, Thanks for commenting

Thanks for commenting on this post. It's this kind of debate that we need to have regarding this issue. Your argument is flawed in all areas, though. Although you make some interesting points, three things are clear, and I'll change your mind on all three: 1) You didn't read my letter, 2) You give too much credit to those who oppose the budget, 3) you agree that my children will make the right choice and move out of this town.
The first point is easy to pick apart: (You didn't read my letter): "taxpayers are tired of this incrementim (sp) that has been occurring for decades". My letter states "I don't buy it". The time, effort, ink, and postage that it has taken to give false, misleading information to people who have not attended budget meetings speaks volumes of their hate for public education. I assure you that they spent more than the pennies per month it would cost to pass this budget. And I agree wholeheartedly with the point that the government has taken more and more from the taxpayer over the years. However, the idea that "starting somewhere" starts with their friends and neighbors on the school board is absurd. They start and END there. I don't see any buses going to Augusta or DC to further this message. That's a cop out. It's easy to go to town hall and stand up in the HS auditorium--most of these opponents don't even do THAT. (They only show up between 4-8pm on the day of the secret ballot vote!) So, they're not going any further with this "protest" than their own town hall. Now, on to the second point: (You give too much credit to those who oppose the budget). You certainly bring up interesting alternatives in order to avoid lost funding from the state--which is already far short of the 55% of education costs found in state law AND reinforced by passage of statewide referendum a few years back--with your remark "Perhaps Charter Schools can do a better job for the same or lower cost using state funding". Two things stand out here. First, the word "Perhaps". Although there are a number of success stories around the country, the mere idea of charter schools has just (very) recently been declared legal in Maine. The fact is that it takes years to develop a sound educational system. Second, (and more importantly), no one has offered this as an alternative. In fact, NO alternatives WHATSOEVER have been offered up from the other side. The only thing they care about at all is the bottom line cost to the taxpayer. And I assure you that if the school board were to offer up Charter Schools as an alternative (which would certainly cost more up front to organize), they'd be called out for the incredible startup cost, as well as the radical idea of totally changing what "schools" look like in their town. They'd be far more likely to vote to close down ALL schools (or as you say, "perish") than to "adapt". For example, during this process, the big sticking points have been teacher sick days (which cost nothing until used, and even then, the expense to taxpayers is negligible) and teacher and administrator salaries, along with coaching stipends for middle school and high school sports (which compare VERY unfavorably to school districts in the area). I've challenged people to look honestly not only at salaries and benefits, but at the programs that are offered in other districts that have never been offered here--or that have been cut in recent years. The only time they say "think outside the box" (aren't you sick of that cliche yet? That's so 1998.) is when they say that schools just can't expect to keep getting more money. They say we need to be "creative" when funding the school budget. The fact is that this budget was far too low to begin with. It's $1.3 million less than the one from 3 years ago--they've been given everything they've wanted (their tax money back!) with nothing in return to the schools. That's why I began the letter with "Congratulations... They won". Now for the third, and most personal point: My children "will grow up find (sp) and move away since there are better job opportunities elsewhere." If I am to interpret this correctly, my kids will eventually become smart enough to realize that the town in which they grew up has nothing to offer them, and that if they are smart enough--certainly smarter than the people of this town expects them to be, they should move away from where their family and community raised them. Well, I did bring it up, I suppose. But thanks for reinforcing my wife's biggest fear. Don't worry, though. I'll be sure to tell her that they'll be happy with their wonderful jobs. And since our town won't be burdened with the costs of educating some other family's punk kids, we'll use the savings to take a trip once or twice a year to see them.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Perhaps that your kids will

Perhaps that your kids will grow up just find and move away since there are better job opportunities elsewhere. I did in 1982, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Economically, we are squeezed form all sides – raising food and energy prices, raising tax rates, and stagnant wages. While your assertion that the new budget will cost only a few more dollars to taxpayers, you are neglecting the fact that taxpayers are tired of this incrementalim that has been occurring for decades. At some point taxpayers need to make a stand and say enough; that time is now.

Think outside the box and seek to educate our children with fewer dollars. Ask yourself how developing counties can educate kids using far fewer dollars.

Tammy English's picture

We need to think outside that

We need to think outside that box in many other areas so that we are NOT sacrificing education. RSU 16 has been thinking in this manner and has made too many sacrifices for the taxpayers sake. I can't wait to see what these nay-sayers will say about their tax bills when we choose to educate our children in private schools and our towns lose that state funding. They are driving many toward that and it will hurt much worse than a very small incremental increase!

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Tammy, You may be basing your

You may be basing your argument on a set of false assumptions, like losing state funding for example.
Perhaps Charter Schools can do a better job for the same or lower cost using State funding. There are a number of success stories across the US.

Under the current system, the need for more funding year over year will not abate. At some point we have to examine alternatives even though it is easier or possibly more comfortable for us to keep squeezing a bit more from the taxpayers. This is crystal clear to many of us.
Let’s draw an analogy to evolution. Those organisms that fail to adapt to a changing environment may not survive. The corollary being that those organisms that adapt more readily to a changing environment are more likely to survive.

Globalization has changed and will continue to change our environment. The middle class will increasingly have to compete for jobs on a global scale. The law of supply and demand will dictate a downward pressure on wages and a corresponding decrease in available tax revenues. This is our changing environment and we must adapt or perish metaphorically speaking.


Tammy English's picture

But without the education to

But without the education to compete, that middle class won't go anywhere in life. The pressure is on to educate our youth to compete globally--give them the best skills and give them an education at a school that provides the programs that it takes to get into the best post-secondary educational institutions. Colleges have not changed their admission criteria--they take the kids who excel in the schools that offer the best programs. Unfortunately, we have cut and cut and squeezed so much out of our system that we no longer have that edge. We have saved our taxpayers millions over the past few years, so the argument that we haven't adapted is truly null and void.

 's picture

"Carefully check surrounding

"Carefully check surrounding towns for that" implies that other local school districts' budgets CAN be described as "lucrative", "Cadillac" or "excessive". That was NOT my intent. I meant that if the people of RSU 16 would take the time to compare our budget to those of the surrounding towns, they'd probably be ashamed of using such words to describe our budget. Although they'd probably shudder to see what a town who values the education of their youth is willing to spend in order to attract highly qualified teachers, and provide quality educational programming for our children. But, of course, since they don't value a good quality education anyway, the point is moot.


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