J. Berg: Did consolidation save money?

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The Sun Journal has finally given the public some information regarding school consolidation, forced upon us by the state in 2009. In Maine, with fewer than 188,000 students and with numbers dropping, the enrollment is equal to or smaller than that of single-district cities and counties.

Consolidation makes sense. The top-heavy administration and lack of real curriculum coordination among schools are impediments to education. Former Gov. John Baldacci originally proposed 26 districts consolidated about the existing, self-organized vocational/technical districts. Excellent.

Instead, local control became the mantra of those who believe education is the purview of local school boards. The hurried legislated outcome called for 80 districts. In the end, there are now 164 school districts instead of the previous 290; 124 school superintendents (94 full-time; 31 part-time) instead of 152; and 246 school boards.

Before consolidation, there were more than 1,800 school board members, each involved in making local district policy: approve teacher and coach appointments, write detailed suspension and expulsion policy, “rubber stamp” new math or literacy programs, approve school trips and building repairs, and negotiate salaries and benefits with separate units of employees, such as teachers, administrative staff, custodians, etc.

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Did the consolidation save money? Where are the data?

Educational improvement should have been the primary objective, not money. The education system is still fragmented. Some districts, bullied into consolidation by the threat of financial penalties, make no sense. And there is a serious handicap to future attempts to get out of the clutches of No Child Left Behind.

Judith Berg, Buckfield

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