The hearing in Augusta is the public’s best chance to speak out on consolidation plans

Monday is a very important day for the people of Maine.

The Legislature’s Education Committee and the Appropriations Committee will be holding a joint hearing at the Augusta Civic Center on all the plans concerning consolidating and reorganizing school districts in Maine. Starting at 9 a.m., and going until 8 p.m., these committees will take testimony from anyone who wants to speak out on the direction Maine should take on this critical issue.

This hearing will be the best chance for people to weigh in with their opinions concerning which of the competing plans, or what combination of their components, will work best for both Maine’s schoolchildren and taxpayers.

People have asked me why we need to make any changes in the state’s education governance structure, given we are doing so well with our K-12 education in comparison to other states. The answer is that there have been several attempts over the last few years to impose draconian limits on Maine’s tax structure, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative this past fall being the latest.

The people of Maine wisely declined these proposals because of the disastrous effect they could have on education, among other things. Still, the message was clear that something has to be done to limit spending, and one of the most obvious places to look is education, where so much of our state and local tax dollars go. Monday’s hearing is a thoughtful attempt at finding cost-savings in a rational manner, rather than risk another meat-ax initiative that could require huge cuts across the board.

To receive the most input, we are encouraging everyone to look at the proposals ahead of time. Most of the plans are on the Legislature’s Web site: www.legislature.maine.gov. We hope this will be a collaborative effort with the maximum input from the public on all the plans. Based on what legislators hear, we may choose one of the plans, or build a new one out of portions of the others.

This is why the hearing Monday is so important. It is an opportunity for people to let their voice count. What ideas do you favor? What directions should we go in? How many districts are enough, and what should they look like? All of these questions and more will be considered as we draft this legislation.

Mainers have a long and proud history of doing things their own way, and using a combination of Yankee ingenuity and common sense to come up with solutions to the problems we face. I am extending an open invitation for you to put that tradition to use, and let us know how education in Maine can work better for our students and our taxpayers.

Come to the Augusta Civic Center on Monday and speak up.

For those of you who plan to attend the hearing, please note that the committee members plan to listen to the sponsors of the school consolidation plans first in the morning. Following their testimony, the committee will listen to public comments on the plans. Those comments will be limited to three minutes.

If you cannot make it to the hearing, you can mail written testimony of your ideas. Send your testimony to “The Joint Standing Committee on Education, State House Station 100, attention Dave Desjardins, Augusta, ME, 04333.” You can also e-mail your comments to [email protected]

The Legislature has a great challenge ahead of it. The only way we can meet this challenge successfully is with your help.

We need to hear your ideas, and we really will listen.

Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Androscoggin County, is the Senate chair of the Appropriations Committee, and served for eight years on the Lewiston School Board, four of them as chair. She will host a forum on school consolidation in Lewiston on Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Lewiston Middle School auditorium.


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