The state’s one-size-fits-all approach to districts hasn’t worked, according to voting results.

As a school superintendent, and Maine resident for nearly 64 years, I hope the politicians who govern our state will take a serious, bipartisan look at how school re-organization has affected not only constituents but also, most important, all Maine citizens.

Candidly, what I see is a plan that took a worthy concept and forced it into an ineptly developed “one size fits all” format fraught with geographic and economic inequities and, to be kind, misinformation about reducing educational costs to taxpayers.

Using figures provided by the Maine Department of Education on Jan. 28 about re-organization of Maine’s 205 school administrative units into roughly 89 “Regional School Units” (not including 11 SAUs exempted as either islands or Native American districts), a number of interesting statistics appear.

Of the 89 possible RSUs, 41 are current municipalities, community school districts or school administrative districts. They comprise approximately 138 towns that did not, under the law, have to seek consolidation partners.

These districts either filed an alternative plan with the Department of Education because their enrollment was above 1,200 and so they could, on paper, demonstrate savings in central office costs. Or, after their reorganization was rejected by voters, they filed an alternative plan, for the same reason.

Alternative plans do not require public votes. Thus, of the 89 possible RSUs, only 48 had to go before Maine voters for approval. Those 48 are comprised of approximately 352 towns and plantations. Of the 47 RSU votes on or before Jan. 28, 21 (44.7 percent) passed and 26 (55.3 percent) failed. The 26 that failed represent approximately 237 towns and plantations. The 21 that passed represent approximately 115 Maine towns and plantations.

Thus, of the towns and plantations that voted, 67.3 percent voted not to reorganize.

If one goes further and compares the 41 RSUs (approximately 138 towns) not required to vote, to the 48 (approximately 352 towns) that had to vote, it becomes fair to say voters in 28 percent of the approximately 490 Maine towns and plantations involved in school reorganization had no say in the decision whatsoever.

One can only guess as to how their vote may have affected the two-to-one “no” votes produced in the municipalities that did vote!

Further, of the 237 towns/plantations that voted no, 206 lie in more rural and/or remote counties of the state – Aroostook, Hancock, Lincoln, northern Franklin, northern Oxford, northern Penobscot, Northern Piscataquis, Northern Somerset and Washington.

Most municipalities from these counties that voted yes are, by Maine standards, large towns with strong economic bases, such as Presque Isle, Ellsworth, Bar Harbor, Rumford, Orono. Of the RSUs formed via an alternative plan, without public vote, all save three are in more populated areas of Maine – Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, southern Franklin, southern Oxford, southern Penobscot, Sagadahoc and York counties.

As I look at the above data, I am struck by two very apparent facts.

First, the concept of two Maines made up of “haves” and “have nots” is not only alive and well, but also, unfortunately, a reality; and secondly, those Mainers who had a say in school reorganization via a democratic public vote, overwhelmingly rejected it.

I would urge those politicians and bureaucrats, either elected or appointed, to take a step back, re-group and move forward with a plan for school reorganization.

Maine needs one thoughtfully developed by a variety of educational, economic and political entities, who should employ a potpourri of resources to guide their decision-making.

Philip Richardson is superintendent of schools in Rangeley. E-mail: [email protected]

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