The lack of humility is surprising.

Nay. Astonishing.

The day after Auburn voters soundly rejected a school budget for a second time, the Auburn School Committee met to map where to go from here.

Committee Chairman Tom Kendall laid the blame squarely on the voters, on their lack of understanding of how their votes will impact education in Auburn.

Perhaps he and other school administrators should look in the mirror for some of the answers.

One big reason for the lack of voter trust in the current administration is an attitude of “we-know-what’s-best,” and a refusal to really listen to — never mind hear — citizens.


This attitude in Auburn schools has been around for years (some say decades) and, it seems, has become more pronounced recently.

Think iPads, late-start Wednesdays and a new Edward Little High School.

Two years ago, Superintendent Tom Morrill proposed iPads for kindergarten students, promising efforts would be made to pay for the equipment with grants and donations.

Time went by, but no grants or donations materialized because no one made that a priority. Instead, a significant expenditure to purchase the tablet computers and pay for their service was plopped in the budget with an “oh, well” as if there was never any grant discussion at all.

The program has since been expanded to a new grade each year as part of the operating budget. The just-failed budget had proposed that iPads be purchased for all second-graders in the fall, adding to equipment already being used in the kindergarten and first grades.

iPads may be a great way to improve learning, but by building the program the way it has, by dropping a pledge to seek outside funding, Auburn lost a little trust in its school department.


Then along comes the very emotional debate over the condition of Edward Little High School.

The quality of the construction wasn’t high when the school was constructed in 1961, and cutting upkeep year after year has not helped. And, now that the building is in such sorry shape, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges has placed EL’s accreditation on probation.

There are many, many older school buildings in Maine that have been better maintained by districts that understand taking care of public buildings is important.

Talks of a new high school have gone on for years, and there was great hope when EL was finally listed on the Department of Education’s school construction priority list. That hope faded with the economy as funding for any project on “the list” was frozen, and the district started looking at locally funding the construction.

In March, Superintendent Katy Grondin met with taxpayers at Rolly’s Diner and promised that any discussion on a locally-funded, $60-plus million high school was super preliminary. “The big toe is in the pool,” she said, meaning the district was merely testing the water.

Two months later the School Committee asked the Auburn City Council to ask voters for a February, 2014 referendum to approve funding.


That’s not sticking a toe in the pool, that’s jumping right in.

Auburn voter Priscilla Miller predicted it would happen at the Rolly’s meeting. She looked Grondin in the face and said: “You’re going to shove this down our throat just like you did with the iPads.”

That’s where it appeared to be headed when the Building Committee voted to build a new school with local tax money rather than waiting for state aid. The Auburn City Council balked.

Soon after, Deputy Education Commissioner Jim Rier said state funding for a new Edward Little may eventually be available, and suggested the district simply wait.

In its impatience to build, despite cries of alarm from local taxpayers that they couldn’t afford the additional tax burden, the Auburn School Committee nearly lurched ahead without the most up-to-date information.

At one point, the School Committee even approved a plan to close all of the district’s school buildings in favor of one large campus of buildings.


That idea showed how out of touch School Committee members are with the voting public, and did nothing to build trust.

Then there was the push for late-start Wednesdays.

Last June, the Auburn School Committee — on Grondin’s recommendation — was set to implement “late-start Wednesdays” in the middle and high schools to carve out time for teacher training. Parents objected, and loudly so.

When committee members tabled the plan in July, committee members assured the public that the “late start Wednesday” concept would not be considered again.

Two months later, it it was back on the table, and parents had to object loudly again.

The committee then tabled discussion, but without assurance the idea won’t come back a third time.


Again, that doesn’t foster trust.

Grondin told one taxpayer Wednesday that getting information to the public about the budget would cost money. Any superintendent should be keenly aware how critical that communication is to passing a budget.

Lewiston, which is not a rich district either, mails every household a letter with basic information about the upcoming budget vote, anticipating questions and providing answers.

There are more examples of school administrators and committee members — over years of changing administrations — ignoring parent and voter wishes, so we don’t wonder why taxpayers aren’t backing the School Committee’s budget.

Auburn could use more outreach to voters, and conveyed with real sincerity.

If the budget, and the looming state mandate to bring spending up to minimum essential programs and services levels, were considered on facts alone the budget would pass.


But, when trust is gone, the facts really don’t matter. Voters simply distrust what the School Committee is telling them.

Kendall was right in saying that education is the cornerstone of any community. But it’s not what he said, but how he said it, in a school-committee-knows-best tone that is likely to offend voters.

There’s a lesson here for Auburn school officials: when dealing with the public, public relations matter. A lot.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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