Here, I would like to share with you the view of last evening’s Futures Task Force Public Forum from my own chair, and hope you will do the same, whatever your position. Please feel free to add your perspective to the comments section, or contact me at, firstname.lastname@example.org to join the author roll. (Sometimes comments have a way of migrating to posts in any case.)
Throughout this process, there have been those who take my disagreement for disrespect. Fortunately, none of them were at the table with me. Discussions were very good, perhaps in spite of our tendency to go off on tangents, or, just maybe, because of it. Oh, if every entry in the RSU checkbook could be discussed so by our readers, among whom lies such a wealth of educational expertise! We could be sure kids are getting an optimal return on every. single. dime. The community has some very serious doubts about that now, to say the least. The disincentive to invest optimally in a school long targeted for closure; the determination of Board members to shield administrative costs from austerity measures fuels suspicion, as well.
Early on, Mr. Tapley spoke to the distance of the FTF; the whole process of decision-making from the needs of kids. He is absolutely right about that, according to the research that shows that regional Boards are, in fact, less responsive to them, as well as our own experience with the RSU governance. A Board member who recently resigned, was not present last night, but has spoken to this as well, often in the face of fierce objection. Her own resignation letter, read aloud by Mr. Ryan at the time, as well as Mrs. Lane herself confirm Mr. Tapley’s account of the circumstances spurring her departure. It isn’t easy to say uncomfortable things publicly, or anything for that matter, (I am sure I am not alone in regretting being tongue-tied) or to hear them, but we are better for it. Thank you for that.
Ground rules for the recommendation process, like “every child, every community – matters equally” are very good. Admonitions that “some ideas need time to steep” “a good idea to some is scary to others” …are a bit condescending. It suggests that people do not have a clear understanding of the issue of school consolidation, but our readers do. Several scenarios being considered were discussed around small group tables. (Well, at ours, kind of…). Sometimes it isn’t what we debate, but what we don’t. Assumptions surrounding school consolidation; putting kids together in a district that spans 400+ square miles will “enhance opportunity” stubbornly persist in the face of evidence to the contrary, and no proof is necessary.
““Few aspects of education have been more thoroughly researched than school size; few findings have been more consistent; and few have been more consistently ignored….”
Those who say small schools are not “efficient,” or effective, need to cite the evidence, not just the rhetoric. The nation’s 25,000 nonpublic schools have an average enrollment of only 200. The average size of Pennsylvania’s nonpublic schools is fewer than 160. That of the new charter schools is only about 200, and many have fewer than 100. – School Size: Bigger is Not Better by David W. Kirkpatrick School size: Bigger is not Better
So how to they provide a rich curriculum without bussing? Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Rather than “Can we afford to educate kids at the Katahdin campus” to, “HOW can we afford to”. At the moment, there is no choice. Though the board has expressed a reluctance to invest in any school slated for closure, as long as kids occupy it… Remember the ground rule, “All children are equal”. That means children today are as deserving of a quality education as those of tomorrow. The prevailing impression is, that the administration is trying to do that via long-term (and unproven) consolidation measures, and is likely overlooking other innovations, like online, careful scheduling, cuts in cost centers that don’t directly affect kids in favor of faculty etc. that kids need now. Concerns surround, too, as I said before, of a disincentive to do so that may blunt support for the closure of Katahdin.
I have learned a great deal from this website, thanks to our readers who so generously share their views with us, and complete our polls. I believed, (well, I still do) in the promise of consolidating the Katahdin side. The idea enjoys tremendous support from our readers, and the community. Representative Long has advised us that Katahdin High School was built for, and has, indeed, housed, more students than are currently enrolled at both of Katahdin’s schools, and I was not prepared for the vehement opposition to it from Chairman Ryan et. al. from the North Side of the district (I apologize — I cannot remember names). This was especially surprising given that Mr. Kesselheim initially pointed out that the SACS side would be unaffected. …of course the savings supposedly benefits everyone throughout the district. What does it matter where in the district support for this comes from? Everyone matters equally, right?
I do hope that the Board will keep and open mind and consult with districts who have done this, (Schenck comes to mind, but there are others) and of course speak with our Representatives in the Maine Legislature. Rick Long, of course, and also Sen. Roger Sherman understands consolidation issues very well. Both have been very gracious and helpful.
Evidently, getting all the kids for each grade across the district under one roof, or two at most, is a priority for the administration and much of the Board. In fact, “robust class size” was listed as a benefit of the sort of consolidation to one side or the other. No supporting research was offered, and given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I have no choice but to disagree. The Superintendent warned of costs to renovate the High School for younger students; moving monkey bars and the like, as significant to prohibitive while brushing aside transportation concerns.
And so, a picture emerges that is difficult to address. We at Timbered Classrooms were advised some time ago, by a prominent local citizen that, for some, the RSU model represented an opportunity to utilize resources from a wider geographic area to fund and fill a new building that some on the Board have wanted for some time. According to the Superintendent himself, an interview question before he was hired was, “What do you know about building a new school?”. Though people on the Katahdin side of the district are very eager to share central office costs, and yes, microscopes? …and the like. …ultimately, they want to keep their children, and tax dollars close to home and continue to invest in local infrastructure to mutually benefit kids and the community. The AOS model; a single central office but separate boards and budget is also very popular.
The research tells us that the closer decision makers are to kids, the better. I haven’t found any interest on this end in a new school — either in attending it or paying for it. It isn’t as simple as North and South, though, as there is ample discontent with the RSU model on both sides. However, therein lies the point of contention between various stakeholders: those who want all the kids and resources under one (new) roof, and those who want to bring the resources to where the kids live. The research is overwhelming in support of the latter, and no counter studies have been on offer as yet. Of course they are welcome and Timbered Classrooms would happily publish them here.
At the meeting, we were welcome to point out biases. Well, we are all human, and therefore are ALL biased in some way. I try to be very conscious of what shapes my view of consolidation, and keep an open mind to the research. Consolidation proponents, such as those who led last night’s meeting, are not accustomed to being asked to cite evidence and have long relied on our incorrect assumptions. I used to believe that consolidation was worth the bus rides; size = quality, but I followed the studies. Research is better than a crystal ball, and knowledge of how the world works is the best defense against the ravages of it.
That’s enough about me! Your turn, readers:) Thank you to the Task Force for hosting this meeting, and please, continue to welcome the expertise on our side of the Board table into your policymaking.
P.S. There is a lovely little school in Benedicta, with a new, efficient geothermal heating system… built for 100 children. Just sayin’…