Monthly Archives: July 2014

Budget Vote, Round 2 – A Citizen’s Take

The following was submitted by a reader in attendance at the second budget meeting/vote on July 29th.  On behalf of our readers eager for news and perspectives, “Timbered Classrooms” thanks the contributor.

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“At Tuesday’s budget meeting, several educators spoke out criticizing those in attendance that were in favor of reducing the budget.  Many accusations were made stating that “you people” are not looking out for the education of the kids and that kids will lose programs should this budget be reduced.  It is safe to say that everyone in attendance is pro education and wants only the best for the kids.  People have finally just had enough of this RSU configuration, where money is being spent in ways that do not benefit the education of our kids.  Do you honestly think that paying Mr. Malone, an inexperienced superintendent, $107,00 plus per year is providing our children with a better education!!??  Or that his office, the central office, which has a full time business manager to do his job and two secretaries besides is providing our children with a better education!!??  Or that it is necessary for this RSU to pay for four guidance counselors and four principals in a district with about 700 students!!??   A budget of almost 10 million dollars is bizarre for a school district with approx. 700 students!  Our kids will benefit from quality teachers in the classrooms who are present in the classroom every day, concentrate on teaching, forget about “the standards” (oh, that is for another time!), and truly care about kids!  Yes, the RSU spent $200,000 on substitute teachers last year!  Another way to reduce the budget!  Allow teachers to stay in their classrooms rather than send them to conferences/workshops every other day that cost thousands of dollars each year!  There are ways that this budget can be reduced without hurting the education of our kids – the board is just not willing to take action and reduce administrative costs! Of course, we (the people) have no control or say over how Mr. Malone and the board reduce the costs.  They know what we want – they know it is not the intent to cut teachers and support staff, but will they respect what the people are asking for? Stop using scare tactics and make some reductions that will not reduce the educational benefits of our kids!  As we found out on Tuesday night, people are ready to make their votes count and stand up for what is right.  Taxpayers, citizens, parents, students have been wronged by  these outrageous administrative costs and others.  When people in these communities are living week to week, many are out of work, many are retired and living on fixed incomes, they cannot justify their tax dollars paying for Mr. Malone’s inflated salary!  People would honestly be more supportive of this budget if they could see that it was benefiting the education of the students, but they do not see that or trust that.  Trust is a big word in this RSU right now.  No one trusts Mr Malone and the board and for good reason.  Many, many people have attended board meetings, met with Mr. Malone and principals, written letters, and discussed with board members their concerns over the past year or two.  They have not been listened to and have been “dismissed” in many ways and have absolutely no trust in this administration.  The lack of trust is also the main reason for the motions made for written ballot.  This was proven that people needed to feel they could vote privately as they did not feel safe voting the way they truly wanted to if voting by a show of hands.  If administration had been listening and respected the people’s concerns, we may not have gotten to this point of frustration that created Tuesday night’s budget cuts.  We are a community that rallied together and stayed to the end, making our votes count and I, for one, am proud of the citizens in the RSU that attended and helped to make a difference!  As citizens from the Town of Sherman communicated and met prior to this meeting, we had a plan of action, but incredibly did not have to use our plan as it was taken care of by the voters and by prayer.  Let’s continue to rally together and vote YES on Thursday, August 7 in your respective town offices for this reduced budget!  There will be great support from people who are against this reduction so every vote will count as we found out on Tuesday!  In closing, thank you to Debbie O’Roak and Linda Smith from the Sherman Town Office for their leadership and dedication and to David Robinson and others for speaking out and making the motions to make a difference! ”

 

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The Budget – This Just In…

image“Perhaps a reminder to all regarding the validation vote on 8/07/14 should be emphasized.  It is important that everyone  comes out to vote to support the $9,264,722.00 budget that was approved last night.  Sherman’s polls will be open from 8:00am to 8:00pm.  As far as voting times in the other towns, it would be a good idea for individuals to contact their local town offices for that information.

Have a great day!”

Vote Tonight!

…Tuesday July 29th KHS @7pm
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Many thanks to to all who came out to the preparatory meeting last night, those who could not make it but plan to be present this evening – and YOU!

As as we were reminded last night, meetings such as this offer your best opportunity to fix the widely unpopular budget problems BEFORE  taking on expense of a referendum.

So many people are, understandably, conflicted about voting in public.  The fact that the last budget passed a public show of hands, but fell to a secret ballot is cause for concern.  So, please, turn out and make or support a motion for WRITTEN ballots tonight!

Everyone should feel free to vote their conscience without fear of repercussions, regardless of their position, and secret, written ballots may better reflect the priorities of the community.

 

 

Help Yourself…..

image…and the children, taxpayers and communities surrounding RSU #50.  Please join us for cookies and conversation about how to use our limited resources in an effective budget; share ideas and prepare for the vital budget vote the following evening.

See you there!

Monday July 28, @6:30pm – Sherman Town Office

 

NEW! Monday Meeting – You’re Invited To The Sherman Town Office

imagePlease join us for a discussion about Tuesday’s upcoming budget meeting and light refreshments (not necessarily in that order!) on Monday, July 28, 6:30pm at the Sherman Town Office.  Everyone, from all communities, is invited and encouraged to attend.

 

See you there!

A Sneak Peek At The Times

The following has been submitted to the Houlton Pioneer Times for publication.  Please join Timbered Classrooms in thanking the author, David Robinson, both for speaking out, and for offering our readers a first  look…

 

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“I am concerned about the RSU 50 budget negotiations because of my lack of confidence in the superintendent. During the budget validation meeting of 2013-2014 superintendent Malone pointed out to the citizens that he was under no obligation to abide by any agreement he may enter into during the process. Further he made clear that he also is not obligated to operate within the budget guidelines once a budget is approved. for example; a town manager is required to spend the towns money as set out in each of the warrants approved during the towns annual budget meeting, the superintendent is under no such requirement. The RSU 50 business manager numerous times during the meeting had to speak for the superintendent as he seemed to be adrift on the inner workings of the budget.


How can I vote for the 2014-2015 budget that doesn’t pass the stink test. We have reportedly got between 700 and 800 students with a budget of nearly 10 million dollars this is ridiculous.


We voted down this years budget and what does the board do ? Agree to cutting building maintenance and resubmit the budget to the public for a 29 July validation meeting. Well, this was last years threat, why cut building maintenance? Here is why, the superintendent wants a new school, so, if he cuts the maintenance of buildings he can down the line, blame the public for the poor condition of the buildings and enhance his argument for needing a new school. I have no idea what is going to happen with this money if the budget is approved. For sure though I know the superintendent will hire who ever he wants, and let go who ever he wants. He will spend the funds however he wants. He will tell us whatever is needed to pass a budget. It is time for the school board to act and find a superintendent with integrity and a budget that makes sense.    No excuses.”  ~David Robinson
 

 

 

 

 

A Reader Writes, on behalf of a fed-up community; Readers?

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The following was submitted to Timbered Classrooms, with a request to share with our readers, for their consideration and feedback

“Number 1:   Must make a motion to vote on all articles (1 through 14) by written ballot.

 

Art. 12: Motion to appropriate $0.00 dollars for the total cost of funding public education from kindergarten to grade 12 as described in the Essential Programs & Services Funding Act and to raise and assess $0.00 dollars as each municipality’s contribution to the total cost of funding public education from kindergarten to grade 12 as described in the Essential Programs & Services Funding Act in accordance with the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 20-A, section 15688.

Art. 13 Motion to raise & appropriate $0.00 dollars in additional local funds.

Art. 14 Motion to authorize the school board to expend $0.00 dollars for the fiscal year beginning 07/01/2014 and ending 06/30/2015 from the Regional School Unit’s contribution to the total cost of funding public education from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 as described in the Essential Programs & Services Funding Act, non-state-funded school construction projects, additional local funds for school purposes under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 20-A, section 15690, unexpended balances, tuition receipts, state subsidy and other receipts for the support of the schools.

Read the full text of the submission, from a determined group of RSU #50 community members here, and be sure to offer them YOUR feedback!

RSU BUDGET NOTES

Budget Vote

Tuesday, July 29th 7:00pm KHS

“On The Table” – Scenario #8 – “What the Best and Wisest Parent Wants….

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children.” ~John Dewey

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Lovely, isn’t it?  …and speaks to so much of our debate surrounding education too; the stark difference between what Bill Gates, President Obama, and Arne Duncan, for example, demand for their own children and the  “grit” “rigor” “not-for-STEM-and-not-even-for-selective-colleges”  CC$$I .

I’ll get back to this in a moment, if you’ll kindly bear with me…

The 8th Scenario referenced by the Futures Task Force (FTF) is closing both Katahdin and Southern Aroostook High Schools and tuitioning children, ostensibly to Houlton and East Millinocket.

Read their analysis on this and other scenarios on the table here:    RSU50Scenarios

The FTF analysis is brief; even dismissive… “It is not clear how much traction this option has in the larger RSU Community; as such the FTF is not currently aware of the level of community support for the idea.”   Since when does “…community support…” matter to this Board?  It would be a welcome change from the shoulder-shrugging, “They’ll be mad anyway…”…

We have been reminded, throughout the FTF’s own analysis of  “…the proximity of SACS to Region II..” in the Administration’s case for Katahdin’s redundancy.  Houlton is closer still to Region II, so why not bus all SACS kids there before now then? If it truly represents savings for the struggling taxpayers of whom Mrs. Nevers spoke so eloquently during the budget process?  The distance is less than what you are asking of Katahdin’s children and families.

 If consolidating RSU 50 in Dyer Brook is really “best for kids”, then, surely dispersing SACS into Houlton is even better ?

Time for the FTF to put its proverbial money where its “all-children-matter-equally” mouth is.

The “…best and wisest…” of all communities in the district, and research from beyond have been trying to communicate the value of each, unique, local PreK-12 unit and worthiness of skilled investment of of each side of the RSU.

“On The Table” – Scenario #7, ‘Classes on the Bus’

“I am one of many who believes that it is time for the state-mandated consolidation of school districts to be dissolved.

My reasons are many, the school bus that went by my home at 6 this morning being only one of them. If kids are going to spend much of their school day just getting there and back, conduct some classes on the bus.”

~the humble farmer

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“….thousands of Maine people can now tell you that busing kids 20 miles to school “to save money” has nothing to do with improving education…”

~the humble farmer

…or “saving money”.  (The research shows this scheme would cost MORE!)  Oh, and it would be quite a bit more than 20 miles, factoring in the distance from where children actually live, and not simply the schools themselves.  Of course, many of us commute further than that, but how long would it take you to pick up, say, 30 of your closest friends, some out-of-the-way, before hitting the road?

I don’t know why people are more willing to bus middle and high-school aged children out of town as if they do not need their communities every bit as much as their younger brothers and sisters.

The administration has long been determined to get, at the very least, all the district’s high school students under one roof, apparently, regardless of the cost.  …and regardless of the research that shows no cost-benefit for taxpayers; costs will surely increase; and the downright detrimental effect of distance on kids and  families.  The Board has been trying to show communities that it is impossible to educate kids in small schools (while research evidence and small thriving schools are actually showing us that it is impossible only for THEIR skill sets – perhaps we need others). Where will we find the money to duplicate bus routes to accommodate the wildly differing destinations of children ‘standing at the end of the same driveway? What will these extra transportation costs give taxpayers in terms of return on their dollars?  As the research shows that costs go up, and achievement goes down with distance — cue the expensive intervention programs…  (sigh)

There are no savings from buildings, as they all remain open — but transportation will surely grow.  What about kids?  Kathreen Harrison has speaks directly to policymakers on the creation of stand-alone middle schools:

“…Student achievement at the eighth grade level in higher poverty schools is better statewide in K – 8 schools than in middle schools. This is particularly true of K – 8 schools with a sizable percentage of teachers holding master’s degrees.

The data about K – 8 schools should impact school board discussions about merging, closing, and consolidating schools. Before school boards move to close any community schools they should be prepared to explain to their stakeholders why student achievement in the case of their particular schools will not suffer….”

~As School Budgeting Season Heats Up Remember The Crucial Middle School Years by Kathreen Harrison

Explaining anything to stakeholders is an area in which our Board has, sadly, fallen short in the past; recognizing their accountability to community stakeholders has been a challenge.  “I don’t work for you, I work for the State!” ~Chairman Greg Ryan

What?  Let’s try and build a better, more healthy relationship between the Board and the Communities to whom they are accountable; over whom they have no authority.

Back to the experts:  Rethinking Education is an excellent resource for Board members, communities… If you want to go now, please do!  Her work is well worth your time.

The FTF Analysis lists benefits, in the Committee’s view:  “..middle and high school c0-curricular offerings MIGHT experience expansion and diversification…”  The emphasis on “might” is my own, and highlights the far-fetched nature of this claim, given the cost increases and distance between middle and high schools.  For instance, our oldest has played in H.S. band since Grade 6 — the sort of “diversification” of ages would be eliminated here, as well as collaboration.

“Staff MAY benefit from mergers of tiny departments..”  Again, “may” means “would not”.  “greater internal professional collaboration opportunities”: “curriculum would be easier to coordinate and align”?  Is it really necessary to professionals to gather physically under one roof every day to “collaborate”?  …to align curriculum? … in the age of Skype?  (or the telephone, for that matter).  The communities have little interest in hiring a curriculum coordinator, and are less concerned with bureaucratic “convenience”.

“Athletic teams may become more competitive and the school may elevate to Class C status”  It would also make landing a spot on the team “more competitive” so it comes down to values.  Do you value maximizing opportunity for kids? …or “class C status”?  These are not letter grades, and class D is actually superior in maximizing participation opportunity.  As for the competitiveness of the team as a whole, our communities are proud as gold braid of our fine young people, and have no desire to see any one of them bumped from their opportunity to play.

The FTF is on the right track, when it determines that Scenario #7 “offers little potential for fiscal savings”  ….if by “little” they mean “none”.   ..and mentions the bussing complications.  The potential for fiscal waste on bussing and more bureaucrats is virtually limitless.

Readers?

“On The Table” – Scenario #6; Promise and Principles

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RSU50Scenarios

“A major challenge is operating and maintaining a nearly full complement of RSU 50’s school buildings in spite of declining enrollments and a shrinking tax base. Every building in the district requires maintenance, some of which is already being deferred because of current fiscal constraints.  Infrastructure of each building includes wireless capability and upgrades, phone system and HVAC.  There would be no savings in student transportation. …”   

What?  …a “nearly full complement”?  Scenario #6 involves closing Katahdin Elementary, and going from three buildings to two, eliminating one of the more expensive, looming roof repairs:

Roof Systems of Maine 2012-2013 quotes for roof repair:

 KES $86,400 (building would close)

KHS $5,500

SACS $80,000-$116,000

No, there are no transportation savings; under ANY scenario, and most of them increase bussing expenses.    Scenario #6 does not, and represents the lowest cost in that area…. Where are the concerns for transportation costs, for taxpayers AND children, under the scenarios that increase them?

“Busing is expensive and affects students and their families in many negative ways. An alternate, beneficial strategy for using an existing large building is to reconfigure the grade span in the facility to include students from kindergarten through 12th grade. In rural areas, drawing students from a wider age range will increase the pool, narrow the geographic area in which they live, and cut their transportation time to and from school. In any area, there are many social and pedagogical benefits to bringing students of all ages together, as well as benefits from making the school more accessible to the community. The best SWaS will serve elementary, middle, and high school students within the same facility…. Dollars & Sense

We have been warned, ad nauseum, by the Futures Task Force Committee, that some scenarios would provoke fear.  “One person’s good idea, is another’s dangerous idea….” or something to that effect?  Anyway, that fear was on display at the last FTF Public Forum, when the idea to consolidate the Katahdin side only was raised — much of it from a Board and FTF member himself!  “This does nothing for kids!” shouted a lady whose name escaped me… Really? The research says that it is your determination to gather all children and resources under one roof in our far-flung district; and the bussing that entails — that does “nothing for kids”.  …or taxpayers.  I was surprised by these outbursts, given the community support for Scenario #6, but perhaps I should not have been.  Perhaps the research based nature and community buy-in is what makes it so scary for those determined to shift investment entirely North?

There is a wonderful piece out today about unspoken assumptions and education policy, that would apply equally well to the school consolidation issue.  The FTF speaks to the “daunting” task of curriculum coordination and a strong desire to pursue scale.  Small, effective, and efficient schools abound, and the research is clear:

Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200. ~Jack and the Giant School

Highly effective, and cost-efficient “tiny” schools are showing us our own advantages that this administration is determined to squander in pursuit of mythical “scale”.  Children are not “scaleable”.

“Option #6 appears to avoid the ultimate question of programming and staffing in the face of declining populations…” ~FTF

On the contrary!  The research compiled here on Timbered Classrooms has taken on the issue of size and scale head on.  We still need an answer from this administration to the question, “What is the minimal sized Pre-K – 12 unit that YOU would deem ‘viable’?”  The research has already answered it, loudly and clearly, as have highly effective and frugal tiny schools around the State.   It is this Board that is “avoiding” it.

One can’t help but notice that the pros and cons of each scenario are not applied with any degree of continuity, or fairness.  For instance, the Superintendent balks at the cost of moving monkey bars across the road while embracing the idea of building an entirely new school.  Challenges that affect administration and management staff appear to garner more weight than those that affect kids and taxpayers — bussing to name many — as it leads to many other issues and expenses.

Consolidating the Katahdin side in this way has garnered a heartening amount of community support.  When I mentioned a Timbered Classrooms poll to that effect, the Great Schools Partnership Consultant Craig Kesselheim wanted to know where the respondents reside.  I have no way to know scientifically, but am certain that most come from the Katahdin side; most invested in this infrastructure and that’s a good thing.  There is something about people voting to liquidate the infrastructure of another, distant community that raises ethical questions.

“Lose your school. Lose your community. School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town. Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town. But getting the control and the money back is the main thing. You will not get your schools back in town without a fight. There’s too much money at stake. And it’s fun to spend other people’s money.”

~Robert Karl Skoglund, “The Humble Farmer”

Local school boards, as in an AOS style of consolidation that I and many others favor, make the most effective decisions and are most accountable for children and taxpayers.  The closer decision makers are to children the more sense their choices make to families and other taxpayers.  The Board could create and empower committees for each side, and govern with respect to unique local interests now if it chose to .  Otherwise, the withdrawal effort would have to be completed first.

There is a striking difference between the way children grow and learn, and the way adults think, and it costs taxpayers and children dearly.  Many consolidation proponents recognize the problems with bussing, and how expensive they are, and adopt a “well, you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet” attitude — especially if it isn’t their children affected.  But children are not regional units, and each one is precious.  Nor do they wait for your long-term plans.  Others recognize the harm children are enduring now, but console themselves that it will be made right by more consolidation later.  It doesn’t work that way.  They will not get this or any other year back again, and the evidence suggests that future children will be disadvantaged by this vision.

We have been assured, by our Representative in the State legislature that KHS was built for, and has, in fact housed more children than are currently enrolled pre-K-12.  The savings would not be gobbled up by more transportation costs, as bus routes would remain unchanged.  …or more “bureaucrats and wardens”.

What the FTF is “avoiding” is the RSU withdrawal effort, and the issues driving it.  Though some members, indeed, work in good faith, other, more powerful people have been trying to “steer the ship” (to borrow a phrase from a recent comment) to consolidate kids, resources and infrastructure North since before Superintendent Malone had both feet in the door.

The communities have some vital decisions to make, and I hope they won’t wait for the ballot box.

A Look At School Consolidation Through the Research Lens: From the Penn State Center on Rural Education and Communities

Like the Sunday paper, this compilation from the Penn State Center on Rural Education and Communities is extensive, and has a great deal to contribute to the decisions at hand…

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http://www.ed.psu.edu/crec/topics/consolidation

Revised Budget

670px-Slice-an-Apple-Step-2“Attached are the revised cost centers and town assessments. The board voted to cut $217,000 last night reducing the General Fund budget to $9,553,947 and Adult Education to $50,011. This reflects a total increase of 2.28%. The cuts were as follows:

  • Regular instruction salaries $57,500 (hiring savings and contract settlement)
  • After School Program $20,000
  • Special Ed salaries/benefits and contracts $32,500
  • Paving $10,000
  • Roof repairs $90,000
  • Contingency/nutrition transfer $7,000

The district budget meeting will be held Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at Katahdin High School at 7:00 pm.

Revised Budget