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

crepuscular-joy

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.

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

  1. For the record, I stand firmly behind any and all comments I’ve made on this site as well as on facebook!!! I’m pleased that there will now not be a vote at the Jan. 12,2015 meeting. However, I do know this is the time to take action if parents and community members are interested in securing Katahdins future, as well as “taking back control” of our own school district!! I am certainly not raging a war against anyone. I am simply a parent who wants what’s in the best interest of my children. Isn’t that what we should do? Advocate for our own! Trust has become a huge problem!! The recent post should come as no surprise, even the students heard ” rumors” on the very first day of school that, ” this is probably Katahdins last year” . I have relatives and great friends that attend and work at SACHS, they are for their school, we are for ours! As it should be! People have many differences of opinion, I respect that, as I have mine…I would never be so foolish as to publicly post anything that I don’t believe to be valid!!! Myself as well as my husband will work to the best of our ability to do what’s in the best interest of ” our children”. If speaking out offends anyone, I apologize in advance. Again its nothing personal!! God bless, Danette Moody Kay

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    • I stand by my decision to post the letter announcing the vote. It has been well-known for some time that the “vote” will come in a series of votes to eliminate scenarios until one is left then vote to pursue it. When that voting process comes to a conclusion, or what the outcome will be no one can say for certain, and I do mean no one. Not me, not the Superintendent and not a Board member. But we do have insight from people close to the situation, who viewed the Agenda item as an opportunity to narrow the field to the one they’ve long wanted, and are grateful for their candor.

      Community members who want to be heard, I’m told would prefer to speak at the beginning of this voting process – not wait for the end.

      Outspokenness is not the problem – not even in those who disagree or perhaps even especially not among those with whom we part ways who challenge us. Falling in line against principle and conscience is the problem. Silence is a problem.

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  2. Reblogged this on Timbered Classrooms… and commented:

    The sixth installment in our “On the Table” series, is particularly interesting, as it enjoys a promising degree of support in the community, and is supported, specifically, by the research cited within. Thank you for your careful consideration.

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