Be Careful What You Wish For – You Just Might Get It

be-careful-what-you-wish-for-4Let’s assume, just for a moment that it’s true, that large schools with which the Board is so enamored are somehow “better” for kids.  (Please stay with me here….)

I’ve long been struck by the Board apparently “deciding” whether to pursue growing school size by consolidation/construction OR “innovating” in order to make the most of small schools.


Lest this Board and Superintendent forget, you ARE running small schools for the time being, and by NOT “innovating” to optimize the educational experience for kids; by pursuing consolidation and, inexplicably, construction in LEIU of innovation…. .You are squandering opportunity that they will NEVER GET BACK.

That is no small thing, and the travesty that drives this blog perhaps more than the prospect of consolidation.  These children cannot wait for you to sort things out – they need and deserve an optimal, effective education now.  Size, scale are not only unnecessary, but expensive and unwanted.

“..but you’re not providing a good education 15 minutes from your house!” ~the Superintendent to a parent who spoke to her children’s current commute to school.  An admission?  Yes.  Acceptable?  No.

Now let’s stop assuming that large schools are better.  There is a reason this Board offers no proof – they aren’t at all preferable, and in fact, small schools are superior educationally and fiscally, evidence to which Timbered Classrooms has compiled.

The fact that investment in K-12 yields the greatest return on Economic Development dollars is very well established, but size/scale is anathema to this.  Perhaps Mr. Walker is thinking of Economic Development opportunity by supporting a new school.  Perhaps he believes real estate customers will stop “skipping to Houlton” if it were built.    Clearly buyers would “skip” even more readily, as you pile on crushing new building costs?  So, if you could just “get to EPS” the state would pay, what, a small fraction?  Enrollment will continue to decline, in some ways because of EPS demands.  Children are not “concentrated” in one community and neither should be their educational resources.  Shuttering the assets of neighboring communities is a tempting option for struggling communities, but it doesn’t work – fiscally or ethically.

The number one quality parents look for in schools is NOT buildings at all but something that flows naturally in small schools:  individual attention.  EPS will not provide this – it was designed to close small schools, not enhance their quality.  The ED279 tells us that this Board is not interested in “getting to EPS” for administration, far surpassing recommendations.  Small schools do not need expensive management, curriculum coordinators and the like.  Just accomplished, professional teachers and innovative supportive leadership.  With the ready availability of online resources… The possibilities are endless.

“….grades 7-12 over here (SACS)..bottom line…”  ~Chairman Greg Ryan

….a quote, perhaps paraphrased a bit, that came to us from a reader present at Monday night’s meeting.  (Past quips include, “We are going to be consolidated somewhere!”)

Neither the Ames Associates report, nor the empirical research justifies this proclamation, to which, evidently, no Board member objected.

Is it enough to stop Katahdin’s closure if the leadership lacks the expertise and buy-in to optimize its potential?  If Katahdin remains open within an RSU governance structure that is determined to subject it to fiscal asphyxiation, parents will surely continue to pursue other options for their children.  What will be the effect then?  If communities vote to keep Katahdin open, then the RSU will levy all the extra costs.  What is the point then, of remaining in, and paying into an RSU that does not share the costs equitably?

A bright young teacher said of declining enrollment, “We should be able to afford to give them more not less..”.

Why wish for “scale” that rural children can never give you and families reject?  Why waste money in an EPS model that makes no fiscal sense to small rural schools?

Why cling an RSU model that clearly is not working for kids?

It doesn’t matter why.  The Board has never wavered, and will not.  The communities will have to fight.

“..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”


6 responses to “Be Careful What You Wish For – You Just Might Get It

  1. I agree bigger is not better. We do not have money for this for that, they are cutting our funding, blah blah blah. However, we apparently do need a curriculum coordinator. What? Seriously? Let the teachers figure out the curriculum, they are bright, wonderfully creative, innovative people. If we focused more on letting teachers do their jobs, and less on consolidating our district, which most people do not want, our kids would be better off. If our enrollment is declining,why is it costing us that much more to educate? We do not need anymore bureaucracy. We need to have a say in how we want to educate our children. The administration knows people are not for this whole consolidation, yet they continue to pursue it. I say cut from the top and start spending less. Our kids should be top priority, the promise of more if we consolidate is a lie. Keeping our 2 schools in our community is important. What is a community without it’s school.


    • You have nailed several issues here.

      The Board is demanding bureaucratic bloat equal to that of much larger schools – a sized school they wish they had, not the size they have. Yes, teachers ARE creative and innovative, but much of school reform is all about supplanting and even suppressing their expertise in favor of pre-packaged McCurricula. (WAY more profitable for Wall Street than respecting the teaching profession and investing in it accordingly.)

      The Board has a perverse incentive here NOT to innovate in ways that we see around the State and beyond; to render Katahdin inviable in order to concentrate ALL educational investment in the RSU into SACS. Kids need to be shortchanged so they can promise better after consolidation. It does not matter how good a school is if someone wants the money elsewhere.

      You’re right. The promise of consolidation is a lie.

      Another point you made is that the Board does not care what the community wants. Their “damn the torpedos” attitude coupled with a view of themselves as unaccountable to voters and even in authority over them will ensure failure. Without trust and buy-in from stakeholders, any Board is, ultimately, dead in the water. The worst part about that, is that kids are shortchanged in the midst of this power struggle. But parents cannot begin to remedy this until they win it; until they wrest control of their schools away from this RSU.

      A Katahdin run by people who fail to recognize small schools’ potential, even advantage – worse, by people who simply want the money for themselves no matter how efficiently Katahdin can serve its children – may well be worse than closing it.

      I wish everyone well in fighting for Katahdin’s full potential, and Timbered Classrooms is here to help.


  2. I just don’t understand why people like Greg Ryan get to make or greatly influence this decision of moving kids from KMHS to SACHS?? Is he representing the citizens of Island Falls or Crystal? Where are our board members who are representing this side of the district? Do they ever speak out as to what they want or what their townspeople want? I think the citizens need to know how their board reps feel and what scenario they are supporting. Is this a question citizens would be willing to ask of their individual board members at the April board meeting? It is time that we, taxpayers, parents, citizens of the rsu know where our respective board members stand on this issue! I believe that the majority of citizens that have spoken at board meetings are in favor of keeping KMHS open. You never hear of people standing up at a board meeting and supporting moving kids to SACHS. The message is we want to keep our school in our community, bottom line, Greg Ryan!


    • “What do you call a Superintendent who tries to close a school?”

      ANSWER: “…an ‘ex’-Superintendent

      That joke has been around long enough to achieve “chestnut” status, for, among other reasons, the truth behind it. There is a reason it is virtually impossible to persuade parents and communities that their children will be better served on a longer bus ride to a larger school. It isn’t true. When I came to this over a decade ago, with open eyes and an open mind, I was surprised by how decisive the research was, and is; how it confirms what parents know in their hearts. Small-scale; human scale education is better for kids. Furthermore, these communities have been through the “consolidation combine” before, and know what the research says: consolidation costs.

      The promise of savings is a lie. The promise of enhanced opportunity is a lie. This consolidation strategy is a lie.

      …so what is RSU governance to do that wants to close the school for its own purposes? ..obviously purposes that are anything but child centered, taxpayer sensitive and community minded….

      Let’s start with Greg Ryan’s own words: “Let’s show ’em how much it costs to run this place and that’ll FORCE….” There he stops himself, but “force” people to determine they cannot afford to educate their children. ….”force” people to “make tough choices” – false ones.

      “Fiscal asphyxiation” is another strategy; starving one school in the district to hasten those “tough choices”; its closure. Communities in other districts have been able to determine exactly how much money is being spent on EACH SCHOOL in the district. RSU 50 communities cannot – yet. Katahdin taxpayers cannot be assured, in an RSU model, that their tax dollars… (funneled through an RSU that wants the school liquidated so they can have the money) …go at Katahdin; E.U.T. residents cannot be assured that their tuition dollars, also paid to the RSU and not Katahdin, go to the school their children actually attend.

      Have you been to Board meetings and heard, “Get to EPS! Get to EPS! Get to EPS! BAAWWWWWK!!!! Polly want a cracker ” (sigh) EPS does not work in small rural schools by design – it was implemented by a Governor who wanted small rural schools closed and intentionally disadvantages them. Of course no one seems to mind exceeding EPS spending for administration, but faculty? Gasp! Now a curriculum coordinator is an absolute necessity? $80,000 for yet another bureaucrat who never sees a child? …a necessity?

      Get to EPS and the State will kick in what, a $million a year for a $30-$60 million new school? It will NOT stem the exodus of parents from this district, because this RSU Board is not attuned to what parents want. The number one quality parents look for as they exercise choice is individual attention – the very natural advantage of small schools AND the very quality this Board has undermined at every turn “replacing educators with bureaucrats and wardens“.

      This misguided economic development project; building a new school; will be disastrous for the smaller, more elderly tax base saddled with crushing building costs. Buildings do not educate children, so the children who actually attend are unlikely to benefit as priorities remain as warped as they are today. Meanwhile, the children in their care now; today – are, in the words of Phil Knowles, “Thrown under the bus because SACS is closer to Region II.”

      This Board and Superintendent have wrapped consolidation in a cloak of inevitability “We will be consolidated somewhere!” ~Greg Ryan

      Greg Ryan does not care what you or the communities want. The rest of the Board, by not speaking out against him, has chosen a side. His side. (“You cannot be neutral on a moving train…”) Until you and the communities “force” them to care, the consolidation train will keep moving.

      All the while, children are denied the promise and opportunity of a small school well-run. Time is not on their side, or ours.


      • I agree with anonymous! Bottom line we want to keep Katahdin Schools open! Get that through your head Greg Ryan! Why don’t you pay attention to what people are saying. Why not close Sacs. Hmm.


        • Bottom line? He and others do not care what people are saying. (“I don’t work for you! I work for the State!” ~Greg Ryan to the public during a Spring budget meeting.)

          The Board does not want to close SACS for the very same reasons people here do not want to close Katahdin. They want the tax dollars of Sherman, Patten, Stacyville… ….funneled into THEIR infrastructure; their community.

          They want that new school, and to liquidate Katahdin to fund it.

          Though Katahdin’s communities alone will vote, the ballot will state a dollar figure; projected savings to the RSU from closing Katahdin. Katahdin’s communities will have to pay that extra amount to the RSU, in ADDITION to what they pay now. The Board may well be relying on taxpayer desperation to vote for closure.

          If the referendum vote goes to keep Katahdin open, Mr. Ryan and the rest of this Board will continue to control the purse strings – they will determine how much money goes to the Katahdin side vs. SACS. ….while Katahdin communities pay more! They will be in a rather punitive mood…. How does that bode for kids?

          …..unless you leave the RSU. You will not regain control of your children and tax dollars unless you leave it.

          Mt. Chase is well under way to leave. I am told of at least one community to the North seeking to withdraw and tuition their kids to Houlton. Who can blame them? State-regulated per-pupil tuition is a better deal than our current cost-sharing formula. As the funding base shrinks in this way, and enrollment continues to decline (it will as dissatisfied parents seek alternatives) reducing the Stare subsidy – your taxes rise sharply.

          You are not alone in wanting Katahdin to stay open – far from alone! But wanting it will not be enough. You will have to fight and fight hard.

          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”


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