Monthly Archives: May 2015

Politics, Pearls, and Perfidy….

The RSU #50 Board met on Wednesday evening to discuss and eliminate scenarios of consolidation and building closure, electing keep the following scenarios on the table :

  • No change – though the Board has long deemed it untenable, and the Chairman has repeatedly blamed the district’s troubles on “too many buildings”…..    The Board is hesitant to vote it off the table.
  • Consolidate 7-12 to SACS – no change elementary
  • Consolidate 7-12 Katahdin – no change elementary
  • Consolidate Katahdin Elementary into the Katahdin High School building. –again, garners strong objections from those on the Board, though remains the most 2nd most popular option to “No Change” among Katahdin’s communities.

Clutching-Pearls“…It’s an unfortunate, but fairly common reality that intimidation and personal slurs are used against people fighting consolidation. Sometimes teachers or administrators have their jobs, or the jobs of family members, subtly threatened. Sometimes rumors are spread locally. It’s not uncommon for pro-consolidation media outlets to portray community advocates of small schools in unflattering ways, to use derogatory rural stereotypes, and to misrepresent the legitimate concerns of rural residents and parents as self-interest, commitment to local athletic teams, or ignorance of and disregard for what’s best for their own children….” Anything But Research Based

Board member Stephan Walker’s pearl-clutching self-righteous indignation toward parents who want a future for Katahdin echoed by Superintendent Larry Malone and Chairman Greg Ryan – all taking “it personally”, is nothing new in consolidation schemes . “We are all one community!” said Stephan Walker “….I don’t think you want to be.” retorted the Superintendent.  In Mr. Walker’s world, “one community”, apparently means that the costs; the losses are no more equally shared than the unsubstantiated benefits.  He went on to accuse families on the losing end of depriving their own children of  opportunities he promises at a consolidated SACS for the sake of personal “animosity” and “mascots”, etc. ignoring vehement objections from those in attendance .

I began studying school consolidation 10 years ago, and developed my position on the subject midst a wave of research-based evidence, and an utter absence of any to the contrary.  It is easy for me to forget that debunked assumptions about savings/opportunity continue to drive policy, and though they are shielded largely from debate, I reject them.  I further reject any notion of vitriol toward anyone – regardless of their views.

Timbered Classrooms values every one of our many readers – from every corner of the district and beyond.  We are grateful for equally widespread support we have received and for the expertise among our readers that they so freely share with us.

Thank you.

NOTE:  Mr. Malone has since tendered his resignation.  Though we view his tenure; his policies and vision as an insurmountable obstacle to realizing the full potential of local education to serve our children and communities – we wish him no ill-will.

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Student Author: Let’s Not Forget About the Arts

music-notes-clip-art-png-139835101453As it currently stands, the Katahdin Schools have always held a successful choral program. Mrs. Bonny Cox has been teaching chorus and general music to the students of the Katahdin schools since they first opened. This year, she recently announced that after 41 years of being involved with the music program in our area schools, she will be retiring. While her retirement is well deserved, there is one thing that is not. As it stands, the administration has made no plans to fill her position that will be left vacant in less than a month.

For the past thirteen years, I have been involved in the music program at Katahdin. I have had the privilege of being a student of Mrs. Cox since the start of my kindergarten year. I have had Mrs. Cox as a teacher for general music in elementary school, middle school chorus, and high school chorus. I, along with many other students, could not possibly explain how much the music program has positively influenced my education over the years.

It has been proven by studies that the music student is more actively engaged in school, statistically better in their studies than students who do not participate in music courses. From personal experience, I can tell you that I have found this to be true. For some students, having shop class was what made their schooling enjoyable. When this program was taken away, many of the students that enjoyed this program became uninterested in school altogether.  For the approximately thirty high school students that participate in chorus (almost 1/3 of the whole high school), this would also be the case if this vital position is not filled. We have cut too many elective courses that the students truly enjoy, and chorus does not need to be added to this list.

Although I will no longer be a student of Katahdin High School after June, I do not want to see this fabulous program disappear from the course offerings. Mrs. Cox has worked hard to build up the music program at the Katahdin schools. Our students are very musically talented. Whether it is one of the choruses, the PACK performances, our All Aroostook Chorus, or our students that go to All State Chorus, our school’s music program has became well known and recognized across the state.  Considering Katahdin is one of the smaller schools in Aroostook County, it speaks wonders that our school sends one of the biggest groups of students to the All Aroostook Music Festival. Our choral program is well ran, structured, and appreciated, and it does not deserve to be cut after this year. There are many students who will be left heartbroken without this program next year.

Since the time of budget downfalls, the arts have always been the target. Over my high school career, I have seen our music program always be the first on the list of programs to be cut. Thankfully, due to the caring community members, voters, parents, etc., we have not lost any of our music programs. This time around, it has been kept on the down low. Many community members and voters are unaware that there have been no intentions to fill the vacancy left by Mrs. Cox. Therefore, there has been no attention brought towards the fact that this program could potentially not exist next year. To all of the parents, community members, faculty members, and voters: Please do not let our music program be cut. This needs to be brought up, and a strong battle needs to be raised to keep this program alive in our schools. As the students, we are helpless without the help of our community members. Please help us to speak out before it is too late to save our music program.

In closing, I would like to thank Mrs. Cox for the great work that she has done for the students of the Katahdin schools. You have made a positive impact in the education and lives of many. Not only have you been a teacher, but you have been a caring friend to the many students who love your courses. You have helped myself and many others grow as choral students. You have been a dedicated, selfless educator for many years, and I wish you well in your retirement.

IMPORTANT MEETING TONIGHT!

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” ~Michael Enzi

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A special Board meeting to discuss scenarios of consolidation closure etc. will be held tonight at 6:30pm at the Island Falls Municipal Building

Special Board Meeting Agenda

Above the Fold…

boy boot“RSU 50 Adopts Budget”

..reads this week’s Houlton Pioneer Headline:

“…On June 2, the RSU 50 budget meeting will be held in Island Falls at the Municipal Building to act on the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2016.  The Budget meeting is at 7 pm. …”

“…Driving the increase in the budget is Career and Technical with the addition of a new electrical program, transportation with a new bus lease, facilities maintenance with the addition of two roofing projects, and student and staff support with the addition of a Curriculum Coordinator for $60,000, as well as salary increases and increases in retirement costs and health insurance.

Budget reductions were found in regular instruction with a retirement and resignation of two classroom teachers and the retirement of a music educator.  In Special Education, costs were saved with the elimination of three Ed Tech positions and two part-time teaching positions, and in the School Administration line, there was the reduction of one secretary position….”

“…RSU #50 does have some teaching openings – Katahdin Middle School Math, Southern Aroostook Life Science, Katahdin and Southern Aroostook high school math and world language positions – which have been advertised…” 

“…’Hiring for vacant positions is a concern for us.  We advertised the week before (April) vacation, so we have been four weeks out.  Other than some inquiry that has occurred in-house, there have been no outside candidates…’…”

Read the entire article in the Houlton Pioneer Times, May 13, 2014 edition.

Note:  Timbered Classrooms has looked at high-performing schools of similar size, and is unable to find a “Curriculum Coordinator” on any of their faculty and staff rosters.  That is not to say they do not exist – we couldn’t find any, and we welcome input from readers on this issue and staffing practices of comparable schools they would like to emulate.  We find in small schools, such things as: Combination Superintendent/Principal, teaching principals… ….we are told that the duties of a Curriculum Coordinator are at times given to faculty members, adding to their compensation of course…. Cutting the Katahdin music faculty in half has raised concerns, certainly; any savings would be consumed – and more! …by the addition of a Curriculum Coordinator, which, by all accounts, is unnecessary.  

SPECIAL BOARD MEETING – Agenda

A special RSU #50 Board meeting will be held on WednesdayMay 27th 2015, 6:30 pm at the Island Falls Municipal Building.

The only item on the Agenda (save for “Call to Order” and “Adjournment”) is:

“Review and discussion of Task Force Scenarios currently under consideration”. 

AGENDA Special Meeting May 27, 2015 Island Falls Municipal Building 6:30pm

Scenarios up for discussion have rightly raised serious concerns in the community, as they involve consolidation, closure and costs.

Consider our “On The Table” series, here, or at the top of the page for Timbered Classrooms’ review of scenarios, and compare and contrast with the Futures Task Force final report here.

“Sign” for Fairness…..

petition2Though Maine is, technically, a local-control state, State policymakers nonetheless wield a tremendous amount of influence over local education. All too often, local school Boards treat decisions at the State level as acts of nature; beyond their control, and fail to show significant engagement.  Here is an opportunity for you to bring about a review of State funding practices that have defied local logic for too long.

“…In theory, one would think that the funding is split fairly evenly, with a larger portion going to school districts in greater need. Yet, when one looks at the way state funding is disbursed you see that that is not always the case….”

Change.org Petition for EPS Equity

Here is a statement by the petition’s author:

May 11, 2015 — My name is Kirsten Cronin, and I started the petition being discussed here. I am a mother of 3 children and a homeowner, I do not work in the school system or in politics. I do not proclaim to be a math whiz, nor to have all the answers.

Last year I was asked to be on a subcommittee of our local school board to review some of our options to create a better system in our RSU. Utilizing ONLY information provided by the state on their Department of Education Data Warehouse, we began to see some trends in the EPS funding formula that did not make sense, to us. These same concerns had been raised by a few of our school board members in the past. As a result, once our subcommittee was finished, I decided to look into it further. Our funding formula is very confusing. It is 6 pages long for each district. The line by line explanation is 24 pages long.

Frankly, I could not wrap my mind around all of the different percentages and calculations to better understand the way the formula works. That in and of itself seems to be a problem. Before submitting my petition on Change.org, I met with my superintendent and business manager to make sure I was not completely off the mark.
The statements in comments are true. Average Household Income and Cost of Living is not included. The state instead uses: “The Regional Adjustment for Salaries, Benefits, & Substitutes is necessary due to the variations in Income Levels and Housing Costs throughout the State of Maine.” [page 7http://www.maine.gov/education/data/eps/ED279linebyline.pdf]. The way this is calculated is not the same as the Average Household Income or Cost of Living. Why not? I agree that it is important to make sure teachers can afford to live in the area that they teach, but what about everyone else? When the average is so much less than the teachers are we being equitable?
On property tax and income, one person states “income is not relevant to the amount towns can pay toward education.” True, according the to the states formula it is not, but shouldn’t it be? In the example I used in the petition Yarmouth has a property value of $14.5 billion and RSU13 of $2 billion. So, in theory, because Yarmouth has a higher property value they can afford to pay more and yet, they pay less per student.
I am sorry that I can not comment on the “donor” towns, as I’m not sure exactly what is meant by that.
Again, I don’t have the answers, nor am I claiming to. The bottom line is the formula needs to be reviewed in order to ensure equality. The current formula was put into practice in 2005 and there have been numerous calls in the past to have it reviewed. If you would like more information regarding the formula and studies please feel free to reviewhttp://www2.umaine.edu/mepri/sites/default/files/EPS2011.pdf, by David Silvernail, Co-Director of the Maine Education Policy Research Institute in January 2011. Or http://www.ruraledu.org/articles.php?id=2709, by The Rural School and Community Trust and finallyhttp://www.falmouthschools.org/File/Supt/Review_of_EPS.pdf, by the Maine School Management Association.

Two Minutes for Two Meetings

vintagesecretaryMinutes for the April Regular Board Meeting on 4/13/15 and the Special Budget Meeting on 4/28/15 are now available.  These reports do not quite capture the objections raised over budget priorities, specifically the addition of a Curriculum Coordinator position.  In spite of this, the Board voted 12 to 1 in favor of the budget as presented:

Minutes 4/13/15 and 4/28/15

Meeting Tonight! Agenda…

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The RSU #50 Board Meeting will be held tonight, May 11th at Southern Aroostook Community School @6:30pm.  The Agenda follows:

AGENDA May 11, 2015

Meeting Tonight!!!

Please accept my apology for the short notice – I am just learning of this myself, and given the exasperating misinformation surrounding withdrawal, I hope people will attend.  We have been informed that support among selectmen of Mt. Chase and Stacyville for the joint withdrawal effort of Katahdin’s communities has waned, though the process has a long way to go.

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The Sherman Municipal Officers will meet tonight at 6:30 at the Sherman Town Office, where withdrawal from the RSU will be discussed.  

The public is welcome.

Truth and Laughter

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh,
otherwise they’ll kill you.” ~Oscar Wilde

Here it is, the truth laid bare with rare and stunning clarity by the perspicacious wit of John Oliver (…also a bit risqué – our more delicate readers have been warned, but it is the facts surrounding testing that are downright obscene.)

Appreciation For Teachers…

32189760-apples-and-flowers-on-the-wooden-tableIt’s Teacher Appreciation Week!  …though many of us agree that they deserve our gratitude all the time.

“Lets take a few minutes to talk about teachers. What teacher has changed your life? Soulpancake hit the streets to ask people about that teacher, you know, the one you will always be thankful for…”

“In honor of teacher appreciation week, SoulPancake and Edutopia asked teachers to write a letter to themselves on their first day teaching. What teacher do you appreciate? Share this video with them to let them know #TeachersMatter!”