Monthly Archives: November 2015

Facts and Figures

2_bookkeeperA wise woman once said… “Once”, specifically, at the Nov. 9th Public Forum.  “Where are the facts and figures?” the citizen asked.

Scenarios were, indeed, taken “off the table” without careful study, and, in at least one instance, purposely to AVOID the work of compiling figures.  “If you aren’t interested then you don’t want me to waste time running around getting numbers.” Then-Supt. Larry Malone

“The School Administrative District must provide the amount and nature, or each type of source data that is used in these calculations and the basis for each pro-rating that is performed, in sufficient detail to permit an independent verification of accuracy of the cost data and it’s validity for use with 20-A MRSA, Section 1407 and rules.” – Maine Department of Education

Here are the numbers RSU 50 submitted to the State in preparation for liquidating Katahdin.

Also included are number and types of positions targeted for elimination and cuts to the State Small School Adjustment subsidy.

To our readers with a better eye for numbers than mine, I offer the original pdfs with only brief comment.

What neither Timbered Classrooms nor anyone can itemize or calculate, are the “unforeseen” expenses that inevitably make promised savings and opportunity disappear. Well, not exactly “unforeseen” by those who look at the research and our own history.

More expensive building deficiencies at SACS, as outlined by the AMES report, continuing declining enrollment trends, growing interest in homeschooling or tuitioning to other districts, and communities looking to withdraw, re-negotiation of cost-sharing formulas to compensate for losses….. All of these factors will weigh heavily on budget projections that fail to realistically account for them.

RSU #50 Cost Analysis Summary Submitted to the State to permit Katahdin’s closure

Enrollment by Town in RSU #50 and Tuitioning Townships  I apologize for doodling on this document before scanning it:


Back to the meeting of November 9th, where a wise man spoke to Katahdin’s past, when it when his father dedicated his career to “building” an education system that was to become one of the top in the country.  Those in an office 25 miles away who are more dedicated to extracting money and children for their own use than the pressing needs of children currently in their care cannot give taxpayers the same value for dollar.  RSU 50 will not quit until Katahdin is closed.

Is RSU 50 the best steward of your children, infrastructure and money?

Imagine That!

This post first appeared in January. Of anything, though, it is more relevant today as more people question the value of an RSU that has failed to live up to its promises, but is all too eager to make more.

Timbered Classrooms...

How is the RSU model working?  Support for withdrawal from the RSU is high, but so is the (mistaken) belief that it is “too late”.  It is never too late….  As Katahdin communities prepare to fight to save their school, they may ask themselves, “If we save our school, do we want to continue to funnel our tax dollars to fund it through an RSU that wants it shuttered?  …or do we want a dedicated Board to set priorities?  Do we want to pay the additional costs levied by the RSU in the event of a vote to preserve Katahdin even if it does not, inherently, cost more?”
images-1Can you imagine why any town would want to withdraw from any School Administrative District?

~Unless they wanted to have a say in the way that their tax dollars were spent at the consolidated school.

~Or unless they discovered that sending their…

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Which Way To The Ballot Box?


If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it – Mark Twain

But it does AND they do… Well, supposedly.

Voters who signed petitions to withdraw from RSU 50 did so, among other reasons, to prevent the District from taking their school away. (Other reasons cited: keep the District from taking programming, children, money…. Make the District stop taking!)

While the march to close Katahdin goes on, Voters await progression to Step 2 of the Withdrawal process; a public meeting followed by a referendum to continue the process…. …. a step that Selectmen refuse to allow:

“…They (Selectmen) are not planning to hold a public meeting at this time due to our inability to obtain financial data from the Dept. of Education and/or RSU #50.”

The RSU is required to submit verifiable financial data to the State to begin the school closure process – and has done so.

Getting on with the RSU withdrawal process does not guarantee its completion by any means, but does ensure voters’ opportunity to render an informed and democratic decision.

The decision belongs to the voters.

It is well understood that Selectmen met with the Supt.; less so that this is NOT part of the process in any official way….. …and came away scared that withdrawal would cost more. If that is true, the process will illuminate that. What are the odds that regaining more control over spending will cost more?

For Withdrawal Procedures proscribed by the State click here




“…Let us be clear, it is not progress, technology or time that kills a small rural school or any school for that matter. Small schools often do not fit the standardized mould and they cause difficulties for administrators. And so, the very qualities that make these schools work and that their students and communities love about them are actually used as justification for their closure. These schools work because they are nonstandard and responsive to real communities…”

“…Contrary to the mythology, exceptional schools do not die off, most are killed by intentional acts, not by the inevitable forces of nature. In nature, variation, messiness, and chaos are not unnatural or unproductive forms of organization. In fact, as biologists would remind us, they are essential features of growth. When school people forbid such messiness, or view it as a burden, we undermine the possibility of proliferation … Many good schools die an early unnatural death because the policies that govern our public systems cut short their natural growth … the people who operate the present system do not see themselves in the business of trying to maintain idiosyncratic practice …they’ve been trained to seek, first and foremost, ways to solve problems by rule. Education on a Human Scale

Communities’ Concerns

freedom-of-speech_400…a collaborative compilation of community concerns surrounding Board plans to close Katahdin, by people who know the outcome was never in doubt….

Some concerns voiced at the public forum Monday, November 9th; concerns raised as a result of Mike Hammer’s letter following the Nov 9 meeting:

-Loss of school in community, kids feel that the people in their community should be protecting their education in their own communities, it is the responsibility of taxpayers to provide an education for the kids of their communities in their own communities – This concern and responsibility is now on the voters! There seemed to be no intent from the board or Mr. Hammer to take these concerns into consideration.

-People are confused about the voting process. This was not addressed and clarified by the board.

-The effect on businesses when the school is removed from the community, concern that people will not move to the area. We realize that people “are already passing by these communities” for other reasons, but there are many families HERE NOW that choose to live here in a small school/community setting.

-It was requested that further consideration be given to the scenario of moving K-12 at Katahdin into the high school building. There has never been an estimate of the cost of renovations, savings of closing KES presented. People feel this should be completed before expecting voters to make a decision. We have been told in the past that to close KES would save $250,000 per year just in insurance and heat. During the board meeting that followed, “further consideration was not given” to this scenario. How can this be dismissed without studying the costs? Shouldn’t voters get the opportunity to vote on viable scenarios such as K-12 into the KHS building?

-Concerns about the breakdown of family life as a result of the distance in traveling to and from sports, extra-curricular, school events, and the fewer opportunities students will have to participate. Also the added cost of travel for families. The continued concern of busing students such a great distance and the cost.

-Mr. Hammer continues to “promise” better educational opportunities as his number one priority. This is a promise we heard when we became an RSU and students have not received. The better educational opportunities and advantages for ALL students could become disadvantages to Katahdin students traveling. To “compete globally” is a goal of Mr. Hammer’s. We are continuing to put aside what our kids here and now need. Naturally, SACS parents support receiving better educational opportunities. There are no negative changes to their education.

-There will be no reduction in taxes, as many people are looking for as a result of consolidating. This savings is misleading.

-Mr. Hammer reported that “13 people spoke about keeping things the same.” That is not what people at the public forum spoke about. These people spoke about not supporting consolidating 9-12 at SACS and the reasons why. No one even mentioned “keeping things the same.” People all agree that change is needed. Not sure what he is stating. It seems that the public comments were misunderstood. How?

-These and many more concerns and questions were posed to the board and Mr. Hammer on Monday night. There was no acknowledgment or discussions as people spoke directly to the board and Mr. Hammer. It did not feel like a public forum, only a “time period to hear from citizens.”

As a result of Monday night’s board meeting, the only scenarios on the table are consolidating 9-12 at SACS and no change. Mr. Hammer has said that no change is not an option, so………………….. We can no longer look to our school board or superintendent to make the best educational decisions for our children, their decision has been made by the majority. We have to appeal to citizens and voters to act on saving our communities and our school.


“If #8 does not pass wait until they get the new budget……!” – Supt. Mike Hammer at the Board Meeting following the Public Forum

After Monday’s Public Forum, the Board voted to eliminate all scenarios EXCEPT:

#8 – “Move 7th and 8th Grade to KES and move 9-12 KHS to the NEW MOUNTAIN BROOK complex – close KMHS.


#11 – No Change – Schooling continues as is.

The Board has the votes necessary to pass #8 in December.

The Superintendent’s remarks:

“Good Day,

This update is a little difficult as people may misinterpret my comments about “staying the same”.

A brief update on last night’s meeting: the board whittled down its options for consolidation at last night’s meeting. One option that remains as a choice for consolidation is to move the 7th and 8th grades from KMHS to KES and have 9-12 grade students move up to the Dyer Brook complex (building and grounds qualifying as “a complex”). The second option is “no change”.

The idea to have two K-12 building gained a lot of support and discussion last night. It does not offer the amount of savings as are in the other plans. It would offer significant financial investment in renovations to either facility. This option has some benefits; however, it does not bring the educational benefits to a combined 9-12 grade facility/complex. It was not voted as an option to for further consideration.

Personally, and again in my opinion as the current superintendent, we cannot have “no change”. The public did speak last night from 5:30 to 6:20 or so. They were heard by the board. Thirteen people spoke in favor of “keeping things as they are”. I asked the board for clarification of what this means to them and I believe we have many opinions about what that might be. For me, I will not embrace keeping things the same. There are opportunities that we can build on and enrich for our students. Our teachers do a wonderful job and as Principal Jon Porter pointed out to me in an email we have made some gains in our “report cards”. That’s another story.

From my recent visits with town managers, selectmen, community members, teachers, and board members, I conclude that many do not truly embrace “no change”. The one thing we count on is change. The board has put these two options as an agenda item for decision at the December 14th board meeting. If the vote is for no further consolidation, I will passionately advocate for the board to make additions to the budget that will enrich, support, and extend the educational opportunities for students in their “own” school.

Some wonder what the specific offerings would be if the high schools were together, increases in electives, (creative writing, drama, forensics, anatomy, physics, chemistry labs on both white and colored days, two sections of English, updated lab equipment) the list goes on. We need to compete globally; we’d like pathways that prepare students for career and higher education. Many of these items are already being developed, in isolation, for small groups of students. Some of these opportunities would be easier if our students were in the same complex, some won’t take a lot of financial resources, that being said, they will require the voters to support the education of their students. This is a truly complex challenge, I understand we don’t want to have “winners” and “losers”, I don’t want to take the identity from a community. The truth is, people are passing by these communities due to a variety of causes or they are on a fixed income, they also love it here and want to raise their children here. There are not currently multiple industries moving into the communities. The financial support we enjoyed in the 80″s and 90’s and early 2000’s is no longer reality. We have declining enrollment and high teacher attrition. I want to focus on the positives, increasing opportunities for students and moving the district toward a common vision. I will work at this regardless of what the vote is in December.

Lastly, I want to thank the 4th graders who invited me to their ceremony and the veterans for their service to our communities. Please take time to remember them tomorrow as we celebrate Veteran’s day.”

Notes on “Scale”….


A message from the Supt.’s office claims the Board will not take the vote afterward.

Timbered Classrooms...


…There are some who cling, stubbornly, to the outdated view that bigger schools are necessarily better schools. Despite the fact that there is no research evidence to support this view, well meaning but misguided and ill-informed policy makers continue to pursue the closure and consolidation of small neighborhood and community schools. They pursue this agenda apparently unaware that the educational community has moved on from this mid-twentieth view to embrace the educational opportunities available to students in small schools. Despite paying lip-service to “evidence based decision making,” some educational leaders seemingly ignore the growing body of evidence that clearly indicate that smaller schools are to be preferred over larger ones.

One has to wonder if these folks can read!…”

Education on a Human Scale

“…The criticism that smaller schools cannot offer as broad a program of studies as can larger schools has been around for a very long time; it is often…

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Column: Beware What School Consolidation Means

A Public Forum preceding a vote on closing Katahdin will be held tonight @5:30pm at the Island Falls Municipal Building.

Timbered Classrooms...

image“In Maine, protests from larger and wealthier towns won them exemptions from the state’s consolidation law. Fifty-five percent of the students in the state were in districts that were ultimately exempt from reorganization. Those districts forced to consolidate are mostly Down East, in the far north of the state, or in the “rural rim” between the interstate corridor and the Northern Territories. The anger was so profound that the Legislature amended the law to allow towns to back out of their consolidated district.”

Lesson 1:  You don’t save money, but you change who gets it.

Lesson 2: Consolidation is about closing schools, not districts.

Lesson 3: Consolidation is something the wealthy and powerful force on the less wealthy and less powerful.

Lesson 4:  Consolidation increases children’s time on buses and crimps participation.  

For more lessons, and a thorough explanation for each of these, read the entire piece by Marty…

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School Consolidation: What Is It Good For?

A Public Forum preceding a vote to Close Katahdin will be held tomorrow, November 9th at the ISLAND FALLS MUNICIPAL BUILDING 5:30 pm

Timbered Classrooms...

“…Let’s make consolidation the absolute last resort. Instead, let’s recognize that merging districts with financial problems and falling enrollment will not make them better off financially and educationally. Let’s focus on what’s really important — the resources (financial and otherwise) that strong community and school leaders can leverage to improve…”  

“…Consolidation robs communities of important assets: their children and their schools. imageConsolidation may seem efficient based on pupil-to-teacher ratios, costs per pupil, and the promise of improved curriculum and higher test scores. But it is hardly efficient, given the costs of transportation and the time children spend away from the school and their families.

School and community leaders who promote consolidation may think they have the well-being of children in mind, but their emphasis on per-unit cost treats students as if they are assembly-line products and not children with differing needs, personalities, and dreams….”

Read the article, in full…

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Actually, You DID “Promise Me A Rose Garden”…


This piece was originally published after the last RSU 50 Task Force Presentation. We decided to run it again in light of the upcoming Public Forum and subsequent vote.

A quote from a community member, at Monday night’s presentation gets right to the heart of the school consolidation issue:

“We’re always promised all these programs and opportunity but we never see them….”

A number of our readers have shared their experiences with consolidation locally, and, to say the least, disappointment is a common thread woven throughout.  That the Task Force believes our local experience with consolidation here will, somehow, make another round easier is laughable.  (Seriously, many of you did share a laugh at that.  ..might as well laugh as cry right?)

Anyway, Board member Stephan Walker responded before the lady could finish her point, “We can’t do it! We can’t do it!”, forcefully shaking his head with every syllable. (He also made a point for consolidation, likening children to “fertilizer” sprinkled over too many schools…? Wha-?  There is enough “fertilizer” thrown around by this Board to grow roses on the table.  (sigh) Children are not “fertilizer”….  So why not?  (…offer extra programs I mean, not “Why aren’t children like fertilizer?” Our readers don’t need to ask that…).  The RSU plan painted a picture of what district consolidation was supposed to provide; promises of sorts :

“Potential opportunities for students” include: World Languages for Grades K-5, Gifted and Talented, AP courses, more and varied opportunities….etc.

You can read it here . You might as well laugh as cry, right? Phil Knowles claimed savings in administration with the formation of RSU #50, but did not provide supporting data.  Concerns in the communities surrounding positions that did not exist pre-RSU and relatively exorbitant compensation for some cast some doubt on that,  along with unpopular budget priorities. Timbered Classrooms readers have a great deal more expertise in that area than I do, so we leave it to you HERE.

Widespread disappointment was highly predictable to those who did their homework, who looked at the research; the evidence with an open mind.

This Board and Superintendent determined to consolidate, refusing to “even look at” the research,  that has all but rejected the well-supported idea to consolidate only the Katahdin side… …is, once again making predictions; promises if you will, about the Rainbow-Farting, Sparkly Unicorns that  await your children at the end of a very long bus ride….

…or something more mythical? rsz_lucy-football-peanuts (1)

Consolidation Promises Tested

imageWAGM reported on the “real possibility” of consolidation early in October. See it here: here

Many of our readers were disappointed that the reporter allowed the Superintendent’s claims to go unchallenged and even unquestioned, the reporter insisting he presented “facts”.  What has happened to journalism?

Below, a Timbered Classrooms response to excerpts (in purple) from WAGM’s interview:

“They all have some potential saving the ones with the most potential saving are the high school $572,000 one way and $512,000 the other way. You have to remember that all of these scenarios have an increase in one area, transportation, we are adding about 200,000 there and we are still saving nearly $600,000.” -Supt. Mike Hammer

Neither $572,000 nor $512,000 are “nearly” $600,000.          $28,000 – $88,000 is serious money.  What could teachers provide children with a sum considered a rounding error by Administrators?

Not so fast, though. A more recent  letter from the Supt. warned, “…each town may not witness the full savings … because we want to add educational offerings into the budget…” -Supt. Mike Hammer

“Hammer says a shrinking student body is a large part of the reason for the situation. The number students lost in the district over the past few years has been double the projections, losing 45 students in that time. He says those loses really affect the students.”

It isn’t the losses of enrollees that affect the students. It is the choices made by the Board and Superintendent surrounding their profligate use of available resources.  In a vicious cycle, those choices drive enrollment declines. Listening to parents would certainly improve the accuracy of your “projections”.

But there is the elephant in the room. Enrollment will continue to decline.  There are ways to turn smallness to an asset as demonstrated by other small schools.  Continuing to chase scale you will never achieve relegates our children to unnecessary mediocrity and taxpayers to unnecessary expense and diminished value for their dollars.

“A growing body of North American research is exploding the myth and now suggests smaller schools are not only better for students but more cost effective for school Boards…”

He also says that combining Katahdin Middle/High School Athletics and Southern Aroostook Athletics, would make them perennially good.

All these teams could be competing with each other. I think we could be competing for Eastern Maine championships. Let’s put that on the table.”-MH

What is “on the table” for kids who relished being needed to play for their local school but are cut from your new “competitive sports teams”?  So much for “maximizing opportunity”…

“I think if we put them together they would have more opportunities more electives larger class sizes for more discussion.”

People always “think” this – and inevitably disappointed:

“While this has a certain common sense appeal, examination of the research reveals that there simply is no reliable relationship between school size and curriculum quality. For one thing, researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety”—that is, “on the average a 100% increase in enrolment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings” (Pittman and Haughwout, 1997). Moreover, “[t]he strength of the relationship between school size and curricular offerings diminishes as schools become larger…” – Education on a Human Scale. Read the full report here and visit our “School Consolidation” tab for more evidence.

“Larger class sizes for more discussion”??? …said no school brochure ever.

Very funny.

No, sad; children struggling under heartbreaking circumstances in their lives need the small classes demanded for children of the fortunate in order to reach their full potential.

“impoverished regions in particular benefit from smaller schools and districts and can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation Occurs.

An Ounce of Prevention….

“…A school administrative unit, including the unorganized territories, shall establish and maintain a maintenance and capital improvement program for all school facilities…”


The following documents, prepared by Ames Associates, prioritize RSU 50s facilities maintenance schedule according to “critical” deficiencies, (2015-2016) “serious” (2017-2020) and “minor” (2021+):

Building deficiencies RSU 50 Katahdin Elementary School

Building deficiencies RSU 50 Katahdin Middle and High School

Building deficiencies RSU 50 Southern Aroostook Community School

In summary:

  • CD = “Critical deficiencies” (2015-2016)
  • SD = “Serious deficiencies” (2017-2020)
  • MD = “Minor deficiencies” (2021+)

Katahdin Elementary School:

  • CD = $26,600
  • SD = $1,309,165
  • MD = $614,680
  • TOTAL = 1,950,445

Katahdin Middle and High School:

  • CD = $404,490
  • SD = $1,525,640
  • MD = $392,010
  • TOTAL = 2,322,140

Southern Aroostook Community School:

  • CD = $1,198,000
  • SD = $2,738,390
  • MD = $887,600
  • TOTAL = 4,823,990
    ”  We will be consolidated somewhere…” “Grades 7-12 SACS, bottom line…” ~Chairman Greg Ryan
    Parents continue to seek other options for their children, and enrollment will likely decline; communities will continue to withdraw either to lessen their costs or transfer their dollars to another district altogether – all for reasons obvious to everyone but the Board.
    Please help them choose wisely.

Supt. Hammer’s Update to the Board

“…each town may not witness the full savings (621K, 577K, 515K or 110K) because we want to add educational

offerings into the budget. This is crucial for people to understand, there will still be savings along with increased options provided for students. …”


“I have been or will be involved in the following activities in preparation for our next board meeting. I am in hopes these meetings will move our upcoming time together from conversations to decisions on the consolidation options still left on the “table”.

Phil and I met with Sherman, Stacyville, Mt. Chase, and Patten selectmen, community members and town officials last week.

This was a very productive meeting in my opinion. We explained the potential savings for the different consolidation options and the decision making options still before the board. This was very similar to our other meetings with individual towns, we appreciate the effort of the towns to come together for a combined meeting.  We also received some information on the withdrawal plans from Patten and Sherman, in my opinion, those towns are not in a hurry to leave the district and this is very good news. It is important to note that town officials want us to communicate that each town may not witness the full savings (621K, 577K, 515K or 110K) because we want to add educational offerings into the budget. This is crucial for people to understand, there will still be savings along with increased options provided for students.

I will be meeting with Oakfield and hopefully Smyrna and Merrill in the middle of November in order to continue the conversation with all towns.
I will be meeting with Shelly Lane the director of education for the unorganized territories today to discuss our consolidation options with her and to see how we can work together on any potential issues further reorganization would have on the EUT.

We are publicizing our community forum prior to our next board meeting. I hope board members and the community take advantage of this opportunity to hear what is on peoples’ minds in terms of the decision the board may make on the consolidation options.

Also, in preparation for the next board meeting, both the education and buildings and grounds committees will meet. I hope that we can shift the focus to what educational opportunities can be enriched as we look at consolidation during the education committee meeting. This conversation is open to all board members and I hope we discuss things like transportation for students that want to be involved in activities, class offerings, staffing, etc as we move forward.
At the buildings and grounds meeting I hope to prepare a list of priorities for this committee to focus on in the short term and then a longer term look at how we will continue to take care of our facilities. I think that “the will of the board” is to move away from talking about which building is better than the other to what needs to be done to each building and do the buildings meet our needs in relation to the decisions that need to be made.

Robin, Phil and I attended the MSMA annual fall meeting in Augusta. I am sure they will fill you in on their learning. There were many sessions on continuing the conversation around proficiency based education. I also attended a Farm to School session, this is a grassroots effort to educate/involve students in the process of how their food comes to the table. I feel we have an excellent opportunity to bring this program to our schools.

Overall, I feel very encouraged that we can bring the conversation toward enriching what we are already doing for our students and to provide economic stability to the taxpayers.

One last thing, I know I used the term Mountain Brook Complex as an option for further consolidation – this is to notate that there will be changes for both sides of the district if further consolidation is considered by the school board. (there has been no new committee or focus group that has been tasked with rebranding  anything; that will be for the students to do)
Mike Hammer

Interim Superintendent
RSU 50
207-757-8223 (O)
207-944-7751 (C)”

New School, New Name…,

This is a photo of a document given to the Board. We believe our readers are entitled to it ahead of the Public Forum. Please note the time 5:30 pm November 9th at the ISLAND FALLS MUNICIPAL BUILDING

No one seems to know who comprised the focus group that renamed SACS “Mountain Brook Complex”, but several readers having formed an impromptu “Timbered Focus Group” quipped that it is a perfectly lovely name for a nursing home.  It is also confusing because a “complex” by definition is a group of buildings and SACS, or “Mountain Brook” is but one. Are more buildings planned?


RSU Withdrawal Update


It has been brought to our attention that certain town officials on the Katahdin side support further consolidation and therefore oppose withdrawal from RSU 50.  They are somewhat separate issues.  Towns are free to close Katahdin and enter into agreements with neighboring districts in or out of an RSU.  The withdrawal process is lengthy and provides ample opportunity for voters to make an informed final decision.

Voters have the right to expect Town Fathers will honor their directive and move the process onward regardless of their personal biases.

In response to reader questions, initiatives to withdraw from RSU 50 launched by the towns of the former MSAD #25 have not proceeded to Step #2 with the exception of Mt. Chase, which has continued on.

Click below to the Maine Statute governing RSU Withdrawal



  Nosferatu…(shudder); terrifying audiences for 93 years…

Makes my skin crawl..

Evidently a real life horror befell Katahdin students who joined their peers around the State donning costumes in a nod to the season….

…unaware that the RSU had cancelled the holiday, and, apparently – fun.

After students were reprimanded rather shabbily for violating the “dress code”, they were, in the end, allowed to finish out the day in costume.

..but not without a warning, “Next year will be different!”

Now THAT is terrifying.

RSU 50: What is wrong with you people? You have done nothing but take, take, take from children and are poised to take more. …clearly NOT for the benefit of the taxpayers who pay dearly for an education their children are doing without!