Category Archives: “On The Table” – Scenarios of closure being considered by the Futures Task Force

Futures Task Force Findings – FINAL

lavendar cougar


The work of the Futures Task Force completed, Timbered Classrooms would like to share with our readers a copy of its conclusions.  Many thanks to our readers who brought this to my attention.  How did I miss it?  Good question, but thank goodness for you!  Trying diligently to bite my tongue, (or my fingers!), for the  moment, anyway, I hope YOU won’t!  We always love to hear from you, whatever your views.  I have a great deal of confidence that our readers will perform a careful, critical reading and ask the deeper questions this report undoubtedly raises.

RSU 50 FTF Report (1) FINAL



“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


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


“….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.


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



“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.

“On the Table” Series Continues: #5 – “TABLED”

Review this and other Scenarios currently under consideration by the Futures Task Force (FTF):



Scenario #5, where elementary grades would remain in place on either end of the district and a new 7-12 facility would be built in Crystal.  Happily the Committee had the sense to table it.  It really is utterly absurd.

The Committee did comment, though:

  • Few benefits involved
  • Would “appease” some stakeholders, but would not address current and future constraints.
  • Too draining on the budget or too much loss for each individual community
  • No cost savings
  • “not”

“Few” benefits?  The FTF does not say what those are, but I see “none”.  ..and who on Earth would be “appeased” by an asinine idea like this?  I don’t know what “stake” they are “holding”, but “appeasement”?  How about a first-class seat in a handbasket?  No; all seriousness aside, I recognize that I may be missing something here, so, please readers, enlighten me if you can?

That this would be “too draining on the budget”, and the “drain” would pull money away from kids, as construction projects; new facilities do, is a given.  But “too much loss for each individual community”?  Most of the other scenarios pull more children even farther away from their communities than this does; the losses are greater, so why does the concern of the FTF for this very serious issue disappear under them?  Once in a while, I ask a question I don’t already know the answer to — this is not one of those times….

In case you were wondering (and I don’t blame you) about the value in discussing Scenario #5 at all is the mindset of a committee that would propose such a thing, and even believe that it could garner even a modicum of support from “stakeholders seeking appeasement”.

Overall, this decision is going to come down to values.  WHO benefits, and on WHOM do the “challenges” fall?  Our readers have made themselves clear that benefits MUST go to kids and taxpayers, and challenges must fall on adults, namely administration.

We will see how the FTF weighs its decision.

“On The Table” – Scenario 4; “The Wheels on the Bus”

sbnite0214Review the Analysis of this, and other scenarios currently under consideration by the Futures Task Force:


Scenario 4 varies little from Scenario 3a and b.  In fact, it varies so little, that the Futures Task Force has apparently cut and pasted many of the benefits and challenges from Scenario 3a and b.  Here in Scenario #4, the Futures Task Force considers consolidating only the high school either at SACS (4a) or Katahdin (4b), but leaving the elementary grades in place.  (Well, it isn’t really considering consolidating the High Schools at Katahdin, for reasons outlined in “A Tale of Two Scenarios”.

“Administrative roles and support staff can be diversified, (i.e. Curriculum Coordinator, Assistant Principal)….”  — This is actually listed under “Benefits”!  A cue, certainly, that the hiring of Bureaucrats and Wardens” , which has frustrated taxpayers so will continue unabated, or, more likely, grow precipitously.

Another item, seemingly mis-filed under benefits is, “Co-curriculur opportunities may become more competitive, thus contributing to higher levels of performance (not limited to sports).”  So much for maximizing opportunity.  This is the very thing that researchers cite as a disadvantage to kids.  Does this Board seriously have such an issue with the “performance” of our fine young people that it wants to “weed” some of them out of the opportunity to participate?  I, for one, am proud of every one of those precious children, and I know I am not alone.  Readers?  Feel free to jump into the comments section anytime.  You can always come back to this part later.  I don’t know why, exactly, the prospect of “climbing” to Class C is also touted as a “benefit” — these aren’t letter grades, and one is not superior to another.

The striking thing about the “benefits” claimed by the FTF is WHO actually “benefits”.  ….and it isn’t kids or taxpayers, but administration itself.  Please keep this in mind, as we look at “Challenges”; on whom they fall the hardest:

“Challenges presented by both options include the assimilation of students and staff from one of the district’s facilities into the other… …”lost identity”… …loss of intimacy… …more competitive selection process for co-curricular opportunities” (Wait!  didn’t we just see this under ‘benefits’?) … …longer bus rides for some secondary children”  Anyway, these challenges fall squarely on the shoulders of kids.  But taxpayers are hardly spared, as “bureaucrats and wardens” are not alone in lining up to claim a share of their dollars.  The committee refers to bus route redundancy; “PK-6 students bussed separately than 7-12 students, even if they stand at the end of the same driveway” and “remodeling of classrooms and other school facilities that must be repurposed”  will cost our coffers dearly.  It looks as though “50 years of consolidation” has replaced educators with “bureaucrats” “wardens” AND a crap-ton of very expensive bussing… …as expensive to kids and communities as it is to taxpayers.

The analysis of benefits and challenges unique to 4a and b appear to have been copied and pasted from 3a and b, and are every bit as questionable.  4a, like 3a (consolidating the High Schools at SACS) is strongly favored by some on the committee, reflecting its dogged determination of some to shift  resources and kids North. I want to acknowledge the fact that others on the committee are acting in good faith, but it is safe to say that those who posed the question, “What do you know about building a new school?” to the Superintendent during the interview process, has an outcome in mind.

Under “data still required” the committee trots out Spruce Mountain and Oceanside – (sigh) AGAIN.  “Optional: contact schools where student relocations have occurred in recent years to gain their perceptions on the experiences of students, teachers and families.”  So why would research like this be “optional”?  Why would you not do likewise with schools that have opted to remain small, local and use their natural attributes to their advantage?  …and why, for the love of Pete, are you so focused on Spruce Mountain (geographically much smaller, so that expenditures in the receiving community benefit the sending one as wel… Oh, and by the way:  the communities of Spruce Mountain coughed up $44,000 each to keep the sending school open for Adult Ed., community purposes etc. because they recognized the liability and cost of abandoned infrastructure to a community.  Is RSU 50 planning the same thing?). Oceanside? …a hot mess from Bangor Daily News accounts.  If THIS is what Craig Kesselheim puts on his resume?  I’d hate to see what he leaves off….

“On The Table” – A Tale of Two Scenarios, Consolidate North or South

“Options 3a and 3b are intentionally paired as two sides of the same coin: consolidate all students and staff to either the North end of campus, (3a), or the South end (3b)..”



Just as Scenarios 3a and 3b represent “two sides of the same coin”, benefits and challenges emanate from “two sides of the Committee’s mouth”.

“Significant cost savings would appear to be immediate due to the closure of facilities” is cited as a “benefit”.   Meanwhile, under “challenges”…

“Challenges unique to option 3a…” (let’s be honest, here – 3a is strongly favored; 3b is not under any serious consideration — more on why in a moment…) “..involve facilities constraints.  SACS does not have a dedicated auditorium or music instruction space.  The building will require a new heating system and the roof needs work. Science lab classrooms may need to be refurbished or expanded.”

“We will save you money.

”That’s the bait that trolls in the suckers.

We grow old too soon.  Smart too late.”

~The humble Farmer, on School Consolidation

Now, as for why 3b is not “viable” to this committee:  The vehement objections to a research-based and popular solution — consolidating the Katahdin side only — revealed that NO solution that keeps Sherman/Patten/Stacyville/Mt. Chase children and tax dollars in their community is “viable” to those who want that money and Katahdin communities to invest in much needed renovations to SACS or a new school.

“You don’t save money, but you change who gets it.” ~Marty Strange

Before I became a mother, I worked in Economic Development.  I learned from the best, that the most effective way to build your community and local economy is to invest in pre-K-12 education, infrastructure, partner with universities to use buildings at night for online course opportunities…. But efforts to draw investment to your own community inadvertently result in a divestment from someone else’s.  The loss, certainly, does not fall on everyone equally.  Here, the pursuit of some on the Board simply to draw investment to their own community,  is a painful divestment from another — and from their children, as the research is clear that small, local schools are better for kids, taxpayers, communities and school boards. (Boards whose members are closes to the kids and taxpayers; who actually represent the same children and taxpayers, function more efficiently.) Indeed, small schools around the state are innovating, serving their children and communities so well, that Board members come from far and wide to learn from them.  What about our own?

Back to the FTF analysis:  Benefits “unique to 3a” (consolidating to SACS) are outlined:

~”locating all the regions students closer to Region 2″  …a shorter bus ride to Houlton also, in the view of the FTF, would expand academic opportunity as well.

“..a shorter bus ride to Houlton”? That is just silly.  The travel time to Houlton, for CTE or other opportunity will not change from where children LIVE.

This does speak to the flight of students – an alarming 70 in all, though.  Most who leave SACS are taking advantage of the opportunities in Houlton, while most who leave Katahdin are homeschooled.  Now, not all families can homeschool, on either end of the district, certainly.  More children from the SACS communities, however, have access to the opportunities Houlton presents, giving them far more options than children on the Katahdin side under 3a.  “You don’t get excellence without equity”, and the apparent lack of commitment to equity by the Administration and Board is a continuing concern.

Families opt to homeschool for a variety of reasons, certainly, and transfers… but Superintendent has said he has spoken to only “..a couple”.  Aren’t you even a bit curious?

These figures are as clear as they are  alarming.    If this Board cannot fathom how to compete with Houlton, then, 3a should give its members pause.  When asked if he had spoken with families pursuing other options, the Superintendent said, “A couple”.  Well, I have spoken with more than “a couple”.  I hope the Board will too.  “It’s not them, it’s you”.

Advantages to 3b involve facilities: “..dedicated space for school performances and for music instruction, sufficient spaces for administrative offices (we can’t have cramped administrators!) playing fields and an environmental studies ecosystem resource behind the middle school.”

Challenges include “…closure of the SACS facility, a related problem in finding a new location for the Region 2 Forestry program”  How about the “environmental studies ecosystem resource”?  I don’t mean to suggest that I support EITHER 3a or b.  I don’t.  The auditorium is small — too small for concerts, and you had better get tickets to plays early!

Another challenge to 3b… “The end of day travel time from Region 2 back to Katahdin would reduce academic course options for this population”.   Does the Region 2 bus typically return students to their sending school in time for more courses?  …or do they spend the entire CTE day at Region 2 in any case?  Would the Region 2 bus depart Houlton early enough in the day to afford students academic courses at, say, SACS?

“A PK-12 school on either end of the district would likely choose to rally around the creation of a new school name and mascot, similar to the recent experiences of Spruce Mountain (Jay/Livermore Falls) and Oceanside (Rockland/Georges Valley).  This phenomenon is not foreign to the RSU 50 Communities’ own history of past consolidation.  In other words, it can be done.”

Yes, memories of past consolidations are alive and well, but if you think for a minute that they will make it easier in the future?  Call me. I have some oceanfront property in Benedicta to sell you.

Anyway, a closer look at the models this committee has chosen to emulate would be valuable here, wouldn’t it?

First, Spruce Mountain.  The combined square mileage of Jay/Livermore Falls is but a fraction of RSU #50’s.  Transportation here would be far more daunting.  Jay and Livermore, consolidated in name before a building, adopting a new name and mascot with “North and South” campuses.  After taxpayers rejected a $5 million request for renovations to the former Jay H.S., they did approve nearly $2 million.  The former Livermore Falls H.S. building remains open for Adult Ed summer recreation at a cost of $132,000; $44,000 each from Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls.   How much would Sherman voters approve to renovate SACS? …or keep Katahdin open for Adult Ed.?  Abandoned infrastructure is a liability to a community, certainly, but don’t ask children to ride a bus further than you are willing to drive for Zumba!

Oceanside is interesting, as Mr. Kesselheim touted his work with the communities of RSU 13 as he introduced himself to RSU#50.  Here, one of many Bangor Daily News article describing the turmoil and the cost.  St. George is in the midst of a rather acrimonious withdrawal effort from the RSU…. So, where do we sign up?

Though the FTF intends that a scenario selected here would serve as a transitional one enroute to a new school, it acknowledges the possibility that 3a or b could well become permanent.  That is more than likely, and may well be the intent of some on the committee.  Once taxpayers have footed the bill (which of course will be more than the estimates) for all the renovations to SACS, how eager will they be to break ground on a new structure?  A new school in the center of the district appears, at first glance, more equitable than shifting all infrastructure, children and economic/community development potential to one side, and thus may garner more support than the latter.   Perhaps the “transitional” claim is intended to soften the loss some on the Board are determined to inflict on Katahdin’s communities.  Just a thought.

Now let’s hear yours…


From Our Series titled, “On the Table” – Scenario Option #2

“What do you know about building a new school?” ~Interview question posed to Mr. Larry Malone when he was a candidate for his current position.  …also the sound of the school closure train leaving the station…


View “Scenario #2, as well as other Visions of the Futures Task Force, here:


The second option on the table for the Futures Task Force is “..building a new, PK-12 structure and ‘decommissioning’ all current school facilities in the RSU..” apparently “received a very strong endorsement from the FTF membership”.

Of course, as usual, no supporting research was offered.

The “benefits” they cite are listed below, contrasted with what the research actually says:

~”site neutrality” : According to the research, this will not look like any sort of advantage, come budget time.  Research highlights the increased difficulty in raising funds where communitie’s sense of ownership is diminished by both size and distance.

~”coordination of services” : This may help you fill you buzzword bingo card, but beyond that…. “coordinating” children from a 400+ square mile district under one roof is an anathema to efficiency and convenience.

Since I became involved in school issues, I’ve been struck by the adult-centered mindset.  In conversation with a Board member, for example, a brief mention of an AOS model of governance,  was met with, “Oh!  For a Superintendent that’s….!”  “…a pain in the butt..?” I finished.  “I know”.  Why was “Superintendent convenience” foremost in his mind? What about kids and taxpayers?  The closer decision makers are to kids, the more sense decisions make to them, their parents and communities.  Our readers have been very clear about who comes first in THEIR minds.

~”educational opportunities and staffing” : Research shows that that bigger is not better; larger schools do not necessarily offer more, and face diminished participation due to distance and more competition for available spots on sports teams, in plays and in classes.

~”creation of a new multi-community asset” : To which communities does this new “asset” belong?  Not to all of those that must pay for it, certainly, as distance undermines access a great deal.  Children are not regional units.

~”efficiencies that accompany a regional location” :  What is more inefficient, and archaic, from the standpoint of children and taxpayers than bussing long distances every day, that thwarts achievement and diminishes participation.  Research shows that these “regional” schools do not accomplish more, even in cases where they do offer more choices (which is not a given).  Participation rates clearly fall.  Yes, it is convenient, though certainly not more “efficient” for a Superintendent to have all his or her charges under one roof, but at what cost?

A regional perspective; assets that belong to everyone and no one; presents just one of many stark differences between the way children grow and learn, and the way people think.  Buildings don’t educate children, people do.  Parents who have seen their children go without will want to know why there is money for new construction but none for their kids….

Good luck with that.

From our “On the Table” Series – Scenario #1 – “Keep the Current Building Array”

The first in our “On the Table” Series, this is a close reading of Scenario #1 currently under consideration.  The FTF analysis of this and others can be found here:




Scenario #1 – Retain Current Building Array

Here, we look at the first Scenario under consideration by the Futures Task Force (FTF).  Well, not really under any serious consideration as it was dismissed by its members at the beginning as unworthy of consideration.  But that raises serious questions:  If you believe the state of our educational infrastructure is untenable?  …and the only solution you are pursuing is further consolidation?  Schools of similar size and smaller are the pride of other Maine communities.  Schools the size of Katahdin do not “die”; they are killed, for the mistakenly perceived economic development purposes of the potential receiving community.  How do you “kill” a school, and simultaneously invest in the children within? Is, “…if we could get a building condemned, that would solve our problem!” Is that the language of investment and pride?

I’ll leave that to our readers to answer….

The FTF lists “small class size” as a “challenge”, though parents, communities and private schools would tout it as an advantage.  As vital as teachers are, they are also the most visible – and low teacher/student ratios drive business-minded people crazy. So crazy, in fact that they are willing to spend more to relinquish this natural advantage, that elite private schools, are larger urban ones spend a great deal to emulate, than it would cost to maintain it.

We hear “duplication of services” quite a bit, and it bears remembering that services children receive are “duplicated” elsewhere as well.  Are educational services in Houlton “redundant”?  Bangor?  Alaska?  The Pre-K-12 units are 20 miles apart, and much farther for children.  Distance costs, it does not save.  The view of the leadership, that services offered to Katahdin’s children are “redundant” and should be eliminated is unsubstantiated.  RSU 3, touted as a model for RSU 50, is a similarly large district in terms of square miles — with 8 schools.

To deem Katahdin “inviable” is an admission that children within are presently being shortchanged, and parents reject the notion that it is “unavoidable”.  Our readers are clearly as committed to small, local quality and cost-effective education as the leadership is to dismantling it.

Small schools around the state that serve their children, taxpayers and communities very well cast doubt over claims that our decline is “unavoidable”.  I would like to share with you a passage from a letter I received from a parent in Stockton Springs:

“…Searsport High School has worked hard at coming back from losing their accreditation in the 90’s and has been working towards becoming a STEM school. The program is so popular and successful here that schools in Maine, New England and beyond have visited our campus and talked with teachers and students for advice and direction. The superintendent said more schools needed to close and he had Searsport High School on the chopping block even though our test scores were higher than Belfast and even though we are so close to becoming a STEM school. He wanted to move us into a school that is too small and falling apart, while our school is newer with modern improvements and state of the art lab, etc. If we moved to Belfast, we would have had to use modular classrooms as the school isn’t big enough to accommodate us. That was Belfast’s way of being able to say to the state they need a new school sooner rather than later. Basically it boils down to our communities wanting local control of our school tax dollars and control over keeping the momentum going with creating a STEM school..”

MDOE reports enrollment figures of 156 for Searsport District H.S.  Have any of our Board members gone to Searsport?  Perhaps Easton, with an enrollment of 100?

Claims that a larger, consolidated school would maximize opportunity are unfounded both anecdotally, and in the research.

“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)” ~

“Ted Sizer said no school — elementary, middle, or secondary — should have more than 200 students.” ~

“Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200…” ~

“The percentage of student participation has been shown to peak in high schools with 61 to 150 students.” ~


More recommended reading, excerpts:

“Given that educational administrators have, in many cases and situations, held considerable power, school consolidation has often been achieved by over-riding public opinion on the basis of claims about the educational and financial benefits of larger schools. These alleged benefits are not supported by any significant evidence, and the more researchers have looked at the question of school size, the more clear it becomes that small schools are actually superior” ~Education on a Human Scale


“… Impoverished places, in particular, often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….” ~ Beware the Oversimplifiers

“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 – The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools


Children are not “regional units”, and are not scaleable.  Not only do they stubbornly resist our attempts to align childhood with how we think, but they cost dearly.  The research and community aspirations are clear, that Pre-K – 12 on either side of this district is warranted.