Stalling is a time honored tradition of many a School Superintendent here in the State of Maine. The small rural towns of the Pine Tree state are breaking beneath the ever burgeoning burden of school budgets. This is compounded by the yearly tradition of dipping back into the nearly parched taxation well for budgetary shortfalls, which have been increasing at a rate of some $30,000 a year. As the taxpayers of these little towns compare their high mil rates and over-leveraged town budgets against the return on their confiscated funds in the quality of education for the dollar from these high priced school districts, it is no wonder that many are opting to withdraw from low performance expensive school districts and seek greener pastures for the future of their little ones.
But the head of each child, so endearing to the parent and the community in which they grow up, is a dollar sign to a school district, and these under performing districts are loathe to release these towns and lose the revenue that the children generate for their escalating budgets. No matter if the towns vote to withdraw, no matter the exercise of sovereignty, and no matter the will of the people, these phrases so rudimentary to our Republic are disdained and mocked by pompous school districts who have no fear of recourse from small towns. Through the din and cries of acrimony and hardship from districts light on education and heavy on expenditure, the voice of the small community is but a whisper if heard at all.
After the vote to withdraw, comes the negotiations. Here the stall tactics, there the arm twisting until finally a town will pay whatever ransom to be free to try and repair its fragile infrastructure from the exorbitant price tag but spare product many public school districts are offering. One lawyer observed and characterized the withdrawal negotiation tactics of school districts as legalized extortion.
Some towns have deep enough pockets to pay the ransom money, but some little towns do not. This legislative session a bill was put forward to help give voice and leverage to towns that heretofore had been non-existent. LD 1336 provided that in the event withdrawal negotiations could not be completed in 180 days, the Education Dept. would provide mediation and should the impasse continue for another 90 days even with mediation, the negotiations would then go to binding mediation. This bill would have kept school districts from stalling and dragging negotiations on for years, causing unwarranted burdens to Maine’s rural communities.
The bill passed through committee unanimous, Ought To Pass. That means it enjoyed bi-partisan support. Most observers expected it’s passage through the chambers to be a mere formality and the common sense bill would become law, a welcome relief to struggling Maine towns.
Instead, Speaker Sarah Gideon allowed LD 1336 to languish in committee until the legislative agenda was near at end with little time left. Two days ago it was brought to the floor, a single protest was lodged from the floor, and Speaker Gideon killed the bill without allowing a vote. In one fell swoop the purpose of the Republic was desecrated, the voice of the small town silenced, their hope of leverage crushed, and the boot of the under performing abusive school districts was placed firmly on the necks of rural Maine.
The big money interests of public education matter more to Speaker Gideon than correcting a wrong that has too long been ignored. The towns of Maine pay the heavy price. In this travesty, silence is not golden but a brazen glaring example of a poverty of morals multiplied by willful ignorance beholden to special interest’s money.