Maine’s school consolidation law is becoming rather obscure, confusing, and messy. Our governor Baldacci and the state’s Department of Education want to consolidate nearly 275 individual school systems into just 80. Actually, the governor wanted fewer but the Legislature made it 80 when it hastily passed the law last June. I say “hastily” because it was a last minute law passed with little or no public input nor input from the affected existing systems.
It’s becoming apparent, at least to me, that the law must temporarily at the very least be put on hold. The rules are already being considered for change, and none of the consolidation has yet taken place.
By the December deadline, all but one, I think it was one but have forgotten which that one was, new group had submitted their consolidation plans. One legislator in a recent hearing said the groups only tentatively joined because they were under the gun. There will be a financial penalty for districts which do not consolidate.
One of the rules is now being seriously considered for a change. A provision of the law was that each new district put its budget out for a public vote. I should point out that some of the state’s current SAD’s (School Administrative Districts) already have the public vote, but those SAD’s don’t necessarily constitute the new consolidated districts. But now, because of immense pressure from current districts and because of many inequities among the suggested consolidators, the Legislature is considering giving the new consolidated districts the option of putting off that vote until next year.
Several newly formed districts have also cancelled their plans to continue, at least until all the rules have been considered. There have been two or three that have flatly ended their efforts entirely to consolidate. Many are saying it is becoming very apparent that this consolidation effort will not only not bring any tax relief, a goal in the beginning, but also will bring great tax increases to many current districts.
As I read through this, my first thoughts are I’ve written one of the most confusing pieces I’ve written here since I started. I would defend that observation, however, with what I believe was a poorly written confusing consolidation law in the first place. These problems are only the beginning. The law should be put on hold, if not repealed entirely, until reasonable people can sit down and reasonably plan a consolidation plan that will indeed bring tax relief without damaging education in Maine. With many changes, that would be a goal that might be reached.
Note: Tomorrow is Sunday and I plan to take Sundays off.