Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Here's one decision I've made

Yesterday turned out to be a pretty nice day. Gator Wife and I went for a ride looking for some fresh vegetables and the temperature thingy in my car said it was 76 degrees outside the car. When I got home, my own gauge said it was 76, too, but the NWS reading was only 74. But the sun was shining brightly and the air was nice.

We didn’t find any fresh vegetables we wanted.

Today doesn’t look to be quite so nice. We may have some sunshine off and on but clouds will be there, too, along with some showers, possibly rain. The temperatures will be down, also. And we’re in for a couple days of unsettled weather.

I’ll be heading to South Portland this morning for the first of my two visits to the senior fitness place. I got a message yesterday from my Fearless Friend that I was sending a mixed message about the old stationary bike I’ve put into service at home to supplement the spiffy pro model I use during my session. I’m not planning on getting a more modern one, but I will pay some attention to comparing the two. Now, FF, does that further muddy the waters?

I believe we all have only five more weeks to make decisions on the upcoming citizen initiatives and other state issues that will appear on the state portion of the ballot. We also have to learn about what’s on the town’s portion of the ballot for consideration. Discussion of the items on the town’s portion has been very light, but that will change as Election Day approaches.

One of the items on the state ballot is a citizen’s initiative to repeal a state law passed a year ago and already in effect. It is the mandated school consolidation law.

The Legislature under the direction of Gov. Baldacci ordered Maine’s numerous individual school districts into about 80 consolidated districts. The idea of the plan was to cut the cost of education by combining services. It looked like a good idea, on paper. In reality it has brought some mixed results.

The size of the new units was determined by population which meant some of the then existing school systems didn’t need to consolidate. There were some other considerations that allowed a district to remain autonomous, as well. My town didn’t need to change. Therein lies my problem. Like a lot of people, especially in the Greater Portland area, the new law didn’t affect me. That will cause those same “lot of people” not to care how they vote or even if they vote in November.

That reminds me of that old story about apathy. It goes something like this: My neighbor was old and when they came after him, I did nothing. Another neighbor was very rich, and again I did nothing when they came after him. Slowly, everyone around me was gone, but I did nothing. And now they’re coming after me. And there’s no one left to do anything.

For those who want to criticize me for my general picks, I’ve heard the story in many different contexts, including religious, racial, ideological, and others. They all end the same way.

So, I will take my vote seriously, as I take all ballot questions seriously, when I cast my ballot. Generally speaking, the success of the forced consolidation depends on where the school districts are in the state. We have read of some great savings in some places and some even spending in others. Then there are those towns where property taxes will rise considerably, one place I saw was 25%, all because the state said some successful communities had to pay for some less than successful ones.

And there’s the rub. No city or town should be placed in such a situation and they don’t have to be. The cities of Portland, South Portland, and Westbrook, all of which didn’t need to consolidate, have begun cooperative efforts to find ways to share programs and purchasing and other considerations, to save money. They weren’t required to cooperate, but found a way to begin talks on cooperation. And without a state mandate.

That makes me wonder if a different approach couldn’t have been accomplished by the state without the threats, the little time for discussion, the honesty of how the forced consolidation would affect the various cities and towns.

Logic tells me, and I recognize the state doesn’t operate with logic, that if the law is repealed, those districts which are finding success could continue if they so chose, but without the threats and intimidation that brought them about. Perhaps they’d be even more successful. And it would give those districts now being punished with much higher property taxes a chance to regroup, perhaps try a cooperative effort to save money as Portland, South Portland, and Westbrook are working on, and get some relief.

I think any law that is punitive to even some of the state’s residents who otherwise would be law-abiding, is a bad law. And in these tough economic times, if it’s costing the residents more money than they normally would have to spend, it’s even worse.

I’ll give them a chance to go back to the drawing boards and try again and vote “Yes” on the repeal question. I’ll feel equally as badly for people forced into the consolidation and have already begun spending the money. It was a creation by the state and if the repeal prevails, I’ll hope the state steps in to help those districts.


No comments: