Letters, Aug. 15
Five reasons to vote no on RSU 20 withdrawal
1. Withdrawing, then re-forming with six of the eight towns, is simply an attempt to expel two towns (most likely forcing them to close their schools). I refuse to accept that the only way for us to gain control of our school district is to take away the schools and rights of our friends and neighbors.
2. The withdrawal effort is causing real harm right now. If we vote to start the process again, morale will suffer, we will risk losing our best faculty and staff, and desperately needed long-term educational improvement efforts will be stalled.
3. Withdrawal will not solve the dysfunction that we are seeing in school leadership. The former Belfast District had its share of dysfunctional school boards, financial mismanagement, flawed superintendents, and budget battles, as did SAD 56. Withdrawal is not the answer to the very real need to develop innovative, engaged and visionary school leadership.
4. The long-term financial outlook for a small district is not at all certain or optimistic. As the projected number of school-aged children continues to decline and the State’s financial situation remains uncertain, paying for education will continue to be a challenge.
5. Withdrawal will not prevent (and may even increase) the chances of your favorite local school being closed.
We need to deliver better outcomes for our students while making the most efficient use of limited taxpayer dollars. We face substantial challenges and cannot address them effectively while withdrawal efforts are underway. Say no to withdrawal and let’s focus our energies on creating the quality schools our children deserve.
Move forward with RSU 20
On Aug. 20 you will once again be asked to vote on the issue of disbanding RSU 20. I am writing this letter to ask you to vote no. I understand that the vote on Aug. 20 is not the final vote on the issue, but nevertheless, I believe that it is time to put this issue to rest.
Just so you know where I am coming from, here's a little history: I have worked for SAD 34 and RSU 20 for more than 25 years — 10 of those years as an elementary school teacher. My last three years I worked for RSU 20 as an English Language Learner teacher. As an employee of RSU 20 I moved throughout the region working with students from many countries who were facing the daunting task of learning English and attending school at the same time.
As I traveled throughout RSU 20, I found myself observing first hand how this new district was working. Frankly, when the two districts, SAD 34 and SAD 56, were required to merge, I was not pleased. The plans that were suggested to the public that involved wholesale changes to the schools did not make any sense to me, and thankfully these plans were dropped. What I did discover was that there were many ways in which the new region was serving students very well. The technology department impressed me from the beginning with its high level of expertise and commitment to communicating with all the teachers. The same was true for Special Education. Programs in both former districts are now available to all the students in RSU 20.
There are, of course, many challenges facing RSU 20, but I strongly believe that we need to move forward, continue to build on our successes and resolve our challenges. There are too many negative consequences for the former SAD 56 if we disband RSU 20. We have come this far together and I believe that we will be better off in the long run if we move forward, instead of trying to turn back the clock.
One last thought before I close. We need to become active participants on the state and federal levels when it comes to the funding of our public schools. There are funding sources to finance public schools. We need the political will and the organizational energy to make sure that the state meets its funding commitment for public schools.
Please vote no on Aug. 20.
Vote against withdrawal
I am concerned about the renewed effort to dissolve Regional School Unit 20, which currently includes Belfast and seven neighboring towns. A vote last June 11 failed to achieve sufficient turnout to effect withdrawal by the municipalities involved. Now proponents of withdrawal want a rematch at the polls in hopes of more favorable numbers.
All of the municipalities in RSU 20 face grave uncertainties. Some towns fear losing their elementary schools. Parents of middle schoolers are concerned about extended bus routes. All schools are in need of effective leadership to respond to changing state and federal mandates as well as local priorities. Taxpayers in every town are concerned about rising property taxes. These anxieties are all well-founded, but withdrawing from RSU 20 will not in itself answer any of them. Withdrawing offers no guarantees of anything. Withdrawing from the RSU is simply dissolving it — tearing down the house to start all over.
There are good reasons to maintain the RSU. When district consolidations were initiated statewide under the previous governor, the prime objective was achieving economies of scale. For RSU 20 there are two sides to this — near-term and longer-term. Near-term, one school administration is simply cheaper than two — even if augmented to serve a larger school population. In the longer term, needs of a consolidated unit are more likely to be answered in any state budgeting process. Smaller units risk being overlooked or ignored.
Economies of scale can also be realized in the classroom. Larger middle- and high-school enrollments allow greater variety and depth of offerings. Should foreign languages be available? How many? Do we want specialized math and science courses? Regardless of the grading system and other administrative methods used, comparable opportunities exist for every school department and program.
The withdrawal effort fails to answer our towns' and schools' real needs and is likely to add to their problems. The benefits of consolidation cannot be achieved immediately, and it is folly to expect as much. Without question, withdrawal would put Searsport and Stockton Springs in a difficult position now that Frankfort has joined another RSU. Both communities have much to contribute in terms of personnel and resources, and I would hate to see them suffer because of unwarranted misconceptions.
I urge residents of Belfast and neighboring communities to vote against withdrawal from RSU 20.
Performance groups soldier on with inadequate facilities
Until the City of Belfast is able to realize the Vitality Reports suggestion of a top priority for a performing arts facility, the several performing groups have to continue to perform in inadequate spaces such as street corners, school gymnasiums (would anyone expect the basketball team to pay in the theater?) school cafeterias and church basements. This poses a myriad of problems and is discouraging for the many performing artists and groups in Belfast. But we solider on, performing marvelous productions in unaccommodating sites. I wonder at times if our resilience and adaptability isn't our worst enemy!
One of the problems Maskers/Cold Comfort had this week would seem to be a good thing, being sold out both nights. However, we hate to turn anyone away, but we have to abide by the fire requirements and the rules agreed upon by the renter and rentee. As all tickets are sold at the door and the seating is first come, first served, we strongly suggest that you come as soon as the box office opens and not wait until the last minute and be disappointed by not being able to be seated.
I also must mention the number of people who asked what the status of an arts center is. I certainly don't know the answer to that, but I do want to point out the great interest in seeing that happen and encourage all those that feel this way to express the same to the City Council. Such a site for performance would be yet another great addition to our beautiful and vibrant city.
Aynne Ames, Artistic Director
Cold Comfort Theater
Lucky, your readers, find poetry elevated to an "Opinion" column with other valued ideas and with local poets shown respect alongside the famous.
Thanks especially to Belfast's laureate, Ellen Sander, for her Poet's Corner with the makings of a collection the way our grandparents clipped and pasted poems from the paper over used ledgers and such.
Mine, Hattie Dunbar, who kept house for years for a Belfast jeweler, would have been so proud to find my "Catch of the Day."
Patricia Smith Ranzoni