Five-year comprehensive plan needed for Belfast-area schools

Ten years ago, Belfast and the surrounding towns had a top-notch educational system, which attracted positive attention throughout the state. Now, piece by piece, this wonderful system is becoming a skeleton, which serves the children and their towns, but seriously needs a jolt or revamping. We badly need an implementation of a strategic five-year comprehensive plan we all can understand to ensure accountable and effective educational goals are met. I am certain that the board is presently failing both the students and the taxpayers.

I envision the board reducing the expenses and reducing the number of employees in 2014, but I am almost positive this reduction will not have any long-term plan in mind. This needed plan would include using volunteers, giving the student more control and involvement, and asking all the teachers for their ideas. It would mean directing the superintendent to use these resources, and maybe including an independent consultant, to maximize our educational dollar over the next five years, with steps for each year. If we cannot use a consultant, could we request a small, hard-working public committee, appointed for 3 months, to make recommendations? We could advertise for people who are thorough and intelligent; then the board would select five members and two spares. How long would that motion take at our next meeting?

For myself, I am seriously going to listen to every articulate person on the board and in the public. I have been appointed by the board chair to be part of the negotiations team and I will request from both sides that we talk about educational effectiveness as well as salaries. I want to know what the teachers are willing to give back to the towns with their ideas of improvement.

I have also been appointed to the Withdrawal Committee representing Belfast. My focus will be more about creating a new educational system if Belfast withdraws and developing an actual concrete vision of what exactly that would look like. As we have seen, education is more than about spending money. It is about implementing programs which are effective. My vision would include more experiential hands-on education which would include city projects by the students. It would include increases of the vocational program with classes taught there, the greenhouse program, the BCOPE Program, and improvement of the special education program which takes around 32 percent of our budget. It would definitely include telling the state funders that we will be partners but will not be mandated to waste money. We will probably need to direct the superintendent to say "no" to the state at appropriate times. I really do not feel we have one effective legislator in the county who will work for us but we could find one who would run, answer an email, or even talk to a superintendent.

We have a school board election in Belfast and so far I have only heard Chris Hyke express a desire to question the management of the district and the manner in which we throw money for the benefit of children. Please public, we have increased our taxes by more than 10 percent each of the last two years, or more than 20 percent, and if you elect another board member who will just sit on their arms during meetings, make half of the meetings, never go to a school to investigate and wait for opportunities to state that they support spending more money without any sense of the effectiveness of that dollar spent, education will be worse.

When we have a debate of the candidates, can we ask questions about improving the system, improving how to make more effective use of the taxpayers money, and how to implement a five-year plan before education is dead in our town and before the state makes us a charter school or the Belfast City Council takes control and eliminates the board? Do we have a town who will listen to every view and every idea, instead of this constant "we" against "them"? Anyone who contributes to a new idea is a hero. Anyone who just applauds spending money is not. Let us just be nice to each other and see how that works for a change.

Alan Wood

Belfast

A public thank-you

As Superintendent of Schools of Regional School Unit 20, and on behalf of the students and staff in RSU 20, I would like to acknowledge receipt of a recent large donation to the Region from Athena Health of several lockers and clocks.

I want to publicly thank Athena Health and in particular Robert LesLauriers, head of facilities, for their generosity in donating these items to the Region. Be assured that the donated items will be used and appreciated very much by students and staff throughout the RSU 20 schools for many years to come.

Once again, thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Brian M. Carpenter

Superintendent of Schools

Don't let Maine become the only OTR state to opt out of anti-smog regulations

In mid-September Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection Bureau Of Air Quality held hearings to exempt Maine from anti-smog regulations. The DEP wants to limit Maine’s role in a 13 State Initiative — the Ozone Transport Region. The OTR was established in 1990. It is an amendment to the Clean Air Act and requires that the 13 northeastern states meet stricter emission standards to control pollutants that form ozone.

Once again, the LePage administration is putting corporate interests and their profits ahead of the health of Maine’s citizens. Marc Cone, Bureau Director of DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality claimed that it’s unfair to Maine’s industrial businesses to force them to comply with standards — through offset credit payments — which they are not violating. The LePage administration’s mantra of “open for business” must not diminish the quality of our air. Breathing clean air is a right for all people and must not be compromised!

There are thousands of adults and children in Maine who suffer from the deadly symptoms of asthma — a disease that is only managed by various medications. I suffer from asthma and sometimes need three to four inhales a day from medications that help me breath. The medications are powerful and have strong side effects. Sometimes the lack of air lowers my energy and interferes with my quality of life. Air pollution is a huge contributor to the symptoms of asthma. Any emissions to the environment that result from burning materials that have any amount of toxicity is a problem for people.

Public Health officials, American Lung Association personnel, and others testified at the public hearings stating that any changes the LePage administration wants to make to these anti-smog regulations is “short-sighted and could endanger the health of Maine residents and thousands of visitors.” Maine has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country and this proposal could lead to higher ozone levels and a rollback of antipollution regulations.

The provisions in the Clean Air Act have been working for more than 20 years and have made some positive difference to our air quality. Yet even with the improvements, air quality was worse in 2012 than in 2011 and not much improvement has been noted, so far, for 2013.

Unfortunately, because there was not much public notice about the hearings, many people did not know about them and the time period for public comment to the DEP and Environmental Protection Agency has expired. However, we can still let our voices be heard even if the official time for comments has passed. Contact these agencies and your legislators to let them know how lowering the smog regulations is not good for us. To date, no other state in the OTR has requested to opt out.

I strongly urge the EPA to deny the LePage administration’s request.

Phyllis Coelho

Belfast

In defense of coyotes

Last week's Journal article "Woman: dog had daytime 'run-in' with coyotes" extends the myth which nearly caused the extinction of the "big, bad" gray wolf in this country — that the only good wolf (or in this case, coyote) is a dead one. When we hear coyotes howl, or if we happen to see one, we're to assume that either our pets or perhaps we ourselves could be severely harmed, or even devoured by them. The woman's 15-year-old said he felt threatened, and his father had to drive over to rescue him. (A healthy coyote is afraid of people, unless it has been acclimated to humans by being fed — a mistake people make with many wildlife species.) Several years ago I was nearly run down by a rutting moose in N.H.'s White Mountains. Does that mean that all moose are to be killed, indiscriminately?

The bias which leads to justification for killing all coyotes was very evident in your article. Coyotes are normally shy, forced by the circumstances of their abuse to hunt at night. Their howls are often hunting behaviors, true, but they could be hunting rabbits or raccoons. Native Americans called them "song dogs" — in many Native American stories they are the tricksters, playful and smart, and the clever survivors of adversity. Coyotes are in fact admirable, loving parents forming tight family bonds. If managed carefully, choosing nonlethal means whenever possible, these animals will actually control their own numbers. A mature family in one area will chase out territorial interlopers. As hunters, coyotes cull weak animals, ones that might not survive anyway. They eat fruits and vegetables!  We laugh about bears at our bird feeders–why do we express horror at the howl of these wild canids?

Yes, they eat cats. So do foxes, eagles and even raccoons. But how many birds, squirrels, and other wildlife do roaming cats eat? I too have lost cats to coyotes. Cats are an introduced species and present a constant danger to wildlife. Unlike cats, coyotes have been in North America tens of thousands of years. Our Eastern coyotes got here in the 20th century because we had slaughtered all our native wolves.

It's open season on coyotes everywhere, all year, and hunting methods have often included unbelievably cruel practices. Hunting them constantly can actually cause coyotes to produce more young and occupy more niches. Unlike wolves which are more wilderness dependent, coyotes have survived their desecration.

We've lost so much touch with the natural world. Coyotes are a reminder that some wildness remains, even within the areas where the most frightening predators of all, human beings, now live.

Beverly T Roxby

Belfast

Believe In Belfast

Sure, the new harbor walk, shipyard, potential rail trail, art scene, fresh produce, vibrant downtown and numerous activities and events in Belfast give us bragging rights but what really makes Belfast a special place is its people. Last week while rushing to the post office before closing, I unknowingly dropped a bank deposit. After frantically searching my car and retracing my steps downtown, I returned to my office to further investigate the whereabouts of these documents. In complete desperation I decided to abandon my search and take some time to think. Just as I was about to leave again, a car drove up to my yard.

“Hi my name is Pam” the driver said, “I know you and I think you lost these papers.” She had picked them up at the post office and proceeded to tell me she had done the same in the past. What a relief, I thought, and how heartwarming to know people like Pam live in Belfast. As I reflected on this incident it made me more even more grateful to live in this community where people still care for each other. This is the Belfast I believe in.

Jim O’Connor

Belfast