Editorial — Cui bono?

Oct 09, 2012

After several months of meetings the Belfast Withdrawal Committee has come up with a rough draft plan to withdraw from Regional School Unit 20 and re-form School Administrative District 34 with the five other towns from the pre-consolidation district.

The plan presented by the Belfast committee at its Thursday, Oct. 4, meeting estimates that costs for operating a new district are on a par with the pre-consolidation budget. It estimates it could save a little more than $150,000 if the new district can combine its central office with what remains of RSU 20.

The committee estimated the cost of the new district by extracting operating costs for the former SAD 34 schools from the 2012-2013 budget for RSU 20. It estimated expenses relating to transportation, special education, technology and other areas by determining how those costs were allocated among the schools in the district.

The question that immediately springs to mind when reviewing this plan is: How is this different from the current configuration of RSU 20?

Right now RSU 20 is already divided between former SAD 34 towns and former SAD 56 towns. The students educated in those two groups of towns never attend the same school. They have their own elementary schools, middle schools and even high schools. They don't share a bus garage or a mascot, and aren't part of the same sports division. After two years of negotiations, the teachers are still working under two separate contracts.

The only thing they seem to share at this point is a central office, superintendent and school board.

So if the new plan is more or less the same as the current setup for the students — who would see no significant changes — and the taxpayers — who will likely pay around the same amount — who benefits from withdrawal?

First off, forming a new district would require a new school board of directors be formed, and the state requires that school board voting systems be weighted based on property tax assessments. This means that Belfast would go from controlling around 40 percent of the votes in RSU 20 to holding a majority of the votes in the new district.

This could be beneficial to the people of Belfast, but in the past — when SAD 34 still existed — the other towns complained that Belfast dominated the board.

The other group that clearly benefits from withdrawal are the former SAD 34 teachers. By withdrawing, the teachers would not have to come to an agreement over salary parity between Searsport and Belfast educators. For two years the two separate teachers' unions and the school unit have not been able to agree on a new contract that would work to bring the teachers in the former SAD 56 schools up to the compensation level of their counterparts in Belfast.

If there is no withdrawal, the Belfast teachers would not see their salaries decrease, but could be asked to pay more toward benefits and might not receive raises as generous or as often as they could under withdrawal, while the Searsport teachers' pay level was gradually raised.

In sum, from what we can see, the proposed withdrawal plan will do two things: Weight the school board more heavily in Belfast's favor and remove the requirement that Searsport teachers be paid on a par with their counterparts across the bay.

Ultimately, it is up to the state and the voters to approve or deny this plan. However, in our mind a withdrawal plan should do more to improve the system for the students and/or the taxpayers, rather than rigging the politics.

Come together

This week we reported about the formation of Friends of Penobscot Bay, a partnership that includes representation from the local tourism and fishing industries, as well as area environmental activists.

This partnership was forged based on a common interest — the overall health of the bay both now and into the future — and we think it's something we can all get behind.

After all, many of us who live here have some connection to the water. Whether the bay is essential to your profession or you just enjoy activities like sea kayaking or clamming, we can't think of a reason not to support the efforts of the newly created friends group.

We wish the Friends of Penobscot Bay luck in their endeavors, and look forward to seeing the results of their work in the years to come.

Comments (15)
Posted by: Debora Riley | Nov 05, 2012 15:18

Just for the record, I can't discuss why the RSU 20 Board of Directors didn't accomplish more in its first three years because it's a personnel matter, which is confidential by law. With the current board members and superintendent the BOD is moving forward in a positive manner.

Posted by: Debora Riley | Nov 05, 2012 15:18

Just for the record, I can't discuss why the RSU 20 Board of Directors didn't accomplish more in its first three years because it's a personnel matter, which is confidential by law. With the current board members and superintendent the BOD is moving forward in a positive manner.

Posted by: Debora Riley | Oct 18, 2012 16:10

The reality is the RSU isn't keeping the status quo. MSAD # 34 would've been the status quo. May I remind you the voters chose consolidation? No one is trying to take away voters' right to choose. I just would hope and my mission has been for the voters to have the facts on which to base a decision to withdraw or not withdraw rather than the misleading information and propaganda the early supporters of withdrawal perpetrated while circulating petitions for signatures to bring about a withdrawal vote, development of withdrawal committees, etc. It's been stated in public meetings it began as a teacher driven initiative. Now, it's become a citizen driven initiative because of the propaganda the citizens were presented with during this time. Some of the information may have been fact, but much was distorted to fit a small group of teachers', and now, a group of citizens' agenda to get out of the RSU at any cost to the taxpayers and the children.

Posted by: Debora Riley | Oct 16, 2012 16:11

Steve, let's talk about facts, since you state they're important to you. I am not Vice Chair of the RSU 20 Board of Directors. Gerry Reid, of Northport, is the current Board Vice Chair. He took on Vice Chair of the Board at the first school board meeting in July, just as Tony Bagley, of Searsport, then became Board Chair. So, if you're going to try to insult me at least get your facts straight.

For reasons I'd rather not get into in the press, the RSU 20 Board didn't accomplish all it wanted to over the past three years. Not for a lack of trying. Now. the RSU 20 Board is uniting and making positive gains. The RSU 20 Board has voiced being in favor of a plan to start a 3 year-old day care program and a Pre-K program at Stockton Springs Elementary School to better utilize the space in the building and fill needs of the community. It all hinges on whether withdrawal takes place.

It's no secret a select group of teachers are against standards based education and think withdrawal from the RSU and a reunification of the towns that comprised the former MSAD # 34 would prevent conversion to standards based education. In reality, standards based education is a State mandate, not anything the Board's responsible for causing or has any control over, regardless of what ideas are being pushed out there as if they were fact.I will never forget the statement you made at the Sept. 24, 2012 Belfast Withdrawal Committee's "non-meeting", when we weren't allowed to attend the meeting of the subcommittee devising the withdrawal plan. You said, "It's a chance for the new school system to write its own curriculum". Do you really think you can avoid standards based education by forming a new school system?

The RSU shares a common vision statement that was crafted jointly by educators, students, community members, and parents. Maybe you need to review it, as you're supposed be working towards fulfilling it as an RSU employee.

Posted by: Steven Hutchings | Oct 16, 2012 14:26

HI Deb:


I too feel sorry that you are so frustrated that even though you are the Vice- Chair of the Board you have to resort to name calling and getting personal. Perhaps you can take some solace in the fact that we think alike. I immediately did check the names of the editors and couldn’t believe any of those listed would write such foolishness. Doing further research I found that the list was outdated and the person who wrote the editorial wasn’t even listed.  I still think that if a person writes an opinion they should sign their name to it just like you and I are required to do.  It is just common courtesy to me.

So let’s get past the rhetoric and get to the facts.  What seems to be missing in all the discussions is the list of accomplishments that the RSU 20 Board has achieved in the last three years.  Seems a reasonable request to me. Since you are not only the Vice-chair of the Board but represent Northport, how about also doing some research detailing the difference between the average cost per pupil between the 6 towns and former SAD 56.  Perhaps you could also explain to the Northport taxpayers how much extra money they are contributing in 2012 to support the former SAD 56 students.

Rhetoric is too easy; let’s all of us do real research and be responsible to our taxpayers and parents. I personally would love to hear of all the positive ways that combining districts has benefited the 6 town taxpayers and students, I just don’t know any. I will always publicly be willing to confront rhetoric I disagree with concerning the 6 -town district. My challenge to you is to replace the rhetoric with facts and to answer the question: Are we as a school ( 6-town) culture better off now in 2012 after three years as an RSU then we were as SAD 34?  Why don’t the members of the Board that defend the RSU come up with a true list of accomplishments or better yet, if you can’t, join the citizens in designing an alternative plan that allow the voters and not the Board to decide on the design of a different  School System.  It is easy to attack those that want the voters to have a choice, it is harder to defend why you want to keep status quo.


Steve Hutchings


Posted by: Debora Riley | Oct 16, 2012 00:47

Well said, Mr. Wirth. I applaud you for the courage to speak up about the RSU in a positive way. We should look forward, not backward.

Posted by: Ray Wirth | Oct 15, 2012 20:20

What we share in common, we two formerly separate districts on opposite sides of the river, are children. More than a few of us teach one side and have children who attend school on the other.  Beyond that, many of us share a concern for the education and general welfare of young people that extends beyond the boundaries of the old #34 or the old #56.

What we share in common is a vision statement -- collaboratively crafted by students, teachers, parents, and community members from all over the RSU -- that integrates some of the best of what our various schools have to offer.  If you haven’t read it, you should.

What we share in common is a technical school, WCTC, that, given recent trends in state education, will be of increasing relevance to many Waldo County students in the coming years.

What we share in common is a history, albeit a short one, as union of schools and communities working for the benefit of young people.  To turn away from each other now seems backward and provincial.  Which story would you rather tell to a family considering moving to this area -- that, in the end, we could work together for the benefit of our children -- or that we couldn’t?

What we share in common is a future that is certain to be full of change, new challenges, and -- yes -- threats to education as we know it.  School choice, charter schools, and online charter schools have potential to weaken our schools by draining away students and tax dollars.

Benefits of sticking together begin with  the financial savings gained from having a single superintendent and central office.  Then there is the benefit of not having to paint that lettering on those school buses all over again.  Additional benefits include the wider array of facilities and opportunities that a combined union can offer its students.   Quality of instruction at schools can benefit as well, as the potential exists for staff from different schools to learn from each other while also maintaining the uniqueness of their separate programs.

Returning to “the way things were” just isn’t going to happen.  You can undo the union but you can't return to the past.  People who feel threatened by change might gain a little perspective by admitting the bigger threats to education as we know it are sure to come from outside Waldo County.  By working together, we as a combined union will have more options and resources -- and will be in a better position  to face the winds of change that are sure to come.

Posted by: Gene Newton | Oct 15, 2012 08:31

Congratulations Deb,  You never even used the word bully once and still got your point across.

Posted by: Debora Riley | Oct 14, 2012 20:30

I believe if anyone had done "their homework" it would be obvious the editor of the paper is listed in the paper where the contacts for the paper are listed. It's public information, so they don't need to personally sign THEIR editorial in THEIR paper. It's there plain as day. You continually attack those in the press and on-line you feel do not support your views on withdrawal from RSU 20. It might come as a shock to you there are other valid views out there, too.  Sorry you can't control everything, Mr. Hutchings.

P.S. It doesn't look good for a grown man and teacher to whine whenever his point of view is challenged.

Posted by: Debora Riley | Oct 14, 2012 20:13

I applaud you for an excellent editorial. You get it and are 100% on target. Despite what outspoken supporters of withdrawal from the RSU have stated repeatedly, it is they who have continually refused to let facts. logic, and research get in their way.

Posted by: Steven Hutchings | Oct 11, 2012 05:39

Dear Unnamed Editor:

Once again you cannot let facts, logic and research get in the way of your editorials regarding the withdrawal.

You refer to an early rough draft of a budget for a new 6- town district, had you called any of us or attended any meetings (we meet every week) we (the Combined Withdrawal Committee) believe there may be far greater savings, but initially we want to be as conservative as possible. Like the whole process, it is a work in progress with far reaching complex issues. Your conclusion that the only benefit would be to Belfast and SAD 34 teachers is a testimony to a very narrow point of view with no apparent knowledge of a bigger picture. Perhaps if you would come out from behind your desk and actually talk with the involved parties you would discover the far greater issues. The critiques of the withdrawal process never seem to point out any positive effects on former SAD 34 schools and students after joining the RSU and that is because there are few if any. There are many negative effects and possibilities and if you had taken the time to interview parents or other parties involved it might have been something you could legitimately discuss. You obviously have not done that.

In terms of towns and how they are represented, the plan for a 6 -town district would be no different than SAD 34 that existed for over 50 years. As an employee of that former district for over 20 years, I found it cutting edge with an atmosphere that promoted growth and improvement. The evidence for this could certainly be discussed if you care to do any research.

As a teacher I would like to share with you my thoughts concerning a contract versus your speculation.  We are in the third year of no contract (not the second) and I would love to sign a contract.  The Board has presented one proposal in three years that was rejected by 90% of the teachers including many from former SAD 56.  It is my sincere hope that the new superintendent, Mr. Carpenter, will help resolve this issue and we can sign a contract this year.  It is no one’s wish to wait for next year.  You illogic is an insult to the hundreds of people (600 in Belfast alone) that voted to withdraw and that have a desire to see an alternate plan which they can analyze and question and then vote on.

In the long history of your paper there have been many great editors. The best ones in my lifetime understood the issues of the region by leaving their office, walking the streets, living here as citizens and constantly interacting with the citizens of Waldo County. Although I sometimes disagreed with what they wrote, I trusted that they had felt the pulse, had been on the streets and had discussed the issues with countless characters. I do not feel or believe that you have done that.

By the way it really bugs me that you demand others to sign all letters and editorials (as they should), so come out from behind your desk, do some real research and sign your editorials, whoever you are.

Steve Hutchings



Posted by: Charles Hamm | Oct 10, 2012 16:27

Personally, I look forward to honoring the long standing relationship the former SAD 34 towns once found mutually beneficial. As chairperson of Searsmont's RSU20 Withdrawal Committee,  I thank Mike Hurley and Harold Richardson for their words of appreciation.

Posted by: Charles Hamm | Oct 10, 2012 16:27

Personally, I look forward to honoring the long standing relationship the former SAD 34 towns once found mutually beneficial. As chairperson of Searsmont's RSU20 Withdrawal Committee,  I thank Mike Hurley and Harold Richardson for their words of appreciation.

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Oct 10, 2012 14:24

I'll never have any kids in these schools, I'm just a taxpayer.  I think the City should have done a stand alone district and taken in the other towns' students by tuition only.  Then we would have controlled 100 % of the school board and 100% of our own destiny.  Maybe a change like that would have satisfied this newspaper?  If the smaller towns didn't like the way things were going, they would have the option of sending their kids some place else.  The budget would have been substantially the same and Belfast could make sure that we wouldn't be paying more than our fair share by raising tuition when needed.  It is a fairly common arrangement and I'm disappointed this option isn't on the table.  I will admit that I probably don't know what I'm talking about though and I do really appreciate and support all the hard work the Belfast team has done.     

Posted by: mike hurley | Oct 10, 2012 14:02

I can tell you why I supported the question of withdrawal at the referndum along with the vast majority of Belfast voters as well as all RSU 20 voters who have uniformly and by large majorities voted to withdraw. And why I continue to support a retuurn to SAD 34.  To your first point though: Belfast has proportionate board representation in Sad 34 or RSU 20 because we are the largest town in the district. It was always proportional and some always complained that Belfast had too much power. New York state has 29 representatives in Congress and Maine has 2 for the same reason. If population representation  works as a basis in the constitution I am good with that.  The union issue is of little concern to me though large for some. The reason I support withdrawal is that RSU 20 appears to be a failed experiment. It hasn't jelled from the start. They have not been able to work together. The attitudes have been sour and no savings were realized. So what is the point? At least SAD 34 seemed to be collegial most of the time. I thank the Belfast team that is pursuing the withdrawal as mandated by Belfast voters. Keep up the good work.

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