How much easier it would have been

16 years ago

To the editor:
With the rejection of the regional school unit (RSU) proposal for the southern Aroostook County area, (CSD 9, SAD 14, SAD 25, SAD 29 and SAD 70) I am reminded of a prediction made seven or eight years ago by David Wiggin, who was then the superintendent of schools for SAD 29.
    Mr. Wiggin called several meetings of the area’s school officials, including school board members, to discuss sharing services and cooperation among the different districts. As a reporter for the Bangor Daily News, I attended these sessions.
At the time what Mr. Wiggin was suggesting seemed to me to be a logical course to pursue in light of ever tightening budgets and continued limitations on funding from Augusta. After all, southern Aroostook school districts for decades had been cooperating in their mutual support for the Southern Aroostook Vocation Education program (SAVE), today known as Maine Applied Technology Region III. In addition, SAD 29 and SAD 70 in Hodgdon were in the process of cooperating to form a joint hockey team, the now very successful Houlton-Hodgdon Blackhawks.
The message was simple. According to Mr. Wiggin, school districts in the region needed to start talking more with each other about cooperating and sharing services before the state forced them too. Unfortunately, the message was lost as too many attendees at these meetings who took the message back to their respective towns that SAD 29, the largest school district in the region, was trying to gobble up the smaller ones.
What Mr. Wiggin had predicted has now come to pass and for towns in southern Aroostook County, the choice has boiled down to this: How much more money do you want to spend? The Tri-County RSU will cost most towns more money, especially Houlton, while decreasing the local control of smaller towns. To reject the RSU means an even greater loss: more than $4 million in withheld state funds over a seven year period.
I am not a supporter of the state’s RSU legislation. I don’t like the idea that local taxpayers are being blackmailed by the state, nor do I like the idea that there is no way to get out of an RSU, once it’s established. But the die has been cast and we must try again.
How much easier it would have been eight years ago if, when David Wiggin had suggested that we talk about cooperating and sharing, people had listened instead of looking for hidden motives. In this case, talk truly would have been cheap. The same cannot be said for an RSU.

Wayne Brown
Houlton