Consolidation: A missed opportunity

13 years ago

To the editor:
    I feel like Houlton missed an opportunity by the MSAD 29 school board deciding not to consolidate and form some kind of union with MSAD 70. This page in the Houlton Pioneer Times is for the opinions of the citizens of Maine, and I have an opinion on this subject if you care to read it or respond to it, I would love to hear what others have to say in this matter.
    I too, was on the committee to consolidate with the other districts from the beginning. First as a parent, and as a representative of a small town south of Houlton, and as a representative of MSAD 70 and last but not least, a citizen of the so called Greater Houlton Area. And in my opinion as a committee member, it did not make sense to combine the districts of the whole southern Aroostook area. But I recently stood up in front of the school board at MSAD 70 and made the statement along with other local officials, that we have always belonged to the Greater Houlton Area and have always supported the area. The statement was made that we have buses that travel right through Houlton on the way to Hodgdon schools, and that we should only be looking to form an alliance with Houlton, and not looking to Southern Aroostook or Katahdin or even the East Grand districts. I mean no disrespect to any of these districts, because we are part of the Houlton area and always have been, and to come together as one school has been talked about for years, I would like to formerly retract that statement, and I will begin to explain my frustration.
    One of the teachers on the consolidation committee asked the question as to why they, meaning MSAD 29, should help us. It was not their problem that we were bad business people at MSAD 70. Well, the fact being, we are debt free, and the biggest factors hurting our district right now are the shear numbers of enrolled students. If you understand the EPS model of the state of Maine, student enrollment is a big factor in the way the state disburses funds to each district, Unfortunately for MSAD 70, our enrollment is down and we do not receive the funds needed to cover the costs of education, so who pays the rest? You guessed it, the taxpayers of the district.
    That’s one reason to help us. Another is the fact that because we have not consolidated with another district, MSAD 70 is being penalized $93,000 this year and is looking at $100,000-plus, for the next fiscal year. Now, if I’m part of the Houlton business district, a couple hundred thousand dollars not coming into the area would be a huge reason to help us. Sure, these penalties will go into a pot and be divided to the districts who have complied with the new consolidation law, this has yet to be calculated as to how much, if any, MSAD 29 might receive.
    Hey, MSAD 29, we never were in denial that in joining forces with a great school like what you have would benefit MSAD 70 more than it would benefit MSAD 29, and we were not in denial that a consolidation would no doubt, cost your district, and maybe looking back, and this is not my idea, but in a conversation with another official, maybe we should have offered something monetarily, and I hope I don’t hear, well if you would have offered that then maybe we could have “got it done”, because we don’t feel you ever had any intentions of helping us. Anyway, we were all in agreement, that the education of the children of the two districts was the main factor, as well it should have been through this whole process. But in my opinion you pretty much told us that the education of the Lesser Houlton Area as we will now call it, was not as important.
    To Sen. Roger Sherman and our Rep. Richard Cleary, pass the word along in Augusta that by the Baldacci Administration and Susan Gendron and the Education Commission allowing MSAD 29 to obtain Stand Alone status, even though it didn’t meet the criteria of the law, has further isolated the other districts. Also let them know in Augusta, that in our opinion in The County, the penalties imposed, may help the bottom line of the state budget, (which is another matter all together), but it does nothing more than to further burden the taxpayers of Maine, and more importantly, it penalizes the students of Maine in a time when the country is already falling behind the rest of the world. One word, idiocracy! Your numbers are declining too, MSAD 29, you don’t need us now, but someday soon you will need someone as well — Woodstock, maybe?
    Other than the fact that programs will be cut, and possibly jobs will be lost as a result of the penalties, and this loss of revenue should concern the business district of Houlton, and be it known that a lot of people in the Lesser Houlton Area spend their paychecks in Houlton each week. Personally, I have been spending mine there since I was old enough to earn one. But now I am going to think twice before I spend it in Houlton, I have always been a supporter of our area, but truthfully after we asked for your help and being turned down because it might damage your Stand Alone status, then don’t put anything extra on the shelves for me for Christmas, I’ll be shopping elsewhere. I don’t know about everyone else in the Lesser Houlton Area, but I have a sudden desire to go to Bangor!
    Houlton, in my opinion, you missed an opportunity to let us know that when we of the Lesser Houlton Area spend our thousands of dollars each week from our pay to support your city, you appreciate it. When you ask a customer to take their business elsewhere, they probably will. It was time to unite and become one, and what a force we could have been. But instead you choose to Stand Alone!
Tim McGary
Cary Plantation