State funding is not fair, but voting down the SAD 4 budget is not the right response

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To the Editor;
Remember last year’s school budget? State funds were cut by more than $200,000, and it took four trips to the polls to pass a budget for our schools? Each scheduled vote cost the towns hundreds of dollars to open the polls, adding up to thousands of dollars across the district. It was lose-lose; the kids wondered if they would have a teacher or a coach, and the towns added to their yearly expenses.

A budget did finally pass in November, but in February SAD 4 was cut by $750,000 in state funding for 2017-18. Declining enrollment is partially the reason for this drastic reduction, but the state funding formula seems to penalize our district for its tax base; we have two operating mills, whereas surrounding local districts have no comparable industrial tax base. Compare SAD 4’s state funding of about 40 percent, while (RSU 68 in Dover-Foxcroft) received more than 50 percent of their budget from the state. Dexter (SAD 46) received over 70 percent. It is not fair, but voting down our school budget is not the right response. We can’t punish our students and staff for a state formula. We need to actively contact our state legislators, and let the governor know that if the state is finally funding schools at the mandated 55 percent, then even SAD 4 students should receive that level of support. It’s not like we’re offering the “frills” that other districts fund. Our students do not receive foreign language in the middle school, nor is it offered for all four years of high school. We are a small school, and our budget of just under $7 million is in line with the approximate $8 million proposed in Milo (SAD 41), or the $10 million spent in Dover-Foxcroft. Compare PCHS to another Class C high school — Dexter — where voters have approved almost $14 million.

Despite the unfairness of this budget, our teachers and staff have proven their dedication to the students. A science teacher took on additional preps to help students earn credits needed to graduate. Foreign languages were still offered, despite the position being cut to part-time. Three teachers were nominated as Teacher of the Year. A new nature trail and outdoor classroom now connect the two school buildings on campus. Middle school teachers relocated to PCES, and many grade levels are now applying multi-age or looping strategies to be flexible in meeting the needs of our students. All this makes me hopeful that current vacancies can be filled by more high-quality educators; our students deserve as much. The kids should not be blamed for a struggling economy. The voters in the district need to make the long-term investment in SAD 4, which will attract and retain the talent that allows small schools to thrive.

Just as the faculty has rallied to meet the needs of our students, the board has acted on all the input they had received from voters. They have pursued consolidation; currently, SAD 4 and SAD 46 are in the second phase of a state process to pursue a comprehensive high school for grades 9-16. Meetings have been held to discuss sharing admin between the districts. The superintendent’s office has returned to the campus, saving thousands of dollars in rent. Administrative positions have been reduced, with both an interim superintendent and a business director working reduced hours. The teachers, administration, and school board deserve our support and thanks for delivering a quality education to our kids on a very limited budget.

Please attend the district budget meeting on Thursday, Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. in the PCES cafeteria for more information. The state shutdown ended with a budget that offered our district an additional $200,000. Other area schools received more, and it is not enough, but it will reduce the dollar amount voters see on Tuesday, Aug. 29. Increasing voter turnout is the best way to show support for our students and schools. Even if consolidation is an option in the future, we cannot fail to fund our students this year.

Thank you.

Sue Griffith

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