Can we learn anything here?

Bill Packard: Legislature could vote it made a mistake about school union mergers

Sun, 01/19/2014 - 2:45pm

I’ve got to weigh in on this school consolidation concept. Mostly, I just make fun of stuff and joke around, but this is the biggest mess that I’ve seen recently and it keeps getting bigger.

I’ve made some mistakes. I suspect you have, too. It’s safe to say that I’ve learned from all of mine because I admitted them as mistakes. It’s probably good to add right here that the biggest lessons I learned were from my biggest mistakes. John Maxwell says, “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.”

There’s a lot of press right now about Regional School Unit (RSU) 13 and the fact that the board can’t seem to get along. It’s a mess, for sure, and I have no idea what the outcome will be. What I do know is that the whole school consolidation thing was a huge mistake. If there is anything positive about the RSU 13 consolidation it is that the kids seem to be dealing with it better than the adults.

In the district I live in (RSU 40), we didn’t consolidate with anyone. Mostly because nobody wanted us, which was a blessing. Still, we could no longer be MSAD 40, we had to now be RSU 40. Probably only several thousand dollars went to relabel the buses, letterheads, and all the other stuff that went along with it. So even though nothing changed in the district we still spent more money and since nothing else changed, I doubt we saved anything by the consolidating that we didn’t do.

RSU 40 is a diverse district: The demographic in the coastal town of Friendship is worlds apart from the demographic of Washington. Union, Warren and Waldoboro all have their distinct demographics. Because we’ve been together a long time, our struggles are less dramatic than those newly thrown together; yet, the effect of an education system funded primarily by property tax creates inequities within our district all the time.

Here’s what I think went wrong with the whole consolidation thing: The people who made the decisions didn’t take anything other than geography into consideration. Because this town or district was close by that town or district, they needed to consolidate.

It will be good, they said. It will save money, they said.

They didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.

The towns had no options. The citizens got to vote, but they could only vote yes or no. Now the politicians can say, ‘Well, you voted for it.’

What options did we have? My representative at the time actually called me to ask what I thought of the whole thing and I said that rewarding districts that consolidated rather than penalizing those that didn’t was a good start. That was bantered around Augusta, but there was little interest. So the law was passed and all the lawmakers moved on to bigger and better issues. There was no discussion about, ‘what if this doesn’t work.’ Just pass a law and go vote on the next law. But all the expenses to try to make this thing work are the burden of the local property taxpayers. All the extra meetings, studies, changing of names, all those costs and still others are on the shoulders of the local taxpayers who didn’t want to consolidate in the first place. Can we learn anything here?

So towns all over the state are going through this costly, time-consuming process to try to leave RSUs and there has to be votes and majorities and all this BS. I think it would be refreshing and positive if the Legislature voted that it may have made a mistake. The politicians are sorry. It seemed like a good idea to them at the time, but it looks different now. No harm, no foul. You folks figure out how you want to educate your kids, let us know and we’re good with it.

You see, while selectmen and school board members are spending all their time on this, there’s still a ton of other important stuff that needs to get taken care of that’s not getting taken care of. If this school consolidation thing worked someplace, God bless ‘em. For the rest of us, give us an easy out and let’s move on.

P.S. Please don’t change the names again and make us spend more taxpayer money.


 Bill Packard lives in Union and is the founder of  He is a speaker, author, small business coach and consultant.