BDN Op-ed: Best way to keep local school may be to close it


The Bangor Daily News was kind enough to publish an op-ed today on the school reform idea that is the subject of my new Maine View report “Saving our Small Schools: Is Privatization an Option.”

Best way to keep local school may be to close it
by Stephen Bowen
Saturday, September 01, 2007 – Bangor Daily News
Aug. 31 marked the first deadline in the state-mandated process for consolidating Maine’s many school districts into larger, regional ones. Districts were to submit “letters of intent” to the Department of Education by that date identifying potential partners for district consolidation. While there were reports of resistance, predominantly in rural areas, the department reported widespread compliance with the new law, despite findings by many districts that consolidation would be a big and costly mistake.
Acquiescence by local districts in a process that ultimately results in their dissolution should come as no surprise. The new consolidation law contains brutal financial penalties for districts that fail to cooperate.
Local school boards, therefore, have few options before them. They can comply with the law, and give up local decision-making, oversight, and even ownership of their local schools, or they can go to voters and ask for a property tax hike to cover the loss of state funding that comes as a consequence of defying the law.
Or they could close their school, which, as unbelievable as it sounds, may be the best option available.
About a decade ago, the passage of a divisive school funding law in Vermont led one town there, Winhall, to undertake a novel act of civil disobedience. Fighting to hold on to its local school amid pressure to consolidate, the town replaced its public school with a community-created private one located in the same building. The town arranged to have its children tuitioned to the new private school under the state’s town tuitioning law, and students returned to school that fall hardly noticing that in their summer-long absence it had been converted from public to private.
What did Winhall gain from this? Independence. Like all private schools, the new Winhall school became free to run its own educational programs without the incessant state and federal meddling that so bedevils public schools. They also preserved local control, in the form of a community board of trustees, rather than join a much larger consolidated school district as Maine communities are being forced to do today.
Can it be done here? In a new report for Maine Heritage Policy Center, I suggest that it might just be possible.
Reads the rest here