In Augusta, Deja Vu all over again


It’s beginning to look a lot like last year in the halls of the Statehouse as legislators wrestle with various amendments to the controversial school district reorganization law. Observers of the development and passage of the law last Session will see the similarities immediately.
Last year, The Education Committee was unable to come to any kind of consensus on a consolidation plan and thus put forward a whole series of underwhelming proposals. As a reward for its work, the committee then had the consolidation bill taken out of its hands and turned over to a subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. This group developed its own plan, which was then handed over to the legislative leadership. The leadership proceeded to rework the bill in back offices until the final plan, which has been almost universally regarded as irreparably flawed, was put out for vote of the entire legislature. Strangely, it passed.
Now, a year later, this same legislature is racing to fix the troubled law, and history seems to be repeating itself. The Education Committee was again given the task of reworking the law, and has so far put forward two versions of one bill, LD 1932, and is developing two other bills to mend the law as well. Not content with either version of LD 1932, Education Committee member and Senate Majority Leader Libby Mitchell put forward yet a third version of the bill, and on Tuesday succeeded in attaching it to the version of LD 1932 supported by the majority of the Committee.
In the process of the bill’s passage in the Senate, though, opponents began finding problems with it, sending supporters into back offices to rework it once more. In the meantime, the Education Commissioner and her staff materialized in the hallways on Thursday looking to turn Senators against the Mitchell amendment, which the Administration opposes.
The bill hasn’t even made it to the House of Representatives yet, where more proposed amendments no doubt await it. 18 amendments to the original LD 1932 have been drafted already.
Blame for this mess could be spread far and wide, but a good part of it has to be that from the start, nobody involved in this process, from the Governor to the Education Department to the legislative leadership, has been able to develop either a cohesive vision of what a world of large regional school districts would look like, or a compelling case that such a world would be better for Maine schools and students than what we have today. In the absence of such a driving vision, the entire process is now mired in election-year politics, making it likely that the end result will be little more pleasing to the people of Maine than what this same troubled process produced a year ago.
To top it all off, the legislature has next week off, meaning that school and community leaders across Maine will have to wait yet another week to see what, of anything, the legislature will do next.