In last week’s Lakes Region Weekly article concerning the process of uniting Windham and Raymond school systems, one of Windham’s representatives to the newly combined school board said, “There is a perception issue. I think there is some work we need to do as a board.”

Kate Loukas’ comments were a response to a trend that some say is starting to develop where things mostly go Windham’s way regarding consolidation. To recap, the first vote concerned who should run the district. The current Windham superintendent, Sandy Prince, won, although Raymond is protesting the way in which he was named the new superintendent.

The second problem, which is also unresolved, has to do with naming rights. Windham representatives want it called the Windham-Raymond School Department, while Raymond representatives, predictably, prefer the Raymond-Windham School Department. The vote taken last week was split according to which town the reps call home, with Windham’s view holding sway (for now) because Windham has more people on the board due to its larger population.

Because of these two conflicts, some Raymond representatives on the new board are feeling their voting power – and their interests in how the new school system will be managed – is getting swept under the rug. What a predicament of perception, to quote Loukas. It’s almost enough to get out the violins and start playing some sad, sorrowful, woe-is-Raymond dirge music.

But rather than feel their pain, I’m sure I’m not the only onlooker wanting to ask each of the new school board members from Raymond to instead buck up and start thinking about their constituents and the children who are witnessing their ironically childish behavior. Because if ever there was a time to put away petty argument, the time is now.

A couple years ago, at the genesis of the school merger proposal, Maine Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron, upon direction by Gov. John Baldacci, proposed mergers to save money. And Windham and Raymond – which, by the way, were once combined not too many years ago – were almost predestined to merge, since they are the perfect example of two districts that could easily combine and save taxpayers some money.

A couple long years later, here we are putting the final touches on combining the new district. Finally, the plan is coming to fruition and rather than reading about how much taxpayers are going to save, we get above-the-fold headlines in the local newspaper demonstrating how rifts are forming between our new school board representatives. These rifts are silly and Raymond folks should know better than to argue who should be superintendent and what the district should be called.

Windham has more than 15,000 full-time residents. Raymond has 4,500. Raymond doesn’t have a high school. The school population in Windham is massive compared to Raymond’s. Why would we choose Sandra Caldwell, who only has experience superintending two small schools, over Prince, who has done well overseeing one of the larger school systems in the state? Sure, as a taxpayer I’d prefer Caldwell’s $70,000 salary compared to Prince’s $120,000 a year. But in terms of experience and leadership, Prince is the clear choice, and Raymond reps ought to recognize that.

And speaking of what to call the district, everyone refers to everything around here as the Windham-Raymond such-and-such, or the Windham-Raymond so-and-so. You never hear Raymond-Windham. That’s just sounds weird. So, that’s what the district should be called, not because anyone’s better than anyone else, but because it jives with local custom.

And one final comment about Raymond’s purported inferiority complex. In terms of size, yes, it is smaller. But in terms of influence, let us not forget that Raymond is the year-round home of Commissioner Gendron, who is the architect of Maine’s school consolidation plan as well as Sandy Prince’s predecessor. I’m sure she, all by herself, is capable of making sure Raymond doesn’t get steamrolled by big, bad Windham.

And if Gendron isn’t enough, Raymond is filled with lots of level-headed, good ol’ Mainuhs that don’t care a lick about perception. They just want their kids to get a decent education at a price that doesn’t break the bank. And isn’t that the whole point of consolidating? Perhaps the new board members should have a little more faith in their constituents and a little more common sense. It’s not too late to start this new marriage off right.

John Balentine, of Windham, is a former editor of the Lakes Region Weekly.


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