School officials have recently announced the proposal to construct two new schools in the Midcoast area. Camden/Rockport (SAD28) has reintroduced the concept of a new middle school and the Mid-Coast School of Technology has announced plans to construct a new building at their present location in Rockland.

The original proposal for a new middle school for Camden/Rockport was decisively defeated by the voters just a little over one year ago. At a school board meeting that was held after the vote, there was discussion by the board members about why they felt the proposal had been defeated. The consensus of the board was that the voters just did not understand the need for the new school and the board had not done an effective job of educating them. The voters understood perfectly well that paying the substantial debt on three schools at the same time was more than they could afford.

Has anything changed in the past year that would cause the voters in Camden/Rockport to change their thinking? The school administration is offering some ideas that merit consideration. With a ballot measure projected for November 2017 and a tax impact of 2018 or 2019 there will be significant reduced time for the concurrent debt repayment of three schools. The administration projects that there will be a four year overlap before a significant amount of the current debt is retired and will be trying to use capital improvement funds to offset some of that overlap. The school board is also committing to holding the operating budget to minimal increases and even projects a decrease for the upcoming year. A less aggressive building project could also reduce the exposure if the effort just includes the new school and does not attempt to salvage part of the old building for something that seems nothing more than sentimentalism. Voters need to exercise patience and give the school board and the administration time to present a plan that would be acceptable.

The proposed construction of a new building for the Mid-Coast School of Technology (MCST) is also something that deserves serious consideration. Many of our children are graduating high school with skills that are not marketable and do not provide the ability to earn a decent wage. Too many children are going off to college with no clear direction for their future, dropping out after a year or two, and once again enter the work force with no skill or prospect of a decent job. The MCST is currently hindered for space to accommodate additional vocational programs (plumbing and electrical) and with conflict (noise and visual distraction) between differing programs.

The approval of this project will also add to the tax burden upon the communities that are a part of the MCST program. Camden/Rockport as a part of the Five Town CSD could be impacted by two new school taxes at roughly the same time period and this presents a very real problem. Currently the formula for allocating the share of tax burden among school district participants is based upon the total enrollment of high school students in each of the districts with no regard to how many students that district actually sends to the MCST. Under this arrangement Five Town CSD pays an inordinate share of the costs of the MCST as we have a higher enrollment but send disproportionately fewer students into the program. There needs to be a solution to this problem. It would seem to be perfectly reasonable that each district support the MCST to the extent that they have students in the program. The Five Town CSD should be actively working to find a way to accomplish this change in formulation. It might be worth considering that any support of the new building have a precondition that there be a renegotiation of the formula used for allocating costs.

Two new schools in the same time frame is a serious consideration. The Camden/Rockport administration and school board has advocated that even the older voters with no children in the schools want a vibrant community that is usually associated with good schools. However, we must be careful that this vibrant community does not force the fixed income taxpayers out of their towns. As voters we must be careful that educational needs be balanced with the tax burden that is associated with these buildings.


Another View, a Maine Press Association award-winning column, is written on a rotating basis by a member of a group of Midcoast citizens that meet to discuss issues they think are of public interest.

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