Somewhere in the handbook for members of the Brunswick School Board, there should be a warning that goes like this:

When dealing with seemingly mundane items, e.g. the selection of a school mascot, it’s always advisable to consider the desires of the students. Failure to do so can foster resentment throughout the community and cause severe headaches for the board.

Ladies and gentlemen in the court of public opinion, I present for your consideration the case of “chickadee vs. dragonfly.” Also known as the democracy lesson that backfired. Badly.

“I don’t remember getting as many emails on a particular subject over the last 12 years,” a weary-sounding Brunswick school Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

It all started last month at the Robert P. T. Coffin School, home to kindergarten and first grade for the entire town of Brunswick. Come September, the tired old building will close and classes will be moved to the new Kate Furbush Elementary School, named for the 19th century botanist who grew up in Brunswick. More on Kate in a minute.

As they began preparations for the big move, educators at Coffin School saw a teachable moment if ever there was one: With the new facility would come the need for a new school mascot. So, why not hold an election and let the 400-plus kids at Coffin choose the mascot themselves?

Nominations were solicited from the community. Then the faculty and staff at Coffin held a “primary” election and narrowed it down to three finalists: a chickadee, a honeybee and a dragonfly.

Personally, that last one stopped me cold. I can still remember hearing as a kid that if you let a dragonfly get too close it’ll sew your lips together so tight you’ll never speak again. Which probably explains why, to this day, the little buggers still scare me half to death.

But I digress. On Dec. 20 the kids held their election, complete with absentee ballots and stickers heralding each child’s first toe-dip into the democratic process.

The chickadee won. By a landslide. Until it didn’t.

At the Jan. 8 school board meeting, Tyler Patterson, a high school student liaison to the board, reported the results. “The students’ voices have been heard with an overwhelming majority,” he informed the board. “The mascot will be the chickadee.”

Enter board member William “Billy” Thompson, himself an alumnus of Coffin School.

“I would still prefer if we went with the dragonfly,” Thompson said. “I understand they voted. I would like us to move in a direction where we are unifying the mascots from the high school down.”

The Brunswick High School mascot, you see, is a dragon. The dragonflies grow up to become dragons. Get it? No? Try harder.

Last week, at a meeting attended by only five of the board’s nine members, the chickadee was officially shot down. By a 4-1 vote – sorry, kids – the board went with the dragonfly.

For the record, this mascot consolidation thing has been going on for a while in Brunswick. Apparently, proponents think the use of multiple unrelated mascots at multiple levels of the local school system represent a slippery slope toward anarchy.

Still, what about the kids? Not to mention their irate parents?

“This was my daughter’s first experience with voting, which she wholeheartedly enjoyed, and I feel frustrated that she will walk away feeling as though her voice wasn’t heard,” wrote one of many parents who took to Facebook.

Board Chairman James Grant did not attend last week’s meeting. But in an interview Wednesday he made it clear that the board wasn’t out to offend anyone. “It’s my understanding that the board members that voted the way they did felt that this was not a big deal, that they were trying to align the mascots across the district,” he said.

Now it is a big deal – at least for parents trying to explain to their kids how and why their votes no longer count. (I wonder if members of the Electoral College have days like this.) In fact, it’s so big a deal that the board will hold a special meeting today at 5:30 p.m. for, as the agenda puts it, “discussion and possible action concerning the feedback received on the Kate Furbish Elementary School mascot.”

“I’ve asked the superintendent to provide the board with information on what was the process that was conducted in the school, how was it tied into the curriculum, what were the children told about the mascot, what was the intent,” Grant said.

Perzanoski said he’s preparing to do just that. At the same time, he said, he’ll gently refresh the memories of board members who now say the first they heard of the student election was after the fact on Jan. 8.

“Let me put it to you this way,” Perzanowski said. “They might not have remembered that they’ve had other reports by the student liaisons because they have an awful lot on their plates. (But) there were other times during the fall … that the two liaisons did talk about the election.”

So, as usual, it comes down to those two age-old questions for elected officials who suddenly find themselves on the hot seat: What did they know? And when did they know it?

My guess is that the board will come to Thursday’s meeting in full backpedal mode. The lip-sewing little dragonfly will be sent packing. The chickadee, loved by all Mainers, will be put back on its rightful perch.

But just in case things hit a snag, I have a compromise candidate for the new school’s mascot. Which brings us back to its namesake, Kate Furbush.

From her earliest childhood days in Brunswick, Furbush loved Maine’s many native plants. Over her lifetime, she drew and painted many of them for museums and universities the world over – her most notable being the Furbish lousewort, a lonely herb she found growing along northernmost Maine’s St. John River that appears nowhere else on the planet.

Sound familiar? That may be because the endangered Furbish lousewort was primarily responsible for halting the proposed Dickey-Lincoln hydroelectric project in the 1980s – if not for the little plant, much of the upper Saint John River Valley would be underwater today.

So, should today’s meeting end in a rancorous stalemate, I have but two words for those who wonder if it’s time to start over with the search for the Kate Furbush Elementary School’s official mascot.

Go Louseworts!

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