Commentary

Question 2 Doesn’t Address the High Cost of Education in Maine

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One of the arguments we continue to hear against Questions 2 is that we all want Maine schools to be adequately funded, but this law isn’t the right way. That statement in itself implies that Maine schools are not adequately funded at their current levels.

While this may be true in a few rare instances, by and large the insinuation could not be farther from the truth.

When we take a close look at Question 2, “An Act to Establish The Fund to Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education,” we find that the law has little to do with advancing anything other than the tax burden on Maine families, small business owners and the salary budgets of your local school district.

Question 2 was written by the teachers’ union. In fact, the MEA paid out $25 gift cards for every 100 signatures their paid “volunteers” gathered. One has to wonder if the teachers who just went back to school and are paying out of pocket for underfunded classroom supplies feel that was a good use of union cash.

Despite reading to the voters as creating a “state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education,” the fine print show that the funds from the new enormous tax increase cannot be used by local districts to address failing infrastructure or other serious needs.

By usurping local control and increasing taxes, Question 2 will be devastating to Maine communities.

Here in Waterville, like many other communities in Maine, we have spent the last few years working to rebound from decades of losses in our manufacturing base. By working with our partners, we are building a new economy with jobs in our growing medical and tech sectors, as well as more modern and smaller scaled manufacturing jobs. New small businesses are growing.

Attracting good paying jobs and the families that will come with them is vital for our community in this critical transition period. If Question 2 is passed, the new tax will set back our task of bringing in new doctors and other professionals along with new family run S-Corp businesses that they support by decades. Trying to make up for that lost time is not a luxury that we can afford.

The reality is that school budgets have grown to record levels. Here in Waterville, our school budget has grown two-fold in the last 20 years while at the same time we’ve seen significant declines in enrollment. While the tax burden continues to increase, we continue to maintain the same infrastructure with the same number (eight, to be exact) of administrators.

That does not include our superintendent and his central office in Waterville, an assistant superintendent with his own central office in Winslow, a finance director, facility director, technology director, transportation director, curriculum coordinator and a director of special services.

This doesn’t even address the cost of training teachers to teach less so they can spend more time implementing standardized testing.

While the superintendent’s office and staff are shared with the towns of Winslow and Vassalboro, we can’t avoid how exorbitant it seems when looking at our overall level of administration and infrastructure for Waterville’s total K-12 enrollment that is just shy of 1,900 students.

There are two solutions to move our school district forward: bring new jobs to the area and grow our population to fill our schools to their prior levels or work with our neighbors to consolidate services. The best solution for both our students and the taxpayers will be a combination of both. Question 2 does nothing to address either.

Too many leaders are unwilling to speak out against even the most outrageous and harmful tax schemes when it comes to education for fear of being labeled as anti-school or anti-teacher. Question 2 is a liberal progressive solution that is being pushed by the MEA and the Maine People’s Alliance of creating a destructive tax that simply throws money at the problem while creating agitation between Mainers of varying income levels.

While posing to support education, it does nothing to address the root cause of the high cost in Maine and in fact makes it more expensive when we could be paying far less than our current funding structure.

Teachers, students, taxpayers and their communities all deserve honest discussion and real solutions. Question 2 provides neither.

About Nick Isgro

Nick Isgro is the Mayor of Waterville, Maine. Nick is a native of Waterville where he resides with his wife and five children.

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