Maine Consolidation Repeal Effort Goes Down to Defeat

Last Updated: November 29, 2009

This article appeared in the November 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
“We are disappointed that we did not have $300,000 to tell our side of the story on radio and TV,” said Skip Greenlaw, chairman of Maine Coalition to Save Schools (MCSS), in a news release following a November vote to leave in place a state law that forces smaller school districts to consolidate.
“It is obvious and disturbing that money is still the mother’s milk of politics,” continued Greenlaw. “The problem was that there are so many more taxpayers who live in communities which did not experience consolidation, and hence had little understanding of the law or empathy for our point of view.”
MCSS had gathered over 60,000 signatures to get an initiative to overturn the consolidation law on the November ballot. But a group known as Maine People for Improved School Education raised more than $300,000 to run television and other ads encouraging voters, especially in the state’s more populous areas where most districts were exempt from the law’s requirements, to oppose repeal.
Ultimately the attempt to overturn the consolidation law was defeated by 58% to 42%.
Vote Follows Community Lines
The website notes that despite the rather lopsided outcome in total votes, voters in 227 of Maine’s 449 towns actually voted to repeal the law, while voters in 222 towns favored keeping the law
The vote largely followed community lines, with larger unaffected towns generally voting to keep the law in place. breaks the vote down this way:
  • 188 towns not currently in compliance with the law voted for repeal
  • 123 towns exempt from the law voted against repeal
  • 47 towns exempt from the law voted to repeal; the site notes that most of these towns won their exemptions late and at some point faced penalties for non-compliance
  • 90 towns that have experienced consolidation voted against repeal; it is noted that many of these towns were able to find merger partners easily as compared to many smaller and more remote towns that are in non-compliance
  • 35 towns that have experienced consolidation favored repeal
  • 9 non-compliant towns opposed repeal

Still Fighting
Groups who supported repeal of the law are continuing to work to modify the law to make it more appropriate for rural areas. The groups are currently proposing four policy changes that include: reducing the minimum number of students required for a district with smaller districts demonstrating a plan for cost reduction and improved delivery of administrative services; allowing districts to leave their new district and join another if the merger does not work out; making it easier for districts to collaborate without merging — a plan supporters say would allow for more total savings than administrative consolidation; and reducing or eliminating penalties for districts in non-compliance. Proponents of these changes note that many districts face local tax hikes as a result of consolidation, particularly problematic in economically distressed areas, and that requirements to bring all teachers in the new district to the same salary level will result in laying off teachers.
Read more from the November 2009 Rural Policy Matters.