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Question 3 campaigns face off in debate

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October 19, 2009

Skip Greenlaw carefully looked at his notes and eagerly waited his turn as his opponent spoke about Question 3. After his counterpart, Newel Augur, stated his case, it was Greenlaw’s turn for a sharp rebuttal. He faced his opponent, leaned forward, and with a look of certainty on his face, he bluntly stated: “The idea that we would lose millions of dollars if this law is repealed is wrong. You are wrong. You are dead wrong.”

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Such was the case throughout Monday night as the two campaign leaders debated for about an hour, touching on all aspects of Question 3, the veto referendum that, if voters say "yes," will repeal a school consolidation law that was enacted by the Maine State Legislature in 2008. The law states that the current 290 school districts in Maine must be consolidated by January 2009, which would reduce the number of school districts in the state to 80. A ‘yes’ vote would repeal the law, a ‘no’ vote would keep the law in place. Greenlaw, primary organizer of the Maine Coalition to Save Schools, firmly argued for the “Vote Yes on #3” campaign while Augur, leader of the Maine People for Improved School Education, did the same for “No on 3”.

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While the two campaign leaders spoke on a number of issues relating to the measure, including community impact and job cuts, the white elephant in the small but efficient room at the University of Maine was money. During his argument, Augur repeatedly stated that consolidating school districts would save millions of dollars that could be used to improve education. Augur argued: “People who vote no on this issue can wake up confident in the morning. The issue isn’t about schools, it’s about the 290 school districts that we currently have. That’s too many and too much money is lost.”

Greenlaw argued that although there were 290 districts, there are only 190 superintendents: “We all use facts to make our arguments, Mr. Augur. But not a lot of those facts are what they are honed up to be.” Greenlaw later stated that state superintendents’ salaries add up to $14 million, which he pointed out would not “accrue a lot of savings over time. This is a terrible injustice to the 40% of school districts that do not want to consolidate.”

When asked if some superintendents’ jobs would be cut if the consolidation law stands, Augur had a direct answer, saying that it was only necessary. “At the end of the day, the future of our children is what we should pay attention to. That’s the crux of the matter: Saving money so we can put it back into the classroom.”

Ballotpedia reporter Al Ortiz on location in Maine

At the end of the debate, each were given 1 minute to present their closing statements, with both men summarizing their points to the audience that was mostly made up of college students. Greenlaw presented his main argument in a straightforward manner, stating: “This law was passed much too quickly. What bothers me the most is that the residents of Maine have good judgment and those communities that were against the law weren't listened to. Mr. Augur has never been on a school board before. He doesn’t know how hard superintendents work. We need to give those communities time to withdraw from consolidation if it isn‘t working for them.”

Augur articulated his argument with a futuristic outlook: “This won’t effect me or Mr. Greenlaw in twenty years. We’ll probably be kicking back watching the Patriots play on TV. This is your money, your school districts. This is about your future. Do you want to spend money, pull money out of the classroom? A no vote is the right vote.”

Despite the stances both men have taken on the issue, a simple majority of voters will have the final say to which vote is right and which vote is “dead wrong”.

See also