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Maine School Consolidation Repeal and Replacement, Question 3 (2009)

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The Maine School Consolidation Repeal and Replacement Initiative, also known as Question , was on the November 3, 2009 ballot in Maine as an indirect initiated state statute, where it was defeated. The measure would have repealed a school consolidation measure that was passed by the Maine State Legislature in 2007. It is important to note that this measure, though it sought to repeal a law, was a citizen's initiative and not a people's veto measure. A Yes vote was a vote to repeal the school consolidation law and a No vote was a vote to keep the current law in place. The consolidation law under challenge was enacted and signed on April 18th, 2008.[1] The Maine legislature has the right under Maine's direct democracy laws to put an alternative ballot measure on the ballot. Sen. Justin Alfond indicated in mid-March that it was unlikely the legislature would do that.[2][3]

Election results

Maine Question 3 (2009)
ResultVotesPercentage
Defeatedd No32033458.32%
Yes 228,952 41.68%

Text of measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[2]

ME2009Nov Question 3 SB.PNG [4]

Summary

The following summary was provided in the Maine Citizen's Guide to the Referendum Election:

This initiated bill repeals the laws related to the consolidation of school administrative units that were enacted by the First Regular Session of the 123rd Legislature in Public Law 2007, chapter 240, Part XXXX. It restores the laws that were amended or repealed to accommodate the consolidation. [4]

Maine Secretary of State, [2]

Intent and content

The following description of the intent and content of this ballot measure was provided in the Maine Citizen's Guide to the Referendum Election:

This citizen-initiated legislation would repeal the school district consolidation law that was enacted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor in June, 2007, and subsequently amended in 2008 and 2009, and would re-enact the laws governing school administrative units in Maine that were in effect prior to June 2007.

The 2007 school district consolidation law required every school administrative unit in the state to submit a reorganization plan or alternative plan to the state Department of Education by December 1, 2007, and to present it for voter approval at a local referendum election to be held on or before November 4, 2008. The goal of reorganization was to reduce the number of school administrative units in the state from 290 to approximately 80, by creating Regional School Units and eliminating school administrative districts (SADs), community school districts (CSDs), and school unions that were formed under the laws in effect before June 2007. Each new Regional School Unit was to serve at least 2,500 students, or at least 1,200 students if it was impractical to create a larger unit due to geography, density and distribution of the population, or transportation problems. Island and tribal schools, school administrative units that already served more than 2,500 (or 1,200) students, and units with existing administrative costs of less than 4% per pupil and at least three high performing schools within the unit were allowed to file alternative plans. Every school administrative unit in the state was required to submit a plan demonstrating how it would reduce administrative costs.

The 2008 amendments to the school district consolidation law allowed isolated, rural communities to form units of fewer than 1,200 but no fewer than 1,000 students, and also allowed for the creation of alternative organizational structures as a third option for complying with the law. The deadline for getting voter approval at a referendum election was extended from November 2008 to January 30, 2009. Penalties for noncompliance with the law’s requirements, as amended, include reduced state subsidies for system administrative costs and a 2% increase in the education mill rate to be paid by a non-complying school unit.

In 2009, the law was further amended to delay penalties for one year for all school administrative units that are not yet in compliance.

All of the above provisions would be repealed by this citizen initiative, and the laws pertaining to school administrative units within the state that existed prior to June, 2007, would be re-enacted. The status of Regional School Units and alternative organizational structures already formed under the consolidation law will have to be addressed by the Legislature if this initiative is approved.

If approved, this citizen initiated legislation would take effect 30 days after proclamation of the vote.

A “YES” vote favors repeal of the 2007 school district consolidation law and its amendments.

A “NO” vote opposes repeal and favors leaving the 2007 school district consolidation law and its amendments in effect. [4]

Office of the Attorney General, [2]

Fiscal note

The following fiscal impact statement was provided in the Maine Citizen's Guide to the Referendum Election:

Fiscal Notes and Detail. The implementation of this initiated bill is contingent upon approval by the voters at referendum in November of 2009. If adopted, it will increase the total state and local cost of K-12 public education by approximately $67,114,843 in fiscal year 2010-11 in order to restore funding that was reduced to certain cost components within essential programs and services (EPS) to recognize savings that were anticipated to be achieved as a result of the consolidation of school administrative units. Beginning in the 2008-2009 school year, Public Law 2007, c. 240, Part XXXX reduced the system administration cost component of essential programs and services (EPS) by 50% and the operation and maintenance of plant, special education, and transportation cost components of EPS by 5% each. The fiscal year 2010-11 estimate is based on the projected cost to the State and local units of government to restore funding to these cost components in fiscal year 2008-09 increased by average growth in the State's real personal income of 2.28% for the 2010-2011 biennium and 1.53% for the 2012-2013 biennium.

The General Purpose Aid for Local Schools program within the Department of Education will require an additional General Fund appropriation of $36,913,164 in fiscal year 2010-11 for the State's share of restoring the funds. This estimate is based on the State funding 55% of 100% of the total state and local cost of EPS in fiscal year 2010-11. The increased costs to local towns and municipalities associated with funding the local share is estimated to be $30,201,679 in fiscal year 2010-11, or approximately 0.3 mills.

If approved by the voters, this legislation will not become fully operative until 45 days after the start of the Second Regular Session of the 124th Legislature in January of 2010. Given this timeframe, it is not known whether the State and local school administrative units will be able to implement the requirements of this legislation in time to affect the 2009-2010 school year. This fiscal note assumes that there will not be sufficient time and that the impact of this legislation will not affect the funding for K-12 public education until the 2010-2011 school year. However, if it is determined that this legislation will impact the 2009-10 school year, the Department of Education will require a General Fund appropriation of $32,956,239 for the State's share of restoring the funds in fiscal year 2009-10. The increase in costs to local towns and municipalities to fund the local share in fiscal year 2009-10 is estimated to be $31,727,252, or approximately 0.3 mills.

ME2009Nov Question 3 FS.PNG

[4]

—Office of Fiscal and Program Review, [2]

Support

  • Maine Coalition to Save Schools, led by Skip Greenlaw
  • The Green Independent Party of Maine
  • Alan Morse, who collected signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot, said "...it's a very easy sell. I don't have to say more than half a sentence before people jump to sign my petition." Many of those who wanted to repeal the consolidation effort came from rural areas.[5]

Arguments

According to the coalition, residents in approximately 100 school districts were ordered to consolidate their districts, but instead voted against it. Together, those districts face about $5 million in penalties. While reminding that those districts were at the time in some of the state’s poorest counties, Skip Greenlaw, head of the group, also stated on October 2, 2009:

The state told people upfront they would be penalized if they didn’t vote for consolidation and that’s just not right in a democracy. Even with that threat hanging over their heads, 88,916 voters said no to the mandate because they thought it was a bad idea for their communities and their schools. [4]

—Skip Greenlaw, [6]

Opposition

ME No on 3.png

Supporters of the consolidation plan included Governor John Baldacci and Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, who has asked that schools continue with consolidation programs despite community unrest. She said, "There are an equal number of people who say this is the right thing to do. We need to move forward."[7]

Maine People for Improved School Education was main committee leading the effort against Question 3.[8] The "Vote No on 3" campaign launched in September 2009. They argued that the Consolidation law saves taxpayers $36 million a year and creates efficient school system.[9] The group, who registered with the Maine Ethics commission in June, said the state can’t afford to overturn the mandate passed in 2007. According to the committee’s campaign manager, New Augur: “We certainly hope to convey to Maine voters how critical a ‘no’ vote is, and we want to do that any way we can.” The group launched a website, www.costtoomuch.com."It makes no sense to go back to the old inefficient, overly bureaucratic way," Augur said. "It costs too much to the Maine taxpayer and it hurts our kids too much."[10]

  • Gov. Baldacci made special note of his opposition to the referendum in his "State of the State" speech on March 10, 2009.[11]

Campaign contributions

Support donors

$66,697 was reported to have been contributed to campaigns relating to support of Question 1.[12]

As of October 23, 2009 the Maine Coalition to Save Schools raised a total of $9,851.[13][14]

Below is a chart that outlines major donations to the Maine Coalition to Save Schools campaign, as of October 2009:[14]

Contributor Amount
Town of Blue Hill $5,000
Lawrence Greenlaw $200
Winthrop Fuel Company, Inc. $100
Douglas Smith (retired legislator) $100

Opposition donors

$506,500 was reported to have been contributed to campaigns relating to opposition of Question 3.[12]

As of October 23, 2009 Maine People for Improved School Education raised a total of $340,000 and had a total of $22,000 in debt.[13]

Below is a chart that outlines major donations to the Maine People for Improved School Education campaign, as of October 2009:[13]

Contributor Amount
Coca Cola Company $25,000
Sunday River ski area $10,000
First Atlantic Healthcare $10,000
Penn National Gaming Inc. $10,000
Leon Gorman, L.L. Bean chairman $10,000
Pike Industries $5,000

Media editorial positions

Main article: Endorsements of Maine ballot measures, 2009
Portland High School in Portland, Maine

Support

  • The Seacoast Media Group said,

The York School District received permission to opt out of this law. Having said that, there was incredibly strong opposition to the law in town during the consolidation process. And, a special school Town Meeting had to be held because of the law, an added expense. The law was another well-intentioned attempt by Gov. John Baldacci that didn't work. We urge a YES vote on Question 3. [4]

—Seacoast Media Group, [15]

Opposition

  • The Bangor Daily News said,

Simply put, Maine has more school administration than it can afford. The state’s consolidation effort has been heavy-handed and met with strong resistance in some areas. This, however, is not a reason to abandon the needed effort to reduce the number of school districts in the state. A no vote on Question 3 will allow those districts that have consolidated to move forward, while lawmakers can turn their attention to rewriting the troublesome portions of the 2007 reorganization law. [4]

—Bangor Daily News, [16]

  • The Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel said,

The school district consolidation law has its flaws, but the idea behind it is sound: Cutting administrative costs state-wide will mean more money for classroom instruction, which is what we really want to buy with our education dollars. That's why we're voting "no" on Question 3. [4]

—Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, [17]

  • The Brunswick Times Record said,

A decisive vote favoring consolidation will give lawmakers the impetus to address any lingering concerns about equitable cost-sharing and striking a balance between local and regional interests. Achieving administrative efficiencies and improving educational opportunities can go hand in hand — as evidenced by RSU 1’s experience with consolidation. Let’s not quit before other school districts reach that worthy goal. [4]

—Brunswick Times Record, [18]

  • The Sun Journal said,

While there are problems with consolidation, we feel they are more easily handled individually than by sweeping away the law. If that was done, those early promises of consolidation, like the Rumford-Mexico-Dixfield-Buckfield union, could be lost. School consolidation is a work in progress, this much is true. But for Maine, it is work that should continue. [4]

—Sun Journal, [19]

  • The Journal Tribune said,

It’s easy to understand the resentment that lingers for Maine’s School District Consolidation Law. From the start, its directives and penalties made clear to local boards and educators that local interests wouldn’t count for much. But as it turned out, local initiative does count for something...We see little to be gained – and many potential problems – if the School District Consolidation law is summarily repealed. So we urge a vote of No on Question 3. [4]

—Journal Tribune, [20]

Background

Features of consolidation law

Status of reorganization plans

  • In 2009 only 39 of the required 80 reorganization plans were submitted to the State Department of Education for review. Commissioner Gendron approved several more alternative plans and one more reorganization plan in October 2009, which brought the total to 32 approved alternative plans and six reorganization plans. Two of the reorganization plans were approved by voters; one was rejected; and three are waiting for voter approval.
  • According to the State Department of Education the average school enrollment dropped 20% in the last 30 years.[21]
  • See the complete list, by county, of submitted plans and their status at School District Plans.

Penalties for non-compliance

If the 285 school districts (which must, by current law, consolidate to 80 new districts by January 2009) do not comply by the January 2009 deadline then the State Department of Education assesses each district a monetary penalty by withholding State education funds. The total estimate of penalties to those districts not yet in compliance will be in excess of $43 million dollars.

According to Scott Porter, superintendent of School Union 102, School Union 134, and East Machias, which includes schools in 11 towns, the penalties are unnecessary. Porter stated that each of the 11 towns that he oversees has it’s own school board, budget and pays their own bills. The state, according to him, did not approve their consolidation plan and will assess a penalty fee. According to Porter: “It just doesn't seem right that we're doing everything we can to consolidate services and yet if this law stays on the books, the towns I represent, the 11 towns, will see collective penalties of over $200,000.That's just not fair."[22]

Consolidation timeline

This timeline is made possible by changes resulting from enactment of LD 2323 on April 18, 2008. Prior to passage of LD 2323, November 4, 2008, was the latest date allowed by law for referendum.

  • November 15 , 2008 - Regional Planning Committees - Last date for Reorganization Plan to be submitted to Department of Education in order to meet the January 30, 2009, referendum date
  • December 15, 2008 - Municipal officers of town meeting municipal school units & CSD Member towns - Deadline for Order with wording of ballot article to be filed with the town clerk
  • December 28, 2008 - School boards of SADs and CSDs - Deadline to sign election warrants
  • December 29, 2008 - CSD & SAD Member towns - Deadline for delivery of absentee ballots and election warrants to town clerks
  • December 29 , 2008 - Town meeting municipal school units - Deadline for Absentee ballots to be made available
  • January 20 , 2009 - Town meeting municipal school units and CSDs - Last day for public hearing on referendum article (notice of public hearing must be posted 7 days prior)
  • January 23, 2009 - SAD Member Towns - Last date for public hearing on referendum article
  • January 23 , 2009 - Town meeting municipal school units member towns in CSDs and SADs - Deadline for posting warrants
  • January 30 , 2009 - Referendum date

Reorganization process

Polls

See also: Polls, 2009 ballot measures
  • A poll released October 27, 2009 by Pan Atlantic SMS Services revealed that 39% of voters are in favor of Question 3, whereas 45% are opposed and 16% are undecided. Approximately 400 voters were polled. The poll is reported to have a +/- 4.9% margin of error.[23]
  • An October 2009 poll by Pan Atlantic SMS Services revealed that 46.1% of voters are in favor of Question 3, whereas 41.1% are opposed and 12.7% are undecided.[24]
Date of Poll Pollster In favor Opposed Undecided
Sept. 30 - Oct. 7 Pan Atlantic SMS Services 46.1% 41.1% 12.7%
Oct. 20 - 22 Pan Atlantic SMS Services 39% 45% 16%

See also

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External links

Additional reading

Editorials

References

  1. PUBLIC Law, Chapter 668, An Act To Remove Barriers to the Reorganization of School Administrative Units
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Maine Secretary of State, Division of Elections, "Maine Citizen's Guide to the Referendum Election, Tuesday, November 3, 2009," accessed May 9, 2014
  3. Maine Secretary of State, Elections Division, "Referendum Election Tabulations, November 3, 2009," accessed May 9, 2014
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  5. Consolidation Proposal Sparks Outrage in Maine, "Access Quality Education," accessed May 9, 2014
  6. Bangor Daily News, "Coalition wants repeal of school consolidation," October 3, 2009
  7. Times Herald, "Petition drive against school mergers gathers steam," October 31, 2007
  8. Maine Campaign Finance, "Question 3 committees," accessed September 27, 2009
  9. Associated Press, "Campaign launched to keep Maine school merger law," September 27, 2009
  10. Kennebec Journal, "QUESTION 3 Merger repeal foes turn active," September 27, 2009
  11. Maine News, "Governor Offers More Details On "State of the State" Initiatives," March 11, 2009
  12. 12.0 12.1 Follow the Money, "Maine 2009 Question 3," accessed May 9, 2014
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Maine Today,"$109,000 more for the consolidation cause," October 23, 2009
  14. 14.0 14.1 Maine Campaign Finance',"Maine Coalition to Save Schools," accessed October 29, 2009
  15. Seacoast Media Group, "Our take on state ballot questions," October 28, 2009
  16. Bangor Daily News, "No on Question 3," October 21, 2009
  17. Morning Sentinel, "Consolidation of school districts still a good idea," October 25, 2009
  18. Brunswick Times Record, "Vote ‘No’ on Question 3," October 22, 2009
  19. Sun Journal, "Question 3: School law should stand," October 4, 2009
  20. Journal Tribune, "Question 3 can’t turn back Consolidation clock," October 22, 2009
  21. WCSH6, "School Consolidation Debate Ramps Up," September 27, 2009
  22. WCSH6.com, "Voice Of The Voter: Question 3 School Consolidation," October 31, 2009
  23. Maine Public Broadcasting Network, "Poll Finds Waning Support for TABOR 2," October 26, 2009
  24. Portland Press Herald, "Poll: 51.8% plan to vote no on question 1," October 14, 2009