Two of the towns in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, facing different challenges, have stepped a bit outside normal processes in addressing them.
In Trenton, the Board of Selectmen created a School Evaluation Options committee, separate from the School Committee, to discuss ways to reduce the cost to taxpayers of the elementary school. Selectmen hoped to include a School Committee member to the group, but school officials said they disagreed with the process and didn’t appoint anyone.
The revenue of the town has gone up 7 percent in the last five years, and the school budget has gone up 24 percent. Those are scary numbers, to be sure. Part of the reason they’re so scary is that for several years preceding that jump, the town had been shielded from the full impact of rising school costs by spending down the school’s year-to-year carryover and leftover funds from the breakup with the school system it left when it joined the MDIRSS.
In Bar Harbor, the school board has had a subcommittee at work on options for renovating or replacing the aging Conners Emerson buildings. The subcommittee is expected to make a recommendation to the full School Committee late next month, yet somehow one of the options has already gone to the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Town Council for discussion.
The good news is, everyone now seems to agree that a new school building is necessary. It does need to happen soon. But the difference between one year and three years is minimal, and the town should not float a bond for a new school building until a decision is made one way or the other about whether the island’s middle schools will be consolidated.
In both cases, the process seems hurried. Our excellent schools are cornerstones of our communities. The discussions can become political, and personal. Deliberations can’t go on forever; at some point they do need to lead to action. But changing or circumventing the processes doesn’t help; it can sow mistrust, when what’s needed is more cooperation.