Trustees reform

On several occasions earlier this year, the Mount Desert Island High School board of trustees was forced to postpone making decisions through lack of a quorum. According to school administrators, that resulted in some badly needed repair work not being done in a timely manner or delayed until next year.

Several officials are asking whether the school’s governance structure now should be reexamined.

Others have suggested abolishing the trustees altogether.

The process in which residents in towns on Mount Desert Island agreed to form a single district to share a high school some 50 years ago was long and politically difficult. To provide the broadest possible representation from all member towns, a separate board to oversee the physical plant and future capital expenditures made sense.

Currently, the trustees meet only a few times each year. In some years, there rarely are more than routine maintenance items to be reviewed. That is hardly a recipe for generating continued interest and excitement in serving.

Perhaps there are additional duties that could be delegated to the trustees. In most municipalities, a local school committee handles capital projects as well as oversight of education policy matters. Having the joint high school board also charged with handling such matters has been one idea floated. But any change in the role or duties of the trustees will require a legislative amendment of the law that created that board.

Meanwhile, there are some steps that can be taken to strengthen the institution. First and foremost, when there are unfilled trustee vacancies, selectmen in those towns should devote the necessary time and attention to search for replacements.

Second, members of the joint school board, educators and administrators around Mount Desert Island, and current trustees themselves need to devote more time to recruiting people to serve on the High School Board.

Talk of possible island school consolidation has resurfaced. Among the ideas put forward is the possibility of creating a combined MDI middle school and perhaps some associated consolidation of elementary schools. Could the trustees be asked to oversee the capital needs and the care and disposition of all island school buildings?

Another suggestion was to ease the quorum requirements to make votes easier to achieve. Interestingly, the original enabling legislative act that created the district in 1963, as well as subsequent revisions, makes no mention of what constitutes a quorum. That traditionally has been defined as at least one person from each member town. Perhaps the board has sufficient authority to change its own practices?

A discussion about the future of the Mount Desert Island High School District trustees is well worth having, provided that all options, not just dissolution, are on the table.

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