Testimony opposing LD 1283 An Act To Allow Students Choice in High School Enrollment

May 2, 2011

Senator Langley, Representative Richardson, and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs:

My name is Judy Sproule and I reside in Trenton. I am vice-chair of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, chair of its Legislative Sub-Committee, and chair of the Trenton School Committee.

I join my colleague, Brian Hubbell, on behalf of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, in opposition to LD 1283: An Act to Allow Student Choice in High School Enrollment. I will not reiterate the points he has made, but would like to provide you with specific examples of the ramifications of this ill-conceived bill.

A minor point is that this bill creates inequalities amongst students of the same standing, allowing 20 students in a school to be allowed educational options that their classmates are denied. In our school district the high school is governed by 4 towns, each with a K-8 school. Two schools have less than 20 eighth graders, one school has 22, and one has 46. We are an AOS, required by law to have consistency in curriculum, policy, and contracts. In every aspect, we strive to ensure our students all have a level playing field and the same opportunities, and LD 1283 is in conflict with that goal.

The larger issue is how this bill affects the high schools and the quality of education they offer, whether they are receiving schools or sending schools. If 80 of our high school students were attend a school outside our district under LD 1283, it would eliminate around $1 million from our high school’s budget. Our programming would be subject to severe cuts and our students would have far fewer opportunities than they do now. Our taxpayers would have every right to protest; their money would be funding other school districts to the detriment of our own students. As you may recall, shifting taxpayers’ money away from their own school districts was a major obstacle to consolidation.

However, we think what is more likely to occur is that our high school would be a net receiver of students from other neighboring districts, and this would also be at the expense of our taxpayers. We do not receive any state subsidy for regular education, so every dollar spent is raised from local property taxes, and we are very fortunate to have solid financial support for our students. If LD 1283 were to require us to accept tuition students at the state average cost it would be significantly below our towns’ contributions, and our taxpayers would be faced with the unacceptable choices of lowering our standards and reducing what we offer to our students, or subsidizing the full cost of educating students from other municipalities. Neither option would be acceptable to taxpayers who would argue that families exercise school choice when they choose where to live and where to pay taxes. I receive calls from realtors on behalf of their clients about our school; it’s real consideration for families with children.

As Commissioner Bowen has noted on his listening tour, great things are happening but we need to make more with less, with increasingly fewer dollars. To divert additional funding away from our schools at this time would only serve to cripple them and ultimately close some. We will not be able to increase graduation rates if we require students to commute long distances to get to school. We will not preserve the “Maine Brand” if closing schools destroys rural communities.

Please vote Ought Not to Pass on LD 1283.

Thank you for your consideration.