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A Referendum That Poses No Options to a $89 Million Dollar School Should Be Voted Down.
Bring back fairness in Maine's political processes!
Last week for the first time I attended the building exploratory workshop for the Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor high school. It was the right time to attend for the first time because as it turned out it was a meeting to discuss what options should be on the referendum scheduled for November, a discussion that should have occurred in the beginning.
When I peeked into the room where the Building Committee was meeting, I was waived in by a welcoming gesture from one of the presenters.
The arrangement of the seating for the building exploratory workshop was inclusively arranged in a circle with participants all facing each other.
I sat down next to Steve Lorrain who repeated often and under his breath that all they set out to do in the first place was to build a new security entrance for the school, adding that originally the committee was only tasked with making an assessment of what was needed. I assumed he meant the repairs needed for the existing building.
Then, as described by another person who spoke frequently, “a group of people” showed up and said they would do a luncheon fundraiser for a new school building.
The funding group is not identified by name, nor location, but it is no secret that Paul Coulombe lead the funding campaign because he said so himself. An article published in the Boothbay Register written by an employee of the country club, identifies that the luncheon was held at Mr. Coulombe’s country club.
Paul Coulombe has a penchant for tearing down pre-existing buildings to replace them with his thing. Demolishing the current high school building was incorporated into building a new high school without the value of the existing building being given a chance to be considered on its own terms.
Thus, the plans to build a security entrance for the school were waylaid despite the concerns among the student body about mass violence occurring in schools across the country causing high school student, Ariel Alamo to recently ask, in a letter to the editor, “Where are the lockdown drills?”
The midcentury was a time when education had a different purpose. The timing of the plans for this new school coincides with new educational legislation that is part of a long and incremental legislative process that has been repurposing public education and public educational facilities workforce training.
Recently the AOS 98 board raised regionalism as an option prompting the Building Exploratory Committee to consider what other options should be in the referendum. The discussion also included repairing the mid-century school building and discontinuing the local high school giving students school choice.
What is school choice?
…… the state’s tuition program, which is the second oldest in the nation, allows parents who live in school districts that do not have a high school to send their children to a public or private school of their choosing. Federal lawsuit filed against Maine school choice law
The quote above is taken from a story about a legal suit that challenges the exclusion of religious schools from school choice funding. Considering that the Maine Legislature has enacted the Maine Space Corporation and authorized it to use the public educational system as its workforce training facility, starting in kindergarten, school choice ought to be a hot issue deserving a larger place in the conversation than it is getting if the vote for a publicly funded school that would cancel out school choice is presented to the voters as a single option vote before discussion about other options has a chance to unfold and be heard.
A publicly funded school cancels school choice, in the same way that the design funded by private donations auto-selects demolishing the historic midcentury school building. Without other options being given a fair and equal chance, the appropriate response to an inequitable process is to reject the referendum. Voting against the referendum does not mean the absolute end of the option favored by the referendum, it is a vote for the conversation to continue as a process that allows all options fair consideration.
It was always acknowledged that the school would require a public vote but the vote was consistently written about as if the referendum question will be “Do you approve financing the proposed amount for the proposed new school?”
The cost of education in the Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District has been a focal point. Residents passed an $11.7 million 2024 CSD budget in May and are expected to vote later this year on $88 million plans to renovate the elementary-middle school and build a new high school. source
But in actuality if the funding for building a new school is not approved, it falls back on a default choice. If there is no other option on the ballot, the default is “Do nothing”. or perhaps better considered,” Continue the discussion and widen it”.
The man who was speaking frequently was advocating that information needed to be provided for all the options, thus if the points raised during the meeting were reflected in the options given on the ballot, the options would look like this:
Repair the current building and make it more secure with estimated cost
Demolish the current building and build a new school with estimated cost
Continue to ignore the needed repairs and security issues and do nothing with estimated cost.
Close the high school and opt for school choice with estimated cost.
Explore a Regional School with estimated cost.
The meeting was held in the high school library which provided the opportunity to re-experience the feeling of being in a mid-century designed building. Mid-century was a time when the greatest amount of wealth was distributed among the greatest number of people resulting in the midcentury design movement purposed on bringing good design into the homes of ordinary people and their public institutions. The philosophy and times are reflected in the current high school building, one of the peninsula’s rare examples of the midcentury design philosophy.
Midcentury design emerged from the character of wealth distribution during the mid-twentieth century. Design of that era was humanisticly scaled in contrast to early twenty-first century design, when it seems obligatory that every public building have a tall roof to floor all glass entry way reflecting wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. Such is the design of the proposed new school funded by a small group of people with access to concentrated wealth.
Campaign Finance Definition includes referendum votes
Political parties and candidates require money to publicize their electoral platforms and to pursue effective campaigns. Attempts to regulate campaign finance reflect the commonly held belief that uncontrolled political fund-raising and spending can undermine the integrity of the democratic process and erode the confidence of the electorate in political institutions. source
In Maine, most groups involved in ballot measure campaigns register as political action committees; select groups that intend to influence the outcome of a ballot measure register as ballot question committees. Both types of committees can receive unlimited contributions. Ballotopedia
Did the funders that paid the architects to design a new school register as a political action committee?
Should the question “should the midcentury high school be preserved for its historical relevance” be a standalone question in its own right, and not just an outcome of a design for a new school?
Polls in this 2020 article show that most would support a $56 million investment in renovations and new construction for a new K-12 school building and that most did not want the current building demolished.
The third option, Concept 2 is no longer available online but it matches the targeted project for the $56 million dollar vote.
In the search for qualified firms conducted by AOS 98 in 2019. number one on the list of reports that will be required pf the architectural firm that is chosen is a report on needed repairs. Number three on the list is security
1. The existing conditions of campus facilities with a detailed inventory of findings.
3. Campus security, safety, accessibility and ADA needs as well as compliance with current state and federal requirements.
Since the first report required of the architectural firm is “The existing conditions of campus facilities with a detailed inventory of findings.”, why was it necessary for the building exploratory committee to work on a similar project? Was the building exploratory committee given access to Lavallee Brensinger’s report?
Lavallee Brensinger, declared in November of 2020 that “BRES’s viability for renovations and found BRHS has too many needs for a full renovation. Concept 1 illustrated a total demolition and Concept 2, renovation of the gymnasium and BRHS’s portion of the basement” source
The article in the Boothbay Register does not cite a price for the full renovation but suggests a price of $56 million for the construction project, currently being quoted as $89 million. It was quoted at 88 million at the time I attended the BEC meeting.
Surely such a detailed inventory of the findings would include the price for renovating the school with security updated for the twenty-first century and yet I have never seen that cost estimate reported to the public, who are told only that it is too much. How can the public make an informed vote without the financial estimates for both, or all options?
The decision to demolish the 1950s school building was decided by architects who will make money on either choice, and most likely more money if they demolish the midcentury school and replace it with a twenty-first century building. Lavallee Brensinger defined the issue as purely an economic issue and not a matter to be considered through any other lens such as historical, architectural, or educational, or cultural.
The current school was designed when mass violence was not at issue. It has large glass windows on the classrooms but windows of a size that can have shades and shades can likely be made of protective materials. It has back stairwells with exits out of the building.
In addition to the roof to ceiling glass entry way, the design for the proposed new school has open balconies where the people on them are visible from various angles. Unless there are additional and less exposed entrances and exits, the design fails to address the concerns of contemporary student bodies worried about a mass shooter hitting their school.
The reason that the Building Exploratory Committe was considering adding other options to the referendum was because of a 16-acre piece of property for sale near the Boothbay-Edgecomb line that spurred speculation about a regional high school. Boothbay Register 06/21/2023.
Shortly thereafter it was reported that the land had been sold causing the Building Exploratory Committee to instantly drop all considerations for options other than “demolish and rebuild” on the ballot.
A new article titled BEC recommends $89 million bond vote, which describes the voting options as:
The public vote to fund the project by bond is scheduled for Nov. 7.
It’s as if someone said, now that the that the regional discussion has hiccupped, we had better act fast before they have a chance to develop another option.
But the vote does not happen until November, let’s hope that during the interim, the conversation continues to widen. It’s only a bond vote and can be brought up more appropriately another time, if that is wanted.
And one final thought on appropriate. What happened to the private donors we were hearing so much about before? Silence on that front but it was decided in the beginning to accept conditional gifts. That’s called a public private relationship, and often the public funding will be featured separately from the private funding but in most instances where that is the case, it is not a public institution that is being funded because normally public institutions do not also involve private ownership but in the days when intellectual property rights are designated based on ownership of facilities rather than authorship, and when public institutions are being funded with “conditional gifts”, transparency is out the door and the public is segregated outside of the loop.
Back in December the financing was being talked about as if the public part would be a mere 50 million dollars out of a projected near 100-million-dollar cost. Now the public part is 89 million dollars. What is the private part and what are the conditions negotiated with private ”donors”?
Not for us to know is the answer I received to my FOAA request to Boothbay School Superintendent Robert Kahler.
This is the answer that I received: from Superintendent Khaler:
I am writing to follow up with you regarding your FOAA request dated 17 January 2023. In response to your request, the District will not be producing records that are designated confidential by statute (1 M.R.S.A. 402(3)(a)) or records which are otherwise privileged or confidential (including communications that are protected by the attorney-client privilege or work product doctrines). I am attaching with this email the public records otherwise responsive to your request, which will complete the Districts response to your request.
Sincerely, Robert M. Kahler, Superintendent of Schools, AOS 98
That private donor front has gone silent but it is unlikely that it has gone away. Voters should demand to be given the full picture. The full picture should include the “conditional gifts”. Public education should not be a matter for secrecy.
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On another note! When I first tried to link to the Boothbay Register article “Murmurs of school consolidation echo through Boothbay region” on my new affiliate, Ground News. I searched for the url on Ground News. The results displayed other stories from the Boothbay Register but not the Murmers story of the url. The image below shows what I got:
I then searched for the Murmers story using the Boothbay Register search bar. It did not display. When I searched with Google the Murmers article displayed. This has occurred with a number of articles of political import published in the Boothbay Register so obviously there is manipulation going on.
As an affiliate I was able to send a request to Ground News to change their search function for the Boothbay Register so that it is consistent with a Google Search. They fixed it right away so that now most Boothbay Register articles I search on Ground News are displayed:
I don’t know what any of this means. I am just experimenting and learning. We are inundated with fake news and AI. Ground News is trying to be a source that can help us to figure it all out. I am projecting that if I keep adding Register stories and other sources to Ground News, these stories become part of its process and databases that can be displayed when someone else searches a similar story.
If you want to try it for yourself you can apply as an affiliate using my Subaffilate link- Or you can find the sign-up form HERE
Score a point to Ground News! They fixed the problem right away so that now most of the Register urls that I enter display the story on Ground News.
Can Ground News make a difference? Try a subscription to Ground News using my affiliate link. Power to the people!
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