Education

Dirigo No More

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A school consolidation plan in Maine:

The plan itself is familiar: the pursuit of the false god of educational efficiency through the concentration of school districts as ordered by the governor. 290 school districts would be merged into 26 regional administrative units.

What makes it stranger is that Maine is one of a handful of New England states where one can still find the remnants of American democracy functioning at human scale thanks to such institutions as town meetings and lots of small villages that do what they want without excessive interference from above. This tradition has produced in recent years more independent governors (although not the present one) than just about any state and a culture of honest independence in politics and governance that would best be emulated rather than reorganized….

To add to the oddity, it is all being done in the name of "smart growth."

That's Sam Smith, the localist tribune behind Undernews, in an angry essay decrying the ongoing effort "to replace the decentralization of decision-making with centralized, bureaucratic choices."

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  1. But it is for the children.

  2. There is a lot of opposition to the idea here. Because it’s an appallingly bad idea. The regions are determined by fiat, not by any natural process. Oh, and how will the regions operate? Well, the proposal simply goes into the laws governing that stuff and replaces the present term, “school administrative district,” with the term “regional learning community,” the treacly new term for the mega-regions. Really.

  3. “Localism,” in regards to smart growth, means that each community gets to impose highly restrictive snob zoning laws which forbid the construction of anything but the most tax-friendly version of housing, expensive single family homes.

    Smart growthers would reduce these governments’ power to continue the regulatory policies that have so distorted the housing and real estate markets, while anti-smart growthers are fighting to make sure town retain this power.

  4. Joe,
    That’s why you’ll find most people here opposed to such zoning boards.

    Even if we assume that your premise is factually correct…

    “Localism,” in regards to smart growth, means that each community gets to impose highly restrictive snob zoning laws which forbid the construction of anything but the most tax-friendly version of housing, expensive single family homes.

    Such decisions should ONLY be made at the local rather than the State level. The citizens of the locality have more invested in their community than those who do not live in the community whose elected officials now have a say in how the local communities may operate.

    By seizing this responsibility from the local communities and handing it over to the state you will have greatly watered down the input that the local citizens have on their own community.

  5. There is a lot of opposition to the idea here. Because it’s an appallingly bad idea.

    Maine is full of bad ideas. From Baldacci’s proposed property tax freeze to Portland’s “formula” business ban.

  6. Pat,

    “That’s why you’ll find most people here opposed to such zoning boards.” Which makes it all the more odd to see how consistently most people here oppose the most significant criticism of contemporary zoning, and its market-distorting effects, while standing up for those effects on the grounds that they are natural and superior to what would have happened in the absense of that regulation.

    “The citizens of the locality have more invested in their community than those who do not live in the community whose elected officials now have a say in how the local communities may operate.” Do they have more invested than the people who won’t be able to afford a decent home because of the snob zoning?

    I guess it depends on what you mean by “invested.” Their economic investment has already been made, but that doesn’t make them the only ones who are effected by their decisions.

    Should only white people have had a say in whether all-white public bathrooms were desegregated?

  7. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why this country is not mired in ignorance and poverty. After two hundred -plus years, despite the best efforts of our degreed educators, we still have not successfully managed to collectivize public education.

  8. Their economic investment has already been made, but that doesn’t make them the only ones who are effected by their decisions.

    You already know my stance on the issue: No zoning boards. However, since I assumed your premise that they were necessary it makes logical sense that those in the community should have more say in their community than someone in a different community 400 miles away who has nothing to lose.

  9. Joe,
    Why is consolidation bad in the corporate context but good in the education industry? I’ve found that local decision making is almost always better. Perhaps there are funding issues that should be dealt with separately. There is nothing good that can happen when local administrators start saying, “I’ll have to run this by the boys downtown.”

  10. There’s a similar plan here in Vermont although it’s just a step towards our socialist legislature’s goal of one big state-run school district.

    The only justification that Vermont proponents out is that it’s a burden for the state-mandated, but locally paid-for, superintendents to meet with all the town school boards in their jurisdictions. How much more efficient middle management would be with a lighter workload!

    In Vermont the town school boards have little power any more anyway since the state took over the school property tax from the towns. That was a result of a Vermont Supreme Court decision in a case brought by the Vermont ACLU. Another result was that I dropped my ACLU membership.

    In Maine it appears that the consolidation proposal is coming from the governor’s office and that the legislature has yet to consider the idea. Maine has twice as many people spread out about 3.5 times the area as Vermont. Combining several small geographically separate systems into a single administrative unit won’t get any popular support. I bet it doesn’t happen.

  11. I found the linked essay to be rather incoherent. He rambled on a bit against “smart growth” without explaining what it has to do with Maine’s school consolidation idea, other than proposing a vague “being told what to do from afar” similarity. Yes, smart growth is sometimes imposed from afar but it’s hardly a defining characteristic of the idea. Small communities are perfectly free to follow smart growth guidelines if they have the will. In any event smart growth is all about increasing the variety of densities and uses over small areas, so it’s a bit strange to call school district consolidation a “smart growth” idea.

  12. Rhywun,
    I think he links “smart growth” and the consolidation plan in Maine because they are part of the Brookings Institution report.

  13. I think he links “smart growth” and the consolidation plan in Maine because they are part of the Brookings Institution report.

    If that’s so, he’s the only one making that connection. I’m not terribly familiar with Brookings but I don’t think it has anything to do with the smart growth movement. There’s nothing specifically smart-growth about the idea of building skyscrapers in DC–although it does fit in with smart growth ideas about providing a variety of densities and especially reducing “sprawl” and therefore travelling times. There’s nothing at all smart-growth about the Maine plan. In fact I have heard smart-growth types specifically denounce big, centralized “big-box” schools.

  14. Lamar,

    You should address your question to somebody who had offered, or at least who holds, an opinion about the educational consolidation.

    “Small communities are perfectly free to follow smart growth guidelines if they have the will.” Sayeth Rhwuyn.

    I’ll go farther – in many cases, the communities who choose to favor sprawl over smart growth are making rational decisions based on the incentives created by state and federal regulations. If schools are funded by local property taxes, the allowing development which adds kids to the schools is a net loser for towns, because each housing unit will cost more in services than it pays in taxes. Whether the state will cover a greater share of each town’s school costs is a decision that is made in the state capital.

  15. allowing development which adds kids to the schools is a net loser for towns

    The obvious solution to that is vouchers. I don’t have kids, in fact I rather despise them. Why should I have to pay for the education of other people’s kids?

    Anyway, while I agree that there are too many incentives toward sprawl, I also believe that human nature favors it too. That is, given the choice, most people would choose to sprawl. Just not as many people as most municipalities seem to think, if the vanishing vacancy rates of popular cities are any indication.

  16. Yo Rhwuyn,

    Whether you’re paying the income tax that funds the vouchers or the property tax that funds the schools, you’re still paying for other people’s kids.

    “That is, given the choice, most people would choose to sprawl.” That’s sloppy language – an individual cannot “choose to sprawl,” as sprawl requires land-use patterns on the community and regional level.

    If you mean, most people would choose a bigger house lot, well, yeah, all else being equal. People would also choose a convenient commercial district, all else being equal. And they’d choose to live within wallking distance of their kids’ school, all else being equal.

    The point is, sprawl is not the choice people are making, but the aggregate effect of the choices people are making, given certain options.

  17. I grew up in Maryland, which has one school district for each of its 23 counties (plus one more for Baltimore City). I live in New Jersey, which has one school district for each of its 7 million municipalities. (Actually 604 school districts — essentially, one for every high school.) I find no evidence that this “local control” makes schools in New Jersey superior to schools in Maryland — but it does make schools in New Jersey (and hence property taxes) far far far more expensive.

  18. Joe, yes, “sprawl” is the result of a lot of decisions rather than a single choice one person makes. Now that you’re done with that nitpicking, it should be obvious what he means: people prefer (balancing all the considerations you raise) to live in “sprawl” conditions over higher density ones.

  19. Whether you’re paying the income tax that funds the vouchers or the property tax that funds the schools, you’re still paying for other people’s kids.

    Shit, you’re right. I guess I have to bite the bullet and advocate private schools, to be paid for by a combination of tuition which is affordable to most because of the enormous tax cut privatization will allow and by private scholarships for those who merit it but can’t afford the tuition. This will have the added benefit of cutting down on all the wasteful overeducation we have now.

    Getting back to local control, there’s one huge drawback: kids are generally forced to attend their local school. I believe kids should be able to attend any school they want. Privatization would allow this too.

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