The truth about Belgrade vote

Evidently, it has become the new normal in today’s society that telling the truth is not a requirement of civil discourse. What if this was how our educators chose to relate historical facts, or if scientific inquiry really didn’t matter as long you got your way?

In Belgrade, the difference between truth and fiction seems to be blurred.

Belgrade is facing a monumental vote on Nov. 7. A referendum asks if Belgrade voters want to begin the process of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 18.

But the process is much more than simply studying Belgrade’s options for educating our children — it is Step 2 in a 22-step withdrawal process that could result in Belgrade taxpayers taking ownership of and operating Belgrade Central School to educate our K-5 students, and negotiating a 10-year tuition agreement with some school system to educate students in grades 6-12.

In the last two weeks, a group of residents have circulated a fact sheet and written editorials in this newspaper regarding why Belgrade voters need to vote yes. Without context, this fact sheet appears to speak the truth. However, it turns out that of the 13 points made, only three are true; a staggering 77 percent are inaccurate.

Is this the type of lesson we want to be sending to our children? I think not. Just as it is important to tell the truth in education, we should expect the same in politics.

One of the statements is, “If the consolidation plans go through Belgrade Central School will close.” To date, there is no such plan by the leadership of RSU 18. Further, almost $800,000 of the bond issue that has been proposed for RSU 18 is dedicated for BCS improvements. If the plan was to close BCS, why would nearly $1 million be spent to improve it?

Two other incendiary points that have been included are: “We asked to have the local share costs be more fairly assessed; we were out-voted,” and “The only way to fully understand the cost and effect of withdrawal is to go through the process required by the state.”

Both of these statements are factually inaccurate.

In the most recent RSU 18 local share negotiation process, there was a motion to shift the cost-sharing formula from what it was, 75 percent based on valuation and 25 percent based on population, to 70 percent valuation and 30 percent population. This would have led to a tax reduction for Belgrade residents. The motion was defeated by an 8-to-7 vote, which included two of the three representatives from Belgrade voting against it. These two individuals are part of the group that is pushing for withdrawal. If you really wanted to reduce taxes, then why would you vote against it?

And there are other options that do not require withdrawal. I participated on an informal committee to study school funding in 2015-16. The committee found no real cost savings if Belgrade withdrew. The committee stated unanimously that if the town really wanted professional analysis, it could hire a consultant, but it did not need to withdraw to take this step. Why then is a vote to withdraw the only path forward? Lastly, the fact sheet states, “For some towns that have left their RSU, the result has been lower taxes and more money for the local school.”

Our school funding committee said otherwise, and if that is not enough, based upon an analysis of data at the Maine Department of Education and Maine Revenue Services, of the 13 towns that withdrew from their RSUs between 2012 and 2015, 11 saw their property tax rates increase. The average increase was 18 percent; in four of the towns, rates increased over 20 percent and as much as 72 percent.

I can back this data up since my family owns a camp in Northport, which is just like Belgrade in terms of its waterfront property. Northport withdrew in 2015. Since that point, property taxes on my family’s home have increased by 60 percent. In a time of increased financial strain and reduced municipal budgets, leaving an RSU and going on your own is not going to bring about a financial windfall as has been predicted.

What is especially disheartening is that there really is no good reason for Belgrade to withdraw based upon fact or consensus. Parents of children in the public schools are not leading the charge for withdrawal because of the quality of education. Nor has it been proven that some panacea for reduced taxation will be found. Instead, this referendum is being moved forward by a group that has no children in the district trying to make decisions on behalf of those who do.

In the end, Belgrade voters know the difference between truth and fiction and I know they will do what’s right. Vote no on Question 1 and keep Belgrade students in RSU 18.

Dana Doran is a resident of Belgrade and a parent of two RSU 18 students.

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