For the past year, school districts have been operating as if they’re in a leaking ferry that’s far from the dock — it’s all hands on deck, all the time. Every minute gets you closer to bringing people home safe, and at the same time, closer to crashing on the rocks.

I am lucky enough to be a school board member in Regional School Unit 9, which includes my town of Farmington and nine other towns in the area. It’s a very good district, with very good people. I’d tell you it’s the best part of Maine, but I don’t want all of you to move here.

The pandemic has been very taxing for children, parents, staff and teachers. No one plan, no matter how good it is, works for everyone one. Children are in school some days and not others, not everyone has reasonably good internet access, parents have difficulties (or impossibilities) fitting in their jobs and their children’s schedules. When the board considers making adjustments, the change will almost certainly negatively affect others. They haven’t invented the charts that can track the stress level.

To top that off, our district has had some leadership difficulties that, for a while, had nearly everyone at each other’s throats. As a nearly regular event, anger was expressed, inappropriate things were done and inappropriate words were exchanged. I shared in some of those experiences — no one looks at me and thinks I’m a priest. The pastor on the board, by the way, never did any of those things.

We have new leadership now. Our board, which is earnest, practical, and decent, is concentrating on working together and working together well. We are in the middle of our budget, contract negotiations for teachers and administration, a superintendent hiring search, and will be starting contract negotiations for support staff very soon. We decided to postpone a goal-setting process for the time being.

This brings us back to the budget. The part of the budget coming from the state, which is most of it, is always late. That’s been how it’s been for quite a while.

What we do as a district is go through what we know, what we think we know, what we think we don’t know, recognize that it could all be changed if someone in Augusta gets whipped up, package together something for a budget that as close as we can get. We hold a town meeting to set what goes on the ballot, get it to the voters, and then see if Augusta does something different.

Not this time.

The Legislature has had a rule. If it gets its budget done by April 1, 90 days before the end of the fiscal year, then it takes a majority to pass. If it cannot get its work done in time, the budget must be passed as an emergency measure, which goes into effect immediately but takes a two-thirds vote to pass.

In the last several legislatures, it hasn’t been able to get its work done by April 1, and there are those in the Legislature who use that opportunity to, well, cause more uncertainty. It’s been used to gain concessions that would never have been gained in regular times, to undo agreements made, and at times, to put a wrench into a process that may be going too smoothly. At times, it’s forced our state government to shut down for a short time. Shutting a government down used to be unthinkable. Now, for some, it’s a tactic.

In the meantime, Maine’s school districts and municipalities twist in the wind. RSU 9 doesn’t get to shut down. We and other local governments have a job to do.

This time, our Legislature passed a budget before April 1. The state government will not be shut down. The school funding levels are set until the supplement budget is finished. RSU9 and other local governments are able to do their jobs better.

Those who would rather watch the process go by, with plans to gum up stuff when a two-thirds vote is needed, are pretty upset. If I was one of those types, I might be upset as well. But the rest of us can continue to work to serve our school districts and municipalities, grateful for a legislature and state government that recognizes the jobs we have to do.

I hope this becomes a habit. In the uncertain world of educating children during a pandemic, we need as much certainty as we can.

We are not out of the woods yet. More people need to be vaccinated for our schools to be fully reopened to in-person instruction in the fall.

Still, the folks in Augusta have made our job in our school district just a little easier.

Wayne Kinney of Farmington is a member of the RSU 9 school board, which covers Farmington and nine other towns in Franklin, Kennebec, and Somserset counties.


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