Naoto Kobayashi teaches a Japanese language class June 14, 2012, at Richmond Middle School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

HALLOWELL — Naoto Kobayashi made an impact on the students at Hall-Dale Middle School from the day he stepped foot in the building in 1993. After coming from Japan to Hallowell for the interview, he stepped foot in a classroom full of sixth graders and tried teaching them Japanese before he headed back to Tokyo.  

When he left the building, a little girl came running after him with “big bunches of paper.” 

“They were cards from the students to me,” Kobayashi recalled. “They said, ‘Thank you Mr. Kobayashi for coming from Japan to Maine to teach us Japanese. We hope you come here.’” 

But the program Kobayashi grew from 1993 to when he retired last year is facing a “phase-out” based on low enrollment in the program and a stressed budget year in which officials have been tasked with cutting around more than a dozen staff positions.  

The potential of the Japanese language program being dramatically scaled back prompted emotional testimony Thursday night before the Regional School Unit 2 board of directors, which ultimately voted 5-3 against the $34.5 million budget proposal. Voting against the proposed budget were board members Deb Large, Leanne Burnham, Chris Asch, Jon Lambert and Aimee Campbell O’Connor, while Jeff Bickford, Jim Grandahl and Kathryn Marseglia voted in favor. 

The district’s Finance Committee will now need to revise the budget proposal before it is reconsidered by the committee.


Keith Morang, the district’s teacher union representative, spoke Thursday during the public comment portion, saying that after spending “countless” hours with the administration, he and other teachers were not consulted before the proposed cuts to positions and programs were announced. 

“We had people find out about their positions being cut in a curriculum committee meeting, where they were unable to compose themselves, but there was never anything put out to staff, to parents, to kids about those cuts, so people are finding out in the hallways,” Morang said. 

When word got out to the community about the cuts, dozens of teachers, students and community members showed up to Thursday night’s meeting. About 25 people advocated in public comment against the cuts that included their favorite teachers and programs. 

Naoto Kobayashi teaches a Japanese language class on June 14, 2012, at Richmond Middle School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Students spoke about how the Japanese language program not only helped broaden their “cultural horizons,” but also helped them develop a passion for the language, while parents spoke about how they saw their children flourish and become passionate about learning. One student spoke in Japanese to advocate for the grades 3-12 program. Board members said it is the only such program at those grade levels in the state of Maine. 

Officials were not proposing to cut the Japanese program entirely but to only offer it at Hall-Dale High School instead of at all schools within the district. Kobayashi retired last year, but there are still two Japanese teachers in the district. The cuts would have eliminated one position and made the remaining position part-time. 

Across the district, there are 31 students enrolled in Japanese at the high school level and at the middle school level there are 30 eighth-grade students enrolled. 


Kobayashi spoke on the importance of learning a language at a young age, as the district offers Japanese, French and Spanish to students starting in third grade. He said students in RSU 2 have “amazing” pronunciation, similar to native speakers because of how young they start learning. 

Superintendent Rick Amero explained to the community that the budget process was difficult with Richmond’s withdrawal from the district. He said that throughout the budget-building process the finance committee was mindful of the 5.6% increase, or an additional $856,974, the budget would have on the four remaining municipalities and did not want that number to go above $1 million. 

“There are still a lot of people who aren’t here and where $856,000 in taxes to four towns is a lot,” said Finance Committee Chair Grandahl. “There are people in town who are making decisions about fuel and food where they might get a 6% increase to their taxes. This process is set up well to have a voice – if it’s too high, they (municipalities) will tell us. If it’s too low, we can add stuff in.” 

Staff cuts were proposed with future enrollment at the schools in mind and based on the size of the current programs and classes a teacher offers.  

Vacant positions were eliminated, but among the filled positions that were cut under the proposed budget were: three assistant building and grounds directors; a grounds security person; part-time school counselor and a K-5 teacher in Dresden Elementary School; one Japanese teacher while reducing another Japanese teacher to part-time; part-time Spanish teacher; part-time social studies teacher; an English teacher; a combined French and Spanish teacher; three special education technicians; and a special ed teacher that is retiring.  

Some expenses driving the budget increase are outside the district’s control, such as with the special education cost, which is an additional $500,000; obligated staff salary increases at $433,483; utilities that had an increase of 23%; and contracted student transportation between Hallowell and Dresden Elementary School at an increase of $60,500. 

The proposed budget of $34.5 million the finance committee sent to the board represents a 2.41% increase over last year’s budget and would be a 5.88% increase to the four municipalities, or an increase of $856,874 to the local allocation.  

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