By Doug Curtis, Jr.
As 2017 comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the past and set a plan for the future. Some people set New Year’s resolutions, but most do not write them down and they just fade away in early February. Americans seem to have a very short attention span before we are on to the next great thing.
When I think about Rockland’s future, I think about where we are now, where we have been and where we want to be. I have the advantage of living here most of my life except for when I was in college or in the military. I can tell how long a person has lived in Rockland if they know where the old Sears building was or 40 Fathoms. Most of my Rockland District High School classmates don’t live in Rockland, but the vast majority of them live in Knox County. While some of them work in Rockland, most of them don’t dive into Rockland politics or what is going on in RSU 13 because most of them don’t live here. That was not the way it was growing up in the old MSAD #5. Sure many kids moved away, but many of them have returned. They just don’t live in Rockland. That doesn’t mean they don’t care what is going on, and in fact many of them are not happy with what they see.
While the fish packing plants with their smell may be gone and have been replaced by Art galleries, they provided good paying jobs for many local residents. If you wanted a good pair of shoes you could find them at Murray’s shoe store or a nice suit at Coffin’s, Gregory’s or woman’s clothing at Senter Crane’s. If your kids wanted some candy or toys, you could find them at JJ Newberry’s or Woolworth’s downtown. Perhaps you needed some nails at Crie’s hardware while you were grocery shopping at the A& P. Today all those stores have been replaced by nonprofits, restaurants, art galleries and coffee shops.
In many ways, Rockland is just a microcosm of what is going on in society, except for one thing. Most of the people who live in Rockland don’t really know what has been going on in the Rockland school system. Yes, they know that they have approved a $23.2 million dollar school construction project, but most don’t know that Rockland is paying the majority of the bill (40%) for it. Most people don’t know that a total of 19 people from five towns approved the latest $26 million plus school budget that people voted on in June. It passed in Rockland with only ten percent of the registered voters voting.
The RSU 13 consolidation savings of $2 million evaporated early on and if you were a former teacher in the old MSAD#5, you have not had a cost of living raise in almost 6 years. Unless something is done, RSU 13 will lose another $400,000 when St. George pulls their high school students in 2018 because the school district charges each student approximately $3,000 above the state average. Oceanside High School has one of the most expensive per pupil costs in the state at $15,866 compared to the state average of $11,238 for the 2013-14 school year. Yet, South school is busting at the seams for classroom space while many Rockland parents ship their kids off to Owls Head and Guilford Butler. In 2014-15, the graduation rate at Oceanside High School was 78.1% compared to the state average of 87.5% according to the State Department of Education. I have to ask myself, what can we do to turn this around?
The most obvious choice is we are so focused on building construction; we are not paying attention to the smaller things that could lead to better educational results. All citizens of Rockland should be concerned about our school system, not just those who have kids or grandchildren in school. We need to hold our elected leaders accountable, but we also need to support them with good ideas and question them when we don’t always agree.
Perhaps we should all pause for a moment to think our actions through and consider the second and third order effects to what we are doing to our students and our community. I think that would be a good New Year’s resolution for all of us.