An opportunity for Trenton

Dear Editor:

The Trenton petition offers an opportunity for voters to learn what, if anything, can be done about the ever-rising education budget. It does not predict gloom and doom for our children’s education. The education budget, however, may predict gloom and doom for Trenton.

It simply asks that a committee be established to draft a plan of withdrawal from AOS 91. It does not cause the Trenton Elementary School to withdraw. It merely asks that a plan be drafted. If such a plan were to be written, perhaps the voters of Trenton could compare what being an independent school unit might look like up against continued membership in AOS 91.

Having lived in Trenton for nearly 20 years, and having served the town for over a decade as an elected tax assessor, I have a deep interest in learning why our tax rate continues to climb alarmingly. After working with colleagues on the School Evaluation Options Committee, I am convinced that the driving force is our annual school budget. Can anything be done to curb its upward slope? Does anyone in Trenton care? Is there a better way to spend our tax dollars and give our children a fine education? The answers are unknown.

Since 2013, according to the Maine Department of Education, at least 41 schools have withdrawn from their school administrative units. What do they know that we don’t know? Why did they make the break? According to MDOE, there are 414 elementary schools, 121 middle schools and 138 high schools in Maine, with a total of 201,651 students in public schools statewide. The site also tells me that Trenton Elementary School has 146 students. How can anyone claim that the only education option for our 146 children must be membership in AOS 91? What about all these other schools and other children? Are they going without? Will they be harmed because they can’t attend AOS 91 schools? Somehow these other communities are finding their way to educating their young and hopefully giving them a bright future. Is remaining with AOS 91 the only path to a good education and a bright future for our children in Trenton? Maybe, maybe not. The answer is unknown. 

We need a reality check. In 2017, the Trenton school budget rose 8.49 percent, increasing taxes per $100,000 of property valuation by $71.83. In 2018 it rose 5.53 percent, increasing taxes per $100,000 of property valuation by $72.80. In 2019, it rose 15.13 percent, increasing taxes by $147.70; and, in 2020 it rose 7.89 percent, increasing taxes by $85.75. The proposed 2021 school budget will again rise by 1.14 percent, increasing taxes by $19.84 per $100,000. In five short years, our school budget rose over $1 million. Taxes on $100,000 of property valuation rose by $398.

Are we destined to take it every year without question? At what point would any taxpayer in any town in Maine demand that something be done to turn the tide? I think that time has come in Trenton. Let us not be the lemmings rushing to the edge of the cliff. Let us ask our Board of Selectmen and our School Committee to listen to the voters. The petition is simply asking for answers — can we do this better? Can we turn the tide?  Without a plan of withdrawal, how will we ever know? The Trenton School Committee has shown no inclination to examine and react to the rising school budget. Voting for the plan of withdrawal demands that they appoint a committee to examine the issue, to draft a plan. Once the facts are known, the voters will have an opportunity to reject or accept the plan. Please vote to appoint a committee to draft a plan of withdrawal from AOS 91. It’s the only way we will get some answers.

Susan A. Starr