Our hometown North Korean democracy: The Bangor School System leadership

Today’s Bangor Daily News has a small story about the request by the Bangor School System for a 2.26% increase in its budget from last year. As always, there are compelling reasons provided for additional funds. And as always, there are legitimate arguments in favor of reducing that figure. Bangor voters will once again be asked to vote in a special election to approve the budget. Few ever turn out, so that every vote truly counts.
I have always voted to approve the budget in these special elections and would still have done so this time around even though my two children are no longer in the Bangor School System. The System is highly regarded throughout the state, and its many academic, athletic, and cultural accomplishments are the envy of many other Maine school districts. Current Supt. Betsy Webb is well respected as a very hard worker who runs a very tight ship. As everyone knows, Supt. Webb was honored as the Maine Supt. of the Year not long ago.
But Webb’s tight ship is increasingly worrisome to me and, I’m sure, to other Bangor voters who will seriously consider voting against the school budget. It is one thing to seek consensus from the elected Bangor School Committee, but it is quite another apparently to continue to stifle any dissent and to pressure Committee members never to ask tough questions, at least in the televised and repeatedly rebroadcast public meetings. What goes on “behind closed doors” can only be speculated about, but we know that for many years the then Committee Chair visited any potentially free thinking colleagues to tell them how to behave. Recall those revelations from a Bangor Daily News story of several years ago about why all Committee votes were always unanimous. JUST LIKE NORTH KOREA, WHICH MIGHT ACTUALLY ENVY THE BANGOR SCHOOL COMMITTEE’S DISCIPLINED BEHAVIOR
Watching the proceedings at home, as I often do, I wonder about the lessons being imparted to Bangor citizens, to Bangor students, faculty, and staff, and to the rest of Maine. Would it be catastrophic if anything remotely democratic took place in these meetings? Are the Supt. and the majority of School Committee members incapable of handling any dissenting views? Is this their version of democracy at the grass roots?
My immediate concern is the considerable amount of precious dollars wasted on the hiring last year of former Orono Middle School Principal Robert Lucy as Bangor’s Assistant Supt. in charge of technology, assessment, and curriculum. Behind the rationale of confidentiality, Bangor’s citizens and taxpayers will apparently not be told how much it cost to pay his salary for doing nothing for months and the legal fees spent on investigating the relevance of the Orono Middle School test score controversy. Yet Supt. Webb wants to keep that position in her proposed budget. I find this outrageous.
So I ask those who might vote on the Bangor School budget to demand some basic accounting or else to reject the budget. I’m sorry if this violates the North Korean ethos of the Bangor School System administration. On the whole, I prefer democracy.

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