The current debacle in RSU 13, a school district in mid-coast Maine, provides a unique opportunity for taxpayers and employees alike to push that district to better serve its citizens. In order to seize this opportunity the district’s stakeholders must recognize that inclusiveness and transparency are of primary importance in decision-making.
RSU 13 (along with many other districts in the state of Maine and beyond) has operated according to an outmoded top-down model of decision-making for far too long. Stakeholders are left in the dark, with certain players controlling the show, while the majority – most teachers, most parents, most taxpayers, even some administrators – are relegated to standing room only seats. This is not good for morale and it does not lead to good decision-making. Recent events in RSU 13 have shone a spotlight on a dysfunctional style of leadership.
In the particular case of the RSU 13 district, the Board needs to take the time to explain to the stakeholders: why they agreed to the extraordinarily generous severance package awarded the departing superintendent; where all the money they started the year with is now; how they intend to make decisions from now on; why they allowed the situation in that district to fester for so long that it has now eaten up the money needed for school supplies, professional development, and field trips for students.
How RSU 13 handles their current troubles can serve as a model for other districts eager to move forward. Their top-down model of running schools belongs to a less complex, more naïve, previous era. The model for the 21st century is one where administrators, teachers, parents, and other taxpayers work in partnership to make decisions. Educational decisions in this century require far too complex an analysis to leave to just a few players. The public fiasco the taxpayers of RSU 13 are living with now should serve as a wake-up call to look deeply at how that district – and others – works. In the same way that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the energy of district stakeholders to make sure their school districts are transparent in the way they go about safeguarding the future of the students in their care.