(Inaugural Speech by Rick Carter – 12/07/09) Good evening. I would like to thank the board for the privilege of serving as the chair for the upcoming year. First and foremost I would like to take a moment to talk about Mike Eastman. As you know, Mike passed away this past September. I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to, on behalf of the board and myself, say how much he will be missed. Mike’s commitment to kids, the South Portland schools, and the South Portland community have been well chronicled. Mike always put kids first, whether it was during budget discussions, a disciplinary issue, or to praise a performance. I think the people of South Portland showed their great respect and gratitude when, even after his passing, they overwhelmingly voted for Mike. The community came out in the hundreds to honor and memorialize Mike at the celebration of his life, and in the thousands when they voted for him; a tremendous legacy indeed. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Stacy Gato for her leadership over this past year. Her steady hand and grace under pressure has served the board, and more importantly, the students of South Portland very well. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Al Livingston and Jerry McQueeny for their willingness to step up and serve. Along those same lines, a thank you goes out to all of the people who ran for board seats. Without all of these individuals, the system doesn’t work. I would also like to congratulate Tom Coward on his election to mayor. I look forward to working with Tom and the rest of the council during the upcoming year. A thank you also deserves to go out to Tom Blake, our outgoing mayor, for his service this past year. Looking toward this upcoming year, we will obviously be facing some tremendous challenges and difficult decisions. The struggling economy has pushed all levels of government to reassess what services they could afford to provide and what is the best, most cost effective way to provide them. We have all either heard or have been part of these debates. But in this debate, schools are somewhat different. Our schools in South Portland, as well as all cities and towns, are required to welcome all that come through our doors and provide them with a quality education. And that is exactly as it should be. A strong public education system is essential to the city’s, the state’s, and the country’s future success. We provide the platform from which our students can advance onto college, the military, or into the workforce with the skills needed for their personal future success. So, how do we balance the financial constraints that we face with our duty to ensure that all of our students are prepared for their futures? Unfortunately, we have had some experience with this balancing. Last year we faced similar budget stresses. The board spent many hours going through the budget line by line. Every step of the way we asked ourselves and each other the very simple yet extremely important question, how will that expense directly impact student learning and student success? The board made some very difficult choices last year, but in the end never compromised on our core goal of student achievement. In the coming months we will need to address two major issues impacting our students’ achievement. One is the deteriorating condition of our high school and middle school facilities. We cannot and should not expect our kids to put up with conditions that few of us would tolerate. As many of you may know, the accrediting panel that reviewed South Portland High School commended many of the educational programs at the high school, yet put it on warning status due to the poor condition of the facilities. Our students cannot fully achieve their potential if the educational facility is substandard. I believe that it is critical to the students of South Portland that we reach out to the citizens and implore them to vote to renovate the high school to a standard that we can all be proud of. A school isn’t just about the families and the kids that attend those schools, but it is a reflection of our community. We will also face an even more difficult budget this coming year. The state has reduced our general purpose aid funding for the current year by approximately 1.2 million dollars. South Portland has received the second largest reduction in the state. And we face the possibility of further cuts for both this and next year’s budgets. So what do we do? The school department has already frozen its budget for the current year. We have also put together a task force consisting of the union presidents, administrators, and a board representative to focus on potential solutions. The task force recommendations will not only help to guide us through the current year, but will also be an example of how we will need to address next year. It will take all parties involved, the board, administrators, unions, and parents to work together towards solutions. Next year, the board will once again review the budget line by line squeezing every dollar we can. We will once again be facing choices that we would rather not be making. But we will make them, and we will make them with our student’s best interest foremost in our minds. And we will succeed. We have no option, as some wonderful things happen every year, a new group of kindergartners will enter our schools, our seniors will graduate and move onto the next stage of their lives, and in between many stages of growth and learning will take place. I want to end by repeating something that I said earlier. We open our doors and we welcome all who want to learn. Our collective futures depend upon it. Thank you.
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