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Alna silences public comment on school choice

Silence is golden for town leaders in Alna. (WGME)

ALNA (WGME) – Silence is golden for town leaders in Alna.

The issue of private school payouts by the town has become too testy to talk about.

Local leaders say an impending vote is a distracting discussion, which is why it can no longer be brought up during meetings. But others say leaders are blocking public discourse, a bad idea a month before a major vote.

Alna Selectman Doug Baston says the topic of school choice is bringing meetings to a standstill.

Last week, the board decided that only agenda items can be brought up in public comment periods.

"It wasn't productive,” Baston said. “We were having the same discussion again and again and we were telling them, 'wait for people to vote, you'll have a chance to vote on it.'”

Right now, all students grades K-12 have the right to attend, at the public's expense, any school they choose, whether public or private.

The petition in question would amend this for all new students to the district. If approved the town would pay for public school for all K-8 students, but would not pay for private schools. This would not impact current students, only those new to the town as of June 30, 2018. Children currently living in the town would be grandfathered into the old policy.

All students in grades 9-12 would still have the choice of public or private school, because the Town of Alna does not have a high school in its district.

Cathy Jones is a parent in Alna. She says the ban on bringing up the topic is politics at play.

"A lot of important things were said and a lot of really important questions were asked,” Jones said. “And perhaps those were questions that they didn't want asked or answered and that's why they don't want public comment."

While concerns vary from drama to democracy, both agree it’s a big issue for a small town of 700.

"In a small town, the less drama you have, however this settles, we all have to live with each other again," Baston said.

The vote is scheduled for March 23 in Alna.

Comment on issues outside the agenda will return the next day, during a town meeting scheduled for March 24.

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