Monday, December 9, 2013
By Michael Shepherd firstname.lastname@example.org
HALLOWELL — Andrew McPherson has said he's running for City Council partly because he's dismayed by recent property tax hikes.
Hall-Dale Elementary School's entrance. Team Hall-Dale, a group organized by Hallowell City Council candidate Andrew McPherson, hoped to raise $558,000 by June 2004 to fund upgrades to the school that the state wouldn't pay for, but raised only $241,000, about 41 percent of the goal, before fundraising ended. While plans are afoot to revive the group and the fundraising effort, Regional School Unit 2 chairwoman Dawn Gallagher says McPherson's campaigning on opposition to higher taxes is dismaying, as the school department has had to make up the funding gap left by Team Hall-Dale's efforts falling short.
Staff file photo by Jim Evans
But the chairwoman of Regional School Unit 2's school board, whose budget was a factor in forcing an 8 percent tax increase in Hallowell this year, sees a contradiction in McPherson's conservative message.
Team Hall-Dale, the volunteer group he formed more than nine years ago, has failed to raise the money it pledged, so Hallowell and Farmingdale have not recouped funding for the lion's share of upgrades to Hall-Dale Elementary School.
Team Hall-Dale hoped to raise $558,000 by June 2004 to fund upgrades to the school that the state wouldn't pay for, including a larger gymnasium, library and cafeteria. The $12.4-million school opened in 2006.
To date, the group has handed over approximately $241,000, about 41 percent of the goal.
Over the past year, Mayor Charlotte Warren — a supporter of McPherson's council bid — has pledged to help Team Hall-Dale raise its target amount.
But little, if any, progress has been made, and it has opened political wounds in the city.
McPherson, a Chamberlain Drive engineer, said earlier this month that Team Hall-Dale had a few thousand dollars in its bank account, and fundraising will restart soon.
Warren said she remains ready to help and optimistic McPherson will carry out his goal.
But a plan Warren conceived to revive the group last November hasn't gotten off the ground and in 2009, Hallowell and Farmingdale funded most of the upgrades from their.
RSU 2 board Chairwoman Dawn Gallagher, a Hallowell resident, said that makes McPherson's budget criticism hard to hear.
"As a private citizen, I am utterly dismayed that someone would condemn the school budget when that someone is responsible for a $300,000 pledge that the RSU is now paying for," she said.
Warren said, however, Gallagher's criticism is rooted in old political battles.
Footing the bill
In September 2004, the $558,000 for upgrades to the elementary school, on Hallowell's Winthrop Street, was authorized by voters, who also allowed the district to accept up to $600,000 from Team Hall-Dale.
McPherson, then a city councilor, rolled out Team Hall-Dale earlier that year. Minutes from a school board meeting on Sept. 1, 2004, say McPherson reported $400,000 in donations and pledges.
Later that month, the Kennebec Journal quoted him at a public hearing as saying "this school won't cost anyone here any more money." McPherson then said he had more than $300,000 in written pledges.
While the money Team Hall-Dale has donated has gone toward paying some debt from the upgrades, McPherson has blamed the lack of money on a shrinking group of volunteers and an economic recession that caused pledges to dry up.
Team Hall-Dale's first donation to the district — $175,000 — came in 2006. Another $40,000 came in 2007.
Until the 2009 formation of RSU 2, that was all the group gave. Absent more money, Hallowell and Farmingdale residents voted in June 2009 to fund the outstanding amount for the upgrades, according to Virgel Hammonds, RSU 2's superintendent.
After that vote, the RSU could use nearly $342,000 from School Administrative Unit 16, the former school district for Hallowell and Farmingdale, to pay off debt for the upgrades into the future.
Hammonds said that pool of money has been drawn down upon to pay over the past years, with annual withdrawals in the ballpark of $40,000.
Between 2009 and July 2012, $75 came in from Team Hall-Dale. Then, in August 2012, another $26,000 came in. That money has been put toward debt service, according to Hammonds.
Still, any future amount of money Team Hall-Dale raises isn't guaranteed to solely benefit Hallowell and Farmingdale students.
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Hallowell Mayor Charlotte Warren
Staff file photo by Joe Phelan
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Staff file photo