Monthly Archives: January 2013

January 28 – February 1, 2013

Bills list for this session

The Revisor’s Office has published the list of legislator’s bill requests.  My education committee is schedule to work about 180 bills, a substantial load.

Supplemental budget

In a work session that was pleasurable to no one, the Education Committee endorsed the across the board supplemental budget reductions made necessary by the Governor’s curtailment order. Notable changes include:

  • $12,579,756 cut from General Purpose Aid to schools
  • $2,535,228 cut from the University of Maine system
  • <$724,451 cut from the Community College system
  • <$143,401 cut from the Finance Authority of Maine for student aid.

On a 10-1 vote, we also voted to allow the General Fund to “raid” this year’s unallocated revenue from the Oxford Casino which currently is dedicated towards future GPA.  As abhorrent as the decision was, it seemed better than the alternative which was to cut additional currently allocated funds from GPA.

We declined to endorse the proposed elimination of eligibility for kindergarten-aged disabled children to participate in the Child Development Services program.

In a split vote, the Committee declined to endorse the re-framing of the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Education Services to limit its application to reorganizations centered on Career and Technical Education facilities.

The Committee most likely also would have declined to endorse the Governor’s proposal to increase from 5% to 10% the surcharges paid to private academies for capital expenses.  But, sensing the lack of support, the Commissioner withdrew that section.

Charter schools, which receive their money through the local schools’ budgets were exempted from curtailment under the Governor’s proposal.  To me, that seemed particularly unfair — as not only are the local school’s funds being curtailed across the board but also, without passing through the matching curtailment for the charters, the state would be forcing the local schools to cut even further into their own funding in order to augment their payment to the charters’ at the full rate.

So, our committee floated an amendment to pass the reductions through to the charters at the same curtailment rate as each sending district’s curtailment.  This amendment was approved by a majority of committee members but the vote, unfortunately, fell exactly on party lines – somewhat to my surprise.

Even more surprising, the Department of Education and the House Republicans each immediately followed up with press releases characterizing the committee’s decision as political.  Fortunately, an article in the Bangor Daily News explains the issue more fairly.

Health and Human Services Committee objects to cuts

In their own report back to the Appropriations Committee on the supplemental budget, the Health and Human Services Committee was split on some of the Governor’s recommendations.  A majority of the HHS committee opposed:

With the Washington County delegation, on Wednesday afternoon, I met with representatives of the Downeast Salmon Federation to hear their proposal for re-opening the Saint Croix River to alewives.  The Federation believes that a strong expanded alewife spawning habitat on the Saint Croix would significantly benefit the groundfish population in the Gulf of Maine.  Some guides in the headwater lakes of the Saint Croix worry that alewives will harm bass sport fishing.

Upcoming week

On Tuesday evening, the Governor will deliver his State of the State speech to us in the legislature.

Thursday afternoon, the Education Committee will hold a stakeholders forum to hear concerns about the Essential Programs and Services school funding model.

Many of you have emailed me with your concerns. I appreciate that. Please continue to let me hear from you.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Appropriations hearings

This afternoon the Education and Appropriations Committees jointly heard public testimony on the sections of the Governor’s proposed supplemental budget related to education.

The affected state agencies all testified that, given the regrettable necessity of curtailment, they could make do with their share of the cuts.  But, following their testimony, advocates raised concerns about several accompanying redirections in policy:

  • the proposed increase in the ‘Insured Value Factor’ surcharge to tuition paid to private academies. 
  • the redefinition of the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Educational Services restricting it to major restructurings centered around career and technical education facilities.
  • the elimination of parental ‘choice’ to opt for special services for disabled students of kindergarten age outside of kindergarten coordination and oversight.
  • the breaking of faith shown in diverting casino revenue that was statutorily dedicated to fund education to fill the larger budget hole.

Our committee will deliberate on the related sections of the supplemental budget in work sessions on Monday.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Briefly attended a breakfast meeting with representatives from Maine’s independent schools – John Bapst, George Stevens, Washington Academy, etc.  The academies are as uneasy about their share of public money as public schools this season.

During the morning House session, we referred several more bills to the Education Committee, including one which seeks to require schools to offer firearms training.

Maine’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts hosted a confab In the Hall of Flags and I got to speak briefly with Megan Facciolo, the District Manager for Hancock County’s SWCD, an organization for which I formerly was an associate supervisor.

At lunch, I sat in with the ‘Measures of Growth’ caucus which advocates for data-driven legislative decision making based upon the Maine Economic Growth Council’s annual report ‘Measures of Growth in Focus.’  Areas of particular concern are research and development expenditures, fourth grade reading scores, cost of health care, transportation infrastructure, and wellness and prevention.

Afternoon, in Committee, we heard an in-depth presentation from Jim Rier, Department of Education’s Finance Director, on the mechanisms underlying the Essential Programs and Services ‘adequacy’ model and Maine’s school funding formula. We also reviewed a spreadsheet that outlined by school district, the percent reductions of school budgets as a consequence of the budget curtailment – which were consistently in the range of 0.5% to 1%.  Two items I noted from Mr RIer’s presentation were: 1) that cushioning the fixed costs of our schools against Maine’s declining student enrollments currently pads EPS by about $25 million. And 2) 46% of Maine students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a substantive indicator of poverty.

Following that, the Committee had more discussion with Commissioner Bowen about the education-related pieces of the supplemental budget.  Committee members expressed concern about the transfer of dedicated $14 million in casino revenue from education to the General Fund, noting that the casino approval last session was arguably a compromise based upon the commitment of that dedicated revenue.  I think that good point is generally understood but the fact remains that if that unallocated money were preserved for GPA in future years, then the legislature will be obligated to cut $14 million elsewhere in the current budget, a process that will be painful enough already.

As Rier and Bowen explain it, there are really two different parts of the supplemental budget that touch upon the substance of the curtailment as it relates to education.  First there is the $12.6 million reduction in General Purpose Aid to education.  That’s essentially the cost to Maine schools as education’s share of the $35.5 million curtailment.  Second there is the transfer of $14.1 million in unallocated money from casino revenue to the General Fund which is probably best understood in the larger context of filling the larger budget hole which is exacerbated by conditions outside of education.

Committee members also expressed concern that limiting eligibility for disabled five-year-olds to receive services under CDS would increase costs to local schools, whether these kids’ needs were met either directly through school kindergarten programs or contracted elsewhere.  The Commissioner argues that the total cost of services may not necessarily be increased and that, overall, there can be savings from efficeincy and more comprehensive oversight.

I asked the Commissioner some more about the language modifying the Fund for Efficeint Delivery of Educational Services, which seems not only to provide incentives for collaboration and consolidation but also to push a bit further towards a certain vision for these consolidations centered on career and technical education (a particular interest of the Governor’s) perhaps making it more difficult for other collaborative or consolidated models.

Given the climate of curtailment, Committee members also seemed reluctant to provide additional support for the private academies by increasing their ‘Insured Value Factor’ which is meant to support the capital costs of their facilities.

Friday afternoon, all these components of the supplemental budget will be the subject of public hearings in Appropriations.

Finally, late afternoon, I sat in on another Appropriations public hearing on the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the cost of living increase for retired teachers.  The hearing was well-attended  and lasted for nearly three hours as many retired teachers shared their stories of hardship in the face of what they took to be a betrayal of an economic and social contract.

 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Continuing agency briefings

More briefings this morning from agencies under the jurisdiction of the Education Committee.

James Page, Chancellor of the University of Maine System, reminded us that the University’s mission remains education, research & economic development, and service to Maine communities.  UMaine challenges are largely economic, similar to those facing other state public institutions. As education is the key to jobs and professions, University has special obligation to keep education affordable.

Maine graduates about 14,000 high school students each year.  Maine Development Foundation has determined that 230,000 Mainers, a staggering number, engaged in some sort of post-secondary education but never completed with any sort of degree.  In 2010, President Obama outlined a goal to have the US as a nation reach a college degree completion rate of 60%.  In order for Maine to meet its share of this goal, the University will have to engage at least as many Maine adults in addition to each year’s high school graduates.

Also, along with most other schools, the University facing the revolutionary challenges of on-line and distance learning.

So, to meet these three challenges – affordability, expanded adult education, and distance learning – the University is committing to partner better with other schools, businesses, and their communities.

We also heard from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network whose representatives included former state senator Karl Turner. In response to years of political squabbles over public financing of the state’s statutory obligation to cover the $2.6 million annual cost of MPBN’s infrastructure, Turner explained that MPBN hopes to engage in a ‘fee-for-service’ relationship with the state to more solidly account for this.

We then heard from the Children’s Growth Council, strong advocates for early childhood education initiatives which presently have notable private backing from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Early Learning Investment Group.  Early childhood education feels like an effort with legs this session.

In the afternoon, the Committee heard a briefing from the Jobs for Maine Graduates program, a non-profit public-private partnership. which serves about 4500 Maine students presumed to be at risk of disengaging from conventional schooling, connecting them with mentors often from local business communities, at a cost of about $1600 per student and remarkably achieving a higher high school graduation rate than the state average.

Essential Programs and Services ‘adequacy’ model and funding formula

We then got a report from the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) outlining their work plan as set by the Committee during the last legislature.  Among other things, MEPRI is due to report back to the Committee this year on teacher evaluation models, the impact of standards-based school programs.  The committee accepted the offer from Craig Mason to explain in more depth some of the background of the more ‘sensitive” aspects of ‘growth models’ relating to evaluation.  Previously filled by a range of education stakeholders, MEPRI’s advisory steering committee is vacant at this time because their work recently has been largely directed by the Education Committee.

From our committee analyst, we received a comprehensive report of the history and progress over the last year following on the Legislature’s Resolve to review the success and flaws of the Essential Programs and Services Funding Act.  Contracted from Lawrence Picus and Associates, this report is due April 1.

The Education Committee is scheduled to hold a public forum on the EPS law with Picus and Associates on February 7.

Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project

In the evening, I sat in with the Washington County legislative delegation to hear a presentation from Ocean Renewable Power Company on their Cobscook Bay tidal energy project which is licensed to produce 5 megawatts of grid-connected power. With the knowledge, expertise, and experience learned locally from this project, ORPC is poised to develop additional projects in Alaska and Chile using Maine-based skills.

The company attributes much of its success to early groundwork that they did building community support and the support from the state that they received in streamlining their permitting and aligning state and federal licensing requirements and providing leverage through the Maine Technology Institute and MTI’s Maine Technology Asset Fund.  The success of ORPC’s business model depends on Maine’s maintenance of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard which the Governor hopes to eliminate.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Energy in Maine

In Augusta, I attended a breakfast meeting on the energy challenges for Maine businesses hosted by the Maine Development Foundation at which legislators heard presentations from economist  Jonathan Rubin from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, Thomas Welch, chair of the Public Utilities Commission, and facilities engineer John Fitzpatrick from the Jackson Lab.

While future costs of energy and its externailities are uncertain, Maine’s economy is poised to benefit substantially from increasing availability of natural gas which is already decreasing the cost of electricity generation.  Also, as fuel standards increase efficiency, public revenue from fuel taxes will decrease unless tax rates increase.

Maine’s electricity rates are the 8th highest in the US but the lowest in New England.   These electricity rates are the result of regional market forces.  If Maine were to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s cap-and-trade program, electricity rates would not decline, but Maine’s producers of renewable energy would lose revenue.

Rate supported efficiency programs such as Efficiency Maine may benefit some users more than others but the overall effect of reduced energy consumption benefits Maine’s economy. Jackson Lab in particular has benefitted from competitive grants from this program.

Increased broadband network can also lower overall energy consumption by reducing and decentralizing transportation.

Maine’s energy future probably lies with diversified fuel sources – biomass, natural gas, wind, tidal, and hydro.  Local heat and power cogeneration facilities make sense for places like Jax.

Clean Elections

A busload of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections from MDI and surrounding area rallied this morning at the state house to lobby legislators in support of public financing of elections and in favor of a constitutional amendment to repeal the supreme court’s decision allowing unlimited campaign contributions from corporations.

20130122_0007_Langley

Hardships for Community Hospitals

Over lunch, I had a good conversation over lunch with Art Blank, President of MDI Hospital about the consequences to community hospitals from the reductions proposed in the Governor’s supplemental budget.

Proposed restrictions in services to disabled children

In the afternoon, with several other of my committee members, I joined the Appropriations Committee in listening to an overview from the Department of Education on the Child Development Services in preparation for consideration of the Governor’s proposal to remove eligibility for disabled kindergarten age students to receive services under the CDS program and, apparently, to expand the contracted use of private services for disabled children younger than kindergarten age.

Pressing forward with the Bridge Year

As he mentioned on Friday in Bangor, Commissioner Bowen formally announced the Governor’s commitment to expanding the Bridge Year model allowing high school students to receive community college credits.

Armed teachers?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The problem with pursuing Canadian hydropower….

Teacher as catalyst

.. the most critical elements of our economic development policy are our middle and high school teachers. A teacher is, or ought to be, a catalyst — an element that, without itself being consumed, enables or speeds the reaction among other elements in a process. While the term ordinarily refers to a chemical process, it is equally applicable to the learning process. Good teachers transform their students, enabling them to become what they wouldn’t have been without the teacher.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bridge Year

On Friday morning, at the United Technologies Center in Bangor I attended a reception hosted by the Bridge Year program, a collaboration between UTC, Hermon High School, Eastern Maine Community College, and the University of Maine System in which high school students receive up to 29.5 community college credits at a subsidized tuition rate.

The presenters described the program as allowing the students to proceed into local technical careers or the military “twice as far, twice as fast” and the students we met showed particular interest and dedication towards pursuing careers in business management, public safety, information technology, culinary arts, small engine repari, building construction, and the electrical trades.

Bridge Year advocates believe that the program is readily transferrable to other interested high schools within range of other career and technical education facilities.  The Governor and Commissioner hope to provide additional support through the biennial budget.

Perhaps most notably, the representative attending from the University said they had learned a great deal about teaching from participating in the program which requires the teachers to have multiple certifications.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns and law enforcement

On Thursday morning, in Augusta I attended the Maine Sheriffs Association breakfast on guns.  The question on everyone’s minds, of course, was what the Sheriffs thought about the President’s initiatives in response to the Sandy Hook shootings.  But the Sheriff’s are naturally circumspect regarding politics.  Nevertheless, it was plain that they wanted legislators to understand that there was little practical distinction between semi-automatic hunting rifles generally taken to be an indispensible part of Maine culture and the sorts of weapons which had been subject to the expired federal ‘assault weapons’ ban. When pressed, the sheriffs plainly wanted legislators attention directed towards issues of ‘mental health’.

Budget reductions affecting Critical Access Hospitals like MDI

At our morning caucus, we learned more about the supplemental budget’s proposals relating to health care.  I’m particularly concerned about reductions in reimbursement to Critical Access Hospitals in rural areas including our own MDI Hospital. Critical Access Hospitals are at a disadvantage under the terms of Maine’s health provider tax which requires a local ‘match’ which is much more favorable to regular hospitals.  Last year, Critical Access Hospitals lost $552,000 under this differential.  Under the proposed reduction, they stand to lose another $290,000.  This means hospitals like ours would be subsidizing the state budget by $842,000.

Legislation to provide education and training for struggling families.

Also Thursday, I joined our House Speaker Mark Eves as a co-sponsor of his bill to support education and training for needy families.

You can read more about Speaker Eves’ priorities here:

More committee briefings and remedial education

Thursday afternoon, the Education Committee heard briefings from the Maine Community College System, the Maine State Library, the Maine Historical Society, and the Maine Humanities Council.  We also adopted our Committee rules.

Along with other committee members, I was interested in hearing about the Community College’s reporting on enrollments in remedial classes  – particularly in how their experience compares to that of the university system, given that the median age of an entering community college student is 27, rather  than 18 or 19.  The Committee will receive a formal report on this next week.

  • Report: Maine students ahead of nation in college readiness, Noel Gallagher, Kennebec Journal

    …Maine’s high school graduates are less likely to need remedial courses in college than their counterparts across the nation. …Gov. Paul LePage has regularly been a sharp critic of Maine’s public high schools. Just last week, at a press conference about charter schools, he said Maine public schools are failing because teachers are lying to their students.

  • Maine below N.E. average on students needing remedial work, Maine School Management Association Bulletin

    …report shows only 12 percent of high school students who entered the University System as freshman in September of 2012 needed remedial work in those core areas, as opposed to the New England average of 24 to 39 percent

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Wednesday morning the Maine Development Foundation announced its Healthy Maine Streets program which Bar Harbor has joined.

Vision and finance for Maine education

Despite the snow, I returned to Augusta for afternoon committee briefings from Maine Maritime Academy, the Finance Authority of Maine, the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, the Maine Arts Commission, the Maine State Museum, and from Commissioner Stephen Bowen.
on the Department of Education

Commissioner Bowen presented an overview of Department organization and his strategic plan. I believe this plan provides a good framework to evaluate the Department of Education and critique policy decisions made by our committee.

At my request, we also received an updated chart giving a comprehensive view of state and local education spending over time.

For the first, time the top line of this chart now shows total local spending, not just the baseline to meet the threshold of Essential Programs and Services.  To my eyes, the most striking feature is that overall education spending is now clearly declining and, for the first time, appears likely cross below the foundational line of EPS.  I am concerned that this trend predicts imminent harm to educational achievement at a time when more and more of our business leaders are telling us that the state needs to commit to better education.

The Commissioner also present the committee with a summary of the portions of the Governor’s supplemental budget that relate to education – essentially a review of what he presented to the Appropriations session that I attended on Tuesday.  I expressed my reservation about the apparent irony of proposing an increase in payment to the private academies in a budget vehicle that is necessitated by substantial curtailment.

The Department also released this information on the biennial budget which will follow the discussion on the supplemental budget.

Lobster hearings

Wednesday evening in Bucksport, the DMR continued its series of public hearings on the lobster fishery.  The Bangor Daily News carried this report:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bills referred to Committee

Tuesday morning, the House began referring bills to respective committees of jurisdiction.  I’m keeping a list of legislation assigned to the Education Committee.

Supplemental budget details

Early Tuesday afternoon, I attended Appropriations Committee briefings on the Governor’s supplemental budget.  Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen presented the details relating to education which include:

  • Curtailing state’s contribution to General Purpose Aid to education for the current school year by $15.5 million, from $910,661,214 to $895,142,711.  This reduction is accomplished through several mechanisms – notably by transferring the state’s liability for teacher retirement payments to local districts and by reducing local reimbursement for special education costs to districts such as MDI.
  • Transferring $14 million in dedicated revenue from the Oxford Casino (which was approved with a statutory dedication to fund K-12 Essential Programs and Services) by ‘sweeping’ it from the EPS account into the General Fund to balance the state budget.
  • Re-focusing the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Services to exclude collaboratives that do not include Career and Technical Centers and to eliminate the requirement that the grants be made competitively allowing the Department of Education more discretion over the awards.
  • Reducing eligibility for disabled children receiving services under the Child Development Services system if they are eligible instead to attend kindergarten.
  • Increasing the amount added to the tuition allowance paid to private academies under the Insured Value Factor from 5% to 10%. This apparently represents an increase of about $2 million – which seems unusual for legislation propelled by spending curtailment.

School mission and vision

Late Tuesday afternoon, I returned to MDI and participated in a school board subcommittee meeting reviewing the MDI Regional School System’s mission and vision. Our ‘Core Four’ beliefs strongly address the current application of our schools vision. Check them out.

Municipal revenue sharing

Tuesday evening, I attended the Bar Harbor Town Council meeting. The Council is gravely concerned about the Governor’s proposal to eliminate municipal revenue sharing and adopted this resolution in support of the Maine Service Centers Coalition’s 2013 legislative priorities:

    “to adopt the Maine Service Center Coalition’s 2013 legislative priorities, request that our representatives in Augusta work to advance these issues and communicate to our State delegation that these are also priorities for the Town of Bar Harbor in the context of a balanced State budget.”

Monday, January 14, 2013

Educational Vision

Monday morning, I met briefly with Senate President Alfond, who was the ranking Senator on the Education Committee last year, to discuss our respective goals in education this session.

Monday afternoon, our committee’s analyst briefed the Education Committee on the reports and research work plans we can expect from our respective agencies and commissions this session.  I’ll be particularly interested in hearing reports on

  • Proficiency-based diplomas and standards-based education
  • Innovative school zones and districts
  • Multi-district on-line learning (especially in the context of the parallel argument separately to implement private virtual charter schools.)
  • The Governor’s proposed ‘school choice’ model
  • Child Development Services system (particularly now in relation to supplemental budget discussion below)
  • Essential Programs and Services costs and effectiveness.
  • The Maine Educator Effectiveness Council
  • Alternative teacher certification pathways
  • Design, cost, and effectiveness of teacher and administrator evaluation models.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday morning, we toured the New Balance factory in Norridgewock which has found increased profitability as the only domestic shoe manufacturer by keeping teams of skilled workers busy assembling custom shoe orders.

Friday afternoon, we visited the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan, heard presentations from Spurwink’s providers of children’s mental health services and education and from Glenn Cummings on Goodwill-Hinckley’s new alternative school, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences which we later toured.

We also heard a panel discussion with representatives from Healthy Maine partner Greater Somerset Public Health Collaborative and from the Pickup Community Supported Agriculture project and the Somerset Grist Mill, an adaptive reuse of the former Somerset County jail.

Friday, the Governor also released his budget proposal which, among many other reductions, calls for eliminating state revenue sharing with municipalities.  Should this part of the Governor’s budget proposal prevail, Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates the tax shifts to local property taxpayers as follows: Bar Harbor: -$422,179; Southwest Harbor: -$163,809; Cranberry Isles: -$7,708; Mount Desert: -$101,151

At the request of several constituents, this weekend I have worked on submitting bills expressing support for Maine fisheries and habitat, to allow more efficient use of nursing services between assisted living facilities, and to protect a few local property owners whose titles might otherwise be in doubt due to a local non-profit’s lapse in corporate authority.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On Thursday morning we heard from the Maine Forest Products Council about management of private forest land and toured the UPM Madison Paper facility which manufactures supercalendered magazine paper using only certified wood fiber. With an ISO 14001 certification for environmental management, Madison Paper has significantly improved energy efficiency and profitability through recent grants from Efficiency Maine.

Thursday afternoon, we visited the Bingham Area Health Center which has a new dental clinic which is the sole provider of dental services in this rural region and which accepts MaineCare and sliding scale payments.

From Bingham, we went to Kingfield and toured Poland Spring’s new LEED certified bottling plant

Thursday evening, we toured Thomas College in Waterville and heard presentations from Thomas College president Laurie Lachance and the private businesses behind the Maine Early Learning Investment Group which is committed to private support of preschool education, understanding such investment and education to be critical to Maine’s economic future.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

On Wednesday morning, the Democratic legislative leadership held a press conference outlining the goals of the Democratic caucus mirroring many of the discussions my colleagues had had the night before.

Following that press conference, the Governor held his own conference objecting to the previous day’s decision by the Charter Commission and calling for their resignation.

From Wednesday afternoon through Friday, I joined a large group of legislators on a tour sponsored by the Maine Development Foundation.

On Wednesday afternoon in Bangor we heard a panel of community business leaders describing the collaboration behind the ‘Bangor Renaissance’ and visited the Cross Insurance Event and Convention Center which is nearing completion.   Later we toured the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at UMaine Orono which is working materials applications for lightweight carbon reinforcement for bridges, on off-shore wind components, and special applications for under-utilized native wood species.

In the evening, we heard a presentation from UMO President Paul Ferguson on the University’s Blue Sky Strategic Plan followed by panel presentation from three entrepreneurs: Susan MacKay from Cerahelix which produces ceramic nano-filtration membranes, Ian Kopp from Kenway Corporation which does custom fiberglass fabrications, and Barbara Brooks from our own local Seal Cove Farm.  (I had a great side conversation with Barbara about education on MDI as well.)

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Also, Wednesday evening, the Department of Marine Resources held a public hearing in Northeast Harbor on their commissioned report ‘An Independent Evaluation of the Limited Entry System for Lobster and Crab’.  Conversation at the hearing was spirited.  Those with any continuing concerns about the report may relay them to the legislature’s Marine Resources Committee which is chaired by our local Representative Walter Kumiega.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday morning in Augusta, the Legislature had its first regular session day.  During this session, the Legislature passed a sentiment honoring Bar Harbor’s James Gower, the founder of College of the Atlantic.

In the afternoon, I attended the meeting of the Charter School Commission to act on the five most recent charter school applications.  This was the first time I got to observe the Commission conduct business since I attended their public forum in Bangor on March 8.

Given that the Commission is generally understood to be favorably disposed towards charter schools and that they have previously suffered criticism from the Governor when they showed prudent hesitation, it surprised many observers when the Commission denied four out of five of the charter applications, including both of the privately-operated virtual schools.

From the thoughtful discussion, it seemed clear that the Commission indeed hopes for the success of charter schools in Maine but that they had grave doubts that these four charters could be successful as proposed. The Commission was particularly concerned that the two virtual schools lacked critical separation between governing oversight by an independent board and the actual school operations by their private, for-profit management companies.

Tuesday evening, I met with many of my Senate and House colleagues and talked about shared goals for this session.  Steps toward improving economic opportunity, public education, and primary health care remain high on most lists.

Monday, January 7, 2013

On Monday morning, along with a few other members of the Education Committee, I met with the University’s Chancellor Page to learn his vision for the University system.  If the state can maintain flat-funding for the University, the Chancellor says the University can hold tuition steady.  The University believes it can accomplish this by finding greater efficiency in consolidated administrative functions.  Further, the University plans to broaden its mission to better meet the educational and professional needs of Maine adults and non-traditional students – especially through distance learning and the University’s outreach centers.  But the Chancellor made it clear that, to be successful, the University needs to reallocate any administrative savings into new program development.

On Monday afternoon, I spent several hours at the Department of Education reading through three enormous binders that contained the applications of two private virtual charter school organizations.  I concentrated on the sections in which charter applicants are required to explain the specific ‘community need’ that their charter school proposes to meet.  Given that the applications totaled over a thousand pages, I found the explanation of community need to be remarkably insubstantial.  This causes me concern because the premise that charters are necessary to provide educational services that otherwise can’t be met by publicly-governed community schools was an argument that swayed many legislators in the last session.  Without demonstration of community need, it’s difficult to argue for the expenditure of community funds, especially at a time of significant curtailment in the state’s own funding for public education.

Late Monday afternoon, I made it back to Bar Harbor for our school board meeting at which the board had a good discussion about the value of open and welcoming community relations in maintaining school safety.