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