Slacking off on our education?

17 years ago

In light of the massive changes our education system will undoubtedly see coming out of this legislative session, the antics of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee are far from comforting.
    As I write this column, it has been a full 13 days since the Education Committee last met. In addition to the Governor’s education proposal, there are six other proposals before this committee dealing specifically with the consolidation of education services in Maine. If any one of these proposals is enacted, or even a combination of two or more of them, education in Maine will be altered in such a way that has not been seen since the late 1950s.
I do not write to undermine efforts to realize savings through changes to our education system. It’s very clear that education is a tremendous burden on state government and changes must be made to reduce this cost. But, local control over education is in jeopardy, the possibility that illogical unions between towns will be mandated through top down governing, and many other potentially negative consequences of one or more of these plans facing our citizens are a reality. Shouldn’t we be seeing a higher level of commitment from the committee charged with wading through this morass?
In the beginning weeks of the legislative session, it seemed like the Education Committee had hit the ground running. Work sessions, updates, and a massive public hearing gave many legislators confidence. Now, unfortunately, it appears that the leadership of this committee has gotten themselves in over their heads.
The Education Committee’s 13 days of inactivity has me worried. We’ve heard from the Governor, the Legislature’s majority party, and the Education Committee itself, that the committee will be hard at work to develop an education consolidation plan that will achieve significant savings, preserve local control, uphold a community’s existing cost savings measures and maintain a quality system of education for our children. This is no small task, and throwing away two weeks will not make the task any easier.
A report from the Education Committee is due to the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on March 8th. This report serves to inform the Appropriations Committee how much funding the Education Committee requests from the budget and what costs savings can be expected from whatever proposal they develop. To get right to the point, time is running out. There are even rumors circulating around the halls of the State House that, unless the Education Committee gets its act together, the Appropriations Committee will take over this education issue in order to develop a funding plan for state government.
The poor management of these dramatic proposals worries me for many reasons. One of my primary concerns is that the Education Committee, rushing to develop a plan within their deadlines, will be incomplete and overlook current efforts at the local level that are achieving cost savings.
ECO 2000 is a cost savings program to enhance the quality of elementary and secondary education in Aroostook County by forming partnerships between individual school districts. These partnerships allow schools to share valuable, but expensive, resources between schools and achieve cost savings in the process. This allows member school districts to focus on putting dollars directly into the classroom for the betterment of the students. To maintain a high degree of individual school district input, ECO 2000’s board of directors is comprised of the superintendents of each member district. And ECO 2000 doesn’t stop there. In addition to its emphasis on individual communities in Aroostook County, it provides online courses and online forums where students, teachers and parents can all talk with one another.
Simple, yet successful, partnerships between neighboring school districts, like ECO 2000, are what the Education Committee should be looking at. Providing incentives to achieve costs savings through locally developed programs that emphasize the students and the community, not the dollar, should be the route this Legislature takes. Hopefully, the Education Committee will pick up the pace, and realize the benefits of providing incentives for locally adopted cost saving programs in enough time to put something together that will get the job done.
Sen. Sherman, of Houlton, represents District 34, which includes southern and central Aroostook County including Fort Fairfield, Houlton and Presque Isle.