WATERVILLE — Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler said Monday he would improve education in Maine by lengthening the school year, allowing charter schools, tying teacher pay to student performance and merging the university and community college systems.

Cutler said Maine can no longer afford to have underperforming students.

“We need to reform education in Maine from top to bottom,” he told a Waterville Rotary Club audience.

Cutler is one of five candidates for governor on Nov. 2. Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, a Republican; and Senate President Libby Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, have already spoken to the Waterville Rotary. Independents Kevin Scott and Shawn Moody have been invited to speak.

Cutler focused on education.

He said test scores, dropout rates and the state’s poor performance in the federal Race to the Top competition — Maine finished 33rd out of 36 states that applied — highlight the need for major reform.

Part of his plan is to provide services to children before they enter school. He praised Waterville for its new Educare Central Maine facility that focuses on early childhood development and said more of those types of programs are needed across the state.

He said his administration would set a “performance benchmark” that will be achieved in four years.

“We’re going to look at the number of children who are reading proficiently by the end of the third grade,” he said. “We will cut our failure rate by more than half by the end of my first term as governor.”

He said Maine needs to permit charter schools, which are allowed in 40 other states. He wants to expand magnet schools — those offering specialized programs — to allow high performing students expanded opportunities in foreign languages, agriculture, marine sciences and creative arts.

He also proposed a merit pay system to reward good teachers, and said the state needs longer school days and a longer school year.

“Maine is one of only eight states in the country that still has a school year of only 175 days,” he said. “In China, the school year is 225 days — and our kids, your kids, are going to need to compete with those kids.”

Cutler continued to call for merging the community college and university systems. He said communication among the campuses of both systems needs to improve. “We can’t afford two separate systems of higher education, two sets of campuses, two sets of administrations, two separate boards of trustees,” he said.

Marc Pittman, campaign manager for Republican Peter Mills, who finished third in the seven-way primary, introduced Cutler and explained why he is supporting him.

“The directions the two parties are going in is just simply too extreme,” he said. “There’s sort of a seismic shift, a time in a political party where they have to decide if they are going to be extremists or moderates.

“As a Mainer, I don’t think we have time to have that played out in the Blaine House.”

Cutler said because he’s not affiliated with any political party, he is free to be the governor who represents the people.

“I don’t have to worry about party bosses,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about catering to interest groups that have tied the two parties up in knots, stuck them in straitjackets and, frankly, starved them of new ideas.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]