Wednesday, April 23, 2014
WATERVILLE — Deterring high school dropouts, training students for emerging job markets and lowering the cost of higher education. Those are the educational priorities of Shawn Moody, an independent candidate for governor who spoke Monday to the Waterville Rotary Club.
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Moody addressed about 75 Rotarians at the Alfond Youth Center. He became the fifth and final candidate for governor to meet with the club.
Moody focused most of his remarks on education, saying it's the "cornerstone" of what's needed to get Maine's economy humming.
He said Maine's graduation rate in 2008-09 was about 80 percent, meaning about one-fifth of the state's students dropped out of high school.
"It's a pandemic, in my mind, and we haven't been successful in lowering it to any great degree," Moody said. "A lot of the undermining in the classroom is, we've had this dropout-rate problem for a couple of generations now."
Moody, 50, the owner of Moody's Collision Centers, recounted his own history of starting an auto shop business while he was still in high school, and completing school under a co-op program.
More "doors of opportunity" must be offered to Maine's young people, Moody said, especially in vocational and trade skills.
According to The Maine Poll, a survey done for MaineToday Media last week by the Portland research firm Critical Insights, Moody had 5 percent of likely voters, up from 4 percent in a previous poll.
Wearing his trademark outfit – a suit jacket, a dress shirt unbuttoned at the top, no tie – Moody made the case to the Rotary Club that Maine's economic fortunes are directly tied to its educational strategies.
He said there should be a greater push in high schools to identify which freshmen and sophomores are "work-bound" and "college-bound," and direct them to appropriate programs for job placement. The state's best vocational programs should be pinpointed and then copied throughout the state, he said.
Young people should have more training in skills needed for emerging job fields, Moody said. He cited manufacturing jobs with the Pittsfield-based construction firm Cianbro Corp. or the Poland Spring bottling company.
"We have jobs right now in Maine; companies want to hire," Moody said. "We haven't done a good job in Maine of preparing kids for those jobs."
It's also crucial that state government relax regulatory restrictions on small businesses, Moody said, so they can survive and hire people. Maine companies that are doing well have carved out "niche markets" by offering better products in a more timely fashion than companies in low-cost Asian markets, Moody said.
As Maine's governor, Moody said he would direct state government to:
n Take inventory of emerging job markets, forecast the state's job growth and "merge that into educational curriculum."
n Require vocational and trade instructors to have "real world" experience by working part of the year in their respective fields.
n Seek ways to lower tuition in the University of Maine System, while offering new programs and consolidating classes.
Moody also addressed energy costs, saying his own company has reduced its carbon footprint through efficiency and a "waste not, want not" attitude.
With the "right investments," Maine can "come out of this recession stronger," Moody said. He stressed the importance of expanding economic options for young people – an "entry strategy," instead of an "exit strategy."
Moody said state government should do all it can to reach out to small businesses and make it easier for them to create jobs.
"I know firsthand, because I've been on the receiving end and experiencing government for 30 years, from the top down," Moody said. "Small businesses in Maine do not have a voice in Augusta. Period."