September 19, 2012

LePage cartoon confounds Maine high school principals

Administrators receive a message from the governor’s office, but they aren’t sure what he was trying to say.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

Maine high school principals are puzzled over a copy of an editorial cartoon that Gov. Paul LePage's office sent them this month along with a handwritten note from LePage.

click image to enlarge

A cartoon by syndicated editorial cartoonist Steve Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune, which was mailed to Maine principals by Gov. Paul LePage along with a hand-written note.

Courtesy of San Diego Union-Tribune

The cartoon, by syndicated editorial cartoonist Steve Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune, depicts a conversation between two young men.

One says: "This fall, I'm going to trade school to be a welder."

The other has a thought bubble over his head that reads "Loser."

The first young man is labeled: "Starting salary upon graduation: $50,000."

The other man's label reads: "Starting salary upon graduation from a pricey, 4-year school with a liberal arts degree: $25,000 (if he's lucky)."

LePage's message beneath the cartoon says: "Folks. We can do better and need to do better! Let's put our students first."

The cartoon arrived in the mail with a letter, dated Sept. 7, from Jonathan Nass, LePage's senior policy adviser.

The letter said, in its entirety: "Governor LePage was recently given the attached cartoon and asked that I forward it along to all of the state's high school principals. You will see that the governor added a hand-written note. Thank you for your time and best wishes for the new school year."

Principals said this week that they aren't sure what the governor was trying to say.

Deborah Migneault, principal of Portland High School, said her first thought was: What did the governor pay for postage?

"If he sent that to all principals, it seems like an incredible waste," she said. "We have enough to think about. I don't think that cartoon motivates us."

Christian Elkington, principal of Massabesic High School in Waterboro, said he understood the governor's point that vocational and technical education should be encouraged as an option, but disagreed with the assumption that schools don't do that already.

"We aren't forcing kids down one path or another," he said.

In an email Tuesday, LePage's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the governor has said repeatedly that "career and technical education has not been given the recognition it deserves."

"The governor is simply saying let's do better, let's provide students with the choices that will provide successful outcomes," she wrote. "Every child learns differently; our teachers recognize this and so does the governor."

LePage has spoken out often about education. In March, he spoke to a group of eighth-graders in Waterville and told them that college isn't for everyone.

More recent remarks have prompted rebukes from educators and students.

On July 25, while rolling out a new education agenda, LePage said Maine students are looked down on by colleges in other parts of the country.

In mid-August, Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski sent all teachers and staff members a welcome-back letter that was critical of LePage and his education policies. The governor's office called Perzanoski's letter "wildly inappropriate."

The latest message from LePage was more confusing than anything, principals said.

"I agree that there are a lot of different ways to be successful," said Britton Wolfe, principal of Biddeford High School. "But this is something we're aware of and have been working on."

Greely High School Principal Dan McKeone said he was confused but he respects the governor's opinion.

"I look at learning as a lifelong endeavor, and it's our job to provide multiple pathways. It's up to the individual to decide what's right for them," he said.

State Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, said the governor's overall message about promoting technical education rings true.

(Continued on page 2)

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