Schools & Education – Press Herald Tue, 22 Aug 2017 15:11:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tuition, fees unchanged in Maine Community College System Sat, 19 Aug 2017 21:41:29 +0000 Tuition and fees at Maine’s seven community colleges will be unchanged this fall.

Tuition again will be $92 per credit hour, so for a full-time student taking 30 credits, it will be $2,760 a year. Fees are about $1,000.

Maine Community College System President Derek Langhauser said the freeze was possible because of an increase in the state appropriation. The system has the lowest tuition and fees in New England, officials said.

Correction: This story was updated at 1:06 p.m. on Aug. 21, 2017 to correct the spelling of Derek Langhauser’s name.

]]> 0 Mon, 21 Aug 2017 13:07:07 +0000
LePage praises vocational training, calls teachers ‘a dime a dozen’ Thu, 17 Aug 2017 18:08:06 +0000 PITTSFIELD — Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that he values vocational training more than traditional education, and that classroom teachers are “a dime a dozen.”
The governor made the remarks at the unveiling of Cianbro’s new workforce development center, which aims to help replenish a diminishing workforce in the construction business through education and training.

Cianbro employees work Thursday at the company’s new workforce development facility in Pittsfield. Photo courtesy of Cianbro

LePage praised the new institute, which offers opportunities in vocational training that once were more widely available, such as shop class and home economics, which he said “were really good for our society back then.”

“Instead of hiding vocational education, we have to do what we used to do and bring it back to the front of the classroom,”

LePage said. He also took jabs at traditional education, saying Cianbro’s new facility places more value on mentoring, which is “more than just teaching out of a book.”
“Because teachers are a dime a dozen, mentors are what we really need in our system to prepare the next generation to take over,” LePage said. “It’s mentoring that’s more valuable. And I’m certain this institution is going to be mentoring.”

Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said in an interview afterward she was surprised to hear about the governor’s comments because compared to other New England states, Maine is struggling to fill many teaching positions.

She said the MEA does not agree with the “dime a dozen” comment and didn’t think any superintendent in Maine would.

Kilby-Chesley also said the MEA has supported vocational education in schools, now known as career and technical education. She said it prepares students for jobs that are more hands on, but that students can’t be lumped into just one category. She said students need to make choices, whether to pursue career and technical education or a path that leads toward higher education.

“Students will make choices based on their interests,” she said. “Not every student fits the same hole. Different pegs require different holes.”

Cianbro’s new workforce development department, called the Cianbro Institute, provides in-house training in construction, electrical work and other trades for its employees.

Peter Vigue, CEO of Cianbro, said the company was already providing this training in separate locations in Pittsfield, but “we’re busting out at the seams.” In introducing LePage, Vigue said Cianbro was passionate about people and the industry, which he said were values shared by the governor.

Peter Vigue, left, chief executive officer of Cianbro, speaks Thursday with Gov. Paul LePage at the company’s new workforce development facility in Pittsfield. Staff photo by Colin Ellis

LePage recounted that when he was first elected, he sent a cartoon to all the school superintendents in the state, depicting a plumber talking to a teacher. The teacher said they made $30,000 a year while the plumber said they made $65,000.

“And the superintendents were livid. You should see some of the comments I received,” LePage said. “But I was right.”

The actual cartoon was different, featuring a student who was going to be a welder and another student going for a liberal arts degree and different salary figures for both. The cartoon, which was actually sent to high school principals across the state, also included a handwritten note, saying: “Folks. We can do better and need to do better! Let’s put our students first.”

LePage said it takes six years to get a bachelor’s degree in Maine. He gave the example of his daughter, who he said had begun school planning to become a physician, but changed her mind and just graduated from law school. He said while that was good, it has become increasingly hard to find an electrician or plumber.

“I’m telling you the trades and vocational education are critical,” he said, adding that “you still have to have a roof over your head.”

He said technical education opportunities are important because “not everyone is going to go to college.”

Aside from placing value on vocational education, LePage commended Cianbro for being a forward-thinking company that has been an innovator in workplace safety.

“They were very, very interested in keeping their workers healthy and on the job,” he said.

Vigue said the kind of training the institute provides is valuable to young people from “humble backgrounds” or who have limited economic opportunities or low self-esteem.

“We are creating and building people who have integrity, character and skill,” he said.

The institute provides mentoring to current employees. Scott Mitchell, an instructor for the institute, said Cianbro has a four-year apprenticeship program that offers at least 576 hours of learning time both in the field and in a classroom.

Cianbro, which has been nationally recognized as the Healthiest and Safest Company in America by the American College of Occupation and Environmental Medicine, was started in 1949.

While the state’s workforce challenge could be perceived as a problem, Vigue said, it also presents an opportunity to “invest in the future of the workforce.”

“Cianbro created a fabulous facility that will help us move the ball,” Whyte said.

Michael Bellaman, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, said the Cianbro facility is “awesome” and that he is continually impressed by Cianbro’s work. Companies like Cianbro, which is a member of ABC, give the organization a credible voice “as we work for legislation,” he said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

Twitter: @colinoellis

]]> 0 Vigue, left, chief executive officer of Cianbro, speaks Thursday with Gov. Paul LePage at the company's new workforce development facility in Pittsfield.Fri, 18 Aug 2017 10:37:43 +0000
New rules for high school proficiency scrutinized at Augusta hearing Mon, 14 Aug 2017 23:13:18 +0000 AUGUSTA — Advocates for Maine students with disabilities and disadvantaged backgrounds told state regulators Monday that proposed new rules for high school diplomas could make it harder for those youth to graduate.

A 2012 Maine law says that by 2018, all graduating students should show proficiency in eight subjects. Maine and Vermont are the only states with laws requiring such systems.

But Maine never passed any regulations to clarify what’s expected of schools. Across the state, districts have instead been moving ahead on their own to meet a requirement that begins with the class of 2021.

On Monday, the state education department held a hearing to gather input on proposed regulations aimed at giving schools flexibility for developing consistent graduation standards.

The regulators received some praise from education advocates and officials Monday for clarifying when students can be placed in career and technical education programs. But speakers called other parts of the rules confusing and said the department’s timing in summer made it hard to gather comments from education professionals.

Heather Perry, superintendent of Gorham public schools, said state regulators should be mindful that “a lot of school districts have gone ahead of the state in defining what they want their systems to be.”

“You’re going to trip over a lot of decisions that have already been made at the local level,” Perry said.

The state is reviewing Monday’s testimony and accepting comments on the rules until Sept. 8.

Jill Adams, executive director of the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, said the proposed regulations appear to take away flexibility from a special team that oversees the schooling of individual special needs children.

“Our question would be if the student cannot meet content standards without modifications that are required by their disability, does that mean that they have no chance of attaining a diploma?” she said. “We believe this is in some way a discrimination.

“Our passion plea is that we need to consider all students when we’re looking at setting a bar that adults are all setting here around a table,” Adams said.

Some education professionals said the proposed regulations — which ask districts to follow up with graduates — could amount to an unfunded mandate that would burden rural, low-income districts. The two-year, $7.1 billion budget that lawmakers passed in July eliminated a law that allows the state education commissioner to disburse funds to help school districts implement so-called “proficiency-based diplomas.”

“Schools are confused. They don’t really know what they’re supposed to do, how they’re supposed to do it, what are the standards, what’s proficiency, what’s a diploma,” said Mary Callan, program director of Gear Up Maine, which serves students in grades 7-12 in about 60 of Maine’s schools most rural and impoverished schools.

She said it’s important that the standards don’t leave behind students with disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as those with special learning needs.

]]> 0, ME - JUNE 8: Portland High School senior Jessie Wright smells her rose while waiting to enter Merrill Auditorium for a commencement ceremony on Thursday. (Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)Mon, 14 Aug 2017 19:37:28 +0000
Settlement near in lawsuit filed over ‘head-bagging’ incidents at Readfield school Mon, 14 Aug 2017 23:07:23 +0000 The parents of a Readfield Elementary student who they say had a bag placed on her head four times by her teacher have reached a tentative settlement with the Regional School Unit 38 and the teacher identified in the lawsuit.

In court papers, the proposed settlement for $95,000, would pay about $15,000 to the family — $5,500 for the child’s past therapy sessions and nearly $10,000 for a trust for the child’s benefit. The remainder would pay attorneys’ fees.

The settlement will be final once it’s signed by the judge in the case.

Both the Maranacook school district and the teacher have denied the allegations, and in the proposed settlement agreement none of the parties admits or concedes liability.

Michelle and Adam Woodford sued the school district and longtime teacher Laura Reville on behalf of their daughter. They claim that on four separate occasions in the fall of 2015, Reville put a paper bag over their daughter’s head in front of her classmates to embarrass or humiliate her. That, they said, led to bullying and other inappropriate conduct from fellow students.

The Woodfords say their requests for information in early 2016 on the investigation of the incident were unanswered by the district, and they pursued a Freedom of Access request.

The complaint, filed in November 2016 in Kennebec County Superior Court, charges that Regional School Unit 38 violated the state Freedom of Access Act and an anti-bullying statute in connection with results of a school investigation into the incidents.

The complaint states the four head-bagging incidents occurred Sept. 15 through Nov. 7, 2015, and that a different teacher learned about it from students on Nov. 8, 2015, and reported it to Principal Jeff Boston that day. It says School Superintendent Donna Wolfrom began an investigation as a result of that report.

It also says the Woodfords spoke with Reville about it on Nov. 10, 2015, and Reville said it was “in jest.”

The child was removed from Reville’s classroom at the end of that month in response to the parents’ request, a change that fueled “rumors that SW, a precocious and sensitive child, was too stupid to be in Reville’s classroom,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit charges Reville with “assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and a violation of the girl’s civil rights.” The complaint says no other children in the class had bags placed over their heads and that the girl “was subjected to bullying and other inappropriate conduct by other students.

The case was moved to U.S. District Court by John Wall III, attorney for Reville.

In Reville’s response to the allegations, she said she had discussed with the Woodfords “instances in which their daughter’s uncontrollable laughter prompted (Reville) to take actions to calm their daughter down.”

It also says that Reville’s conduct “did not violate any clearly established constitutional or statutory rights of the plaintiffs.”

In addition to denying the allegations, the school district in its response said no other students were treated similarly.

In a statement provided by their attorney, the Woodfords said bullying is an important issue in the education of children — regardless of whether it is student-to-student or teacher-to-student conduct.

“This situation provided a teachable moment about bullying in the schools. We brought this action to get answers to our questions about the School’s investigation into these incidents. We also brought this action to, we hope, make sure that no other child has to suffer through what our daughter endured.

“With this settlement, we are grateful that this case has brought both attention to and a willingness to address this important issue. We hope that there will be a new standard of accountability for our school districts and teachers. We also hope that our districts will go above and beyond in future training of teachers, staff, and students, which would turn a negative into a positive.”

Neither Wall nor Bruce Smith, who is representing the Maranacook School District, immediately returned a call for comment.

A message left for Reville Monday evening was not immediately returned.

Adam Woodford was appointed as a Readfield representative to the school board in February to finish the unexpired term of a member who stepped down, and he was elected to the seat in May. In seeking the seat, Woodford said he would recuse himself from any board actions related to the case, but noted that the school board discussions at that time had little to nothing to do with the case.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

]]> 0 WoodfordTue, 15 Aug 2017 11:41:16 +0000
Biddeford day camp meets children with autism on their terms Sun, 13 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 BIDDEFORD — It was almost time to leave for the first official camp field trip and Bryce Quattrone was more than ready to go.

With a bag of snacks dangling from his wrist, he stood at the door, peering through the glass at the van waiting outside. So far, the van, with its three rows of back seats and large windows, has been the best part of camp.

But this trip to the bowling alley – where Bryce, 7, already bowls in the winter – could prove to be the highlight of his two weeks at the new Finding the Pieces day camp in Biddeford.

Camp Director Shannon O’Brien looks on as camper Andrew Sturdivent, 5, acts out an emotion while playing charades. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

This is the type of camp experience Robert and Jessica Quattrone wondered if their child would ever have. For children like Bryce who have autism spectrum disorder, a traditional camp can be overwhelming because of the noise or lack of structure and often doesn’t provide the individual support they need. Last summer, Bryce tried out the Biddeford Recreation Department’s Safari Camp, but his parents had to pull him from the program because it wasn’t working out.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Jessica Quattrone said. “Where do kids like mine go?”

She called the Autism Society of Maine, which told her about a summer camp in Farmington designed for kids with autism. With information about the camp in hand, the Quattrones set out to bring together the city, school department and the University of New England to launch a pilot program in Biddeford modeled after Camp Summit at the University of Maine at Farmington.

This summer, eight elementary school students are attending the Biddeford camp, where they work one-on-one with counselors and participate in a variety of activities, from arts and crafts to a trip to the local pet store to pet cats and check out lizards.

“This blossomed out of necessity,” Robert Quattrone said last week as Bryce and his fellow campers prepared to leave for the bowling alley. “All of the stars aligned to make this come together.”


Robert Quattrone, a Biddeford city councilor, and city officials reached out to the University of New England to see whether the school would be interested in partnering to launch a camp in Biddeford. The city agreed to provide transportation, the school department made classroom space available and the Autism Society of Maine provided nonprofit status so camp organizers could collect donations.

The Sanford Elks, a major supporter of causes related to autism, donated $5,500 of the total $7,500 needed to run the camp this year and allow students to attend for free. The Quattrones hope to help raise even more money next year and see the camp expand to include students from other York County towns.

“We’re hopeful this is just the start of something,” said Jeremy Ray, Biddeford’s school superintendent.

The University of New England’s Occupational Therapy Department and Community Therapy Center helped develop and implement the camp program. Caryn Husman, director of the university’s Health, Wellness and Occupational Studies Program, saw it as a perfect opportunity for her students to work one-on-one with children with autism spectrum disorder after taking an undergraduate course about autism.

The undergrads, many of whom plan to go into health care or occupational therapy, earn college credit for their time as camp counselors.

Camp counselor Emily Wasina talks with camper Bryce Quattrone, 7, while playing charades at Finding the Pieces day camp in Biddeford. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“They’re learning how to work specifically with kids with autism and taking those strategies to apply them in a real-world setting. That’s invaluable,” Husman said. “We’re really excited about this.”

The counselors and three paid camp staff members developed a variety of fun activities, along with strategies to tailor the days to the individual needs of campers. For some children on the autism spectrum, a traditional camp could be overwhelming because of the noise or lack of routine. Many campers need one-on-one assistance, which most camps are not able to offer, Husman said.

Shannon O’Brien, a behavior analyst for the Biddeford School Department, jumped at the chance to be director of Finding the Pieces camp. Each day, her campers participate in activities alongside their peers in the Safari Camp. The difference, she said, is that Finding the Pieces counselors can adjust the schedule or activities to meet the needs of the camper they are working with.

“The kids need a little bit more help so they can be successful,” O’Brien said. “The kids like the one-to-one support and the smaller, structured environment. It’s more conducive to their idea of a fun day.”


On the third morning of camp, each camper wore a baby blue Finding the Pieces T-shirt. After posing for a few photos at a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the launch of the program, the campers and counselors headed inside JFK Memorial School for their morning meeting.

In the classroom, the campers and counselors talked about their schedule for the days ahead, acted out emotions, socialized with their friends and stretched their bodies into yoga poses. After yoga, the campers each picked out snacks to bring along to the bowling alley.

Finally, it was time to go and Bryce led the line of campers outside and launched himself into the van. Fifteen minutes later, the campers filed through the front door of Vacationland Bowling in Saco, making a beeline for the arcade before putting on their bowling shoes.

Perhaps no one was as excited to bowl as 6-year-old Whit Jackson, who peeked out from under the brim of his black cap as he moved from lane to lane with counselor Kylie Williams. He jumped and cheered each time his ball rolled down the lane, whether it knocked over pins or not.

Whit’s mother, Stephanie Jackson, said the camp has been the perfect option for her son, whose verbal skills are low. The routine of camp has been great for the weeks between the end of his extended school year program and the start of the new school year, she said.

“This program is just ideal and he is so excited to go,” she said. “The people and energy level have him pumped.”

As Whit rolled ball after ball, one camper decided to skip his turn to play a game of checkers with a counselor. Another camper and counselor sat a table nearby, playing with Legos.

Bryce, who bowls with his younger brother and their cousins, snacked on goldfish crackers between turns. Each time he stepped to the line, he held the ball firmly in both hands, rolling it straight down the lane. After knocking over all but one pin, he ran up to his dad and held out his hand for a high five.

“Daddy, I did a good job!” he called out before heading back to his seat to wait for his next turn.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: grahamgillian

]]> 0 Reidman keeps an eye on Andrew Sturdivent, 5. Finding the Pieces day camp is a collaboration among the University of New England, the city of Biddeford, its school department and parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick OuelletteSat, 12 Aug 2017 21:44:53 +0000
Ohio parents’ wrongful death lawsuit tests school liability in bullying, child suicide Sat, 12 Aug 2017 22:03:48 +0000 CINCINNATI — The parents of an 8-year-old Ohio boy who hanged himself from his bunk bed with a necktie want school officials held responsible, testing the issue of school liability in suicides blamed on bullying.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Gabriel Taye against Cincinnati Public Schools and school officials cites repeated examples of Gabriel and others being bullied at his elementary school.

They contend school officials knew about the bullying but were “deliberately indifferent,” allowing a “treacherous school environment.”

Knowledge of harassment and failure to do something are among elements set out in a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling for school liability cases.

“The deliberate indifference standard set forth (by the Supreme Court) sets a high bar for plaintiffs,” a 2016 opinion by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says. “It requires only that school administrators respond to known peer harassment in a manner that is not ‘clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.”‘

The ruling rejected an appeal by a Tennessee family that sued a school district over two years of alleged relentless bullying that forced their son to change schools.

Cincinnati school officials have said that the boy told staff he fainted the day his parents say Gabriel was knocked unconscious in a school bathroom and that he never said he was bullied or assaulted.

He killed himself two days later, on Jan. 26.

Legal experts say such lawsuits are becoming more common amid increasing public awareness campaigns on youth bullying. A 2015 federal survey estimated that about 21 percent of U.S. students, ages 12-18, said they had been bullied.

Federal authorities say they are still learning about the links between school bullying and suicide, saying bullying increases the risk of suicidal behavior but that the majority of bullying cases don’t result in suicide, suicide attempts, or thoughts of suicide.

Courts have shown reluctance to increase the demands on school officials to quell bullying. The Supreme Court has urged courts against second-guessing school administrators’ disciplinary decisions, to allow them flexibility they need to deal with children who are still learning how to interact appropriately.

The federal cases often take years to resolve, unless the two sides reach a settlement.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by parents of a 14-year-old Missouri boy who killed himself in 2013 after being bullied was settled for $300,000 two years ago.

Earlier this year, a Mississippi school district settled for undisclosed terms a lawsuit by parents of a seventh-grader who died of injuries from alleged bullying.

]]> 0 provided by Cornelia Reynolds shows her son Gabriel Taye when he was in second grade. The parents of Taye, who hanged himself from his bunk bed with a necktie, want school officials held responsible, alleging that they tolerated and covered up bullying, in their federal lawsuit testing the issue of school liability in such cases. The wrongful death suit filed against Cincinnati Public Schools, its officials and staff at his elementary school cites repeated examples of bullying. However, courts have set "a high bar" for finding schools liable.Sat, 12 Aug 2017 18:20:42 +0000
University for displaced responds to refugee crisis Sat, 12 Aug 2017 02:05:16 +0000 MANCHESTER, N.H. — Inspired by the success of a Southern New Hampshire University program that allows hundreds of refugees in Rwanda to access its courses, a group of anonymous donors approached its president with a challenge: What would it take to educate 50,000 refugees each year?

The president, Paul LeBlanc, was intrigued. After some discussion, the donors agreed last month to provide $10 million to the university so it can study whether its program offering associate and bachelor’s degrees at a Kiziba refugee camp and a Kigali facility could be replicated. Most of the 300 students are on pace to graduate, and almost all are getting job or internship offers.

The concept of a university for the displaced comes as the world’s refugee crisis reaches levels not seen since World War II. The United Nations’ refugee agency reports that 65.3 million people were forced to leave their homelands in 2016. Many refugees languish in squalid camps that sometimes lack the basics of life – clean water and sufficient food – and where a higher education is little more than a dream.

“When I was in Burundi, I never dreamed of what is happening to me now,” said Ella Ininahazwe, a 24-year-old refugee from Burundi who left for Rwanda after her university shut down. She now attends the Kigali program and dreams of one day working in health care for refugees.

“I see another Ella who cares about others, an Ella who is fortunate to be able to help others, an Ella who want to share what she has,” she said. “I found another person inside me. I am very proud of myself now.”

If the university can replicate its results at four more sites by 2019, the donors will agree to cover the cost of 20 more sites in refugee camps primarily in the Middle East and Africa by 2022. The goal is to offer a free online education to refugees in jobs such as business administration, construction management and health care and to get them internships and jobs afterward.

“It’s like building a whole new college from scratch, a radically different model that is global in scope and incredibly agile to deal with different locales, settings and challenges,” LeBlanc said.

Only 1 percent of refugees have access to higher education, according to Ita Sheehy, the education adviser for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees. Few camps offer higher education to refugees in contrast to secondary and primary education. Many refugees are prohibited from leaving their camps, and those who can leave often cannot afford the schooling.

“We really feel investment in higher education is enormously important to build skills that young people need to invest in their communities and to be able to rebuild societies when they go back home,” Sheehy said, noting that the minister of education in South Sudan and an adviser to the country’s president are refugees who received a higher education.

With demand far outpacing what is available, the UNHCR is among several high-profile groups that are buying into Southern New Hampshire’s effort to scale up more dramatically. Other partners in the New Hampshire program include the American University in Beirut, MIT’s SOLVE program and several high-profile advisers including former President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan.

To make it work, LeBlanc is hoping to emulate many of the things that have worked in the Rwandan programs. Students there are served lunch every day, have access to laptops and can receive mentoring, career coaching and help with English. Together with its partner on the ground, Kepler, a nonprofit university that provides education in Africa, the university offers online degree programs in business, communications and health care management.

Among the Rwandan students is Sadiki Bamperineza, a 26-year-old who fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his family when he was 4 and spent his life in the Rwanda refugee camp. Bamperineza, who is on pace to get his bachelor’s degree in the next two years, has an internship at a local tech startup and is already making four times what he earned at the camp as a schoolteacher.

“The program helped me to live a life with a purpose. Now I am able to set goals, not only for my life but also for the whole community,” Bamperineza said.

]]> 0 celebrate in June after the first class of the Southern New Hampshire University and Kepler higher education program graduated in Kiziba Refugee Camp in Kigali, Rwanda.Fri, 11 Aug 2017 22:05:16 +0000
Waterville workshop gives music teachers a rockin’ new approach for kids Fri, 11 Aug 2017 02:51:52 +0000 WATERVILLE — High school music classes don’t usually feature hit songs by Van Halen and Adele and a room full of guitars, but that’s what was on display at Waterville Senior High School during a teaching workshop on Wednesday.

The workshop was part of a pilot program in Maine called Maine Kids Rock! Ten schools in the state were given $5,000 to buy instruments for teaching modern popular music in the hope they would reach more students and expand musical offerings. All told, the program made a $50,000 investment in Maine. But that didn’t stop 29 other schools from Portland to Fort Fairfield who did not receive funds from sending music teachers to the workshop.

“For teachers it’s a revolutionary approach,” said Scott Burstein, director of training at Little Kids Rock. It gets the teachers comfortable playing music they normally don’t play, but that students enjoy listening to, he said. “Most teachers get zero instruction on teaching popular music.”

The goal is to attract students who might otherwise not be interested in joining more traditional classes, like jazz or chorus, he said. In a regular school population, about 20 percent of students want to join a music class, he said, but every student listens to music in some capacity.

Teaching modern music can benefit kids who struggle socially or academically, as it puts something they are passionate about into a classroom setting, he said.

“This helps build kids to be successful and pull them into a school setting,” he said.

The program is a partnership between the Maine Department of Education and Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that all public school children have the opportunity to unlock their inner music makers. It is the first time a state department of education has approached Little Kids Rock and then partnered with them, Burstein said. Usually his organization raises funds and designates a place to spend it. Little Kids Rock funded the Maine pilot.

Beth Lambert, visual and performing arts specialist at the Maine DOE, said schools eligible for the pilot had to have enrollments in which at least 50 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and must agree to offer modern band during the 2017-2018 school year, taught by certified music teachers.

Burstein said the turnout shows how passionate the teachers are. They came to learn to play, improvise on and compose with modern band instruments – guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals – in order to teach them in a classroom. They weren’t getting paid to be there, he said, and the majority didn’t get free instruments.

Burstein said the Little Kids Rock organization is international, but most of its work is done in the United States. The organization currently runs training in 37 states, and Burstein said that Lambert had seen one and approached Little Kids Rock to come to Maine.

The philosophy of the company, he said, is that the approach that matters more than what subject is being taught. That approach is to inspire kids to be confident, he said, and also to use things they’re interested in to increase their interest in learning.

“We’re just trying to help kids. Music is the tool we use for that,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

Twitter: @colinoellis

]]> 0 Genness, center, a music teacher at Lawrence High School, smiles at the completion of a practice piece during the Kids Rock music program at Waterville High School on Wednesday. The program, hosted by the Maine Department of Education, encourages kids in grades K-12 to participate in music programs.Thu, 10 Aug 2017 23:26:45 +0000
Saint Joseph’s College science students will get more financial aid Wed, 09 Aug 2017 16:16:34 +0000 Science students at Saint Joseph’s College will get additional financial aid, thanks to a new five-year, $647,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant will fund the college’s Science Scholars Program for academically talented students who need financial assistance. The first group of scholars, selected from first-year students entering Saint Joseph’s in fall 2018, will qualify for $5,000 to $7,200 in scholarship aid for each of their four years in college.

“In today’s rapidly changing world, education in science, technology, engineering, and math has never been more important,” said Maine’s U.S. senators Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement. “This grant will be instrumental in giving students the opportunity to pursue promising STEM careers and become the next generation of trailblazers in their respective fields. Saint Joseph’s College has been a leader in equipping students with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century, and we are pleased that these scholarships will provide more motivated young people with access to this quality education.”

In addition to the scholarships, the Science Scholars will have a one-week field experience before they enter college; use of a laptop for four years, mentoring and access to seminars, conferences and research experiences, officials said.

“This National Science Foundation grant allows us to recruit and graduate some of the best science students from New England and beyond,” said President James Dlugos.

Saint Joseph’s College, a private Catholic college located in Standish, offers majors in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, environmental science, and marine science with additional offerings in ecology, geology, and climate change. Tuition, room and board costs are approximately $40,000 a year.

]]> 0 Wed, 09 Aug 2017 17:33:06 +0000
Portland school officials recommend putting most of extra state money toward tax relief Wed, 09 Aug 2017 01:59:15 +0000 Portland school officials are recommending the district use the bulk of $1.7 million in extra state funds to create a $1 million reserve fund that will ease the tax burden.

The remainder should be spent on paying for $250,000 in immediate capital improvements and restoring programs cut during the budget negotiations, Superintendent Xavier Botana told the school board finance committee Tuesday night.

Portland voters passed a $104.8 million budget in April, but the district got the extra money after lawmakers agreed to add $162 million to education spending to break a budget impasse. Half of the extra money – the state is distributing $48 million in 2017-18 and $114 million in 2018-19 – must be used for tax relief. The only exception is in the first year, if voters stipulate how any extra state funds should be spent.

That happened in Portland, but Botana said the district wanted to honor the intent of the Legislature. Creating a reserve fund, he said, will ease the tax burden because it means borrowing less down the line for, say, capital projects that would otherwise be part of the city’s capital improvement project list.

With the remaining funds, the district would use:

$100,000 for mentoring programs, including the Make it Happen program;

$150,000 for a New Arrival Center, to help non-English speaking immigrants adjust to school;

$15,000 for testing costs associated with a new seal of bi-literacy for graduates;

$95,000 to restore school allocation cuts for items like supplies;

$100,000 to replace state funding eliminated in the final budget, for training teachers in new proficiency based education requirements.

Botana noted that almost all of the money will be used on one-time expenditures because the extra state funding is only available for the next two years.

“We really don’t want to create a cliff in 2020 that we’d fall off of,” said Alicia Gardner, the district’s executive director of budget and finance. She added that because of the additional funding, the district does not expect to need any tax increase next year.

She said the district expects to get about $5 million in extra state funding next year under the budget deal.

The district recommendation will be discussed by the full board and city finance committee members before going to a school board public hearing and vote. It will also need to be approved by the City Council, likely in early November.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 Students exit Longfellow Elementary School at the end of the school day on Friday afternoon in Portland on May 10, 2013.Tue, 08 Aug 2017 22:30:08 +0000
Workers’ comp insurer to put up $1.5 million for endowed chair at USM Wed, 09 Aug 2017 00:28:33 +0000 The MEMIC Group announced Tuesday it will provide $1.5 million to the University of Southern Maine and help the institution leverage an additional $1.5 million in matching gifts for an endowed chair named in honor of the insurance company’s founder.

MEMIC’s donation, which will be distributed in an annual amount of $300,000 over the next five years, will be placed in the newly established MEMIC John T. Leonard Endowed Chair in Risk Management and Insurance – only the second endowed chair since USM was founded in 1878.

USM spokeswoman Danielle Vayenas said that MEMIC, whose corporate offices are in Portland, is committed to contributing $1.5 million over the five years and will work with USM to leverage its commitment to raise an equal amount to fully endow the position at $3 million.

The endowed chair funds will double the capacity of USM’s Risk Management and Insurance program of study, which was established in 2008. Graduates have gone on to secure high-paying jobs at about 40 different insurance companies throughout the region, with MEMIC being the largest single employer of USM graduates.

The workers’ compensation insurer, which was founded in 1993, said it made the commitment to support the USM program to honor its outgoing founder and chief executive officer, John T. Leonard. Michael Bourque, who has been with MEMIC for 22 years, will replace Leonard in September.

“As the first and only President and CEO of MEMIC, John Leonard turned a company that had no assets except for a $500,000 line of credit loan into a $1.3 billion company with offices all the way down the East Coast,” David M. Labbe, chairman of MEMIC’s board of directors, said in a statement. “John has built a great company that not only serves employers here in Maine by driving down the overall cost of workers’ comp, but is also contributing mightily to our economy as an important employer in the region.”

Labbe said that as the company continues to grow, it will need to hire more people who have an educational background in risk management.

The insurance industry is an important economic engine, providing more than 12,000 good-paying jobs in Greater Portland with more than $1 billion in compensation in Maine in 2015, according to USM and MEMIC.

“We’ve had a successful partnership with John Leonard and MEMIC over the years addressing issues of workforce development,” USM President Glenn Cummings said in a statement. “I look forward to future innovative endeavors. John is known in the insurance industry as a great supporter of education. We believe this endowed chair and the benefits that will accrue from it are perfect ways to honor John’s legacy to Maine.”

“Now is the time to invest in the next generation in this industry,” Bourque said. “These are good jobs and the industry is poised to grow here in Maine.”


]]> 0 Tue, 08 Aug 2017 21:05:20 +0000
UMaine Presque Isle offers online business administration degree for flat fee Mon, 07 Aug 2017 22:30:03 +0000 In a bid to attract students who have some college experience but no degree, the University of Maine at Presque Isle is offering a new online business administration degree for a flat fee of $2,000 per semester – less than half the usual $9,000 annual cost of tuition, fees and books.

Quietly announced to local employers in the region, the program is already attracting interest, officials said Monday.

“I’m overjoyed. I have had three days of person after person coming to me, asking about it, signing up,” said Caroline Dorsey-Durepo, an associate professor of business management who set up the program. She contacted human resource departments at MMG Insurance, The Aroostook Medical Center and Katahdin Trust Co. to let them know about the program for their employees.

To qualify, students must be 24 years of age or older, with the equivalent of a high school diploma, plus some college credit and work experience.

Officials estimate there are 200,000 Mainers who have some college but no degree. In recent years, educators and politicians have increasingly raised this issue amid concerns about the lack of skilled workers in Maine combined with an aging workforce hitting retirement age.

“Maine faces a silver tsunami as a vast generation of our citizens approach retirement,” University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said in a statement. “By 2025, our state’s economy will require 158,000 more workers with a postsecondary degree or credential than exist today. This critical workforce need will only be met if we are successful in advancing more Maine adults to degree completion.”

The UMPI program, Page said, “will be the fastest, most affordable path to a fully-accredited degree that has ever been available in Maine.”

Multiple colleges are offering new certificate programs or degree completion programs to attract older students or workers who want to finish their degrees. However, because most of them have jobs and families, it is harder to attend college or move. Online education has been seen as key to attracting these students.

“Our new program is specifically designed to meet the needs of this group of Mainers, or any adults across the nation in a similar situation,” UMPI President Ray Rice said.

The UMPI program uses “competency-based” education, which means students don’t take broad subject-based courses. Instead, they are individually assessed at the beginning of the program and given a list of competencies they need to acquire through online “modules,” which are more like mini-courses to get drilled-down slices of a subject.

For example, instead of taking Intro to Accounting, a student is assessed for such competencies as “demonstrate understanding” of double-entry accounting and of the purpose and content of the four principal financial statements: balance sheets; income statement; cash flow statement and statement of retained earnings.

The materials will then focus on the areas a student doesn’t know, Dorsey-Durepo said.

“It’s part of how you can reduce your time,” she said. It also allows students to get credit for material learned on the job instead of at school, she said.

The online materials are provided by Sagence Learning, but are reviewed and buttressed with material from UMPI professors, she said. Students will interact with at least three UMPI employees: a “success coach” who works like a concierge and sets the person up for instruction; a faculty member who oversees the instruction and is available within 24 hours to a student; and a person who does assessment.

This model, which breaks down traditional learning and instruction into components for online education, is used at other colleges such as Western Governors University, Kaplan University and Southern New Hampshire University.


]]> 0 Mon, 07 Aug 2017 18:49:46 +0000
Hey, Portland students: Good behavior equals your ticket to activities Sun, 06 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Portland district students may soon have to do more than maintain a B average to be eligible for sports and co-curricular activities. They’d also have to play nice with others.

A policy approved by the school board at its meeting Tuesday would require students to meet so-called “habits of work and learning” standards, or HOWLS, to be eligible. The “soft skills” include being polite, prepared for class and turning in homework on time, and district officials say they are critical to being a well-rounded student and citizen.

Helping students develop basic skills at an early age is being increasingly emphasized around the country, as business leaders and higher education officials say that too many high school students graduate unprepared in workplace basics such as appropriate attire, basic social etiquette or even showing up for work on time.

Maine has long had education behavior standards, along with academic learning standards. But this is the first time the state’s largest school district has tied those standards to eligibility for sports and co-curricular activities, which can include drama clubs, civil rights teams, the student council, yearbook and newspaper clubs and the math team.

While implementation of the policy is still being studied, it may still prove controversial and likely will run into some immediate challenges, not least of which is the fact that a child’s middle school years are a period notorious for highly emotional behavior. Adolescents go thorough perfectly normal but wild mood swings, along with rapid physical and cognitive changes, confront social and emotional pressures, and figure out who they are and how to behave.

At the same time, education research shows that students who participate in sports and co-curricular activities are motivated to do better academically and have lower dropout rates.

“It’s a significant leverage point,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said at the meeting, in support of the policy. The habits of work scores “will actually have some weight, and it will give them the gravitas that they deserve.”


The school board initially approved such a policy on Tuesday to take effect at the start of the fall semester, but on Friday the district superintendent said, after receiving calls from the Maine Sunday Telegram about the policy, that schools weren’t yet ready to put the plan into place within the next few weeks. Instead, he will ask the board to reverse the decision and revert to the old eligibility policy for now, to give officials more time to implement the new system.

“We were rushing to check something off the list of policies that needed to be revised … and did not do everything that we needed to do,” Botana said late Friday. “I think we need to go back to the drawing board.”

Botana said he realized soon after Tuesday’s 6-1 vote that there were problems with rolling out the plan within a month of school starting. Botana said he still wants the policy in place eventually, but does not have a timeline.

“I don’t think anybody feels any differently about the intent of the policy. I think it is the right thing to do,” he said. He plans to ask the board to reverse its vote at the August 15 meeting.

Botana noted that the staff had not researched how many students might be affected, and the policy passed by the board wasn’t the one supported by principals – the final version had a tougher scoring standard, he said.

Additionally, not all schools have developed their policies, and the ones that have use different standards and scoring, some using a four-point system and some using a three-point system. The policy passed Tuesday required students to have all “3s” to be eligible – and the school principals had only signed off on requiring “2s.”

Delaying the policy will give the district and board more time to study the idea; review the standards at each school; talk with Portland coaches, parents and students; and make sure any new eligibility policy can apply fairly and equally across all middle and high schools, Botana said.


At Tuesday’s meeting, the only board member who voted against the policy was Sarah Thompson, who said she experienced the behavior standards up close as the parent of a Casco Bay High School student. She said students and parents might be surprised at what will happen under the policy.

“We want to encourage students to do well academically and participate in sports,” Thompson said at the board meeting. “I feel like we’re auto-penalizing them without enough info and without enough time. I have to vote against it.”

At Casco Bay, she said, a student can get an automatic “2” for not turning in a single homework assignment on time – and it can’t be made up because the standard is to turn in homework on time. But it wouldn’t be fair if that single instance made a student ineligible for sports or co-curriculars, with no opportunity to improve the score, she said.

“We don’t have a common understanding” of the standards and how to score them, she said. One teacher may have such a homework policy, while another may not.

Botana said Friday that that’s one of the things they will need to work on.

“We need to review (all the schools’ standards), and they need to be on the same scale,” Botana said of the inconsistencies. “We clearly don’t have different expectations for our graduates.”

Sharon Pray, the former chief academic officer who developed the policy, told the board that teachers would be clear to students about what it will take to get a “3” in their class.

“Students will know as they enter a course,” said Pray, who retired last week. “They will be taught those habits of work. We believe we need to model it. We need to measure it.”

“In my opinion, I think it’s easier for teachers to articulate what a scoring (system) will be than for them to subjectively assign an “effort” grade, like in the past,” she added. “I think it’s important for us to talk about habits of work. We want them to be generalized in our world.”

Thompson said she appreciated the idea behind adding habits of work standards to the policy, but she’d like to see it studied for a year before implementing it in all schools.

“I just think it’s too fast too soon,” she said. “My concern is that this is going to creep up on people, and before you know it, they will be ineligible and they won’t even know how they got there.”

Plus, students are already under a lot of pressure to do well academically and to participate in sports and clubs, in some cases to improve their chances of getting into college, and the new policy is “adding another stressor,” Thompson said.


Casco is the only one of the three high schools that already has a habits of work standard in place that requires students to get a “2” to be eligible for sports. District and board officials said they did not research how many students got a “2” or below last year at Casco or the middle schools to see how many students might potentially be affected by the new policy.

Portland High School Principal Sheila Jepson said the intent is not to keep students from participating in sports or co-curriculars. Portland High developed its standards last year and will begin including them on report cards this fall.

“They are pretty clear, very reasonable. They are not things we didn’t expect of students before,” Jepson said. “Being prepared, being on task and focused; those are all things we’ve always expected. And now we’re going to rate them.”

Jepson, who heard the board discussion about the policy, said she appreciated the concerns raised but didn’t think the policy would be a problem.

“You have to trust that in the classroom, the teacher is going to do right by students,” Jepson said.

Board member Marnie Morrione, who chaired the committee that reviewed the policy, said the intent was not to require students to have a “perfect” behavior score. But she agreed there would need to be good communication internally with teachers and with students and parents.

“I think there will be some learning curves along the way,” Morrione said. “It’s not going to be without bumps.”

A review of handbooks at several schools in the district show that, as currently written, habits of work policies are defined differently at each school, and only some are clear about what will trigger certain scores.

At Casco, which emphasizes personal responsibility and experiential learning, the standards say students should “Behave ethically and treat others with respect, persevere when things are hard, seek challenge and solutions.”


At King Middle School, the standards expect students to “communicate politely and kindly,” “work cooperatively with others,” “take care of resources and materials and act as a steward of our community,” “participate fully and mindfully in class,” and “carefully and thoughtfully complete all class assignments to the best of my ability and in a timely manner.”

Lincoln Middle School’s handbook spells out that to earn a “3,” students must meet the standards independently, while students doing them with “reminders” get a “2.” Among the standards are, “I cooperate with others,” and “I am prepared for learning.”

It’s unknown whether any other districts in Maine have adopted similar eligibility rules, but it is likely some will. As the entire state moves toward adopting proficiency-based education, the state Department of Education, in consultation with the Maine Principals’ Association, has provided model language for sports and co-curricular eligibility policies.

In one version, the suggested language said, “The student is demonstrating proficiency on a majority of the habits-of-work standards,” but noted that some districts prefer to base eligibility solely on academic measures.

MPA executive director Dick Durost said an increasing number of schools are using the standards as part of an overall assessment of achievement.

“Habits of work have become an important part of the total assessment process for many schools as they move towards proficiency-based education. It notes the importance of hard work, cooperation and the daily integrity of ‘showing up and doing your job,'” Durost said. “There is both an increased conversation around habits of work and a trend towards including it in the total assessment process.”

Portland school board member Jenna Vendil, who also sits on the committee that developed the policy, said the habits of work standards are important “to prepare our students for the real world.”

“We know that it’s not enough to get really good grades,” Vendil said. “(Students) have to be able to build up the skills needed in adulthood.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 Bontana, the new superintendent of Portland schools, greets students as he tours Hall Elementary School on Thursday.Sat, 05 Aug 2017 19:56:04 +0000
Portland schools to phase in plan for new grading system Sat, 05 Aug 2017 01:39:25 +0000 Portland school officials will phase in a new and more complex grading system this fall, dropping plans to adopt it immediately for the entering high school freshman class, which will be the first to graduate under new proficiency-based standards.

Instead, the district will introduce the 1-through-4 system at all middle schools this fall. The three high schools will continue their current grading systems.

“Such a different grading system is not required by the state mandate, and we believe that implementing it at this time could distract from the value of proficiency-based learning as we move forward with this transition,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said in a statement.

Botana said school officials decided to phase in the new grading system after holding several parent information nights and discussing it with educators.

“We got a lot of feedback from school leaders, from teachers and some from parents,” he said. “I think in the aggregate we were convinced that proficiency-based learning is the direction we want to move in, but to lead with the grading was not the wisest move.”

Currently, Portland’s middle schools and two of its high schools use a zero-to-100 grading system, with students getting a single grade for a single subject, like a “93” for English.

Under the new grading system, they will get a 1-4 grade on multiple standards for each subject, with a 3 being “proficient.”

A sample report card distributed earlier this year had 14 standards for geometry, stated in “I can” statements, such as “I can prove geometric theorems,” and “I can find arc lengths and areas of sectors of circles.”

Casco Bay High School uses a 1-4 grading system by subject, and Deering and Portland high schools use a zero-to-100 grading system by subject.

Botana said the district is still determining how to shift the high schools to a new grading system.

In 2012, Maine became one of the first states in the nation to adopt proficiency-based graduation standards, which require students to show in-depth understanding, under state-mandated learning standards, of everything from U.S. history to algebraic equations, in order to get a diploma.

Starting with the class of 2021, students must be proficient in four core areas: English, math, science and technology, and social studies.

Every year after that, students must add proficiency in one more area, so the class of 2022 must be proficient in the “core four” plus one other area; the class of 2023 must be proficient in the “core four” plus two other areas, and so on, until all students must be proficient in all eight content areas by 2025.

Rhode Island was the first state to adopt proficiency-based diplomas, and similar policies are in place in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Some Maine districts have already started proficiency-based education.

Nine school districts, including Yarmouth, will be awarding proficiency-based diplomas beginning with the class of 2018. The Falmouth School District and RSU 16 in Poland will start with the class of 2019.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0, 04 Aug 2017 21:59:36 +0000
Progressive Portland gives $20,000 to 4-school renovation campaign Fri, 04 Aug 2017 02:23:32 +0000 The campaign to renovate four elementary schools in Portland just got a huge funding boost.

Progressive Portland, a nonprofit advocacy group that formed in January, donated $20,000 to a political action committee looking to pass a $64 million bond to renovate Reiche, Lyseth, Longfellow and Presumpscot elementary schools.

The donation was made to the Protect Our Neighborhood Schools PAC on July 18 – just one day after campaigns publicly disclosed their financial activity through June 30. Up to that point, the PAC had only raised about $1,600.

The next financial reports for candidates, PACs and ballot question committees are not due until Oct. 27 – only 11 days before the Nov. 7 election.

Progressive Portland was required to form a ballot question committee and register it with the city because its donation to the PAC exceeded $5,000.

As a nonprofit, the group is not required to disclose the source of its funding, unless it was raised specifically for the school bond. The school bond is one of six priority issues listed on the group’s website.

“It was not raised exclusively for this purpose but in support of our overall mission,” said treasurer and co-founder Patricia Washburn.

Washburn would not provide a list of the group’s individual donors and would not comment about how much more money the group had in its war chest.

“We’re proud to be able to provide support for this historic effort,” she said.

According to its articles of incorporation filed with the Secretary of State in January, Progressive Portland is currently registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which has limits on the type of political activity it can engage in. However, Washburn said the group is operating as – and is in the process of changing that designation to – a 501(c)(4), which has fewer limits on political activity.

According to its finance report filed July 25 with the city, the Progressive Portland ballot question committee was capitalized by $21,230 from the nonprofit’s general fund.

The money appears to have been raised between April 29 and July 10, according to the original filing. However, Progressive Portland amended its report to include only the July 10 date, after a reporter questioned the City Clerk’s Office about why the group didn’t register sooner.

City Clerk Katherine Jones declined to discuss the nature or the significance of the amendment.

The funding is a much-needed shot in the arm for the PAC urging the bond’s passage.

Through June 30, Protect Our Neighborhood Schools had only raised $1,580 in cash contributions, plus two loans: $76 from Emily Figdor, the group’s principal officer, and $1,024 from Progressive Portland, which was co-founded by her husband, Steven Biel.

Protect Our Neighborhood Schools offered the Press Herald an unsolicited comment on the donation.

“They care about this issue and we appreciate their generous donation (as well as anyone else’s potential donation) and we are thrilled that there is widespread interest in the passage of the 4-school bond question,” Matthew Winch said in an email on behalf of the group. “Acceptance of anyone’s donation is for the support of this ballot question/effort period.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and aspiring City Council candidate Bree LaCasse, who has already raised nearly $20,000 for her own campaign, are also listed as having significant roles in the Protect our Neighborhood Schools PAC, while Strimling is also listed as a fundraiser.

Progressive Portland has also changed its primary address. It previously shared the same address as Protect Our Neighborhood Schools at 31 Cushman St., where Biel and Figdor live. But it’s now registered at 401 Cumberland Ave., which is Washburn’s home.

Also on the November ballot is a $32 million bond question that would renovate two schools, Presumpscot and Lyseth, while seeking state funding for Reiche and Longfellow.

Residents will be asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on either question. If both questions gain a majority of voters, the question with the most votes will be enacted.

So far, no group has filed paperwork in support of the two-school bond, which was championed by Councilors Nicholas Mavodones and Jill Duson, who is running for re-election this fall for her at-large seat. So far, her potential challengers are LaCasse and Joey Brunelle.

Similarly, no groups have filed paperwork to oppose the bonds.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: randybillings

]]> 0, 04 Aug 2017 00:17:25 +0000
Unity College wins national sustainability award Fri, 04 Aug 2017 01:07:28 +0000 In the race to sustainability, a small college in central Maine is proving tough competition.

Unity College won the grand prize for sustainability in July at the National Association of College and University Food Services conference in Nashville, Tennessee, beating out finalists Duke University and the University of Texas at Austin, among others.

That success partly reflects a strategic move that places dining services under the school’s sustainability office.

“Everybody’s got to eat, so we are using that common meeting place, so to speak, a common table, to really reflect the sustainable values and mission of the campus,” said Jennifer deHart, chief sustainability officer at the college of about 700 students.

The National Association of College and University Food Services gives the Sustainability Awards to schools that show “outstanding leadership in the promotion and implementation of environmental sustainability.” The association supports the triple bottom line approach that Unity College uses, which measures success not only through finances but also environmental impact and social responsibility. It’s often called “people, planet, profit.”

The association hands out gold, silver and bronze prizes in five categories related to sustainability, and those that win gold compete for the grand prize. Unity College, which diverts nearly half of its waste from landfills, won gold in the waste management category, followed by Oregon State University and Georgia State University.

When Unity won the grand prize, “it was a complete shock,” deHart said.

“We were kind of a David in David and Goliath in this scenario,” she said, as Unity is small compared to many of the other winning schools.

DeHart’s position was created in the 2015-2016 school year to ensure that all areas of campus life aligned with the sustainability goals of the school that brands itself “America’s environmental college.”

Unity has a number of goals and commitments, ranging from a push toward carbon neutrality to ensuring the college has infrastructure in place to adjust to a changing climate, deHart said.

Unity College students work on Feb. 20, 2015, in a warm greenhouse planting vegetable seeds at the school’s Half Moon Gardens/McKay Agricultural Research Station in Thorndike. The produce eventually was to be used for the college dining services as part of the sustainability program. From left are Megan Lewis, Ru Allen, Erin Hogan and Bethany Slack. Staff file photo by David Leaming

Another goal is reducing the school’s waste.

Unity produces about 160 tons of trash each year. About 48 percent is diverted: Organic waste, 23 percent of the waste stream, goes to Exeter Agri-Energy to be turned into energy for a farm; and recycling, 25 percent, goes to a center in Norridgewock. The school uses the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock for trash it can’t send anywhere else.

The average residential college student wastes about 142 pounds of food per year, according to RecyclingWorks, a recycling assistance program in Massachusetts. Another group, known as APPA: Leadership in Educational Facilities, found that a full-time student creates a median 363 pounds of trash each year, according to deHart.

The school has about 485 students on meal plans and about 140 staff members who use the dining hall, as well as a few thousand visitors each year who get free meals, deHart said.

In the winter of 2015, dining oversight was moved from the business office to the sustainability office to improve waste management and the environmental quality of the food the college buys.

DeHart said the collaboration made sense because of the “wide-ranging impacts” dining can have, from the food system to student health.

“It may be different, but it’s effective … in allowing dining to be a leader on campus in sustainability,” she said.

Over the past school year, the college’s dining services used more than 3,600 pounds of produce from the McKay Farm and Research Center in Thorndike, which doesn’t include the amount of produce it converted into things such as condiments and herbed salts.

While the school isn’t saving much money using the farm, it isn’t losing any either, deHart said. McKay Farm has stayed “price competitive” with other small local farms.

DeHart said she hopes dining services will get more food from the farm in the future.

“One of our limitations is the time and storage capacity to process food while it’s in season to be available at different times of year,” she said, which might involve additional infrastructure such as freezers and cold storage.

The school is also working with FINE, or Farm to Institution New England, a six-state nonprofit network working to increase the amount of local food served in schools, hospitals and colleges.

“Anytime schools can work together or with these smaller suppliers, … that creates networks and networks create more market stability in terms of what can be provided and buying power,” deHart said.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: @madelinestamour

]]> 0 deHart, left, chief sustainability officer at Unity College, and Lorey Duprey, middle, director of dining, accept the grand prize for sustainability from a representative of the National Association of College and University Food Services at the group's conference in July in Nashville, Tennessee.Thu, 03 Aug 2017 21:36:07 +0000
Maine colleges defend emphasis on diversity in response to report of Trump initiative Fri, 04 Aug 2017 00:14:34 +0000

Maine college and university officials are defending their commitment to diversity in response to reports that the Trump administration plans to investigate, and possibly sue, educational institutions over admissions policies that federal officials view as discriminating against white applicants.

College officials point to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows race to be considered as a factor in admissions decisions.

The administration’s efforts first were described this week by The New York Times, citing an internal Department of Justice document, revealing that the department’s civil rights division is seeking lawyers interested in working on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

The document didn’t specify which races are being discriminated against, but the Times and The Washington Post both framed the new effort as targeting discrimination against white people. The department later said the document referred to a single complaint involving Asian-American students in a college admissions affirmative action case.

In Maine, Colby, Bates and Bowdoin colleges have race-based admissions policies, while the University of Maine System does not.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that schools cannot use quotas or points but race can be one factor in admissions decisions.

In 2012, Colby, Bates and Bowdoin signed on to a brief supporting the University of Texas’ use of race-conscious admissions as part of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, an affirmative action case. Thirty-seven highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities signed the brief, arguing that they could not create sufficiently inclusive and vibrant environments through race-neutral admissions.

The court ruled 4-3 last year that the Texas university’s race-conscious program could be upheld, signaling that such an affirmative action effort is constitutional.


Doug Cook, director of news and media relations for Bowdoin, said college officials saw the New York Times story but have no firsthand knowledge of any change in government policy. Asked if any white applicant has complained about being discriminated against, he said the college in Brunswick has not been challenged on that issue. He also said Bowdoin has no specific diversity goal.

“So we’re not going to speculate about any impact on what is an effective and well-established holistic approach that considers many factors for admission to Bowdoin,” Cook said.

One-third of Bowdoin students identify as nonwhite, according to statistics listed on the college website. Of 1,806 students at Bowdoin, 110 are either aliens or their ethnicity is unknown. Of the remaining 1,696 students, 1,159 identify as white, or 68 percent, and 537 identify as nonwhite, or 31 percent.


The seven campuses in the UMaine System do not consider race or gender in admissions, said spokesman Dan Demeritt. But campuses do recruit and run marketing campaigns designed to reach underrepresented groups.

“We are engaged and visible where we are going to be noticed by new Mainers,” Demeritt said, referring to immigrants who have settled in Maine. “But it’s not an admissions tool. There are no preferences in admissions that would advantage anyone to the disadvantage of anyone else.”

Systemwide, total enrollment was 29,465 in the fall of 2016, with 75.6 percent of students white, 2.2 percent black, 2.2 percent Hispanic/Latino, 1.1 percent American Indian/Alaskan, 2.6 percent nonresident alien, 3.2 percent two or more races, and 12.4 percent unspecified.

Robert Dana, vice president for student life at the University of Maine in Orono, said the public university is committed to making students from all ethnic, racial, religious and other backgrounds feel welcome despite any specific policies. That commitment to diversity has not reduced the number of programs available to white students, he said.

A 2015 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 95 percent of single-race Maine residents were white, 1.1 percent were black, 1.5 percent were Hispanic, 1.5 percent were Asian, and 1.7 percent were American Indian.

Dana said, “We know that people from diverse backgrounds help us think more broadly and expose us to different cultural standards that help us see the world differently.”

Despite not considering race in admissions, UMaine makes an effort to diversify its student body. A statement on its website affirms a commitment to diversity in the staff and student body and says one of its goals is to “increase the percentage of undergraduate and graduate students of color.”

From 2012 to 2016, the number of black and Hispanic students on the Orono campus increased by, respectively, 30 and 37.5 percent, according to an enrollment report. But each group still accounted for just 2 percent of the student body last year, while white students accounted for about 76 percent, Asian students for 1 percent and American Indian students for 1 percent.


At the University of Southern Maine, targeted recruitment includes hosting parents’ nights at high schools with large numbers of underrepresented groups or recruiting at a Hispanic college fair, but there is no admissions advantage, said spokesman Bob Stein.

“We don’t offer anything special to these populations, but we go above and beyond to communicate what we offer here to them,” he said.

The school also has a welcoming environment, he said, noting that the new tagline for the school is “the University of Everyone” and that USM has a multicultural center, programs to help disadvantaged students, and prayer rooms.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from,” he said. “You are welcome and supported here and you will definitely see people just like you on our campuses.”

According to federal data for the fall of 2015, the latest available, 76 percent of USM students were white, 3 percent were black, 2 percent were Hispanic, 2 percent were Asian, 2 percent were two or more races, and race or ethnicity was unknown for 13 percent of students.

Stein said that attracting a diverse student body is a natural outcome of having campuses in Portland and Lewiston-Auburn, which have diverse populations.

“USM is pretty fortunate to be in the most diverse community in Maine, so that gives us a real advantage,” Stein said. “People in diverse, underrepresented communities know us, especially those folks that aren’t going to move, adults who want to stay local.”


The presumption is that a diverse student body offers educational benefits to students and the broader community they serve when they graduate, said Thomas Edwards, provost of Thomas College in Waterville, which does not consider race in its admissions process.

“It is not clear that these practices in place in many institutions rise to the level of ‘intentional race-based discrimination,'” Edwards said, referring to the Department of Justice document. “That language would certainly signal a shift in emphasis and direction from a previous administration.”

Edwards said Thomas College invites applications “without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or age,” and the college adopted a diversity statement that says it is “committed to promoting a diverse community in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

Edwards said he is unaware of any case in which a white person has complained about being discriminated against at Thomas.

Thomas’ fall 2016 enrollment numbers were: 80 percent white, 1 percent Asian, 3 percent African-American, 1 percent Hispanic, 4 percent two or more races, 2 percent nonresident alien, and 9 percent unknown.

The college does not have a specific racial diversity goal, said Edwards.


Bates has an affirmative action policy that is under review and subject to change, according to its website.

The college in Lewiston has an Office of Equity and Diversity, which seeks to enact Bates’ plans for increasing the racial, ethnic and gender diversity on campus and helps develop a personnel policy to ensure equal opportunity.

Responding to reports of the Trump administration document, Marjorie Hall, director of strategic communications, said in a statement that Bates has “welcomed talented students from a wide range of backgrounds” since its founding in 1855 by abolitionists.

“Our admission policies, in keeping with the core principle that a diverse student body, representing a variety of interests and experiences, creates a stronger education for all students, adhere to state and federal equal opportunity laws affirmed by the Supreme Court,” Hall said in the statement.

Bates’ enrollment of 1,780 in the fall of 2016 broke down this way: Hispanic, 8.7 percent; American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic, 0.1 percent; Asian, non-Hispanic 4.2 percent; Black or African American, non-Hispanic, 5.8 percent; white, non-Hispanic, 69.8 percent; multiracial, 4.3 percent; international, 6.9 percent; unknown 0.2 percent.


Colby officials declined comment on the Trump administration document, but on its website, the Waterville college says the admissions review process “is holistic, meaning there’s no set formula that guides our decisions.”

“We look for intellectually adventurous students who have demonstrated consistent achievement in a challenging program of study and who seem likely to make meaningful contributions to our diverse and collaborative community,” the page says.

The Colby website has a statement on diversity that says the college is “dedicated to the education of humane, thoughtful, and engaged persons prepared to respond to the challenges of an increasingly diverse and global society and to the issues of justice that arise therein.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Charles Eichacker and Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Noel Gallagher contributed to this report.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

]]> 0 Library, seen in 2015, towers above the Colby College campus in Waterville. Colby College officials declined to comment on the Trump administration's affirmative action document.Fri, 04 Aug 2017 14:19:51 +0000
Justice Department will probe ‘anti-white bias’ in higher education Thu, 03 Aug 2017 01:42:31 +0000 Trump appointees at the Justice Department will soon launch an investigation of affirmative action programs at the nation’s colleges and universities aimed at rooting out alleged anti-white bias, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

On its face, the notion of widespread anti-white bias in the higher education system appears farcical. White Americans obtain bachelor’s degrees at significantly higher rates than blacks or Hispanics. A 2012 Stanford University study found that while whites comprised 60 percent of the nation’s graduating high school class in 2004, they accounted for nearly three quarters of admissions to the nation’s most selective colleges. At elite schools, wealthy white families have traditionally used donations and legacy admission preferences to tip the scales in favor of their children.

Nevertheless, the Justice Department’s move appears to be linked to a widespread belief among white conservatives that so-called “anti-white bias” is a serious problem in society.

A Huffington Post/YouGov survey from last fall found that Trump voters believe that whites are more discriminated against than Muslims, blacks, Jews and Latinos.

A 2011 study opened with a prescient 2009 quote from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who will oversee the bias investigation as attorney general: “Empathy for one party is always prejudice against another.”

]]> 0 Wed, 02 Aug 2017 21:42:31 +0000
Portland weighs options for extra school funding from the state Wed, 02 Aug 2017 02:56:20 +0000 School officials in Portland are getting back to work this week to figure out what to do with an additional $2.7 million in state funding that emerged from the final state budget deal.

At Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Xavier Botana said they were starting by meeting with both school board and City Council finance chairs to draw up initial recommendations

“We want to start from that common understanding,” said Botana, who had to rewrite his proposed budget several times at the request of city officials and board members to lower the tax impact. “That’s our first step.”

The final state budget included an extra $162 million for education over two years. That means Portland’s school district received an increase in state funding for the upcoming year, bringing its allocation to $16.2 million. Portland school officials had anticipated a $2.5 million decrease – to $13.5 million – for 2017-18.

But the final budget deal also included a loss of funding for school-based health centers, which get grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. The state contract covered $191,000 of the $330,000 budget for health centers at Portland, Casco Bay and Deering high schools, and at King Middle School.

School board member Sarah Thompson said her priority for any additional revenue would be to continue providing health services.

“I’ll have a hard time adding anything new until we have health care for the students,” she said. “That’s a big one for me.”

The direct cuts to the health centers, which provide basic medical care and referrals for students who are unlikely to have other access to a doctor, are the result of the final state budget redirecting $10 million over two years from the Fund for a Healthy Maine to maintain reimbursement rates for primary care physicians under MaineCare, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program.

Botana and other board members did not say Tuesday night whether they had any priorities for what to do with the additional revenue. Because the district based its existing budget on getting an additional $1 million in state funding, and because of a reduction in some other funds, the actual amount of additional revenue to be allocated is $1.7 million, said Alicia Gardiner, finance chief for Portland’s schools.

She told the board that the options for spending the extra money included tax relief and restoring cuts made in the first rounds of the Portland budget.

Botana noted that a budget provision that would have required half the extra education money to be dedicated to tax relief did not apply to Portland this year, since voters authorized the district to spend additional funds.

“But that doesn’t mean we are not doing tax relief, it’s just technically we’re not required to do it,” he told the board.

Botana said the staff would present its recommendations to the finance committee on Aug. 8, with a first read and full school board workshop on Aug. 15. The recommendation will then go to the City Council in September.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 Greenway/Staff Photographer - Students exit Longfellow Elementary School at the end of the school day on Friday afternoon in Portland on May 10, 2013.Wed, 02 Aug 2017 00:32:18 +0000
Two children at Portland day camp diagnosed with MRSA skin infections Wed, 02 Aug 2017 02:06:01 +0000 Two children who attended a summer day camp in Portland have been diagnosed with an antibiotic-resistant skin infection commonly known as MRSA, city officials said Tuesday.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said one child was hospitalized but has since been released.

The children attended a day camp based at Riverton Community Center, but it’s not known exactly where they contracted MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

“I don’t think it’s fair at all to say the building was affected. Rather two kids who go to the same Rec summer camp reported contracting this,” Grondin said in an email. “There is no indication or findings that it came from the building at all.”

Custodial staff spent Monday night and all day Tuesday cleaning and disinfecting common areas that may have been touched by the children.

Grondin said there is minimal danger to the public, adding that “MRSA is very common now.”

She said staff from the city’s Recreation Division took all the necessary steps, notifying the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Attempts to reach the Maine CDC were unsuccessful Tuesday, but Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the former director of the Maine CDC who is now vice president of clinical affairs at the University of New England, said there seems to be little cause for public concern.

“It’s certainly nothing I would be too alarmed about,” Mills said Tuesday night. “I would still send my kids to camp there.”

Mills said over the years outbreaks of MRSA have become much more common because of the overuse of antibiotics by physicians. Summer is prime time for skin infections because children tend to get more cuts and scrapes from being outside more. Parents should take extra care to make sure those cuts and bruises are tended to.

“Good skin hygiene is very important,” she said.

Parents of campers received a letter, dated Monday, informing them of the situation. It was signed by Sally L. DeLuca, director of the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Facilities.

“While we cannot draw any conclusions of where the children contracted MRSA, out of an abundance of caution we will be cleaning and disinfecting community surfaces over the next two days,” DeLuca wrote. “Children will not return to their respective areas until this cleaning takes place.”

In an email to the Portland Press Herald, DeLuca said the older children in the summer day camp program participated in an all-day field trip to Popham Beach State Park on Tuesday, while the younger ones were based at a different community center and “did playground hopping all afternoon.”

This CDC photo shows an abscess caused by an MRSA bacteria infection.

“This gave custodial staff a chance to clean and disinfect Monday night and all day today,” DeLuca said Tuesday. “We have a few classrooms left to do on the school side tomorrow, so children will be kept away from this area. Older kids will be at Aquaboggan all day tomorrow.”

According to the Recreation Division’s website, the city operates a summer adventure camp for grades K-4 at the Riverton Community Center. Week 6 of the day camp runs from July 31 to Aug. 4 and features a trip to Popham Beach.

DeLuca said that “MRSA skin infections often look like a spider bite, boil, abscess or an infected hair follicle. A skin infection of this kind could spread into more serious illness if not treated.”

She urged parents to contact their primary care physician if a family member displays symptoms.

MRSA has become a serious threat to human health. In 2011 it was responsible for more than 80,000 invasive infections and more than 11,000 deaths in the United States, according to federal statistics.

According to the Maine CDC website, MRSA is a type of staph bacterium that is resistant to certain antibiotics such as methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicilin.

Most infections appear on the skin and are considered noninvasive. Staph infections, the Maine CDC says, are spread by direct skin-to-skin contact with another person. They can also be spread through contact with items that have been touched by people with staph.

Some examples may include: shaking hands, wrestling, sharing towels, or sharing athletic equipment. Fluid from staph infections, especially boils, is particularly infectious. Symptoms manifest themselves in infections that look like a pimple or boil and which can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus.

The Maine CDC says that staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infection in the United States. Most MRSA infections occur among patients in hospitals or health care settings, but the agency said infections are becoming more common in community settings.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher contributed to this report.

]]> 0, 02 Aug 2017 08:26:16 +0000
UC-Irvine revokes 499 students’ provisional acceptance, blames over-enrollment Tue, 01 Aug 2017 01:30:39 +0000 This spring, thousands of graduating high school seniors accepted offers of admission to the University of California, Irvine. They made it through a competitive selection process – 36 percent of those who applied were accepted, racking up mean grade point averages between 4.0 and 4.25.

Incoming freshmen from California and states across the country prepared to start the fall semester at UC Irvine at the end of September.

Then, only two months before the beginning of their college classes, 499 incoming students were notified that their acceptances had been revoked.

Many were told they had failed to deliver their final high school transcripts on time, or had inadequate grades during their senior year. Others complained that admissions staff gave them petty or confusing reasons, or no justification at all for rescinding their admissions. The unexpected reversals forced hundreds of students to appeal the decisions or look for other options for the upcoming school year.

“This was really heartbreaking for me,” Simran Chopra, 18, of Los Angeles told the Orange County Register, asserting that she mailed the university her transcript before the July 1 deadline. When she found out her admission was pulled, she said, she locked herself in a bathroom and cried.

On Friday, after significant student protest, UC Irvine’s Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas A. Parham published an explanation for the decisions, which he acknowledged were “disappointing and frightening” to many affected students.

This year, Parham said, the university was faced with “unprecedented demand” from prospective students, receiving 104,000 applications. This was the third highest number of applications at any college nationwide, he said. Moreover, the number of accepted students who decided to enroll for fall classes was higher than anticipated.

About 7,100 admitted freshman students registered for fall classes as of May, the Los Angeles Times reported. That’s 850 more students than UC Irvine had planned for.

And as a result of the over-enrollment, the university took a more stringent approach to the terms and conditions that are outlined in every incoming student’s provisional admissions offer, including submitting transcripts and test scores by a certain deadline and upholding adequate grades through the end of senior year.

Though these contractual terms and conditions are in place every year, “I acknowledge that we took a harder line on the terms and conditions this year and we could have managed that process with greater care, sensitivity, and clarity about available options,” Parham said.

Tom Vasich, interim media relations director, clarified Sunday that the university is not withdrawing offers to any students because more students accepted admissions than planned.

“Students had their provisional approvals withdrawn because full transcripts and test scores were not submitted in time or because of poor senior grades,” Vasich said.

He said it is “upsetting” and “damaging” that students and some media outlets have framed the withdrawals as the direct result of over-enrollment.

]]> 0 Tue, 01 Aug 2017 07:36:16 +0000
Oakland school district creating 5-year plan to fix fire code violations Mon, 31 Jul 2017 01:19:40 +0000 An Oakland-based school district is facing a five-year deadline and millions of dollars in costs to correct dozens of fire code violations.

Regional School Unit 18 received a report from the Office of the State Fire Marshal in June listing 104 items the district needed to address to meet the state’s fire code. Only Messalonskee Middle School, the newest building in the district, which includes Oakland, China, Sidney, Rome and Belgrade, passed with few deficiencies.

While some of the deficiencies can be covered with funds from the state’s School Revolving Renovation Fund, others would require additional funds from the district in the form of a bond. At the same time, the district must weigh in the balance a $3.9 million proposal to renovate the Messalonskee High School athletic complex.

At its July meeting the school board voted to have Superintendent Carl Gartley create a five-year capital plan that would address the district’s needs as well as the proposal to renovate the athletic complex within the five-year window the district has to bring the school buildings up to state fire standards. Prioritizing needed facilities upgrades, fire safety work and the renovation of the high school’s track and playing fields will be a topic of the board’s next meeting Aug. 9.


Richard McCarthy lives in Oakland, is a parent and sits on the school district’s facilities committee. He’s also the state assistant fire marshal heading up the prevention division. The members of the facilities committee asked him to inspect the district’s 11 buildings and report on his findings, and he told them if he were to do so it would be in his capacity as assistant fire marshal.

Nothing in the list of 104 items is an imminent threat to students’ safety and any immediate dangers have been remedied, McCarthy said recently, but what he found were a number of “housekeeping items” and other issues such as incomplete sprinkler coverage that are not “uncommon.”

In response to the report, the district submitted a corrective action plan to the state in June indicating that multiple buildings need sprinkler systems, automatically closing doors and additional exits. A number of fire exits were also blocked by snow or ice at the time of inspection, and some schools had “excessive” storage in unsafe areas like hallways. The district also has to install fire-rated Sheetrock in a number of walls and corridors, which keeps the areas safe from fire for a certain period of time. It could also install sprinklers in those areas if it’s cheaper.


McCarthy and Gartley both said that a five-year plan should work, as long as budgets continue to pass in the district. The schools have fallen into disrepair after years of tight budgets, Gartley said, as maintenance items such as roof replacements got pushed out from 10 years to 13 or 14 years.

The athletic proposal raised questions among residents, town officials and board members about whether the district should tackle the project before addressing its facility problems.

As board member Karen Hatch Gagne said at the July meeting, if the district were to take out the proposed $3.9 million bond for only the track project, “we can kiss another bond goodbye for at least another decade.”

Gartley said in an interview he hasn’t heard anyone say the track and field proposal is a bad idea, but he thinks talking about the other facility needs in the district is reasonable. The district could take out one larger bond to cover all of its projects.

“We have science classrooms that really do need renovation,” he said. “We have a front entrance at Belgrade Central that is, in my opinion, a safety concern. I don’t think it has to get into which one is more important. I think the issue is … let’s consider taking a look at the bigger picture.”

Some of the projects will be covered by bonds from the state’s School Revolving Renovation Fund, which forgives about 44 percent of the loan and allows the district to pay back the rest with no interest, including $255,000 this year combined with $340,000 the district received last year to cover several projects.

China Middle School will get a new roof and the Atwood Primary School will get a sprinkler system. At China Primary School, the carpets in the gym will be removed and fire panels will be installed. Asbestos will also be removed from Belgrade Central School.


McCarthy said there is no statewide regulation in Maine to keep schools operating up to the fire code, so he couldn’t compare RSU 18 with other districts. The state Fire Marshal’s Office only inspects schools if it gets a request, or if there is a licensed entity within the school, like a day care.

“I think there is a fear of the unknown,” he said. “We’re generally not invited.”

Otherwise, schools are usually inspected by their insurance companies or possibly a local fire chief.

When asked what he thought of the lack of regulation, McCarthy said, “That’s a policy decision that’s not mine to make” and declined to comment further.

Maine isn’t alone in its lack of enforcement, according to Robert Solomon, a fire protection engineer for the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Massachusetts. Even though 38 states, including Maine, have adopted the association’s Life Safety Code, some states are more stringent while others follow similar practices.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: madelinestamour

]]> 0 Carl Gartley considers the Belgrade Central School's front entrance a safety hazard.Sun, 30 Jul 2017 21:24:40 +0000
School, health officials vow to save student health centers after cuts Fri, 28 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Education and health officials vowed Thursday to save school health centers that were hit by surprise cutbacks included in the state budget compromise that ended Maine’s government shutdown on July 3.

The cuts amount to more than $1 million over two years and would affect 15 school-based health centers, said Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Samantha Edwards.

School officials said they were blindsided by the cuts, which were part of a $5 million-per-year reduction in financing for the Fund for a Healthy Maine. The $10 million was redirected to help maintain reimbursement rates for primary care physicians under Medicaid.

Seven contracts for health centers operated in schools in Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Calais, Bowdoin, Brewer, Norway and Manchester, totaling $547,639 per year, were canceled, Edwards said.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana says the abrupt cancellation of the contracts “is not a good way of doing business.”

As part of the July 3 state budget agreement, schools received an additional $162 million over two years, with the amount sent to each school determined by a complex funding formula. Superintendents in Calais and Portland said they would consider using the additional education funding to keep the school health centers operating.

“It is absolutely possible,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana in Portland, which received an additional $2.7 million. “We care deeply about this service.”

In Portland, the school centers operate at Portland, Casco Bay and Deering high schools and at King Middle School.

The state contract covered $191,000 of a $330,000 budget for the health centers.

“We are committed to continuing to provide these services,” said Ann Tucker, chief financial officer for Greater Portland Health, which works with Portland schools on the health centers. Tucker said 941 students were served by the health centers.


The centers provide basic medical care and referrals for students who are uninsured, have Medicaid or have private insurance. It also can fill the gaps in services that Medicaid doesn’t cover, such as dental care.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said the health centers serving schools in Lewiston and Auburn are extremely beneficial to students. He said conversations haven’t started yet on whether to continue the health centers.

“I think it would be more palatable if it was considered a stopgap measure,” said Webster, explaining that perhaps the cuts would be restored in the next two-year state budget developed in 2019.

At St. Mary’s Hospital, Joan Churchill, chief executive of the community clinical services that run the health centers in Lewiston and Auburn schools, said the centers are vital to student health. If the $200,000 in state cuts are allowed to stand, that would devastate the program, Churchill said.

“We haven’t been offered anything yet from the schools, but we will be meeting in the next week,” she said.

Lewiston received an additional $2.1 million in state funding as part of the state budget agreement, and Auburn netted an extra $1.2 million.

The Fund for a Healthy Maine receives $50 million per year from tobacco settlement money and it funds a variety of health and tobacco cessation programs.

Other programs that were cut because of the loss of money from the Fund for a Healthy Maine include administrative services, anti-smoking advertising and pharmacy benefits related to nicotine replacement therapy.


In Calais, Superintendent Ronald Jenkins said the $160,000 in extra funding that the school district received under the budget deal already had been spoken for when he discovered the state had canceled the $46,000 contract for the school-based health center.

“We signed that contract with the state in April (for the school health center), and we fully expected they were going to honor it,” Jenkins said. “We planned our budgets around it.”

Jenkins said the district will probably keep the school health center operating by financing a heating and air-conditioning replacement at the elementary school over a few years to free up cash for the health center.

Botana, the Portland superintendent, said the abrupt cancellation of the contracts “is not a good way of doing business.”

Edwards, the DHHS spokeswoman, said in a prepared statement that human services agencies in other states generally don’t provide these school health services.

“In other states, the Department of Education partners with community health organizations to provide school-based health center services,” she said.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

Twitter: joelawlorph

]]> 0, 28 Jul 2017 17:35:23 +0000
Scarborough residents again reject school budget Wed, 26 Jul 2017 03:00:27 +0000 Scarborough’s second attempt to pass a new school budget failed Tuesday as hundreds of voters turned out to spurn a scaled-back spending proposal.

Final results of the school budget validation referendum posted late Tuesday night by Town Clerk Tody Justice showed that 1,930 people voted against the $47.2 million spending package while 1,847 people voted for it. The budget was about $236,000 lower than the $47.4 million proposal townspeople rejected in June.

“The process repeats until there is an approved budget,” Town Manager Thomas Hall said in an email.

Justice said that a steady stream of voters had come through the Town Hall polling place on Tuesday. Justice said voting was heavy in the days leading up to the referendum as well, with more than 1,600 absentee ballots cast.

A total of 3,780 votes were cast Tuesday, compared to the 4,237 votes that were cast June 13 on the first school referendum question.

Justice said those are significant numbers for a ballot with just one question on it and one that was presented to voters during the peak of summer vacations.

Justice said a third vote on the budget will be held on Aug. 22 or Aug. 29. The Town Council will schedule the date of that vote.

The revised $47.2 million school budget proposal presented to voters on Tuesday was $1.3 million, or 2.9 percent higher, than the fiscal 2016-2017 budget and would have resulted in overall property tax rate increase of about 3 percent.

Even with the reductions that were made by the town, the majority of voters were still not buying into the proposed spending package.

“Our taxes are already high enough,” said Judy Farr, who voted against the school budget. “We can’t keep throwing money at it.”

Farr and her husband, Thomas, are retired and say it’s tough with the cost of living being so high to get by on a fixed income. They’ve lived in Scarborough for 45 years. The Farrs’ children went through the Scarborough school system and she served as president of the school band booster club.

“We’re retired now and we only have so much money to spare,” Thomas Farr said.

But for Charlotte Elkhatib, the choice was a simple one. Her son, Malik, is a sixth-grade student at Scarborough’s middle school, and she voted to support the school budget.

Elkhatib said she understands why older, retired residents with no ties to the school system may oppose the spending proposal, but she believes that providing the school department with the resources it needs to give children a quality education should be a high priority for everyone who lives in the town.

“It’s still not enough,” Elkhatib said of the reduced budget proposal. “Too much has already been taken away.”


]]> 0, 26 Jul 2017 06:14:30 +0000
Scarborough residents voting again today on school budget Tue, 25 Jul 2017 02:13:00 +0000 Scarborough voters will go to the polls Tuesday to vote for a second time on a school budget that has been reduced by $236,000 from the initial proposal.

The revised $47.2 million school budget proposal is $1.3 million, or 2.9 percent higher, than the fiscal 2016-2017 school budget. Voters rejected the $47.4 million school budget on June 13 – an action that by state law requires a second school budget validation vote.

“The first vote on the school budget was a resounding rebuke by the voters,” Scarborough Town Manager Thomas Hall wrote in a letter to the community posted on the town’s website. “The voters have spoken very clearly and as town leaders we need to listen or we are likely to repeat the same mistake again.”

Hall said that while a budget that is 2.9 percent higher than last year’s might seem like a lot, it is reasonable given the fact that nearly 75 percent of school spending goes toward teacher, staff, and administrator salaries and benefits.

“Although it is tempting, it is simply not realistic or prudent to believe that significant additional reductions in school spending can be made in the near term without having a direct impact in the classroom,” Hall wrote.

Polls will be open Tuesday at Scarborough Town Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

]]> 0, 25 Jul 2017 06:38:47 +0000
Four New England colleges coordinate training for green careers Mon, 24 Jul 2017 00:58:30 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — Four colleges in three New England states are working together to train students and make it easier for them to create programs for their region’s growing green building and resilient design industries.

The Ecovation Hub Education and Training Consortium brings together Antioch University New England and Keene State College in New Hampshire, Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts and the School for International Training in Vermont. It’s part of a larger effort to help the region’s economy recover from the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2014 by turning the area into a green economy hub.

Cary Guant, Keene State’s director of sustainability, said the consortium wants to take advantage of the experts currently working in the areas of environmentally responsible building and resilient design – developing buildings and communities that can adapt to natural disasters and other effects of climate change.

“We wanted to tap into that in different ways,” she said. “In the past, those different areas of expertise were extensive but they weren’t unified. It was very fragmented. No one was talking to each other.”

The four schools signed a memorandum of understanding last week to officially create the consortium, however, some of their work is already underway.

Because they serve different populations – Greenfield is a two-year college, most of Keene State’s students are enrolled in four-year undergraduate degree programs and the other two offer graduate degrees – the schools don’t compete with each other. Instead, they’re exploring ways to make it easier for students to move from one school to another, learning about the green industries.

For example, students who complete Greenfield’s training program in energy efficiency could enter an accelerated program at Keene State to get a bachelor’s degree in green architecture, Gaunt said.

The schools also are examining their curriculum to identify areas of overlap and opportunities to create new degree or certificate programs, and hope to offer “boot camp” training sessions for those already working in the high-performance building industry. Research will be another component, but the main focus is on workforce development, she said.

Gaunt said in researching other consortia, most are focused on urban areas and are created to promote research. This project is focused on workforce development, from high school through graduate school, she said.

“What we’re trying to do here is focus on rural areas and to focus first on workforce development and second on research,” she said. “We’re looking at soups to nuts – how do you really prepare a workforce?”

Laura Sibilia is the director of economic and workforce development at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, a nonprofit that supports industrial and commercial growth in southeastern Vermont. She sees the education consortium as an “enthusiasm generator and network builder,” and called it a great step in leveraging the region’s assets.

“With workforce development, there’s two pieces, the employer and the trainer, and obviously our educational institutions are critical to that,” she said. “We need cohesive tangible pieces to come together to really help create the momentum – the gasoline to keep this fire going.”

]]> 0 colleges in New England are cooperating to train students to design "green" buildings, like the Bigelow Laboratory of Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine.Sun, 23 Jul 2017 21:46:00 +0000
Belgrade residents consider withdrawing from RSU 18 Sat, 22 Jul 2017 02:03:35 +0000 BELGRADE — A public hearing is scheduled for September for residents to weigh in on a petition calling for withdrawing from Regional School Unit 18.

Selectmen on Tuesday accepted a petition to begin the process of withdrawing, and the issue will go to Belgrade voters in November.

The 170 signatures on the petition were all collected by Penny Morrell, most of them outside the Town Office in June.

Belgrade is one of five towns in the district, which also includes China, Oakland, Sidney and Rome, and has considered the issue informally previously in response to the town’s rising education costs.

Morrell, who was a member of the most recent study committee, said: “Our conclusion was it looked like there would be a significant savings, but we’re amateurs.”

Rebecca Seel, a longtime school board member from Belgrade, said previously that the committee concluded no significant savings were identified.

The petition is the first step in a 22-step withdrawal process regulated by state law. If voters approve the move, in November, the town clerk has to forward results to the superintendent, and a withdrawal agreement is then developed. Voters again would weigh in on that agreement.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

Twitter: betadams

]]> 0 HolingerFri, 21 Jul 2017 22:08:34 +0000
Falmouth High principal chosen to head Deering High Fri, 21 Jul 2017 20:15:13 +0000 Gregg Palmer, principal of Falmouth High School, has been chosen to be principal of Deering High School, according to a release from the Portland School District.

Palmer would replace former Principal Ira Waltz, who retired in June after holding the job for seven years.

Palmer’s nomination now goes to the Portland Board of Public Education for a vote on Aug. 1. Deering High has about 900 students.

“I am confident that Gregg brings the combination of skills and disposition that will allow us to continue Deering’s positive trajectory,” said Portland School Superintendent Xavier Botana. “As Portland’s largest and Maine’s most diverse high school, Deering is a unique setting with enormous potential. I believe Gregg recognizes that potential, and is seeking the unique challenge of leading in the community where he lives.”

Palmer has been principal at Falmouth High since 2010, where the school received the highest standardized test scores of any Maine high school in math and English language arts.

Palmer also previously worked for the Searsport school district, MSAD 56, from 2002 to 2010 as high school and middle school principal and dean of students. He was a special education teacher in the Brewer schools from 1994 to 2002.

Palmer has a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Maine in Orono; a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Iowa; a master’s degree in applied behavioral science in education from Oklahoma State University; and a certificate of advanced study in education from UMaine.

]]> 0, 21 Jul 2017 19:26:16 +0000
Measure calling for Maine to pay down student debt stalls in Legislature Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:13:51 +0000 AUGUSTA — A bill to create a state-sponsored program that would erase college loan debt for people who agree to live and work in Maine for at least five years stalled Thursday in the Legislature.

The Finance Authority of Maine would administer the program, which would be paid for by a bond that would go before voters in November. However, initial votes in the Senate (16-14) and House (74-58) were well short of the two-thirds margin the measure needs to go to voters under the state constitution. The bill was later tabled in the House and likely will be revisited when the Legislature reconvenes in early August.

“Student loan debt is an enormous burden on an entire generation of Maine working people,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston. The average student loan debt in Maine is nearly $30,000.

Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, sponsored the bill to erase student loan debt for those committed to working in Maine. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“In Maine, we have the 14th-highest rate of student debt in the nation,” Libby said. Those with high debt aren’t able to fully participate in the state’s economy, he said, because debt forces people to put off purchases of automobiles and homes and, in some cases, keeps them from starting families.

The measure is supported by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, and would give Maine businesses a powerful tool to attract young workers, supporters say. The bill, L.D. 1163, was considered Thursday by lawmakers who were meeting for the first time since July 4, when they approved a $7 billion, two-year budget, ending a three-day partial government shutdown.

The amount of the bond was still in flux. Libby initially proposed $250 million, which was knocked down to a $100 million bond after consultations with the governor’s office. But the Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to support a $40 million bond, with a competing minority proposal for a $25 million bond.


The program would be available to those who attend college in Maine and to people who get their education outside the state. The details of how the program would work, such as the amount of debt forgiveness available to any one person, whether a person would need to graduate from a school to qualify, or what would constitute breaking the contract, would be worked out in rulemaking after voters approve the bond.

LePage said Thursday morning that the bond is needed to beef up the state’s aging workforce. Maine is the oldest state in the nation.

“We don’t have enough workers,” he said during his weekly appearance on WGAN radio. “This is a critical problem in Maine and it’s getting worse.”

The bond, he said, would bolster the state’s workforce.

“This is an attempt to attract young professionals, people with trades and advanced degrees, to come to Maine, live and work here and we’ll help you pay off your student debt,” LePage said. He noted that, generally, Democratic lawmakers supported the bond and Republicans opposed it, but “I don’t know why.” He said Republicans had not offered any of their own proposals to counter Maine’s aging workforce.

“I looked at it this way: If you don’t like my plan, come up with your own, but come up with something. This is a critical problem in Maine and it’s getting worse,” LePage said. “You can’t drive in your car a mile without seeing ‘Help Wanted’ everywhere. We need to lower the age of our population, we need more people of working age in the state of Maine.”

However, even some of LePage’s staunchest Republican allies are saying the proposal is unsound fiscal policy.

Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, a member of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said she would not support a bonding bill that aims to provide student loan debt relief.

“I think this is bad public policy for the state to borrow money it does not have, to give to students who borrowed money they don’t have, to pay off their student loans, to which they made the commitment, not the state of Maine taxpayer,” Sirocki said Thursday.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said Thursday that Republicans have no appetite for any borrowing proposals except for highway and bridge construction. A bonding bill that would ask voters to approve $105 million for a roads, bridges and culverts grant program for municipalities sailed easily through both chambers, securing the two-thirds margin necessary to send the request to voters in November.

But a bill asking voters to approve a $50 million bond that would be used to help Maine companies commercialize their products through research and development also was tabled and remains undecided.


Fredette said that in concept, Republicans are not opposed to either of the two bonding bills they voted against, but that the state needs to be prudent given that voters in June approved a $50 million bond aimed at boosting equipment and technology upgrades for seven key business sectors in Maine, including aquaculture and forestry.

“We just passed an R&D bond literally a month ago,” Fredette said. “There should be a strategy to this, and we have finite resources and lots of priorities. We just passed a bond so it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Student loan debt has grown to more than $1.3 trillion nationwide, according to the Federal Reserve. Nationwide, almost 70 percent of graduates in 2015 carry an average debt of $30,100, according to the Project on Student Debt, which tracks the data.

Maine ranks 17th in the nation for student loan debt. Graduating seniors from Maine’s public and private nonprofit colleges in 2015 had an average $29,644 in debt, slightly below the national average.

Neighboring New Hampshire has the top ranking in the nation, for both the percentage of graduates with debt and the highest average amount of debt, according to the debt project. In 2015, graduating seniors in New Hampshire had an average of $36,101 in debt.

The proposed Maine program, tentatively called the Maine Student Loan Debt Relief Program, would be administered by FAME, which already administers several higher-education finance programs, including employer tax credits and industry-specific loan forgiveness programs.

The federal government and other states also have industry-specific loan forgiveness programs, usually in areas that typically experience workforce shortages, such as health care and education.


In testimony Monday, Libby said the student loan payments could be made two different ways. Employers would be reimbursed by FAME for student debt payments they make on behalf of their employees, or individuals could arrange for FAME to make payments to the loan services on their behalf.

The original bill said that only half of a person’s college debt could be covered by the program, and it had a clawback provision that meant a person would have to repay all the student loan payments made on their behalf if they leave the state early or don’t somehow meet the qualifications to be worked out in rulemaking.

“We need to act boldly and swiftly before this crisis grows any further,” Libby said. He said the bill was being left in legislative limbo for now so LePage can talk more with fellow Republicans about the measure and hopefully win more support.

If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the bond would still need to be approved by voters in November.

Staff Writer Scott Thistle contributed to this report.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0, 21 Jul 2017 05:54:47 +0000
The Comments Section: Letter Writer of the Month and Facebook discourse Tue, 18 Jul 2017 20:49:42 +0000 Editorial page editors Greg Kesich and Sarah Collins dug into the mailbags to crown Kathleen Mikulka as June’s Letter Writer of the Month. In this episode, Mikulka joins us to share more about her teaching experience and why she is concerned about creating education policy based on test scores. We also hear from social media czar Jim Patrick, who makes the argument that while Facebook maintains its reputation for impulsive, ad hominem comments, the Press Herald has also attracted engaged, informed readers that will tempt you to defy the Internet principle of “Don’t read the comments!”

Lastly, we dig into the funniest, smartest, most indignant messages from, featuring yarmouth1, bowdoin 81, elvisisdead, 3midcoastg8tor, and a special appearance by columnist Jim Fossell.

Related Stories

Letter to the Editor: Raising the diploma bar slams doors

Our View: Indifference at State House prolongs Maine’s opioid crisis

Kesich: If we let people die when it’s time, health care may cost a lot less

Letter to the editor: Don’t let Congress discard lifesaving benefits of ACA

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]]> 0 younger you are, the more likely it is that you get your news via social media sites like Facebook, whose CEO recently acknowledged that "we do a lot more than just distribute the news ... we're an important part of the public discourse."Wed, 19 Jul 2017 09:07:47 +0000
Alfond foundation grant of $7.5 million puts plan for Portland graduate center in motion Tue, 18 Jul 2017 15:01:14 +0000 The Harold Alfond Foundation is giving a $7.5 million challenge grant to the University of Maine System for its new Portland-based graduate center. The system will receive the funding in increments as it raises a matching amount of money and reaches certain benchmarks, officials said.

“This will move our state toward a more prosperous future,” foundation Chairman Greg Powell said before presenting the initial $500,000 check to system Chancellor James Page and the graduate center’s chief executive officer, Eliot Cutler. “Now it’s time to get our plan working for the people of Maine.”

The center was first proposed in 2013, and the Alfond foundation has already provided $2.25 million to study and test the idea.

The center would house the University of Maine School of Law, a new MBA program that replaces separate graduate business programs operating at USM and UMaine in Orono, and the graduate programs in public health and in public policy and management, which now operate at the Muskie School of Public Service at USM. It also would house the Cutler Institute for Health and Policy, which is the research arm of USM and part of the Muskie School on the Portland campus.

“This is a great day for our students and for our institutions,” Page said. “Now we are underway.”

The Graduate School of Business will be led by a new dean who will report to the university system provost. Classes will be offered onsite, and online for students located elsewhere. Degrees will be issued by the University of Maine, and USM’s MBA program will be phased out as the center takes shape, officials said.

Joanne Williams, USM dean of the College of Management and Human Service, said the graduate business faculty there “had to make a difficult decision” to give up the MBA program.

The plans for a graduate center come as graduate program enrollment is falling. Systemwide, graduate student enrollment is down 11 percent over the past five years, from 4,248 students in 2012 to 3,780 students in 2016. At USM, graduate enrollment – which includes the law school – is down 16 percent over five years to a current enrollment of 1,666 students. On its own, law school enrollment has decreased 13 percent over five years, to the current head count of 240 students, and the Muskie School of Public Service enrollment has decreased 17 percent over the same period, to today’s 126 graduate students. UMaine’s graduate enrollment is down 11 percent over five years, to 1,896 students.

Nationwide, graduate school enrollment has been relatively flat since 2010, the tail end of a decade-long surge that saw enrollment increase 36 percent, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Federal officials anticipate another, smaller boom, with graduate school enrollment expected to increase by 12 percent from 2015 to 2026.

Cutler and other supporters say the graduate center will boost lagging enrollment by attracting students who want cross-disciplinary opportunities. The center would also include more real-world experiences, including internships and partnerships with business and community leaders.

It also would include more distance learning opportunities, a growing area for graduate enrollment. In 2015, more than one-third of all U.S. graduate students took at least some online courses, with 26 percent exclusively enrolled in distance education courses.

“This is a momentous day. This initiative has the potential to benefit the entire state,” said UMaine President Susan Hunter. “It isn’t easy to be working toward a future that is not in sharp focus. But it is absolutely the right thing to do.”

In November, system trustees authorized Page to ask the Alfond foundation for $10 million: $5 million for the first year of operations, and another $5 million in the second year that would be matched with outside funding. The challenge grant announced Tuesday will ultimately reach the same $15 million goal, although the system will have to raise more matching funds than originally envisioned.

The need for system fundraising comes at the same time that both UMaine in Orono and USM are in the midst of their own capital campaigns.

USM’s $80 million capital campaign focuses on an overhaul of the Portland campus, including a $50 million, 1,000-seat performing arts center, $15 million in athletic facility upgrades and a $15 million endowed “promise” scholarship program for full-time students with financial needs. UMaine’s $200 million capital campaign, of which more than $100 million already has been raised, is primarily for financial support of faculty, students and some capital projects, including an engineering building.

Cutler said the new graduate center would better prepare students for today’s economy, with law students who would become fluent in reading business documents, and business graduates who would be familiar with the law.

“The old economy (in Maine) is not coming back, and the new economy is crippled,” he said, because graduates do not have the full complement of skills for today’s workplace. “The challenge is (that) we need to be more responsive to Maine’s needs, and we’re doing that today.”

Some cross-disciplinary courses are already being offered to law and business graduate students, to test what will work. Cutler said some of the first accomplishments will be to create new executive-training certification programs, and to set up more classrooms in Orono and Portland to accommodate distance learning.

“Reshaping” and “evolving” the existing programs will continue for several years, he said.

“This is new stuff and it’s not easy,” Powell said, acknowledging the work of the various faculty.

According to the business plan, after the initial $15 million is raised, the trustees will be asked to authorize a second round of fundraising to build a $94 million building to house the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies. A specific Portland location has not yet been identified, but the center is included as an element in USM expansion plans for the Portland campus.

Financial projections for the center anticipate a total capital investment of $150 million, with over $100 million raised from foundations that invest in education reform. The center will be financially self-sustaining by 2024, according to a business plan.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0, 18 Jul 2017 23:03:56 +0000
Big news about graduate center at USM expected today Mon, 17 Jul 2017 19:30:10 +0000 University of Maine System officials will make a “significant” announcement Tuesday about a new Portland-based graduate center, likely focused on funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation, which has already poured millions into the idea.

In November, system trustees authorized Chancellor James Page to ask the Alfond Foundation for $10 million: $5 million for the first year of operations, and another $5 million in the second year that would be matched with outside funding.

The announcement is scheduled for 11 a.m. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.

The proposed center has been in the works since 2013. It would house the University of Maine School of Law, a new MBA program combining the current graduate business programs operating at USM and UMaine in Orono, and the graduate programs in public health and in public policy and management, which now operate at the Muskie School of Public Service at USM. It also would house the Cutler Institute for Health and Policy, which is the research arm of USM and part of the Muskie School on the Portland campus.

If first stage funding is successful, the trustees will be asked to authorize a second stage that includes raising funds to build a $94 million building somewhere in Portland to house the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies. A location has not yet been identified, but the center is included as an element on USM campus expansion plans for the Portland campus.

Financial projections for the center anticipate a total capital investment of $150 million, with over $100 million raised from foundations that invest in education reform. The center will be financially self-sustaining by 2024, according to a business plan.

In its 2016 grant report issued earlier this year, the Alfond Foundation said to “stay tuned” for ongoing funding news about the center. The foundation has already invested $2.25 million for early-stage development.

“The goals of the Center are admittedly ambitious. Mergers are never easy, especially in academia,” the report said, referring to the merger of the business programs. “But the Maine Center has always been about more than a merger. It is about encouraging innovation in one area of public education to catalyze broader transformation across the entire UMaine System.”

“This has certainly been ‘no easy matter,’ ” the report reads. “We are inspired by the transformative nature of the Maine Center vision, and by the tireless work undertaken by faculty and administrators alike, from Orono to Portland, to achieve it. Any future funding will be paid in installments, with each installment requiring the achievement of milestones that we believe are necessary for the project’s success. Stay tuned.”

Some of that tension was aired Monday at the trustees meeting, held in Orono. During the public comment period, three members of the Orono MBA program expressed concern that the business program merger could hurt the Orono program.

“The Portland plan utilizes the goodwill and brand name of the (Orono business program) while taking away our MBA and putting it under the control of others, and we’re being asked to share our resources in an already constrained resource environment,” said Grant Miles, an associate professor of management. “Faculty at the Maine business school remain willing to work to create a viable program in Portland that leverages our brand with others in the UMaine System. Currently constructed … we believe it’s not in the best interest of the business school, University of Maine or University of Maine System.”

Also Monday, the trustees announced several senior management changes, including eliminating the chief financial officer position and adding two new associate vice chancellor positions. Overall compensation for the system office will increase $31,683 as a result of the changes, a spokesman said.

Former CFO Ryan Low was promoted to vice chancellor for finance and administration and his previous position will not be filled. He succeeds Rebecca Wyke, who in June was appointed president of UMaine Augusta. Low’s salary will increase from $187,000 to $210,000.

The system also hired David Demers as the new chief information officer, succeeding Dick Thompson, who retired. Carol Kim was hired July 1 in the new position of associate vice chancellor for academic innovation partnerships, and will be paid $168,300. Robert Placido was hired as associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at $180,000 annually.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 new Alfond center would be located in Portland and combine the current graduate business programs at USM in Portland and the University of Maine in Orono in a facility with the University of Maine School of Law.Tue, 18 Jul 2017 05:38:39 +0000
Incoming Colby students get education in island life Sat, 15 Jul 2017 22:09:53 +0000 ALLEN ISLAND — Three students ran across the windswept island, seeking shelter from the rain in one wooden structure, then another.

It was their first taste of island living in Maine, an experience brought to them by Colby College in Waterville, where they will start classes in the fall.

But the experience also came from the Up East Inc. foundation, brainchild of the Wyeth clan, the family of artists who, across three generations, have left an indelible mark on American art and, more recently, Maine’s island landscapes.

Over four days, the students helped Colby professors collect honeybees and frogs, examine geologic formations and test water temperature off Up East’s Allen Island, a rugged 450-acre living laboratory in Muscongus Bay. It’s part of a six-week program in which incoming Colby students with interest in the sciences get hands-on experience in fields ranging from computer science and geology to psychology, neuroscience and environmental biology.

“You get to explore your interests and filter out what you care about, what you don’t care about,” said Kayla Wesley, 17, of Brooklyn, New York. “We had a psychology module (last week), and now I know I want to major in psychology with a concentration in neuro, and it’s because of the module.”

Over the last year, Colby College and Up East have partnered to bring students new opportunities for hands-on, immersive learning on Allen Island and at the Herring Gut Learning Center, a nonprofit education center in Port Clyde that runs marine science and aquaculture programs for midcoast children and teenagers.


The theory behind this kind of progressive education model dates back to John Dewey who, starting in the 1920s and ’30s, advocated for taking students out of Industrial Revolution-era classrooms and putting them into real-world environments to which they could relate better and that they were likely to encounter in their working lives. Dewey argued that students learn better when their education is tied to their lives and tailored to their interests and learning styles.

“A lot of more traditional forms of education are rote memory. It’s a banking concept of education,” said Adam Howard, a professor of education at Colby. “But it doesn’t work. You can deposit (knowledge), but they’re going to remember it about a hot minute, and then it’s not going to stick with them.”

Instead, Howard said, students retain more information when they are able to make connections. When educators work to cater to individual students’ existing knowledge, interests, learning styles and emotional and psychological development, those students are more likely to engage with and hold on to the material.

“You learn in deeper ways and more meaningful ways when you recognize all of the students’ needs and (meet) their needs, be it emotional, personal, academic,” Howard said.

On Thursday, a group of future Colby students and professors braved cold rain and blustery wind to observe some of the results of the school’s collaboration with the Wyeth clan. That includes climate and habitat monitoring outposts on Allen Island collecting real-time data on the temperature, salinity and – soon – carbon dioxide content of Muscongus Bay, which as part of the Gulf of Maine, is warming faster than 95 percent of all ocean bodies in the world.

That data, as well as information on wind direction and velocity, rainfall levels and ambient humidity, is being shared with local fishermen, climate scientists and other scientists around the world as Colby professors such as Whitney King, a professor of ocean and environmental chemistry, try to gauge the extent and effects of climate change on Maine’s waters.

King said the outpost provides invaluable data that can be used to inform Maine’s fishing industry and broader attempts to understand how the climate is continuing to change.

The island also provides an unparalleled training ground for the next generation of Maine’s scientists.

“Those kids are into it,” King said of the visiting students. “It makes them more competitive. It makes them curious. I think it makes them appreciate what they’ve got.”


As part of the college’s collaboration with the Up East Foundation, all the programming that happens on Allen Island and Herring Gut also must give back to the island, the foundation or the St. George peninsula community, which professors saw as a benefit and learning experience in and of itself.

When American studies professor Benjamin Lisle took students to the island to study it and the surrounding area’s cultural geography and history, they built interactive digital timelines, maps and stories examining the island’s architecture and forestry. In addition to learning about what it’s like to live on islands in Maine and diving into the state’s lobstering history and culture, the students created lasting projects on the subjects.

Documentary professor Erin Murphy took her documentary video production students to the island, where they spent a night and day filming visual narratives about the island, including its local wildlife – the resident sheep population was a big hit – and, later, a local lobsterman. In addition to creating educational and artistic works about the island, Murphy said, the experience accelerated the students’ training and bonding.

“It was a really good chance to get to know the students in the class quicker,” Murphy said. “I was really sad when that class ended.”

Visitors from Colby College and others tour a vegetable greenhouse Thursday at the Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde. Staff photo by David Leaming


On shore, Colby students have begun working with the educators at Herring Gut who create hands-on learning experiences for midcoast students.

The center offers programs such as First Work Experience, which brings in middle school students to run the center’s aquaculture farm and to prepare and then sell the farm’s vegetables at a local farmers’ market. Students in the program learn to handle money and to interact and negotiate pricing with customers. The staff described the center’s overarching goal as creating learning experiences that engage students who might not thrive in traditional classroom settings.

“What we are about more than anything is that every student has access to an education that works for them,” said Peter Harris, chairman of the Herring Gut board of trustees.


At the heart of the center is an intensive three-year program that works with classes of 12 students to provide support, custom education suited to their interests and needs and a place to grow. The program provides hands-on experience with aquaculture while helping students develop emotional skills and confidence.

Staff members at the center recalled how many of the students in the program struggle to look adults in the eye when they get started. By the time they graduate, the students often have become leaders in their schools, delivering speeches at their eighth-grade graduations.

At a tour of the school Thursday, staff members recalled one student’s perspective on his own transformation.

“I like the person I am this year a lot more than the person I was last year,” he said.

David Greene, president of Colby College, hailed Herring Gut’s experiential approach as the kind of intervention that could make the difference between academic successes and failures that can follow students for the rest of their lives.

Greene noted that students who obtain their high school diplomas can expect to make nearly twice as much money as peers who fail to graduate from high school.

High school dropouts are five times more likely to be unemployed, Greene said, and are at significantly greater risk of incarceration.

“If you don’t catch those kids, they’re going to have a life that’s less than it could have been,” Greene said.

Kate McCormick can be contacted at 861-9218 or at:

Twitter: KateRMcCormick

]]> 0 Colby College students relax on a boat that returned them to Port Clyde on Thursday after a week of studying marine ecology on Allen Island.Sat, 15 Jul 2017 22:02:04 +0000
DeVos works to shift narrative on college sex assault Fri, 14 Jul 2017 02:18:13 +0000 WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday that too many students have been treated unfairly as colleges have sought to comply with Obama-era policy on handling sexual assault, but she declined to offer any specifics about how she intends to move forward on one of the more controversial and closely watched issues handled by her agency.

“No student should feel like there isn’t a way to seek justice, and no student should feel that the scales are tipped against him or her,” she told reporters Thursday afternoon, following what she called an “emotionally draining” series of meetings with college administrators, survivors of assault and students who said they were falsely accused and wrongly disciplined.

The day after her civil rights chief suggested that 90 percent of assault allegations are the result of drunken and regretted sex rather than rape, DeVos sought to show sensitivity to victims, saying that assault allegations should not be “swept under the rug” and women should not be “dismissed.”

But she also said she was deeply concerned about addressing the concerns of the accused. “Their stories are not often shared,” she said.

Advocates for accused students have been pleased to have the ear of the Trump administration, seeing an opening to roll back Obama-era policies that they argue have resulted in biased campus sexual assault investigations. During the Thursday session devoted to wrongful accusations, about a half-dozen students (including one woman) told their stories, often tearfully, according to Cynthia Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, who was in the meeting.

“The secretary was extremely attentive to these students,” Garrett said. “We had young men breaking down telling their stories.”

But advocates for survivors of sexual assault have been alarmed by what they view as DeVos’ outsized interest in hearing from wrongfully accused students, given that only a small fraction of rape reports are found to be false.

Dozens of survivors and their allies gathered outside the Education Department Thursday to urge DeVos not to roll back federal protections for victims of sexual violence, and to decry what they view as the Trump administration’s lack of commitment to enforcing federal civil rights law.

On the concrete plaza outside the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, activists read the stories of survivors from across the country while DeVos held her meetings inside.

“Survivors want to make it very clear that we deserve to be listened to,” said Mahroh Jahangiri of the advocacy group Know Your IX, one of the event’s organizers.

Education Department officials are weighing whether to keep or reject Obama-era guidance that outlined how schools must meet their obligations under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded institutions. Critics of that guidance, issued in 2011, said it set too low a bar for campus administrators to find a student guilty of sexual assault.

]]> 0 Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to speak with reporters Thursday in Washington.Fri, 14 Jul 2017 01:02:55 +0000
Maine school districts plan to use state funding for tax relief, programming Thu, 13 Jul 2017 23:03:36 +0000 Superintendents getting additional funding under the state’s final budget deal say they anticipate spending it on a mix of reducing local taxes, rebuilding reserves and possibly restoring programs they had to cut the first time around.

“We were able to fund some things (that were cut) but some others are on our list,” said Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana. Portland saw its state subsidy increase $2.7 million after lawmakers agreed to add $162 million to education spending to break a budget impasse.

Half of the extra money – the state is distributing $48 million in 2017-18 and $114 million in 2018-19 – must be used for tax relief under a provision in the budget. The only exception applies to the first year, if voters stipulate how any extra state funds should be spent.

State education officials said Thursday that they are interpreting the law to mean that any town that passed an article saying what should be done with extra state funding – even if voters simply authorized the district to spend it as they see fit – qualifies for the exemption. Such a broad interpretation means it’s unlikely the 50 percent provision will apply in many towns.

Many districts didn’t even see a funding increase, according to department figures.

Roughly half the state’s 261 school districts –129 – saw subsidy increases of $40,000 or less – not enough to make a major difference in their already approved budgets.

Education department Deputy Commissioner Suzan Beaudoin said districts that had small or no increases likely are minimum receivers of state funding and have few special education students.

But some districts, particularly larger districts that have more administrators and more students living in poverty or with special education needs, saw big increases. Eight schools saw their state allocation increase by more than $1 million over earlier estimates.

In Lewiston, which got an extra $2.1 million, the referendum spelled out how to spend any additional state funding, so $220,000 will go toward reducing local taxes and $600,000 to eliminating a budget shortfall. The district will use the remaining $1.3 million for emergency use or reserves, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

Beaudoin said the department has not yet determined how the 50 percent provision will be applied to the $114 million in the second year of the budget deal.

In South Portland, Superintendent Ken Kunin said he expects “a significant amount” of the extra $1 million will go toward local tax relief, with any extra funneled to bus purchases, technology for students and special education staffing.

All of those areas took a hit in his original budget, which anticipated getting a $305,000 decrease in state funding.

“It gives us a more solid footing going into the future,” Kunin said of the extra funds. In the original budget “we did have to make some cuts and we leaned more heavily on reserve funds than we would have. We came up with a budget that could limp through 2017-18, but left us with real problems.”

Budget planning for the second year will be more difficult, he said, since the composition of school district populations changes, and state funding is based on those elements.

“That’s where I hope that the (Maine Department of Education) comes up with criteria for what it means, and they do it in consultation with school district,” Kunin said.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0, 13 Jul 2017 21:35:24 +0000
Maine will join lawsuit against U.S. Education Department over for-profit student loan abuse Thu, 13 Jul 2017 20:21:06 +0000 Maine Attorney General Janet Mills plans to join a lawsuit filed by Democratic attorneys general against U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her decision to suspend rules meant to protect students from abuse by for-profit colleges, a spokesman said Thursday.

“The Borrower Defense Rule came about after Maine and other states brought actions against major for-profit schools who were taking advantage of students, including hundreds of students in Maine,” Mills said in a statement Thursday. “It was clear from that investigation that students needed more protections and this rule was a step in the right direction.”

“If the Department of Education wants to scrap that rule, they need to follow the process set out in law. They have not done that,” said Mills, who announced her candidacy for governor on Monday.

Mills’ spokesman Timothy Feeley said Mills didn’t join the initial filing on July 6 because of the state government shutdown. “We only received the draft complaint hours before the deadline and were not able to give it appropriate review at that time,” he said.

Mills will likely join the lawsuit at the next filing, possibly as soon as next week, he said.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington by Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia, says DeVos violated rule-making laws when she announced a June 14 decision to delay so-called borrower defense to repayment rules, which were finalized under President Barack Obama and scheduled to take effect July 1.

The lawsuit says DeVos and the Education Department failed to take legally required steps to delay already established rules. It says they failed to open the decision to public comment and failed to provide an adequate legal justification for delaying the rules, among other faults.

In June, the Education Department said it was delaying the rule because a federal court was weighing a lawsuit brought by a California trade group made up mostly of for-profit colleges seeking to block the rules. The department cited a law allowing such a delay for litigation if it’s found “that justice so requires.”

The attorneys general said that justification is “a mere pretext” for repealing and replacing the regulation.

In a separate letter sent to DeVos on Wednesday, Mills and 20 other attorneys general object to her effort to replace those rules, which would have forbidden schools from forcing students to sign agreements that waive their right to sue. Under the rules, defrauded students would have faced a quicker path to get their loans erased, and the schools, not taxpayers, could have been held responsible for the costs.

“We are dismayed by the Department’s decision to cast aside all the hard work and progress achieved during its previous rulemakings, and disheartened that the Department has decided to turn its back on the critical protections it promised to borrowers. This is both a waste of resources and a betrayal of students who count on the Department to protect them from abuse at the hands of predatory schools,” the letter states.

It was signed by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

The letter also says they oppose the DOE’s efforts to suspend the new “gainful-employment” rule, another hallmark of the Obama administration that was set to take effect in July. The regulation would have cut off federal funding to career programs that consistently left students with more debt than they could afford. Data released by the Obama administration in January found that more than 800 programs across the country were failing to meet the rule’s standards.

“These rules are the products of a significant amount of time and effort on the part of numerous stakeholders and the Department. Simply abandoning them is both a waste of Departmental resources and an injustice for the students these Rules were designed to protect,” the letter states.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 MillsFri, 14 Jul 2017 06:18:33 +0000
See how your school district fared with new state funding: Data table Wed, 12 Jul 2017 23:53:53 +0000 0 proposal before the Legislature would give Maine schools flexibility to enforce truancy laws on enrolled students younger than 7. Reducing absenteeism starts with tracking missed days and working with parents. school bus student childFri, 14 Jul 2017 13:00:06 +0000 State budget gives 8 school districts at least $1 million more than they expected Wed, 12 Jul 2017 20:50:34 +0000 Portland’s school district will receive an increase of nearly $3 million in state funding for the upcoming year and eight districts will get an extra $1 million or more each under the state budget deal that dedicated an extra $162 million to education.

Portland’s state allocation will increase to $16.2 million, according to figures released by the Department of Education on Wednesday. Portland school officials had anticipated a $2.5 million decrease to $13.5 million for 2017-18.

In Scarborough, the new budget didn’t change the district’s state allocation, which was decreased from 2016-17 by $1.4 million to $2.1 million. Sixty school districts will see no change in their state allocations.

But lawmakers are requiring that half of the extra money – the state is distributing $48 million in 2017-18 and $114 million in 2018-19 – must be used for tax relief under a provision in the budget. The only exception is in the first year, if voters stipulate how any extra state funds should be spent.

Department of Education spokeswoman Rachel Paling said Wednesday that the department was “still working” with the Attorney General’s Office on how to implement the part of the budget that requires districts to spend 50 percent of the additional funding on tax relief. A department official was not available to answer questions about the funding Wednesday, she said.


In the letter to districts Wednesday, the department advised the school districts to consult with their attorneys to figure out how to implement that provision.

School budgets passed this spring and approved by voters at the ballot box were based on state funding estimates. The figures released Wednesday are the final calculations based on the $7.1 billion budget signed by Gov. Paul LePage on July 3 after a three-day government shutdown.

Even though the final budget has an increase in overall spending, there are other changes that could increase or decrease an individual district’s allocation. That’s because the Department of Education uses a complex formula that considers factors such as local property valuations, the number of students with special needs or in poverty, and other factors to determine how much money a district needs to provide for essential programs and services.

Among the changes in the final budget is a reduction in state funding for districts’ administrative costs from $235 per student to $135 per student, and removing the penalty for federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students – about $50 million – to allow those funds to flow to the districts.

Now that schools have the final figures, district officials need to update their 2017-18 budgets and present them to their school boards. In some cases, towns may need to go back out to referendum to spend any additional funds, which is required under state law.

Many towns, including Portland, included language in the budget referendum asking voters for the authority to spend any potential additional funds on either instruction, savings or tax relief.

“I’m happy,” said Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana. He plans to meet with his staff and come up with a recommendation on how to spend the portion of money available to the district.

During the budget process, several items were cut and he said at the time he would like to reinstate them. Botana said the district got grant funds or alternative funding for some of those programs, and he will present his recommendation to the school board when it meets in August. Any additional school spending also will need authorization by the city council.

Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray said the extra $900,000 will likely be split between tax relief and some capital improvement projects. In its initial budget, the district did not have to make any cuts and didn’t have to increase the tax rate.

“The city and city council have been extremely supportive of us in the projects we’ve needed,” Ray said. “The citizens stepped up for us when we needed a new high school so we’ll be interested in seeing the money go back.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 proposal before the Legislature would give Maine schools flexibility to enforce truancy laws on enrolled students younger than 7. Reducing absenteeism starts with tracking missed days and working with parents. school bus student childThu, 13 Jul 2017 11:10:41 +0000
Maine charter school for performing arts overhauls model after rocky 1st year Tue, 11 Jul 2017 23:43:02 +0000 AUGUSTA — After a challenging first year, a charter school dedicated to the performing arts is dropping its partnership with online education provider K-12 Inc. and adopting a new academic model for its second year.

Snow Pond Arts Academy in Sidney was the state’s first charter school using a model where local, in-classroom teachers used online lesson plans that were purchased from K-12, a national for-profit education services provider.

But the school, which had about 100 ninth- through 12th-grade students this year, ran into several problems in its first few months, prompting an overhaul this spring that is still underway, according to school and Maine Charter School Commission members.

“They had a difficult first semester with changes in personnel that weren’t anticipated,” said Bob Kautz, the commission’s executive director. “After the second semester, things were really starting to gel.”

A 90-day report by a commission review team cited concerns about a lack of key administrators, including a head of school, principal and special education coordinator; lack of training and experience for teachers trying to incorporate arts education into the academic lesson plans; a budget deficit of about $44,000; and a lack of clear testing schedules.

On Tuesday, a new plan for Snow Pond’s second year was approved 6-1 by the commission. It includes the new head of school, plans to hire full-time teachers for classroom instruction, reviews of all agreements and policies, and new lease arrangements with the 80-year-old New England Music Camp Association.

Commission member Nichi Farnham dissented, saying she liked the plan, but first wanted the commission’s legal counsel to determine whether the changes were substantial enough to merit amending Snow Pond’s charter to operate. In particular, she noted that the academic model was described in the original charter as being a mix of online resources taught by local teachers on-site, in what’s called “blended learning.” The new model eliminates the online component.

Snow Pond students attend both academic and performing arts classes at the same 40-acre campus in Sidney used by the music camp’s summer program and has access to its facilities and instruments.

In the first year, local academic teachers worked half-time and used the education lesson plans of K12 Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, which is the education services provider for Maine Virtual Academy, one of the state’s virtual schools.

Under the new model, next year those same four teachers will work full time in math, English, social studies and science, along with a half-time language teacher, and they will develop their own lesson plans instead of using K-12 Inc.’s, said Deborah Emery, the head of school.

Principal Heather King said Tuesday the biggest problem was integrating arts into the English, math, science and social studies material. It was also challenging for teachers to switch between focusing on the online tools – including videos and online reading assignments – and in-class instruction.

King praised K12 Inc. for its efforts to work with Snow Pond and said the school didn’t have a problem with the materials, but found it difficult to integrate them into the school’s performing arts mission.

“This was a struggle from the very beginning,” said the academy board President Carl Steidel, who is also an associate dean of students at Bates College and a member of the Maine Music Society Chorale and Chamber Singers.

“In order to do arts integration, students need to be working in conjunction with each other,” which was difficult with online learning tools, Steidel said. “It became clearer and clearer that internet-based learning was simply not working. By the end of the year it became really clear. Our goal was an arts integration model, not a virtual learning model.”

“The feedback from students was that they really yearned for classroom interaction,” King said.

A spokesman for K12 Inc. did not return calls for comment.

K12 Inc. was considered one of several vendors of education services for Snow Pond. Emery said the school ended the approximately $135,000 annual contract in June when it was up for renewal.

The school is using those funds to pay for full-time teachers.

Commission member John Bird, who worked with Snow Pond on its new plans, praised the new model.

“The blended curriculum was not as it needed to be,” Bird said. “In the course of the year, especially the second semester, we feel very confident that the experience has been put to very good use.”

The school has enrolled 140 students so far for fall 2017, and all current students except two are returning, Emery said.

Commission members joked that the school was starting its “second first-year” and agreed to have a more aggressive school visit and review schedule for the 2017-18 school year, including another 90-day visit after school opens in the fall.

But they said other Maine charter schools have also had to adjust after they opened.

“You just never know in the first year just what you are going to see,” member Jana Lapoint said.

Under Maine law, the state can have 10 charters, and there is only one slot left. On Tuesday, the commission said two groups had notified the commission they intended to apply for the final charter. They are Monson Forest Kindergarten, an outdoor learning school in Monson for pre-K through first-grade students, and Stanwood Montessori in Hancock County, for pre-K though eighth-grade students.

About 2,000 of Maine’s roughly 182,000 students attend charter schools. State funding for the schools, which are continuing to add whole grades at a time as they expand in their startup years, is expected to be about $23 million in 2017-18.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 Tue, 11 Jul 2017 20:41:22 +0000
Grant of $10,000 will link students in rural Danforth to virtual reality Tue, 11 Jul 2017 01:28:14 +0000 A small rural school in Washington County just 5 miles from the Canadian border is going high-tech next year, thanks to a $10,000 grant that will allow school officials to integrate virtual reality into lesson plans for studying history, biology, engineering and other subjects.

“The Danforth community is devoted to our children, and at East Grand School we are always looking to provide important opportunities for our students,” said Jennifer Gillman, a math teacher who beat out 83 other applicants to win the grant. The money will be used to buy virtual reality headsets, which retail for about $800 each, and set up a dedicated space for VR, a 3D printer and other hands-on technology.

“(The students) have the ambition and the ability, but they don’t always know what’s out there in the world for them,” Gillman said. There are about 150 students in the school, which spans pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The grant is the fourth annual $10,000 technology award by Kepware, a Portland-based software development firm sold several years ago to PTC Inc., a Needham, Massachusetts-based technology company. The grants are intended to spur interest and experience with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and develop the state’s workforce.

“Technology is key to enhancing student learning,” said Tony Paine, chief technology officer of Industrial Automation at PTC. “Access to technology enables students to develop a strong foundation of technical skills and inspires them to explore their talents. The Kepware School Grant Program continues to supply students in our home state with tools to succeed in STEM disciplines and overcome the technology gap facing many Maine schools.”

Correction: This story was updated at 3:40 p.m. on July 11, 2017 to correct Kepware’s name.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 Tue, 11 Jul 2017 15:40:40 +0000
Vassalboro teacher brings astronaut lessons back to the classroom Sat, 08 Jul 2017 23:31:47 +0000 Last October, Vassalboro teacher Breanne Desmond took her sixth-grade students on a trip to the Challenger Learning Center in Bangor. They took part in simulated missions and jobs, such as coding, communications and photography.

“I just thought it was so cool that they got to do these shuttle missions,” said Desmond, 36, who has worked for the Vassalboro Community School for one year.

So she decided to apply for a similar adult opportunity.

Applications to the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy were due in November, so Desmond acted quickly to submit her information. Math and science teachers who work with students age 10 through 14 are eligible for the program, which provides professional development and simulated astronaut training for teachers.

The week of Jan. 9, she remembers, they started to notify winners, so she was constantly checking her email.

Desmond was one of more than 200 teachers from 33 countries and 45 states selected for the one-week program.

Honeywell, which sponsors the program, paid for the tuition, airfare and dormitory housing at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

“In a time where professional development opportunities are really limited, it just was that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Desmond said. “Not only did I get to live some of these lessons I would give to my students, I got access to a ton of resources.”

Desmond traveled in mid-June to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Hunstville, which is a comprehensive space flight museum that includes a rocket park, Spacedome Theater and NASA’s Educator Resource Center.

“I got to pretend that I was 12 again,” she said.

Desmond designed, built and launched rockets, took part in two simulated space missions to Mars and the International Space Station, and participated in simulated training such as the multi-axis space test inertia facility that spins astronauts around. For her team’s engineering work, she won the Commander’s Cup.

She also learned leadership and classroom techniques and received a number of resources that she can download and use in her lessons.

And she met colleagues from all over the world. One of Desmond’s teammates from Brazil is setting up a pen pal system.

The program allowed the teachers a chance to “train like astronauts do” for 45 hours. But it also helped them see things from a different perspective, she said.

For example, the teachers had to do both a zipline and a helo dunker activity, in which teams are strapped into the body of a helicopter and plunged into a pool. Neither was a comfortable experience, Desmond said.

“It put us in the kids’ shoes by asking us to do something we weren’t comfortable with,” she said, so they gained insight into how students may feel when they’re asked to do difficult and unfamiliar things. “It was overcoming more mental blocks.”

Now, Desmond plans to incorporate some of the videos, slide-show presentations and articles she was given into her classroom, as well as some of the projects she took part in.

She’s started re-creating some of the materials they used for team building and communication activities as well, like a memory game made from a large tarp and duct tape. She hopes to break down the barrier that students often put up for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects before they even try them.

Desmond often hears students say they “hate” science or they’re not good at math, but she hopes to reach them before they get to that mindset with fun projects, like Sphero – a coding game Desmond played while in Alabama. The participants had to use code and a smartphone to control a robot and navigate it around the face of Mars, she said.

But bringing opportunities like that into the classroom will take money. She plans on applying for grants and looking for free activities that could spark her students’ interests in science, like Orion’s Quest missions, which let students take part in space-based research.

Opening up access to these experiences is something Desmond is now passionate about. Growing up in Vassalboro, she said she “never would’ve thought of these careers” in science.

She also plans to continue the October trips to Bangor for sixth-graders to visit the Challenger Learning Center.

Honeywell, in partnership with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, created the scholarship program in 2004 to help educate the next generation of workers.

Since then, the academy has graduated 2,776 educators from 62 countries and all 50 U.S. states, reaching a total of 3 million children.

“Technology is changing exponentially. Things we once held as impossibilities are reality – we are on our journey to Mars,” said Deborah Barnhart, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. “Educating the next generation of leaders and learners is key to global success.”

“The Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program unites teachers with exciting tools and methods to change the lives of students around the globe.”

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: madelinestamour

]]> 0 Desmond, a sixth-grade science teacher at Vassalboro Community School, recently spent a week in Alabama at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and she's returned to the classroom with a passion for teaching science- and math-related lessons in new and nteresting ways.Sat, 08 Jul 2017 19:43:48 +0000
Improvised eclectic piece kicks off Atlantic Music Festival in Waterville Sat, 08 Jul 2017 21:05:20 +0000 WATERVILLE — The ninth annual Atlantic Music Festival got underway Saturday with a mostly improvised eclectic piece in which performers were spread across the balconies of Colby College’s Lorimer Chapel, creating sounds like birds singing to one another from the treetops.

It was like free-form jazz meeting soul and classical music.

The piece, “Environmental Dialogue” by Pauline Oliveros, was an installation in which the players used string and woodwind instruments and drums, making sounds coming and going through the air, said Solbong Kim, the program’s artistic director,

There was foot stomping and hand clapping, with other sounds sprinkled with tweets, squeaks and notes for various musical instruments.

Ben Robichaux, who is studying for his doctorate in composition at the University of Georgia, was in the audience for some of the early performances Saturday.

He traveled all the way from Georgia to connect with about 40 other composers who are at about the same stage of studies as he is.

“This festival is amazing,” he said. “You don’t always have premieres at concerts. This is one of the bigger music festivals of this kind in the country. That was an amazing piece by Pauline Oliveros; she recently passed away this past year.”

Robichaux said Oliveros had a “meditative environmental” style. He said the musicians are given “vague instructions” from the composition and then improvise based on what they hear from the other musicians.

After the installation, other musicians performed “Flavor Painting,” a new piece for the Atlantic Music Festival. Kim said he would describe the music as poetry.

“It’s words – like Whitman – it’s a collection of sounds, but within the collection it’s not conventional in a way that it goes somewhere in the way that most of us know,” Kim said. “It’s a sound that continues onto another sound and they form poetry, in essence.”

Kim called the music controlled spontaneity, or controlled improvisation, with the elements of the composer’s ideas of how it should sound, but with each musician’s own personal input.

“This first concert is a lot of new works,” Kim said. “In our other concerts as well, we have many, many of the standard repertoire. These musicians are incredible musicians. Many of these musicians will actually end up in some of the major symphonies all over the world.”

He said the players for the free music festival that runs through July 29 are in their transition period – they don’t have a philharmonic job just yet, but are not amateurs, either.

“I think the real excitement – if you talk about regular concerts where it’s all set musicians and you know who they are – this is very different,” he said.

The festival, which began at Colby in 2009, brings together student musicians and professional instructors to play dozens of concerts around campus, most in Lorimer Chapel but others in venues such as Given Auditorium, the Strider Theater and the Marchese Blue Light Pub.

The concert series is broken up into five divisions: chamber music, full orchestra, composition, conducting and opera.

Over 300 performances have taken place during the festival’s first eight years, and this year about 40 performances are planned.

The festival has many recurring events, such as the AMF Orchestra performing sets of eclectic programs at 7 p.m. on Saturdays and AMF’s Chamber Music Series playing on Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. Additional performances also may develop as the festival progresses.

Kim said audiences can expect all kinds of classical music, including traditional pieces by known composers.

Erin Morrison, a stage manager and one of the festival coordinators from Greene, said this year is her first year at the Atlantic Music Festival. She said the anticipation of the festival has been exciting.

“It’s been really cool to see the process of all these music composers coming together and working with artists to make their music come alive,” said Morrison, a middle school music and chorus teacher in Auburn. “And seeing all these composers really happy and excited about their performances and their premieres – most of these performances are premiere performances.”

Morrison said there has been a lot of interest in the festival with phones “ringing off the hook” as opening day approached.

She said composers and musicians participating in the festival are from all over the world.

The students stay in the college’s dormitories and eat on campus, while some of the program’s staff members, made up of professional musicians from around the world, reside off campus.

There is a group from South Korea coming in next week, she said.

Composer Seven Sky Spillios, 18, from southern Oregon, also was a member of the audience during the early performances Saturday.

He said the contrast in styles over the next three weeks should be exciting for the participants as well as for the central Maine community. Spillios, who studies music composition, said his piece “Winter’s Morning” for harp and flute would be performed Saturday.

“This has been a great opportunity to connect with other composers and really get my voice out there, as well as a bunch of other people’s,” he said. “Everyone has a completely different style here.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

Twitter: Doug_Harlow

]]> 0 of the Atlantic Music Festival perform Saturday at Lorimer Chapel at Colby College in Waterville.Sun, 09 Jul 2017 17:42:49 +0000
New USM course encourages minorities to become teachers Fri, 07 Jul 2017 23:52:27 +0000 In the whitest state in the nation, Portland’s schools stand out as one of the most diverse populations in Maine. More than 40 percent of the students in Portland classrooms are people of color, and more than 60 languages are spoken.

But the teaching staff is still 95 percent white.

A new course at the University of Southern Maine, created in partnership with district leaders, aims to balance that out by inviting people of color who are interested in becoming teachers to take the course. Over the next five weeks, about 45 students – some of whom were teachers in their home countries – will spend four days a week in Portland summer school programs, and one day a week at USM discussing their experiences.

Portland School Superintendent Xavier Botana, who visited the class on its first day Friday, said it was “very exciting” to see the packed room.

“I was just thrilled to feel the energy in that room,” Botana said. “It’s awesome to see 50 people from all walks of life coming together around the possibility of becoming a teacher.”

About a third of the class are people who were teachers in their home countries, some of whom are already in the pipeline to get local teaching credentials. Another third are university students who are exploring whether to go into teaching, and about a third are juniors and seniors in Portland’s high schools who are considering teaching as a profession.

“What is so incredibly exciting is the positive response from the number of people willing to come and participate,” said USM professor Catherine Fallona, who helped create the three-unit course and tailor it to the Portland school district. “It really gives you a positive feeling.”

Having a more diverse staff is one of the district’s long-term goals, Botana said, adding that it came up repeatedly when the district was interviewing him for the job.

“When I started, it was obvious there was a tremendous amount of energy around this issue,” he said. He assigned senior staff to consolidate various piecemeal efforts around diversity, leading to several comprehensive programs this year, including this class. Another was embracing the ideals behind a “Parents Manifesto” on how to improve communication with immigrant families, and forming a committee to work with immigrant parents, removing barriers that have left some families feeling alienated.

The USM class is being taught by Grace Valenzuela, an adjunct professor at USM and the head of the district’s Multilingual and Multicultural Center.

Fallona, who specializes in teacher education, said numerous studies have shown the benefit of having a diverse teaching staff, for both white and non-white students.

“This is such an important move to diversify our teaching force,” she said. “The students really need to see themselves in the teachers that they have. In some ways, the more our schools are reflective of all our community members, we will become a more integrated society.”

Teachers, she said, also play a key role in understanding different cultures and backgrounds.

“(Teachers) can be such a source of creating stronger communities that go across cultural lines,” Fallona said.

Nationwide, non-white students became a majority of students in America’s public schools in 2014-15. Yet a 2014 report by the National Education Association found that the number of teachers of color had actually declined from 26 percent in 1994 to just 18 percent in 2014, prompting a call for more diversity in the teaching profession.

“A teaching force that represents the nation’s racial, ethnic, and linguistic cultures and effectively incorporates this background and knowledge to enhance students’ academic achievement is advantageous to the academic performance of students of all backgrounds, and for students of color specifically,” the report’s authors wrote.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 University of Southern Maine, above, has been hard hit by recent cuts made by the UMaine System in an effort to close a budget deficit. Now we're learning more about a new center that would house combined graduate programs currently operating at USM and the University of Maine.Sat, 08 Jul 2017 08:44:06 +0000
Ole Miss will recognize slave labor on buildings Thu, 06 Jul 2017 23:25:51 +0000 JACKSON, Miss. — The University of Mississippi will post a sign acknowledging that slaves built some structures on the main campus founded before the Civil War.

The university made the announcement Thursday, also saying Ole Miss will strip the name of James K. Vardaman off a building. Vardaman, a white supremacist, was Mississippi’s governor from 1904 to 1908 and a U.S. senator from 1913 to 1919.

The changes are part of an effort started in 2014 to provide historical context on the Oxford campus, which was rocked by violence after court-ordered integration in 1962. The administration has already added a plaque to provide information about slavery and the Civil War to a Confederate soldier statue near the Lyceum, the main administrative building on campus.

University leaders have said they’re trying to make a diverse student body feel more welcome.

“As an educational institution, it is imperative we foster a learning environment and fulfill our mission by pursuing knowledge and understanding,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

The move to add historical context to some places and to rename others at Ole Miss comes amid debate in many parts of the U.S. about how to deal with the public display of symbols and monuments tied to slavery and the Confederacy. New Orleans is among the places that have recently removed Confederate monuments. Harvard University this year acknowledged its ties to colonial-era slavery, and Yale University rebranded a residential college that had been named for a 19th century U.S. vice president who supported slavery.

All eight of Mississippi’s public universities have stopped flying the state flag because it includes the Confederate battle emblem – a red field topped by a blue tilted cross dotted by 13 white stars. Adopted in 1894 and reconfirmed by voters in 2001, it is the last state flag in the nation with the emblem that critics see as racist.

A sign will note that four projects on the Ole Miss campus were built with slave labor. One is a cut through some hills to make a route for railroad tracks. The other three are buildings – the white-columned Lyceum, completed in 1848, the same year the university opened; an astrological observatory that was finished in 1859 and now houses the Center for the Study of Southern Culture; and a Georgian-style brick building dating to 1853, now home to international studies.

A campus committee recommended adding historical context for some campus buildings or monuments, and removing Vardaman’s name from a building that used to be a dormitory but is under renovation to house offices.

]]> 0 pedestrian walks past Vardaman Hall at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., on Thursday. The University of Mississippi says it will post a sign acknowledging that slaves built some structures on the main campus founded before the Civil War.Thu, 06 Jul 2017 19:29:20 +0000
Gorham assistant principal charged with driving drunk Thu, 06 Jul 2017 22:34:43 +0000 An assistant principal at Gorham High School is facing a drunken driving charge.

Kimberly Slipp, 61, of Gorham was arrested June 22 in Sebago and charged with operating under the influence, according to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

Capt. Scott Stewart said the dispatch center received a call about a crash on Route 114 at 8:10 p.m.

When deputies arrived, they discovered Slipp had hit a parked SUV and a utility pole. She was treated for minor injuries at the scene.

Slipp received a breath test at the Windham Police Department, then was taken to the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, where she posted bail. Stewart declined to release her blood alcohol content.

“The deputy’s assessment of her was that she was intoxicated, and he placed her under arrest,” Stewart said.

Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry said Slipp has been a public educator for 39 years and an assistant principal at Gorham High School for 12 years.

The school department is aware of the arrest, Perry said, but Slipp has not been put on administrative leave because students are on summer break.

“We are taking these charges very seriously and are following all processes and protocols to investigate this matter closely before deciding upon an appropriate course of action,” the superintendent wrote in an email.

A home phone number listed for Slipp is out of service. A voicemail left at the high school and an email sent to Slipp on Thursday afternoon were not returned.

Slipp’s initial court date is Aug. 22.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at:

]]> 0, 07 Jul 2017 07:12:22 +0000
Scarborough’s second 2017-18 school budget referendum is underway Thu, 06 Jul 2017 17:33:11 +0000 SCARBOROUGH — Voting started Thursday on a revised 2017-18 school budget and will culminate July 25 with a second town referendum.

The Town Council and School Board approved cuts Wednesday evening totaling $307,000 – $236,000 from the school budget and $71,000 from the town budget – after 57 percent of town voters rejected an initial $47.4 million school budget proposal June 13.

The revised $47.2 million school budget proposal is $1.3 million, or 2.9 percent, higher than the current budget and would result in an overall property tax rate increase of about 3 percent.

While the official referendum day is July 25, when voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Town Hall, early voting in the presence of the town clerk started Thursday and will continue through July 20 during regular business hours.

Town Manager Tom Hall said officials are aware that many people are on vacation at this time of year, but the hope is that voters will find a moment to stop by Town Hall at some point in the next few weeks to cast their ballots.

“These days, over half of ballots cast are done early, and that’s increasing all the time,” Hall said. “Stop in when you can.”

Town Hall is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 6:30 p.m. every first and third Wednesday of the month. Absentee ballots will be mailed to voters if requested by calling the town clerk.

Scarborough’s turnout for the June 13 referendum was relatively high. While some communities reported school budget referendum turnout percentages in the single digits, 4,237 of Scarborough’s 16,848 registered voters (25 percent) cast ballots in the initial referendum.

The vote on June 13 was 2,408 to 1,822 against a budget that would have increased school spending in the coming year by $1.5 million, or 3.4 percent, and would have absorbed an anticipated $1.4 million reduction in state education aid.

It was the fifth time in 10 years that town voters rejected the school budget on the first ballot. Opponents used social media, robo calls and lawn signs to campaign against the spending plan, specifically against the use of $2.1 million in surplus funds and a 7.4 percent increase in the amount to be raised in property taxes, from $39.8 million to $42.8 million, which included adult education and food service costs. The $47.4 million gross budget total on the June 13 ballot excluded adult ed and food services.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers passed a two-year state budget that allocates $162 million in new funding for public education – $48.4 million to school systems in fiscal 2018, which started July 1, and another $113.6 million in fiscal 2019.

Whether Scarborough’s allocation will increase remains to be seen. How much districts receive will depend on whether they choose to collaborate with other districts. The state budget also aims to send more funding to poorer districts and allow districts to tap a fund for unexpected special education costs.

The Maine Department of Education announced Thursday that updated subsidy amounts would be available no later than July 21. If Scarborough’s allocation increases, 50 percent of the increase would go toward tax relief in the 2017-18 budget and the other half would be allocated to a school capital reserve fund, according to state law and the budget proposal approved by the Town Council on Wednesday night.

The initial $47.4 million school budget proposal was part of an overall $84.5 million operating budget for municipal, school and county services that would have increased overall spending by $2.5 million, or 3 percent, in the fiscal year starting July 1.

Under the initial combined spending plan, Scarborough’s property tax rate would have increased about 56 cents, or 3.49 percent, from $15.92 to $16.48 per $1,000 in assessed property value. The annual tax bill on a $300,000 home would have increased $168, from $4,776 to $4,944.

With the proposed $307,000 reduction, the overall operating budget would be reduced to $84.2 million, resulting in an overall spending increase of $2.1 million, or 2.6 percent.

The $236,000 in school cuts would postpone hiring a high school career and academy coordinator, reduce a behavioral specialist’s position to part time and delay replacing athletic team uniforms, among other changes. The $71,000 in municipal cuts includes reductions in capital projects and compensation for planning, human resources and public works positions.

With the school budget proposal on the July 25 ballot, the overall property tax rate would increase about 48 cents, or 3 percent, from $15.92 to $16.40 per $1,000 in assessed property value. The annual tax bill on a $300,000 home would increase $144, from $4,776 to $4,920.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

]]> 0, 07 Jul 2017 07:05:55 +0000
Attorneys general sue DeVos for delaying rules on for-profit predatory colleges Thu, 06 Jul 2017 15:20:10 +0000 A group of 19 state attorneys general are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for delaying an overhaul of rules to erase the federal student debt of borrowers defrauded by colleges.

“With no notice, with no opportunity for comment … the DeVos team is trying to cancel this rule,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is leading the lawsuit, said on a call with reporters Thursday. “It is important that we take action where we see activity by the federal government, Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education, that is unsustainable, unfair and illegal.”

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, accuses the Education Department, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment, of violating federal law by halting updates to a regulation known as the borrower defense to repayment. The rule, which dates to the 1990s, wipes away federal loans for students whose colleges used illegal or deceptive tactics to get them to borrow money to attend. The Obama administration revised it last year to simplify the claims process and shift more of the cost of discharging loans onto schools.

Before the changes could take effect July 1, DeVos suspended them last month and said she would convene a new rulemaking committee to rewrite the borrower defense regulation, reviving a process that took nearly two years to complete. Proponents of the revised rule were livid that DeVos made a unilateral decision without soliciting or receiving input from stakeholders or public.

DeVos said the delay was necessary as the department fought a federal lawsuit by a group of for-profit colleges in California seeking to block the rules. State attorneys general, including those from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., argue in their lawsuit that the case is “a mere pretext for repealing the rule and replacing it with a new rule that will remove or dilute students rights and protections.” Many of those same attorneys were involved in a motion last month to intervene in the California lawsuit to prevent the rules from being blocked.

The secretary also said the Obama administration created “a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs.” But consumer advocates and liberal lawmakers contend that the changes achieve exactly the opposite by speeding up loan discharges and having colleges foot more of the bill.

To limit financial risk to taxpayers, the new rules expand the conditions under which colleges have to get a letter of credit from a bank assuring the availability of at least 10 percent of the total amount of federal financial aid funds it receives. Among the circumstances that would trigger a letter are lawsuits filed by federal agencies, defaults on debt obligations and enforcement action taken by an accreditation agency.

“For almost two years, we worked with other state AGs, schools, lenders, the department, a variety of stakeholders to come up with a rule that would protect students and ensure that schools and taxpayers would be treated fairly,” Healey said.

The financial obligation and complexities of the new regulations created consternation among some colleges and universities. In announcing the rule delay, DeVos said she was trying to provide “clear, fair and balanced rules.”

The secretary said the suspension will have no impact on the tens of thousands of pending claims because the old regulation remains on the books, but state attorneys general say the existing statute doesn’t go far enough to protect students.

The first set of changes that were supposed to take effect this month would have, for instance, limit the ability of schools to require students to sign mandatory arbitration agreement and class action waivers that are commonly used by for-profit colleges to thwart legal action by students. That stipulation in the new rules was the basis of the California lawsuit.

“It’s important that students have their day in court,” Healey said. “All aspects of this rule are important and I’m concerned about any action to undermine or strip any of what’s in the borrower rule.”

Few people used the defense until 2014, when the collapse of for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges ushered in a deluge of claims at the Education Department. That forced the agency to fix the system and create a new standard to judge appeals for debt relief.

DeVos’s critics say that by delaying the borrower defense changes, she has handed a victory to for-profit colleges and Republican lawmakers that have fought against the rules for years. They say she is showing a clear bias in favor of for-profit schools with the delay and the decision Friday to halt a component of the gainful employment rule.

That regulation threatens to withhold federal student aid from vocational programs whose graduates consistently end up with more debt than they can repay. Career schools had until July 1 to inform students about programs that failed to meet the standard set out by the department, but DeVos extended to deadline by a year.

“Betsy DeVos is bending over backwards to make it easier for fly-by-night schools to cheat students and bury them in mountains of debt,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a statement Thursday. “Secretary DeVos might not like it, but her job is to serve students – and we will make sure

]]> 0 - In this June 13, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump, accompanied by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, left, waves to members of the media as he takes a tour of Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wis. Democratic attorneys general in 18 states and the District of Columbia are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her decision to suspend rules meant to protect students from abuses by for-profit colleges. The lawsuit was filed Thursday, July 6, 2017, in federal court in Washington and demands implementation of borrower defense to repayment rules. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)Thu, 06 Jul 2017 16:49:28 +0000
New state budget sends more money to public schools in Maine Thu, 06 Jul 2017 02:48:32 +0000 AUGUSTA — Maine’s 240 public school systems will soon learn how they will share $162 million in new educational funding in the two-year state budget signed by Gov. Paul LePage early Tuesday.

The budget, which resolved a partisan stalemate and ended a three-day government shutdown, will provide an additional $48.4 million to school systems in 2018 and another $113.6 million in 2019.

But how much districts receive depends on whether they choose to collaborate with other districts. The budget also aims to send more funding to poorer districts and allow districts to tap a fund for unexpected special education costs that arise during a budget cycle.

As part of an agreement to provide the $162 million for schools, lawmakers eliminated a 3 percent tax surcharge on high-income households that voters approved in November. The surcharge was designed to increase state funding to 55 percent of the costs of education, a level also mandated by voters in 2004, but which the Legislature has never approved.

Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, a former member of the Legislature’s Education Committee who now serves on the Appropriations Committee, said district-by-district funding was still being calculated by the Maine Department of Education. State allocations to school districts are based on a complex formula that considers several factors, including the value of a district’s property tax base, the percent of low-income students it serves and the district’s special education costs.

LePage, who has long argued that Maine districts employ too many administrators, warned that there would be, “hell to pay in education” in the coming year, apparently because of the additional funding. He made the comment soon after he signed the new $7.1 billion state budget ending the shutdown, but he didn’t elaborate on what he meant and a request for clarification Wednesday to his staff was not answered.

Hubbell said in an email that the new budget partially rejected a proposal from LePage to cut funding for school administration, a move that would have pushed $40 million in annual costs to local taxpayers. The final budget also did not include a pilot program for a statewide teachers contract, which LePage had sought.

Hubbell also noted that the new budget will designate $27.5 million for schools with larger numbers of “economically disadvantaged” students.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said Wednesday she couldn’t speculate on what LePage meant when he said there would be “hell to pay” in education.

“I never try to guess what the governor is thinking or has planned,” Gideon said in an appearance on Maine Calling, a talk show on Maine Public.

“What we are going to continue to see,” she said, “is the governor’s participation in the legislative process become less and less relevant as he heads into his last year of government as we all seek to really do our jobs and work on behalf of not the governor, not our individual parties, but Maine people as a whole and our constituents as a whole.”

Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union, said LePage’s words were threatening to students and teachers alike.

“We stand ready to defend our students and defend our educators,” Kilby-Chesley said. “He may think all hell is going to break loose but we are going to make sure that every day is a good day in our classrooms for our students and our teachers.”

With the budget in place, the Legislature will now consider any bills that require voter-approved borrowing or bonds, as well as bills that call for studies of various issues or topics. Lawmakers will also have to decide which of the more than 200 approved bills that require new state spending will receive it.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said few of these bills will receive funding because the new budget used most of the state’s surplus, usually the source of any new spending. “We closed a $7.13 billion budget with essentially $7 million sitting on the sidelines; that is razor thin,” Thibodeau said.

When it does finish its work for 2017, the Legislature will recess for another 10 days to give LePage time to veto or sign bills still on his desk. Lawmakers will then reconvene for a veto override day. That will likely push the final day of the legislative session close to the end of July.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

Twitter: thisdog

]]> 0, 05 Jul 2017 23:54:33 +0000
Stephanie Hatzenbeuhler resigns from Portland school board Wed, 05 Jul 2017 14:59:24 +0000 Portland school board member Stephanie Hatzenbuehler said Wednesday that she will resign her seat in September when her family moves out of state.

Stephanie Hatzenbuehler Contributed photo

Hatzenbuehler will resign just shy of the end of her first three-year term on the Portland Board of Education. No special election will be held to name her replacement because her District 4 seat is up for election on Nov. 7.

Hatzenbuehler said in a statement that leaving the board early is not easy and is the result of a decision to move across the country to be closer to extended family.

“It has been a great honor and joy to work with the people of Portland in service to our public schools,” Hatzenbuehler said. “I have loved my service on the board, particularly working with my fellow board members in choosing our new superintendent and working with dedicated teachers, staff and administrators in creating a scholastic environment that promotes safe and rigorous teaching and learning.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana said Hatzenbuehler is a “highly valued and respected member” of the school board.

“She clearly is dedicated to ensuring the success of students, staff and families in the Portland Public Schools. She has been a tremendous support through my transition,” he said. “I know that I speak for her fellow board members and district staff in saying that we are very grateful to Stephanie for her service and wish her all the best in this next phase of her life.”

Nomination papers for District 4, District 5 and an at-large seat area now available at the City Clerk’s Office.

]]> 0, 05 Jul 2017 17:56:10 +0000
Driver who left 5-year-old aboard Gardiner school bus lost her job Mon, 03 Jul 2017 17:05:13 +0000 A school bus driver who failed to notice that a 5-year-old remained aboard after parking at the bus barn in Gardiner on May 16 has lost her job, and a new procedure is in place to help ensure no child is left behind again.

“We confirmed that the student was indeed left on the bus unsupervised,” said Patricia Hopkins, superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 11, the Gardiner area schools.

On Monday, Hopkins said that the bus driver, a woman who drove a school bus for the district for several years, “is no longer an employee of MSAD 11.” The district has about 23 drivers.

Hopkins also said she could provide no other information about the driver, including her name, because it was a personnel matter.

The boy made it home safely in a police cruiser after he was spotted about 4:30 p.m. that day walking alone along U.S. Route 201 apparently trying to get home. A good Samaritan stopped to help and called police.

The bus depot is on Pushard Lane, just of Route 201.

Hopkins, who said she talked to the boy’s mother, was unsure whether the boy had ridden a school bus since then.

She also described a step that has been added in the procedures followed when bus drivers park the buses at the end of the run.

She said each bus driver now has a “X” magnet on the dashboard, and at the end of the every run, after checking the bus for any remaining children, the bus driver places the X on the outside bumper.

“It shows the director of operations that the buses have indeed been checked,” she said. “If X is not there, the director knows it’s something for follow-up. The driver either forgot the magnet or forgot to inspect bus.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

Twitter: @betadams

]]> 0 Ninety-two percent of school bus drivers believe it’s “their job” to step in when a student is being assaulted, taunted or threatened, a survey found – but only 56 percent say they’ve been trained in how to intervene in bullying incidents.Mon, 03 Jul 2017 16:05:02 +0000