The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Schools & Education Fri, 26 Aug 2016 01:24:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In second vote, Sanford approves $38.1 million school budget Wed, 24 Aug 2016 01:44:07 +0000 Sanford voters approved a $38.1 million school budget Tuesday that is identical to the budget they rejected in June.

City Clerk Susan Cote released the results from the daylong special election on Tuesday night. She said the results are still unofficial.

Cote said 1,036 people voted to approve the education budget for 2016-17 while 841 voted against it. Sanford has more than 13,000 registered voters.

If the school budget had failed a second time, school officials said they would have had to cut programs.

Tuesday was the first time Sanford had ever held a second vote on a school budget. On June 14, voters rejected both the school budget and the $24.2 million city budget, which called for a 2.44 percent overall spending increase.

The vote against the school budget in June was 1,054 to 785.

Immediately afterward, there was confusion about whether a second school budget vote would be required.

A provision in the city charter sets a threshold for the number of votes needed to reject the municipal budget. Shortly after voters rejected both budgets, city officials determined that the charter provision did not apply to the school budget. But the municipal budget was considered passed because the turnout fell 18 votes shy of the threshold.

Combined, the municipal and school budgets will add 71 cents to Sanford’s property tax rate, which will increase to $22.75 per $1,000 of valuation. That increase will add $120.70 to the bill for a home valued at $170,000. City officials say that increase will be offset by an increase in the homestead exemption for anyone who owns a home valued at $170,000 or less.

City and school officials reviewed the school budget and held two public hearings, and said they heard little opposition to the proposed budget.

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Portland adds artistic flourish to drab utility boxes Tue, 23 Aug 2016 20:19:58 +0000 As Portland considers adding high-profile public art projects at both Congress Square and Woodfords Corner, a group of local painters is quietly turning some of the city’s drab street corner utility boxes into unexpected works of public art.

Five of the large black boxes, which sit next to intersections and contain the equipment that controls traffic signals, are being painted by local artists. Four of the artists are from Portland, the other is from South Portland.

At Congress Square Park, South Portland resident Kerrin Parkinson painted the Portland skyline in purple, with a large sun, slightly obscured with thin clouds, reflected in the ocean. The horizon is a rainbow of light.

A block away at Cumberland Avenue and High Street, Jared Goulette painted a wavy blue, green and yellow design, rippling outward.

Another cityscape, by Katey Carnahan, decorates the utility box at Cumberland Avenue and Franklin Street, across from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It depicts cars meandering along roads and bridges, along with a stairway leading up what appears to be the Eiffel Tower.

A previously blank utility box at Pearl and Middle streets is being decorated by Michael Lewis with boats and balloons floating through a blue sky with yellow clouds.

A fifth utility box at Woodfords Street and Stevens Avenue will be painted by Alicia Uth.

“We’ve seen a tremendous response to our utility box public art project in addition to all the enthusiasm around this installation in Congress Square,” City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said, referring to the city’s selection of New York City-based artist Sarah Sze to design a project there.

The city said in news release that the artwork is intended to beautify the urban landscape, increase civic participation and support the local arts community.

The utility box project mirrors similar efforts in cities around the country from Burbank, California, to Boston. The public art has been shown to reduce litter, deter graffiti, and increase interest in areas where the utility boxes are located.

The five artists were chosen in July, about a month after the city solicited proposals. A dozen artists applied and the winner was chosen by a panel of artists. The winning artists began work earlier this month.

The $1,500 project was funded through donations from NBT Bank and Port Property Management. Each artist received a $300 stipend, but had to pay for their materials.

The utility box project is taking place as the city is considering designs for a street lamp sculpture at Woodfords Corner and as the city moves forward with a major public art installation at Congress Square.

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Guided tours highlight shortcomings of 2 Portland elementary schools Mon, 22 Aug 2016 18:34:10 +0000 About 20 city and school officials – and some parents – got the opportunity Monday evening to see why renovations are being sought at Longfellow Elementary School in Portland.

Principal Terry Young spent more than an hour giving the group a tour of the Stevens Avenue school, which was built in the mid-1950s.

The officials also toured Reiche Elementary School on Monday night as part of a fact-finding effort to determine whether the City Council will support sending voters a $70 million bond referendum to cover renovations at four Portland elementary schools.

The officials requested the tours to get a firsthand look at conditions that led the school board to recommend the bond to renovate Presumpscot, Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche elementary schools. The schools were all built 40 to 60 years ago.

Young said the biggest issue facing his staff is adequate classroom, storage and working space. With the exception of an outdoor garden and pool area, which is used for science and writing classes as well as staff meetings, the grades K-5 school, with an enrollment last year that reached 350 students, looks old.

Observers, including Mayor Ethan Strimling, city councilors and school board members, were shown a music room so small that students find it difficult to dance or play instruments there. The school’s tiny gym doubles as a cafeteria, and a first-floor hallway has dining tables and chairs stacked against a wall because there is no permanent storage space for the cafeteria furniture.

About half the hallway is passable, but “this space can be challenging,” Young said.

Some classroom windows at Longfellow are nearly impossible to open and when the heating system is working, the steam vents rattle, making what Young describes as an “incredibly loud” noise. There are books stored on wall cabinets in Longfellow’s two-room library, but not much else to indicate it’s a place where students could congregate to read.

“This feels like a room with books in it,” Young said. “But it doesn’t really have the warmth you’d expect to see in a library. The kids don’t spend a lot of time here. They come to get their books and then they leave.”

The tours were organized by the School Facilities Ad Hoc Committee, which is made up of city councilors and school board members.

The committee was created July 6 by the City Council after the school board voted to recommend that the council schedule a referendum on a $70 million bond issue to renovate the four schools.

Supporters wanted it on the November ballot, but councilors said they needed more information before putting the issue to voters.

The next meeting of the committee will be at 5 p.m. Aug. 30 in City Hall. Oak Point Associates, the project’s architect, is expected to give an in-depth, school-by-school presentation of the proposed renovations.

Planned fixes range from installing functional heating and windows that open to building new space so the schools can get rid of portable trailers that are used for classrooms.


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Portland schools will try to bridge gaps with immigrant parents Mon, 22 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Portland parent Micky Bondo was surprised when she went to parent-teacher conferences and didn’t see her friends and neighbors from the immigrant community.

“I didn’t see the diversity of the parents. I thought: What’s going on? Am I the only one?” said Bondo, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo who moved here from Atlanta in 2009. “So I went to different parents in my own community and asked them, ‘Why didn’t I see you at the parent-teacher conference at your child’s school?’ ”

The answer, she found, was that they didn’t feel connected to the school, and didn’t know how to bridge the gap.

Now a years-long effort by immigrant parents to organize and communicate their concerns to school district officials is taking a critical step forward after the Portland School Board voted to form an ad hoc committee to review district policies in order to remove barriers that have left some immigrant families feeling alienated. A “Parents Manifesto” created by the families will be used as a guide for the committee, which will be formed in the next few weeks.

Immigrant parents have long felt cut off – culturally and linguistically – from the schools that educate their children.

Safiya Mohamed, a Somali, said she remembers how difficult it was for her when she arrived in Portland in 2006. She couldn’t read school documents or communicate with her children’s teachers.

“I understand how it is for parents new to this country. I understand the struggle,” said Mohamed, a mother of 10 children ranging from 21 to 2 years old.

Even once she learned basic English, she had a hard time.

“I was able to speak English, but I didn’t understand,” she said. “It’s really hard.”


Some parents can’t read report cards or don’t understand the grading system. They can’t attend parent-teacher conferences because they work during the school day. Even when the district sends out multilingual notices, some families are left out because they are illiterate and can’t read the notice even if it is in their native tongue.

About two years ago, the district increased the use of “robocalls” to families, but immigrant families are confused by them and want to talk to a real person, Bondo said.

“Parents want to have a voice. They just don’t know how to do it,” said Bondo, who is a parent liaison and works with Portland Empowered, a University of Southern Maine-affiliated group that helped create the manifesto.

The document, available online, asks the district to address six areas of concern: valuing face-to-face relationships; creating safe spaces where everyone is welcome and valued as an expert; requiring parents, schools and communities to work together to improve results; working hard to include the whole range of voices in decision-making processes; being accessible to parents and community leaders from diverse backgrounds; and having sufficient resources devoted to it.

The need to connect to immigrant families is an important issue in Portland, the largest and most ethnically diverse school district in the state. More than 2,400 students, or 35 percent of total enrolled students, come from homes where a language other than English is spoken. About 60 different languages are spoken by families with children in Portland schools. More than 1,700 of the students are English language learners. In many more families, the students speak English but the parents do not.

Bondo said non-English-speaking parents don’t like having to rely on their children for information about school, and want a direct line to school officials and teachers.

The students want it, too.

Hasanain Al-Khaleeli, a recent Casco Bay High School graduate, said he wants the district to have more translators and more events that involve parents.

“It’s very hard (for my parents) to communicate with my teachers and my school and find out how well I’m doing in my school,” said Al-Khaleeli, who is originally from Iraq. “I personally think if my parents were truly involved, I would be pushed to do even better than I am doing.”

Al-Khaleeli and several other immigrants appealed to the board two weeks ago to adopt the manifesto and create the ad hoc committee.

Afterward, new Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana was visibly moved.

“I am also an immigrant,” he told them. “I came to this country as a 2-year-old from Cuba. I know exactly what you’ve said today is the reality that my family faced.”

Botana said it was “incredibly significant for me” that this was happening just as he started his new job.

“I really look forward to your continued engagement and your continued support as we do this work together,” he said.

School board member Stephanie Hatzenbuehler also had a visceral response to the parents’ plea for inclusion.

“I am a parent,” she said, her voice breaking. “The idea that I would have to get together to create a manifesto just to be heard is so powerful to me.”

The group’s work, she said, “brings to light my privilege, my children’s privilege and my community’s privilege.”

“I will do anything I can do as a board member, or as a fellow parent, to encourage Portland Public Schools to make this a better place for all of us, to grow our relationship,” Hatzenbuehler said. “I am honored and pleased and humbled.”

Highlighting the challenges faced by immigrants, just days after the parents’ presentation to the board, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump singled out Somalis during a campaign event in downtown Portland where much of his speech dwelt on the perceived threats of immigration.

The next day, Botana issued a statement affirming the district’s support for immigrant families, noting in particular the role of Somali employees, students and families in making Portland schools “a stronger and better community.”

“Our Somali students and their families are a shining example of this strength,” he said. “As our largest and one of our oldest language communities, we have seen tremendous success stories in our classrooms, academic activities and athletic venues. We have outstanding staff of Somali origin and they are contributing every day to making the Portland Public Schools a wonderful place to learn and work.”


Portland Empowered is a Nellie Mae-grant funded initiative, organized out of USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, to empower parents who have historically been underrepresented. The project leaders, who include Portland School Board member Pious Ali, work with students and parents to reduce barriers and create ways to increase their involvement in Portland’s high schools, organizers say.

At a recent Portland Empowered meeting, the group discussed its success in working with Portland High School officials to make a back-to-school event more welcoming to immigrant families. The changes were minor, but significant to the immigrant community.

One, they changed the name of the event from the “Freshman BBQ” to the “9th Grader Welcome Picnic.” That’s because many immigrant families don’t know what “freshman” or sophomore or junior mean – it’s confusing terminology to them, but they know the grades. Calling it a “barbecue” implies mostly hot dogs and hamburgers will be served, whereas calling it a picnic makes it clear there will be non-meat options, and side dishes.

Emily Thielmann, a Muskie School employee who coordinates Portland Empowered, said the group has already held several community meetings where parents, teachers and school officials sat down in small groups and discussed the issues.

And while the suggested changes may not be easy, cost or inconvenience is no excuse for not treating all parents fairly and equally, Thielmann said.

The top priorities for the immigrant community – face-to-face meetings instead of email, personal phone calls instead of robocalls, meetings in the evenings or on weekends instead of during the school day – are time-consuming and less “efficient” than current practices. A common online tool used in schools across the state, Infinite Campus, requires Internet access that some families don’t have, and can be confusing for others.


Moreover, not all parents want the same thing. Some parents are fine with email, or multilingual fliers sent home with their children. Other parents cannot read or write in any language, and can only communicate effectively in face-to-face conversations, with the aid of a translator.

Mohamed, a parent liaison for Portland Empowered, says the immigrant families she talks to in her neighborhood of Riverton Park are very enthusiastic about the initiative.

“When I tell them about it, they kind of wake up,” she said. “They are really excited.”

Like all parents, they want their children to succeed. Mohamed said two of her older children are in college and a third works at the jetport. Her other children are in Portland schools or still at home.

“I really want my kids to succeed, and I want to ask (teachers about) them in my language in my culture,” Mohamed said.

Bondo said the new committee is a good start.

“We don’t expect it all at once. We need to take the baby steps,” she said. It would be enough “if we just tackle one of the manifesto bullet points and build on that.”

“This is our strength,” she said. “We are not fighting. We are partnering.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Comments have been disabled on this story because of personal attacks.

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Kindergarten warmup eases first-day jitters Fri, 19 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 NAPLES — It’s the biggest day for the littlest students: The first day of kindergarten.

In an effort to make that transition a little easier, the Lakes Region School District launched a new program this year, open to incoming kindergartners who have never been to daycare or pre-K and were considered at-risk after screenings last spring.

The special three-week, half-day Jump Start program lets them figure out how to say goodbye to Mom and Dad, where to put their backpacks, how to sit on the blue spots on the carpet for reading time and, maybe, how to settle down when the teacher asks.

“I think it’s been amazing,” said Noreen Casey, one of the three kindergarten teachers working with the 17 students at Songo Locks School. Another 14 Jump Start students are at Stevens Brook Elementary School in Bridgton.

Without the program, these are the students who struggle the most in the first weeks of their school experience, needing the most attention from teachers and struggling just to get through every day.

“Now when they come in, they’ll be the leaders,” said teacher Jill Flagg.

 Jill Flagg holds Hannah Allen, 5, at Songo Locks School Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Jill Flagg holds Hannah Allen, 5, at Songo Locks School Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On Thursday, the next-to-last day of the program, the students came bounding off the school bus, quickly dropped off their backpacks in the cubbies and settled down at a table to begin playing with the dominoes, puzzles and other educational toys as the day began.

Parent Brianna Gagne said the program has made a huge difference to her shy guy, 4-year-old Ben. At the screening, she said, he wouldn’t even say anything for 45 minutes – “he absolutely shuts down around people,” she said. When the Jump Start program started, she was able to stay in the classroom with him for the first two days.

“He was terrified,” said Gagne, a mother of four and a former special education teacher. “But I was there to guide him and get him used to asking other people for things. By the third day I had to just leave, and he cried, but 45 minutes later he was OK.”

Now, it’s a quick hug and a kiss and Ben happily heads in to class.

“It’s been the best program. He’s so excited and he brings home his work and shows it to us,” she said.

Ashton Hutchins, 5, wears a big smile in his classroom at Songo Locks School on the next-to-last day of the new Jump Start program, aimed at helping youngsters who have never been to daycare or pre-kindergarten.

Ashton Hutchins, 5, wears a big smile in his classroom at Songo Locks School on the next-to-last day of the new Jump Start program, aimed at helping youngsters who have never been to daycare or pre-kindergarten. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In the classroom, teacher Devin Fitzgerald is leading the children through a discussion of “creepy, crawly things,” part of the week’s bug theme. The kids are all sitting on their dots, raising their hands to be called on, and going through an exercise of looking each other in the eyes as they say good morning to each other.

The district decided to try the program this year after an incoming teacher who had done a similar class in Massachusetts recommended it, said district Assistant Superintendent Pat Hayden. A few other schools in Maine have similar multi-day programs, she said, but generally incoming kindergartners get only a single day to take a “practice” bus run and visit their new classroom before the first day of school.

Principal Cheryl Cline said the Jump Start students, who might have struggled and felt out of place, will now be leaders and that, in turn, will give them “a huge sense of accomplishment.”

“There’s a huge ripple effect,” she said.

At one of the tables, Bruce Morrison was busy building tables and couches out of a pile of dominoes. So far, he said, his favorite part of school is the playground. As the teacher calls out to get the students’ attention, he turns away quickly.

“Class! Class!” Fitzgerald sing-songs out. “Yes! Yes!” Morrison says in unison with the others.

“Class!” “Yes!”

“Claaaaaasss,” she draws out. “Yeeeessssss!”

And so it goes, smooth as silk.

Later, Morrison and a half-dozen other boys are tearing around the wood chips and playground equipment amid shrieks and laughter – but only after they walked through the hall with “voice level zero” and “marshmallow feet.”

“It’s been amazing,” Hayden said. “Their whole attitude about coming to school has changed.”


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Westbrook School Committee appoints Peter Lancia as superintendent Thu, 18 Aug 2016 01:11:14 +0000 The Westbrook School Committee unanimously appointed Dr. Peter Lancia as the city’s new superintendent of schools Wednesday night.

Chairman James Violette said Lancia will begin working immediately under the terms of a three-year contract that pays him an annual salary of $122,000.

Lancia, 49, has worked in Westbrook for 26 years as a teacher, elementary school principal and curriculum director and most recently was the assistant superintendent.

“We are excited about Peter. He has been Maine’s teacher of the year, principal of the year, and curriculum coordinator of the year. He is highly respected around the state,” Violette said.

Lancia replaces Marc Gousse, who left Westbrook this summer to become superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.

Lancia earned about $105,000 as an assistant superintendent.

He began his career in Westbrook more than two decades ago as a second-grade teacher. He was Maine’s teacher of the year in 2002.

Lancia lives in Portland with his wife and three children.

The Westbrook School Department has more than 2,500 students in six schools and a budget of about $35 million. Lancia also could oversee a growth in enrollment and a massive school expansion project at Saccarappa School and Westbrook Middle School, the fate of which will likely be decided by ballot in November.

The school expansion would cost about $27.3 million.

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Unity College names new president Sat, 13 Aug 2016 00:41:11 +0000 Unity College’s board of trustees has named Dr. Melik Peter Khoury as permanent president.

Khoury has been serving as interim president since Jan. 3. His appointment as permanent president was announced Friday and took effect immediately.

John Newlin, chairman of the board of trustees, cited Khoury’s leadership results and bold vision as key factors in making the appointment.

“A year ago we set some very high expectations for Dr. Khoury,” Newlin said. “The truth is, Melik and the team he has assembled (have) met and significantly exceeded those lofty goals.”

Khoury said Unity College is in a position to help redefine higher education at a small, private college.

“I am thrilled to be a part of that undertaking and appreciate the board of trustees’ confidence in me,” he said.

Khoury started at Unity in 2013 as senior vice president for external affairs, after positions at Upper Iowa University; Culver Stockton College in Canton, Missouri; Paul Smith’s College in New York; and the University of Maine at Fort Kent. While at Unity, he has also been executive vice president and chief financial officer and last year took on the role of chief academic officer.

He is Unity’s 11th president.

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Former Massachusetts education secretary to lead Alabama schools Fri, 12 Aug 2016 22:30:02 +0000 MONTGOMERY, Ala. — State school board members are looking to an outsider to lead Alabama public schools, naming the former Massachusetts education secretary as the next school superintendent over candidates who have worked extensively in state classrooms.

It took several rounds of voting Thursday morning before members narrowly selected education consultant Michael Sentance for the job. Sentance spent his career as an education adviser and reformer. He has worked as an education consultant, the New England regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education secretary and as the senior education adviser to the governor of Massachusetts. Board members who voted for him praised his innovation, saying he would bring fresh ideas and needed changes to the public school system in Alabama.

“Mr. Sentance, I think, brings something unique to the state. Massachusetts is the number one state in the country in education. Test scores show that. We are not number one, obviously, but we would like to be,” Gov. Robert Bentley said after the vote. “Changes are going to be made, and changes have to be made,” Bentley said.

His lack of classroom and school administration experience was named as a concern by board members who supported other candidates.

“I felt we needed someone who had experience as a superintendent. Mr. Sentance does not have that experience. That was my biggest concern, along with the fact that I thought that someone from the state of Alabama would know our needs better. I feel like Mr. Sentance will get here and learn, but it’s a lot easier if you know what the needs are,” board member Yvette Richardson, a former principal and school superintendent, said.

Sentance has an American studies degree from Georgetown University, a law degree from Duquesne University of Law, and a master’s degree in law from the Boston University School of Law. He does not have a start date yet. The board must vote on a salary and benefits package.

“It would be my goal to make Alabama the model in the next decade for what is possible in American education,” Sentance wrote in his application to the board.

Sentance in a statement issued Thursday on social media said he was grateful for the confidence and looking forward to working with new colleagues in Alabama. Sentance has been a finalist for superintendent in several states in recent years, according to news reports, including Ohio, Kentucky, Nevada and Nebraska.

Sentance won the position over Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey, a former state deputy superintendent and chief of staff within the department. Sentance won with five votes. Pouncey was the next highest vote-getter with four.

Pouncey had been the leading candidate when board members named their six finalists for the job. However, he had also been the subject of an anonymous complaint sent to board members ahead of the vote accusing him of getting department staff to help him with his dissertation in 2009.

Pouncey said Thursday that the accusation was untrue. “Anybody who has known me, has known my career …… I’m well-attuned to what the ethics laws are and it has been my job in the past to always enforce them and make sure everybody stays in compliance with them,” Pouncey said. Asked if the accusations were an attempt to hurt his chances of winning the position, Pouncey replied, “I’ll let the public decide that.”

Pouncey said he was eager to hear Sentance’s ideas for the state. He said he hoped the new superintendent would find, “the dirt roads of Alabama. The kids who don’t have anybody to speak for them, because it’s a whole different world than Massachusetts.”

The board began searching for a new superintendent after Tommy Bice retired in March.

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Maine officials extend student computer contract Fri, 12 Aug 2016 18:50:17 +0000 The state has extended its contract with Apple for student devices for another year, but officials say they are still discussing whether to significantly change the program that puts state-financed computers in the hands of every seventh- and eighth-grader in the state.

One possibility: Letting schools decide that they’d rather use the Maine Learning Technology Initiative – or MLTI – to provide devices to younger children instead of middle schoolers, or only use devices for learning certain subjects.

“We ought to stand back and have a broad discussion, not to give up MLTI at all, but to have a pivot in some way,” Deputy Education Commissioner Bill Beardsley said Friday. “We might keep doing it (the same way) or maybe we shift resources to the schools so they can do their own brainstorming.”

The current four-year contract was initially signed in 2012, and the state has exercised three of six possible one-year extensions, the most recent just two weeks ago. What the administration is contemplating is whether to stop exercising the extensions, which would still allow the state to continue under the current contract through 2020.

“It gives us a chance to regroup, to think it through,” Beardsley said. “Should we still be doing the concept of what Angus King came up with, or a new concept?”

Maine’s school laptop program began in 2002 under then-Gov. Angus King. Apple held the exclusive contract with the state until 2013, when the LePage administration added a Hewlett-Packard option.

Today, the state spends about $10.5 million per year on Apple products, and about $1 million per year on H-P products, according to MLTI Director Mike Muir.

Beardsley said Gov. Paul LePage has urged the Education Department to focus less on the hardware – iPads versus laptops, H-P versus Apple – and more about figuring out how to make sure the state invests in hardware that has the biggest bang for the buck in helping students learn.

If the focus is on having students reading at grade level in the third grade, a common benchmark for future success, perhaps the state should focus its MLTI resources on that goal, officials said.

LePage has been skeptical of the program in the past, and even threatened to end it entirely, according to emails between him and then-Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

Beardsley said LePage has asked the department to show evidence that the devices and the MLTI support resources for schools are resulting in improved student outcomes.

“(LePage) cares about student learning,” Muir said. “He wants to know what’s next. … Let’s make it about the learning, not the devices.”

Muir said he knows “test scores are very important to the governor as a metric,” but officials will also consider tracking data on attendance, behavior, and student engagement to show the impact of the MLTI program.

Beardsley said they will spend the next year considering their options, and that any change to the program would be within the existing law and not require legislative action.

Because the contract expires after LePage is termed out of office, Beardsley said they are “doing the homework for whoever the decision maker will be.”

“It’s such a big project and it’s so critical. Let’s make sure we have a year or two” for researching options, he said.

Under the most recent amendment to the original MLTI contract, the state replaced devices a year early, and schools had the choice of iPads or laptops. Muir said he estimated that the previous balance was about 60-40 in favor of iPads and he thought it would reverse to about 60-40 in favor of laptops. Education officials have found that, generally speaking, the iPads are more useful for younger children, while laptops are better for older students.

Most of the old devices have already been collected and the new devices are currently being distributed.

The state did the refresh on the contract, Beardsley said, because Apple gave it a good deal.

It was cost-neutral, and “Apple came up with a deal that had high discounts, new features people wanted and those kind of things,” he said. “Basically, it was very, very attractive. If it hadn’t been, I would have said we’re not going to do it.”

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

Twitter: noelinmaine

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Unity College braces to hit all-time enrollment high Thu, 11 Aug 2016 19:05:36 +0000 Unity College expects to welcome its biggest incoming class and highest overall enrollment in its 51-year history this fall, the school announced Thursday.

About 700 students will be enrolled in the school, which is up 7.7 percent from last year’s 665 students. Unity, which specializes in sustainability science education, opens for classes Aug. 29.

A $20 million buildout the past several years, new faculty, a first-ever master’s online degree program, new faculty and a new academic structure all have helped drive the increased enrollment as well as set up the school for the surge of students who are attracted by the school’s science sustainability curriculum, according to the release. The school opened in 1965 with 39 students.

Unity College President Melik Peter Khoury said in the release, “It surprises some people, who think we’re just a little private college in rural Maine. The reality is, there is a hunger out there for well-rounded education, grounded in science and informed by the humanities and liberal arts. By offering small class sizes, individual mentoring, transdisciplinary research, and hands-on field work, we are in high demand. It’s a recipe that confers real advantages on our alumni and students as they assume the mantle as the next generation of environmental leaders.”

Khoury said the school anticipated the enrollment surge based on higher numbers of applications over the last several years and restructured to support a larger student body. “We are ready to welcome them when they arrive,” he said.

In the past six months, the school has invested $6 million in two new student support buildings, both of which will open this month; repurposed two signature campus buildings to serve as academic and student support facilities; hired eight new full-time faculty; and created a master’s in professional science degree, the first-ever graduate degree at Unity College and the first time the college has offered its curriculum online, the release said.

The college is also reorganizing its academic unit into two schools – the School of Environmental Citizenship and the School of Biodiversity Conservation – replacing five academic centers.

“The new academic structure is designed to create the space for faculty to rethink the way higher education is delivered, to maximize benefit for students,” Khoury said in the release. “The realignment better matches our educational framework of sustainability science, harmoniously blending theory and practice to prepare a well-rounded student. “This restructure was completed from a position of strength, maintaining all of our current majors. In fact, we added new faculty to ensure that our families’ investment is honored and quality is uncompromised.”

The school invested more than $9 million in local vendors during the 2015-16 academic year and its multi-year campus buildout has employed hundreds of local contractors and used products and services from dozens of Maine vendors, according to the release.

Projects over the last four years have included:

• Construction of two $4.4 million fossil-fuel-free residence halls that opened in 2013 and 2014;

• A $1.1 million cafeteria expansion, completed in 2014;

• Renovations to the Higgins Wing of the Student Activities Center;

• Construction of a new outdoor deck and dining area;

• Repurposing two signature buildings – Unity House and TerraHaus – into classroom and student life space;

• A $6 million expansion that includes a new academic building with classrooms and student success center, and a new fossil fuel-free residence hall exclusively for first-year students.

On the academic side, the school faculty and students “in the past two years have gained national and international attention for the discovery of a new species of microscopic animals that could have seismic impact on human habitat, acted as a national resource on issues of captive wildlife care and research, and conducted nationally recognized studies of the iconic Maine black bear that created a wealth of data for species management.”

Khoury said the college “is in a unique position to lead industry change, not only in sustainability education but in higher education more generally.”

“People outside of Unity College think I’m joking when I say our goal is simply to change the world. But we’re doing just that, one student at a time,” he said in the release.

While there have been a lot of “exciting changes” on campus, Chief Student Success Officer Sarah Cunningham said in the release, “One thing that doesn’t change is that Unity College is a home for students who value the close-knit community we create together. As we welcome more students into the family, we are also hiring the team to support them – counselors, coaches, tutors, and more – which will help us give each student the attention he or she deserves and the support to help them make good choices, overcome challenges, and achieve success as a Unity College student.”

]]> 2, 11 Aug 2016 18:30:14 +0000
Westbrook assistant superintendent poised to take top job Thu, 11 Aug 2016 16:35:04 +0000 Westbrook’s assistant school superintendent is poised to become the next head of the district.

Peter Lancia, who has worked in Westbrook for 26 years as a teacher, elementary school principal and curriculum director, was the top choice of the superintendent search group, said Jim Violette, chairman of the Westbrook School Committee.

If hired, Lancia would succeed Marc Gousse, who left Westbrook this summer to become superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System. Gousse was principal of Westbrook High School for 10 years and became the superintendent in 2011. His final salary in Westbrook was $128,775. Lancia’s current salary is about $105,000.

“Regardless of my position, I’ve always in my heart and in my mind and, I think, in my actions remained a teacher, really focusing on the work we’re doing with kids,” Lancia said Thursday. “That’s why I really want to do this job. I want to make sure we focus on teaching and learning. I want to make sure we focus on providing the best for every single student in our care.”

Violette declined to say how many people applied for the job, but five current superintendents were in that pool. A search committee of parents, teachers, students and others then interviewed five candidates from across New England, and the School Committee spoke with two finalists last week. Violette would not name any of the other candidates.

“It was a difficult decision,” he said. “We deliberated between an hour and an hour-and-a-half.”

Lancia began his career in Westbrook more than two decades ago as a second-grade teacher. He was Maine’s Teacher of the Year in 2002, and the award motivated him to pursue larger roles.

“It gave me a broader vision of what education was about and encouraged me to look for other ways to make an impact beyond just my classroom,” he said.

After 12 years as a teacher, Lancia became the principal at Congin School. In 2010, he became the director of teaching and learning for the district, and in 2015, the assistant superintendent. This summer, he was named Curriculum Leader of the Year.

Lancia, 49, lives in Portland with his wife and three children. He is also an adjunct faculty member in literacy education at the University of Southern Maine.

Violette said Lancia does not have much experience in the district’s financial management, but the assistant superintendent stood out for his skills in developing curriculum and his knowledge of proficiency-based learning.

The Westbrook School Department has more than 2,500 students in six schools and a budget of about $35 million. The next superintendent also could oversee a massive school expansion project at Saccarappa School and Westbrook Middle School, the fate of which will likely be decided by ballot in November. Although the committee is still waiting on a final estimate for that project, Violette said it could cost $27 million to $28 million.

“We are having a huge explosion in terms of residential development, which is increasing our school population,” Violette said. “That’s going to be a massive challenge for our new superintendent.”

In addition to Gousse, Westbrook High principal Jon Ross left the district this summer to become a combined superintendent and principal in Acton. In July, the School Committee unanimously voted to appoint Kelli A. Deveaux to the job; she previously worked as an assistant principal at Windham High School. Her two-year contract comes with a $104,000 salary.

Contract negotiations with Lancia are ongoing, but the School Committee will likely vote on his appointment at its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

]]> 1 Thu, 11 Aug 2016 21:03:58 +0000
UMaine System to pay $30,000 to settle lawsuit by fired UMA athletic director Wed, 10 Aug 2016 17:04:42 +0000 The University of Maine System has agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the former athletic director of its Augusta campus, who alleged that university officials failed to follow their own policies and were negligent when they fired him last year.

Warren Newton of Orrington, who worked at the University of Maine at Augusta from 2001 until he was fired, has agreed to drop all claims in the lawsuit filed in February in U.S. District Court in Bangor in exchange for the payment to him and his attorney, Naomi Cohen, to cover her legal costs.

Newton was fired on May 23, 2015, on grounds of “untruthfulness and deception” following an investigation into his relationship with a student. Newton argued in the lawsuit that he was denied his due process rights as guaranteed by university system policies to properly defend himself against the allegations and that the investigation found no reasonable grounds existed to believe he had violated the university’s guidelines.

As part of the settlement, the University of Maine System admitted no wrongdoing and Newton agreed to say nothing about the settlement or he would forfeit half of the $30,000 payment. The agreement also prohibits Newton from ever seeking a job again with the university system or any of its affiliates. A notice of the settlement was filed with the court Tuesday.

Cohen declined to comment on the settlement when reached by phone.

The university system’s general counsel, James Thelen, acknowledged in an email that while Newton is bound by the confidentiality agreement, the system is subject to the state’s Freedom of Access Act and released a copy of the 18-page settlement agreement to the Press Herald.

Thelen also represented three individuals named in the lawsuit as defendants: UMA’s former interim President Glenn Cummings; former Dean of Students Kathleen Dexter; and Sheri Stevens, executive director of administrative services. Newton agreed under the terms of the settlement to drop all claims against those defendants.

At the time Newton was fired, he was earning $88,000 per year plus benefits as director of student activities, athletic director and adjunct faculty member.


]]> 0, 10 Aug 2016 18:04:33 +0000
South Portland to get state funds for new or renovated middle school Wed, 10 Aug 2016 16:01:27 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — For the first time ever, the Maine State Board of Education has agreed to help pay for a school construction project in South Portland, school officials announced Wednesday.

The state board voted unanimously Monday to put Mahoney Middle School, one of the city’s two aging middle schools, on its Approved Projects List, a board spokeswoman said. The project’s cost, design and location have yet to be determined.

Mahoney, built in 1922 as the city’s high school, was rated No. 14 on a prioritized statewide list of proposed school construction projects that applied for funding in 2010-2011. Memorial Middle School, built in 1967, was rated No. 55 on that list.

Superintendent Ken Kunin said the South Portland School Department is excited to partner with state education officials to “potentially receive significant state funding” for a new or renovated middle school – something the district has been anticipating for more than a decade.

“We’ve been hoping and waiting for this,” Kunin said. “Both schools need extensive renovation to meet the needs of our students now and into the future.”

As higher-rated projects received funding approval in recent years, including the Hall School in Portland at No. 12, concern grew in South Portland that the state would call for fresh applications and create a new list of eligible projects, which happens every several years, Kunin said. Also approved for funding this week was the Lafayette School in Sanford, at No. 13.

South Portland school officials will work with the Maine Department of Education to complete a detailed, 21-step process that will include many opportunities for public education, involvement and input, Kunin said, including straw polls and a final referendum.

The Middle School Facilities Task Force will meet Aug. 18 in the Memorial Middle School library to begin planning its next steps in a development and construction process that will take five or six years, Kunin said.

“This process will help to determine how we move forward in a way that is both educationally sound for our students and fiscally responsible for our community,” he said.


One of the first required steps will be to conduct an educational analysis and engineering study to determine whether to consolidate the city’s two middle schools and whether to renovate or build a new building on one of the existing sites or elsewhere in the city, Kunin said.

Public forums will be held to envision what the community wants for all students in grades 6 through 8 and to learn more about the state funding and facilities development process. While districts have great flexibility in designing individual schools, they must meet certain design standards in order to receive state funding.

Mahoney serves about 325 students in an 87,200-square-foot building that sits on 15 acres at Ocean Street and Broadway, near Mill Creek Park. The site includes a multipurpose playing field that was built on an unstable construction landfill and a baseball field that’s considered unplayable, according to the state funding application.

Memorial serves about 400 students in a 95,240-square-foot building that sits on 17 acres at 120 Wescott Road, which runs between Broadway and Westbrook Street in the Thornton Heights neighborhood. The site includes a baseball field, a multipurpose playing field and an outdoor basketball court.

While Mahoney is an architecturally striking, landmark building, its site is considered too small to accommodate a major expansion, let alone a combined middle school, Kunin said. If Memorial is the chosen site for the middle school project, the building has so many problems that it probably would be cheaper to tear it down and build new than to renovate and expand, he said.


Both buildings have significant structural, health, safety and handicapped-access deficiencies, along with asbestos throughout and inadequate heating, ventilation, plumbing, electrical and communication systems.

Three-story Mahoney has no elevator, no hot water in bathrooms and no fire lanes around the building, which limits first responders’ access during emergencies. Memorial has no sprinkler system, a gym roof that doesn’t meet snow-load requirements, a buckling interior brick wall, water infiltration that’s causing mold and air quality problems, and heating costs that are about two times higher than Mahoney’s, Kunin said.

More than a decade ago, the district conducted a lengthy study of the middle schools and South Portland High School. Voters approved a $47.3 million high school renovation and expansion project that was completed last year.

Last year, the city’s School Board voted to create the Middle School Facilities Task Force, which includes school staff and board members, city councilors, parents and community members. The task force has met monthly since May 2015 to start the process of assessing the condition of the two middle schools and their ability to meet current and future educational needs.

In February, after a competitive bidding process, the School Board picked WBRC Architects to do the middle school project. Kunin said WBRC has extensive experience working with communities across the state of Maine to design and construct beautiful, functional schools that anticipate future needs, including Hampden Academy in Hampden, Ocean Avenue School in Portland and Brewer Community School in Brewer.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 6, 10 Aug 2016 18:43:32 +0000
Muslim boy’s family sues over arrest for homemade clock Mon, 08 Aug 2016 23:17:21 +0000 DALLAS — The family of a Muslim boy who was arrested after bringing a homemade clock to school filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Texas school officials and others, saying the incident violated the 14-year-old boy’s civil rights, prompted death threats and forced them to leave the United States.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Ahmed Mohamed, who was arrested at his suburban Dallas high school in September and charged with having a hoax bomb. He says he brought the homemade digital clock to school to show his English teacher.

Ahmed showed off the clock, made out of a plastic pencil box and electrical wire and other hardware salvaged from his parents’ garage, during a news conference Monday with his parents and attorneys.

Irving police later dropped the charge, but he was still suspended for three days. He never returned to the school; his family opted to have him take classes elsewhere.

The lawsuit names the Irving Independent School District, the city of Irving and the school’s principal, and asks a jury to determine the damages. In November, the family asked the district and city to pay $15 million or else face a suit. District spokeswoman Lesley Weaver said in a statement Monday that attorneys for the district will review the suit and determine a course of action.

“Irving ISD continues to deny violating the student’s rights and will respond to claims in accordance with court rules,” she said, adding that school officials for now will have no further comment.

The Mohamed family questioned whether the boy was mistreated because of his religion but the district has denied the claim.

Among claims made in the suit is that the boy’s right to equal protection under the law was violated and that officers arrested him without probable cause.

The family has since moved to Qatar, citing threats and a scholarship offered to Ahmed in the Persian Gulf country. Ahmed moved back to the U.S. last month for the summer to visit family and friends, and will do some traveling around the country, but will return to Qatar next month to start 10th grade at Qatar Academy, a private school in Doha.

The teen’s parents, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed and Muna Ibrahim, have not found work in Qatar, so the family of eight is living in government housing and on food vouchers, Mohamed said.

]]> 1, 08 Aug 2016 19:17:21 +0000
School funding commission sets meeting dates Mon, 08 Aug 2016 10:07:11 +0000 AUGUSTA — A state commission tasked with reforming Maine’s complex school funding formula has set its first public meeting.

Controversy ensued this spring when the commission’s first meeting was held in private.

Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills recently announced a $500 fine against the commission. She pointed to documents showing after her office informed Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration that the meeting must be open, his aide turned away the public anyway.

The commission has until Jan. 10 to issue its report to the administration.

The first meeting is scheduled for Aug. 29 at York County Community College in Wells, with following meetings scheduled for Sept. 12 at Oxford Hills High School and Oct. 17 at Lewiston Regional Technical Center.

Future meetings are scheduled for Oct. 31, Nov. 28 and Dec. 12.

]]> 0 Mon, 08 Aug 2016 08:30:42 +0000
Portland officials see cramped classrooms, run-down elementary schools Wed, 03 Aug 2016 20:15:31 +0000 Room 22 at Presumpscot Elementary School isn’t actually in the school. It’s in a tired-looking double-wide trailer out back, with missing blinds and a light that hasn’t worked since water damage two years ago. A strip of wood in the center of the ceiling hangs down.

There’s no bathroom, so students as young as first grade have to go back into the main building, even in the snow and rain.

Oh, and there’s a problem with carpenter ants in the ceiling, according to a handwritten note on the wall.

City and school officials saw Room 22 on Wednesday as they toured Presumpscot and Lyseth elementary schools in Portland. They were there to get a firsthand look at conditions that led the school board to recommend a $70 million bond to renovate Presumpscot, Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche elementary schools.

The principals at both schools emphasized that they have done the best they can with existing space, carving offices out of closets, and classrooms out of hallways and former staff rooms. Many rooms are cramped, with insufficient heat, air flow or natural light.

“My child was in this (pre-k) classroom,” Presumpscot parent Aura Russell-Bedder said in a windowless room with two skylights. When parents were invited in, they sweltered in the small space, she said. “The body heat in this space … was pretty insane.”

The committee, made up of city councilors and school board members, was created July 6 by the City Council after the school board voted to recommend that the council schedule a referendum on a $70 million bond issue to rebuild the four schools.

Supporters had hoped to get it on the November ballot, but councilors said they needed more information before putting the issue to voters. The tour, officials said, was to bring them all together to hear from the school leaders about what was needed.

The schools were all built 40 to 60 years ago.

Supporters say the $70 million would largely be spent on practical fixes, such as installing functional heating and windows that open, making schools accessible for all users, eliminating use of trailers for classrooms and easing severe overcrowding.

At Presumpscot, the music room and the art room are in the same space, and when they both need it at the same time, the school closes the library so it can be a temporary class space, principal Cynthia Loring said. Her top priority, she said, was getting more flexible space.

At Lyseth, principal Lenore Williams noted several improvements over the years, from a new roof to asbestos abatement. But she also emphasized the need for more space.

“It’s not decaying or decrepit,” she said, “But we don’t have adequate learning spaces.”

At both schools, the gym doubles as the cafeteria and both use trailers for classroom space.

Standing in an alcove that was once a short hallway to an exit, Williams explained that it is now the literacy “classroom” and space for the gifted and talented teacher.

“I think it’s obvious this is not the way we should be meeting the needs of our neediest students,” she said, noting that it took permission from the fire department to turn an exit into a classroom. “I guess it’s a testament to our resilience,” she said, looking around the space.

Later, outside the main building, she showed the group the modular buildings.

“I think the modulars speak for themselves,” she said, pointing out the frayed boards at the base of the trailer, and plucking at chicken wire nailed over the windows. “That’s our vandalism protection,” she said.

Critics say the bond amount is too high, and some renovations are more luxury than necessity, such as extra storage and new parking lots, roads and fields.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said after the tours that it was “impressive” what the school leaders had done, “but we can’t be satisfied with making do.”

“I think the people of Portland want state-of-the-art schools,” he said.

The committee will tour Reiche and Longfellow on Aug. 22, starting at 5 p.m. On Aug. 30, the committee will be briefed on detailed school-level changes being proposed, at a 5 p.m. meeting at City Hall.



]]> 14, 04 Aug 2016 15:10:04 +0000
SAD 6 board to decide on interim superintendent Mon, 01 Aug 2016 14:10:02 +0000 The School Administrative District 6 school board of directors will vote Monday on whether to appoint Bonny Eagle High School Principal Paul Penna as interim superintendent.

The vote comes about two months after Superintendent Frank Sherburne resigned under pressure in mid-May. Parents pressed for his ouster after he broke the district’s nepotism policy by hiring his son, who lacked state approval to work with students and was later charged with sexually assaulting a student in another district.

Penna was hired at Bonny Eagle in the fall of 2013. Before that, he was principal at Gray-New Gloucester High School for 10 years.

Penna, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Southern Maine, worked as a police officer in South Portland, a guidance counselor at Oxford Hills Junior High School and Portland High School, and an assistant principal at Portland High before becoming principal at Gray-New Gloucester in 2003.

He also holds a certificate of advanced study in education leadership from the University of New England.

]]> 0 Tue, 02 Aug 2016 01:03:12 +0000
Charity group funded school network led by former Gov. McKernan Sun, 31 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A troubled for-profit college network that was led by former Maine Gov. John McKernan controlled a nonprofit foundation in Portland for years that critics say should not have had charitable tax status and may have been designed to help circumvent federal rules governing access to student aid programs.

Education Management Corporation, the Pittsburgh-based college network, disputes the charges, saying the foundation operated in accordance with tax law and that its giving did not help it get around the federal rules.

McKernan was CEO of EDMC, as the company is known, from 2003 to 2007. After that, he was chairman of its board until 2012, by which time the firm was facing a multibillion-dollar financial aid fraud lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department as well as investigations by four states’ attorneys general and the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education. McKernan was governor of Maine from 1987 to 1995.

Critics accused EDMC of having saddled thousands of students with crushing debt and useless degrees while leaving taxpayers with the tab for defaulted loans. EDMC settled the lawsuits last November, paying $95.5 million in fines and forgiving more than $100 million in student loans.

While the lawsuits made national news, the role of Maine’s former chief executive in EDMC’s fall from grace has received scant attention, including the operations of the little-known nonprofit EDMC Foundation, which was housed in McKernan’s Portland offices from 2003 to 2012 and was staffed and governed by former aides and employees of the governor and his wife, longtime U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.

A three-month investigation by the Maine Sunday Telegram found that while the EDMC Foundation was registered as a charitable nonprofit, its stated purpose was to provide scholarships exclusively to students attending EDMC’s schools, even as it was controlled by employees of the company or McKernan himself during the nine years it was based in Maine.

This arrangement was unorthodox. Charitable nonprofits are not supposed to primarily benefit a for-profit entity, especially one whose officials set up and controlled the foundation in question.

“If the Coca-Cola Foundation’s purpose was to give grants to people to buy Coke, that would not be seen by the IRS as an appropriate use of the charity,” says Bob Shireman, a former U.S. Department of Education official in the Obama administration, now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “This is clearly a charity designed to feed money into a for-profit entity, which means it should not have been tax-exempt.”

EDMC, which provided online degrees at its Art Institutes, Brown Mackie College, Argosy University, South University and Western University College of Law brands, was accused by federal prosecutors and whistle-blowers of enrolling thousands of students who had little hope of succeeding in its programs, knowing it could pocket their student loans and leave the taxpayer on the hook if they went unpaid.

McKernan was CEO and then board chairman of EDMC as it quadrupled its enrollment, a period when prosecutors said many of the worst abuses occurred. His company stock and annual pay – the latter in some years exceeding $1.5 million – at one point made his wife the ninth wealthiest member of the United States Senate, with a 2007 estimated net worth of $33.3 million, the majority from EDMC stock.

“Gov. McKernan was the president and CEO of EDMC at its very worst period, when it expanded too fast, admitted students it couldn’t help just to cash their federal financial aid checks, when it overcharged tuition, and let itself be acquired by Goldman Sachs and private equity firms,” says David Halperin, a former legal counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee and speechwriter for President Bill Clinton who has written extensively and critically of for-profit college networks. “It went from being a quality institution to being one of the worst predatory companies, and he was very well paid for his services.”

Forty-eight hours after McKernan’s departure was announced in 2012, U.S. Senate investigators released an unflattering report, suggesting the $1.8 billion that taxpayers had provided the company in the form of federal student aid had not been “a worthwhile investment.” In his final eight months as chairman, EDMC’s stock price had tumbled from $28 a share to $3, and would fall to just 30 cents two years later.

“Looking back, it’s stunning, the damage they have done,” says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “So many tens of thousands of people with enormous, crushing debt for, of all things, art degrees, which gave them less than what they were promised.”

An EDMC spokesman, Bob Greenlee, defended McKernan’s tenure, saying “employees who worked with Jock McKernan overwhelmingly praised his leadership and his commitment to increasing opportunities for EDMC students.”


When McKernan was recruited as vice chairman of the board in 1999, EDMC was one of the best regarded for-profit college networks in the country, says Stephen Burd, a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., who focuses on higher education. For three decades EDMC had been led by Robert Knutson, who’d overseen the purchase of its first school, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and slowly and methodically expanded it to 19 art schools enrolling 24,000 students.

Burd says McKernan’s arrival at EDMC was a turning point and that he went on a “shopping spree” upon becoming the company’s chief executive officer in 2003, buying non-arts schools such as Argosy (which focused on education and health care), South (health sciences) and Brown Mackie (business and computing).

By 2006, McKernan presided over more than 70 schools enrolling nearly 80,000. That March the company was purchased by Goldman Sachs and two private equity firms for $3.4 billion and, according to critics, became narrowly focused on rapid growth. “Once Goldman took it over, that was sort of the end of the game; the transformation was complete,” Burd says. “McKernan played a pivotal role in transforming EDMC from one of the best for-profits to one of the worst and most predatory.”

With the change in ownership, the old management and board were swept out, largely replaced by partners from Goldman Sachs and its two equity partners. The one prominent exception: McKernan, who served another year as CEO and then became chairman of the board, a position he would occupy until 2012.

Former employees have previously described a radical shift with the Goldman takeover, with an overarching emphasis on recruiting students and the federal student grants, loans and G.I. benefits they paid their tuition with, which accounted for about 80 percent of EDMC’s revenues and nearly 90 percent at some of its schools.

Former EDMC admissions employees told reporters in 2011 that admissions staff nearly tripled to 2,600 after the takeover, with management handing down “revamped telemarketing scripts designed to prey on poor and uneducated consumers.”

“You probe to find a weakness,” former admissions employee Brian Klein told the Huffington Post that year. “You basically take all that failure and all those bad decisions and you spin around and put it right back in their face as guilt, to go to this (expletive) university and run up all this debt.”

Whistle-blowers charged in a suit taken up by the U.S. Department of Justice that EDMC’s online schools targeted single parents, the disabled and unemployed precisely because they typically had no income or assets and so would qualify for substantial federal student aid packages. EDMC “employees quip that the schools are actually changing lives for the worse because they push students that are not ready for the rigors of college into their schools and set them up for financial ruin when the student inevitably fails to complete their program of study,” prosecutors wrote in their court filings.


In June 2010, the U.S. Senate’s oversight committee for higher education, led by Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, began a two-year investigation of for-profit colleges, on account of their rapidly increasing enrollments and consumption of federal student aid.

In the process, investigators obtained a telemarketing script from EDMC’s Argosy University that coached admissions officers on how to hard-sell the school by overcoming common objections such as not having enough money, wanting to enroll at a community college instead, not wanting to quit a job and not feeling able to succeed at Argosy. Prospective students were told that Argosy – which is based in Orange, California, and has 28 campuses in 12 states plus an online division – “is the best possible investment they can make” and that going to a community college would be “settling for second best.”

Internal company emails obtained by Senate investigators showed managers pressuring admissions officers to meet recruiting targets. “PLEASE EVERYONE HIT THE PHONES!!!” the director of admissions at EDMC’s Art Institute of Charlotte wrote his staff in January 2008. “WE ARE FAR BEHIND WHERE WE NEED TO BE!!! … PUSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Later that year, the same official – whose name was redacted by investigators – advised that one of the admissions officers “might be going to Hawaii” while “some of you are going to detention,” apparently based on whether recruiting quotas were met.

By 2010 the company employed 5,669 recruiters, or one for every 28 students in its system, but only 321 career counselors, or one for every 493 students, investigators working for the Senate committee that oversees federal higher education programs and student loans discovered.

“The company transformed from an education institution to primarily a marketing machine, and they knew where the buttons were to push for human hope and aspirations and how to manipulate people,” Nassirian says. “Growth was spectacular, but we now know most of it was the story of subprime goes to college. It was the same sleazy practices of getting people who were fundamentally unfit for the offering, getting them into debt, and leaving the taxpayer on the hook for any defaults.”

Default rates were high. In 2008 alone, 6,533 EDMC loan holders defaulted, a default rate of 16 percent, or nearly double the rate at private nonprofits and public universities. That year at EDMC’s Brown Mackie College in Tucson, Arizona, the default rate was 33.3 percent. Exactly how much this cost taxpayers is unclear – Senate investigators did not release a dollar figure – but with student debt typically in the tens of thousands of dollars, the figure would likely be many tens of millions a year.

The Senate investigation noted that EDMC had high numbers of students leaving programs without completing them, and concluded that this was therefore not a good use of federal student loan funds. “It is not clear that the $1.8 billion taxpayers made in the company in 2010 is a worthwhile investment,” the report concluded.

In 2012, federal prosecutors charged EDMC with having “engineered a business aimed at maximizing the amount of federal education assistance funds back to their companies rather than one geared towards providing quality educational services to students.” The U.S. attorneys alleged in court filings that in an effort to increase enrollment, EDMC had pushed admissions representatives to pursue students who were unlikely to complete degree programs. These students would drop out, but not before accumulating “a substantial amount of student loan debt that they are required to pay back to the federal government.” Unable to find well-paying work, they defaulted on their loans at “an alarming rate,” leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

EDMC colleges, the prosecutors added, “laugh all the way to the bank while they are allowed to retain the federal educational assistance funds and recruit a new round of unsuspecting students the following semester.” This was one of the cases EDMC settled last November.

McKernan declined an interview request, but in written comments he said he disagreed that the company had transformed for the worse after the private equity firms purchased it. He declined to elaborate.


Shortly after McKernan joined EDMC’s board, the company began paying the rent on his Portland office. In 2001, McKernan also joined the board of a new and unusual entity that the company’s co-founder, Robert Knutson, had set up in Pittsburgh – one that would move its headquarters into McKernan’s Portland office in 2003 and would be staffed by close aides and allies of the former governor or his wife, Olympia Snowe.

This entity, the EDMC Foundation, was a registered charitable nonprofit, but its stated purpose was to provide scholarships exclusively to students attending EDMC’s schools. When it was first created and approved as a charitable entity by the IRS, the majority of its board were not employees or owners of EDMC. But shortly thereafter the balance of the board changed, with company officials and investors forming a supermajority of its governing board.

Experts say this arrangement was troubling, as charitable nonprofits are not supposed to primarily benefit a for-profit entity, especially one whose officials set up and controlled the foundation in question.

“Whenever you have a 501(c)3, tax-exempt entity that is closely connected to providing support or benefits for a related for-profit entity, there is significant risk of what is called inadmissible private benefit,” says Jeffery S. Tenenbaum, chairman of the nonprofit organizations practice at Venable, a law firm in Washington, D.C. “If I were advising such a foundation, I would strongly advise them not to limit their grants and scholarships to students attending the for-profit entity.”

In a hypothetical audit involving such closely related entities, Tenenbaum said, the Internal Revenue Service would have been “looking to see if that tax-exempt foundation has a governing structure that allows it to be truly independent or if it is really controlled by individuals who come from the for-profit side, who are employees and stakeholders of EDMC, because that would be a very problematic pattern.” Had the IRS found such a problem, the foundation could have lost its tax-exempt status. (Whether the IRS ever audited EDMC or the EDMC Foundation is unclear. An IRS spokesman told the Maine Sunday Telegram that federal law prohibits federal employees from discussing audits and other tax filing matters.)

During the period when the foundation was based in Portland – from 2003 to 2012 – its tax returns show its board was overwhelmingly made up of EDMC employees and former McKernan and Snowe aides. They included the company’s vice presidents for communications, lobbying, student finance, recruitment and its Art Institutes: Dave Lackey, who had been communications director for both McKernan and Snowe; McKernan’s former chief of staff and campaign aide Shannon Miller; and Lucas Caron, a longtime McKernan and Snowe aide who currently runs Olympia’s List, the nonprofit Snowe set up shortly after her 2013 retirement from the Senate.

During this period, the foundation’s executive director was Ruth Summers, vice president of the Maine Republican Party and wife of perennial congressional candidate and former Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, a close Snowe ally until 2012, when the two had a falling out over Summers’ failure to endorse Snowe in her re-election bid, which she ended in February 2012. Ruth Summers, now director of admissions at Cheverus High School in Portland, did not respond to repeated interview requests.

In a statement sent to the Maine Sunday Telegram, the EDMC Foundation – which moved back to Pittsburgh after McKernan resigned as EDMC chairman in 2012 and has renamed itself the Education Foundation – said Pennsylvania law did not require the majority of directors to be independent and that “independence” was judged based on not having business relationships with the foundation itself, not EDMC.

McKernan said in a written statement that the foundation’s board followed the legal advice it received from a Pittsburgh law firm specializing in nonprofit organizations “whether on its organization, structure, or in its determinations of board membership.” The arrangement, he wrote, was “approved by the IRS so EDMC schools could provide additional financial support to their students.”

Like many other nonprofits, the foundation does not disclose its donors on its tax filings, and the foundation’s current executive director, Frank Orga, did not respond to a request to discuss them.


Several experts said the foundation’s real purpose was to help EDMC institutions comply with a federal rule intended to make it difficult for poor-quality schools to qualify to receive federal student aid funds. The company denies that assertion.

“A foundation that provided ostensibly private scholarships would be very useful for these institutions in getting around this regulation,” says David Hawkins of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington, Virginia. “It gives you a nonprofit charitable entity you can channel money through that becomes a tax write-off as well.”

The so-called “90/10 rule” requires for-profit institutions to raise at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than Pell Grants, Perkins Loans and other “Title IV” federal student aid programs, on the theory that a school unable to attract even a small amount of outside funds is probably disreputable. Failure to meet the requirement two years in a row would disqualify a school from receiving Title IV aid, effectively putting it out of business. In 2010, EDMC collected $1.8 billion in federal education funds, 97.5 percent of which were Title IV, including $351 million in Pell Grants.

Senate investigators obtained internal company documents that led them to conclude in their final report that EDMC had created the foundation “to bestow scholarships that count towards the 10 percent side.”

The documents show company officials were extremely concerned about making these targets, even though student aid from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and state governments could be counted toward the 10 percent requirement.

In these documents, EDMC managers identified the EDMC Foundation as part of the solution. The emails indicate EDMC managers believed foundation scholarships would count toward the 10 percent requirement, thereby helping a distressed school remain eligible for federal student aid dollars.

One document presented an urgent “90/10 plan” for fiscal year 2010 at EDMC’s Brown Mackie College-Akron to ensure the school met its 10 percent non-Title IV quota. Among measures like retraining admissions officers to push all incoming students to apply for alternative loans, the plan had created “numerous fundraising campaigns on campus” to feed the EDMC Foundation’s scholarship fund, including “silent auction items, pie in the face campaign, raffle of student parking spaces, book buy-back funds and other planned events.”

Another document from November 2009 tracked company-wide efforts to ensure 90/10 compliance, which included an EDMC Foundation campaign to “quadruple the amount of employee contributions and school fundraising activity” to the scholarship fund.

EDMC and the foundation insist that foundation scholarships were not counted toward the 10 percent non-Title IV requirement, at least for the period after 2007. “I have been advised that EDMC treats Education Foundation scholarships as non-cash items for purposes of the 90/10 rule, and that EDMC has maintained this treatment for at least the last nine fiscal years,” Orga, the foundation’s current executive director, said by email.

The company denies any misconduct.

Greenlee, the EDMC spokesman, said the company documents were discussing potential strategies that weren’t acted on. “No EDMC institution has treated an EDMC Foundation scholarship as a cash item that would count for 90/10 purposes,” Greenlee added. “These have uniformly and exclusively been treated as non-cash/non-countable items.”

Orga also asserted that “even had these payments been treated as cash, the amount of scholarship aid awarded in any given year would not have had any impact on the 90/10 analysis for any of EDMC’s institutions.” He noted that the foundation awards $200,000 in scholarships each year, while EDMC schools together pull in over $1 billion in federal Title IV student aid.

But an examination of EDMC’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission suggests that some EDMC schools barely made their 90/10 targets during the period the foundation was operated out of McKernan’s Portland office. In 2012 the Art Institute of Phoenix received 86 percent of its funds via Title IV, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and South University 84 percent. In the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years, at least one unnamed school also hit 86 percent, just 4 percent shy of noncompliance.

By comparison, Title IV funds constitute a tiny percentage of the revenue of nonprofit higher education institutions. At public colleges and universities, tuition and fees account for only 21 percent of average revenues, and only a fraction of that comes from Title IV sources, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. At private nonprofits, tuition and fees account for 32 percent of revenues, with research grants, endowment earnings and private gifts making up the rest.

The foundation also gave out far more scholarships in many of those years, more than $1 million in fiscal 2008. On at least some occasions, it focused awards to particular schools, with over a fifth of all scholarships awarded in fiscal 2007 going to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, according to the foundation’s tax filing for that year, the only time it provided a breakdown of its giving.


In 2011 the U.S. Justice Department and state attorneys general joined a 4-year-old whistle-blower lawsuit that alleged the company illegally paid its admissions personnel based on the number of students they enrolled.

The suit – eventually joined by Maine, 38 other states and the District of Columbia – sought the return of $11 billion the company had received in federal student aid since 2003, which was the year McKernan became its CEO.

The case never went to trial. Instead, last Nov. 16 the federal government approved EDMC’s offer to settle the case for just $95.5 million, about 4 percent of the company’s annual revenue. The firm was not required to admit wrongdoing, and no individuals were charged for their roles in approving and tolerating the recruitment practices.

Separately, EDMC agreed to forgive $103 million in loans it had given to 80,000 former students, including 244 in Maine. Attorney General Janet Mills at the time called it “a rigorous agreement” that “ensures that the company will make substantial changes to its business practices for future students.” (Mills declined to comment for this story.)

But Jesse Hoyer, a Tampa attorney who represented some of the whistle-blowers, described the settlement as a “sweetheart deal” for EDMC. “It’s a pittance compared to what their schools did in financial damage to the taxpayers,” Hoyer says. “There are only a handful of people like McKernan who benefited from this fraud, but many, many people are suffering.”

“Our clients put their entire lives on hold trying to fight these cases,” she added. “For them not to have to admit they did anything wrong is a slap in the face for whistle-blowers who were so brave to come forward.”

Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the progressive Center for American Progress, is also critical of the settlement. “It strikes me as a great deal for EDMC to commit questionable acts for years, rake in billions of dollars in federal financial aid, and walk away with fines equivalent to just a small portion of what you put in,” he says. “The government settled because they said if they had asked for more money, EDMC would have gone out of business. Well, maybe they should have.”

Nassarian agrees. “The guys who make the money are on their yachts at the moment, and the suckers who are holding the shares are your retirement funds and mine,” he says. “There were no fines on individuals, and nobody went to jail. Whoever thinks crime doesn’t pay hasn’t looked at for-profit higher education.”

Asked to respond to criticisms of the settlement and the failure to penalize individuals, McKernan issued a statement saying: “I agree with the company’s statement at the time of settlement that ‘we continue to believe the allegations in the cases are without merit’; and would further point out the agreement between EDMC and the Justice Department includes no admission of wrongdoing on the part of EDMC.”

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Most of EDMC’s recruited students dropped out Sun, 31 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 While the Education Management Corporation received more than $1 billion in taxpayer-funded student aid each year, many of the students its recruiters signed up dropped out, winding up with nothing but tens of thousands in student loan debt.

John McKernan, former governor of Maine and husband of then-Sen. Olympia Snowe, was CEO or chairman of the board of EDMC from 2003 to 2012, a controversial period for the company.

Senate investigators found that in 2010 over 63 percent of all students who enrolled at EDMC’s colleges in the 2008-09 academic year withdrew, and the median length of enrollment for these students was just four months. By comparison, at public institutions, 58 percent of first-time, full-time students earn bachelor’s degrees within six years, and 65 percent of those at private nonprofit colleges and universities do, according to federal statistics.

Senate investigators found that students who graduate from for-profit schools have greater median debt: $32,700 for a four-year student, compared to $20,000 for their counterparts at public colleges and $24,600 for those at private, nonprofit institutions. Part of the reason is that their tuition was higher. An associate degree in web design from EDMC’s Art Institute of Pittsburgh set students back $47,410, whereas the same degree cost $6,800 at the nearby Community College of Allegheny County, the investigation found.

“The students who were enrolled in these programs were in general misled into thinking they were going to get a degree or credential to help them get a better job than they currently had,” says David Hawkins of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington, Virginia. “Many of them ended up with the same jobs they could have had without ever setting foot in the college, but also with crippling student debt and little prospect of being able to pay it back.”

Sixteen percent of EDMC’s students defaulted on their loans in 2008, nearly double the rate of students at public and nonprofit schools. At EDMC’s Brown Mackie College in Tucson, Arizona, the rate was 33.3 percent.

In the summer of 2010, the Obama administration proposed imposing tough new “gainful employment” rules, which would require colleges to track graduates’ performance in the workforce, and would deny access to student loan programs if the students fared badly.

McKernan pushed back against the rules in an op-ed in The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper that covers Congress, saying the reason EDMC had higher loan default rates was because they “educate a high proportion of at-risk students” and arguing schools like his were vital to increasing access to higher education.

]]> 6 Sat, 30 Jul 2016 22:01:40 +0000
Anonymous donor gives additional $450,000 for arts program in Portland schools Wed, 27 Jul 2016 22:12:39 +0000 An anonymous donor is giving $450,000 to provide three more years of arts funding to the Portland School District, bringing his total contributions to more than $1 million in seven years.

The money benefits a four-year-old program known as Culture Club, which aims to send each of the city’s roughly 7,000 students to attend programs at four participating arts institutions every year: The Portland Museum of Art, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Portland Ovations and Portland Stage Company.

This spring, school and arts organization leaders warned that the funding for the program – fueled by $650,000 from the donor to that point – would run out at the end of the school year. The identity of the donor, who lives in Portland, is not known to school leaders, according to Kate Snyder, a former school board member who is now executive director of the Portland Education Foundation, which coordinates the Culture Club-Portland program.

“This donor has given us an incredible investment in student experience,” Snyder said, adding that the money is routed through a third party to mask the donor’s identity. “We are really happy.”

The donor will provide $200,000 for the 2016-17 school year, $150,000 in 2017-18, and $100,000 in 2018-19, she said.

Snyder said the foundation and a new steering committee for Culture Club will focus on raising additional funds for the program. Small donations of $1,000 or less have been received in recent months, but no significant fundraising has taken place.

Officials say they hope to expand the program to fulfill the goal of sending each child to each of the art institutions every year, which will take better coordination and more resources.

Ongoing evaluations of Culture Club participation show that it has been more successful in some areas than others. For example, far more elementary school students participate than high school students, and more students overall attend Portland Ovations and Portland Stage events than the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

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Maine universities get nearly $800,000 to help low-income students Tue, 26 Jul 2016 14:32:34 +0000 ORONO — The federal Department of Education is giving nearly $800,000 to Maine public universities to provide help for low-income and first-generation students who want to go to college.

The agency is awarding the money through the Talent Search Program and it will be used to help students graduate high school with academic support and get financial counseling for college.

The education department is giving more than $500,000 to the University of Maine System and more than $200,000 to the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

The University of Maine System says it expects the Talent Search Program will provide services to more than 1,000 students in grades six through 12. The Presque Isle university expects to serve 500 more in targeted rural school districts in northern Maine.

]]> 0 Tue, 26 Jul 2016 10:44:11 +0000
Parents push $70 million plan to upgrade 4 elementary schools in Portland Tue, 26 Jul 2016 00:55:37 +0000 About a dozen parents said Monday that city and school officials should support a plan to borrow $70 million to upgrade four elementary schools in Portland.

The proposal, if approved, would have to be sent to the voters for their approval.

“It’s a large number, but it’s necessary,” said Jeanne Swanton, a parent with the advocacy group Protect Our Neighborhood Schools. She ran down a list of maintenance issues at the schools, adding “It’s not OK” after each item.

“How do we think this is acceptable?” Swanton said during a public hearing at City Hall at the first meeting of the school facilities ad hoc committee.

The committee was created July 6 by the City Council after the school board voted to recommend that the council send to voters a referendum on a $70 million bond issue to rebuild Presumpscot, Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche elementary schools.

Supporters had hoped to get it on the November ballot, but the councilors said they needed more information before putting the issue before voters.

On Monday, councilors and School Board members went through a list of questions and issues, such as data on tax rates, school size and enrollment in surrounding communities.

Councilors also have asked for details on how the borrowing would affect the city and school budgets, and Portland’s property tax rate. Seven of the nine councilors’ votes would be needed to authorize the referendum.

Councilors said they want to know if it might be possible to seek funding from the state to renovate one of the schools, or whether it would be feasible to expand the Ocean Avenue Elementary School to accommodate some of the students from the four schools.

The committee said its next meeting will be on Wednesday, Aug. 3, from 5-8 p.m., and begin at Presumpscot.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said the ad hoc committee would schedule a second meeting before the end of the month to tour the remaining two schools.

The four schools have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago. Several schools do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the buildings are not secure.

Supporters say the $70 million would largely be spent on practical fixes, like installing functional heating and windows that open, making schools accessible for all users, eliminating trailers for classrooms and easing severe overcrowding. At one school, the social worker is in a windowless closet. Critics say it’s too much money and some of the renovations are more luxury than necessity, such as extra storage and new parking lots, roads and fields.

On Aug. 30, consultant Oak Point and Associates will present the renovation plans to the ad hoc committee, and in September the committee will review the answers to its questions and deliberate, Strimling said.

Once the committee has a final recommendation, it sets off another chain of events.

If the ad hoc committee’s proposal is different from the school board’s $70 million bond recommendation, the committee’s proposal will go back to the board, which must review it and then send a new recommendation to the council.

At that point, the council would refer it to the finance committee before taking it up.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect time and place for the committee’s next meeting.

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Portland councilors consider $70 million borrowing plan for school renovations Tue, 19 Jul 2016 01:51:46 +0000 Portland councilors want to know how borrowing $70 million to rebuild four elementary schools will affect budgets.

Portland City Councilors will be deliberate, thorough and well-prepared before they ask voters to approve a bond issue of more than $70 million to rebuild Presumpscot, Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche elementary schools.

That much became clear during a three-hour meeting Monday night when Portland school officials lobbied the City Council to authorize borrowing to fund the renovation of the four elementary schools.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said it is unlikely that an ad hoc committee created to study the issue will be able to finish its review of the “Buildings for Our Future Initiative” in time to put the question on the November ballot.

The council would have to approve the bond by its first meeting in September for it to go to a vote Nov. 8.

“It makes much more sense that we do this right than we do it fast,” Strimling said after the meeting. “The committee is going to be asking a lot of hard questions. In order to get this right, we have to take our time.”

Councilors said they will need more information about how the borrowing would affect the city and school budgets, and Portland’s property tax rate, before they can put it out to referendum. Seven of the nine councilors’ votes would be needed to authorize the referendum.

Councilors said they want to know if it might be possible to seek funding from the state to renovate one of the schools, or whether it would be feasible to expand the Ocean Avenue Elementary School to accommodate some of the students from the four schools.

The first meeting of the School Facilities Ad Hoc Committee, which is made up of four school board members, three city councilors and Strimling, will be held July 25 at 5 p.m. in Portland City Hall. Though no public comment was allowed at the workshop Monday night, the public will be invited to offer opinions next week.

In June, the school board voted to request that the City Council act on the $70.5 million bond by sending it to Portland voters in November. After receiving the board’s request, the council voted July 6 to create the ad hoc committee.

The expected delay in getting the question before voters did not deter school advocates from lobbying the council Monday.

“Over the past 22 years, elementary school deficiencies have continued to plague us,” Board of Education Chairwoman Marnie Morrione told the council. “And they can no longer wait.”

Morrione said the four targeted schools are in various states of disrepair, creating conditions that affect safety and students’ learning. Several schools do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the buildings are not secure from intruders.

“Let’s be bold and unite for the greater good of this generation and future generations,” Morrione said.

Newly appointed Superintendent Xavier Botana said his staff doesn’t let building deficiencies get in the way of teaching.

“Where kids learn matters, and facilities are very important,” Botana said. “In spite of our buildings’ shortcomings, our staff has made do with what they have. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK.”

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said he would like more precise data on how the four-school project would affect the city and school budgets as well as property taxes.

“It is very important that we have some clarity on the budget implications of this,” Mavodones said. “I don’t want to end up in a place where we are laying off professionals in order to pay off debt service.”

Councilor Jon Hinck asked the school department to provide the council with a list of other long-range projects and the potential costs.

“We absolutely need to have that information before we can make a final decision,” Hinck said.

Councilor Belinda Ray suggested that the city explore the possibility of getting state aid to rebuild at least one of the four schools to ease the financial burden on Portland taxpayers.

Strimling said borrowing $70 million over a five-year period would mean that the owners of a home valued at $200,000 would see their annual property tax bill increase by about $35 a year.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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USM tuition would increase under UMaine System pricing plan Tue, 19 Jul 2016 00:42:40 +0000 BANGOR — Students at the University of Southern Maine and three other campuses would pay a one-time tuition increase under a proposal to shift the entire University of Maine System to a new pricing model, system officials said Monday at a trustees meeting.

Currently each of the seven campuses charges its own tuition, ranging from a high of $8,370 a year at the flagship campus in Orono, to a low of $6,600 a year at campuses in Fort Kent and Presque Isle.

Under the proposal, there would be three prices: One at the University of Maine, a slightly lower tuition at the University of Maine at Farmington and USM, and the least expensive tuition at the remaining four campuses.

Tuition would default to the highest tuition charged in each group, meaning USM students would pay the higher UMF tuition. In an example given Monday of the potential impact, using current tuition rates, USM tuition would increase $240, from $7,590 a year ($253 per credit hour) to $7,830 a year ($261 per credit hour.)

Tuition at the four remaining campuses would be at the Machias level of $6,660 per year, and students at Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Augusta would, hypothetically, see a slight increase in tuition of about $60 a year under the proposal.

Chief Financial Officer Ryan Low said the changes would be simple, fair and transparent for students, while making it easier internally for system officials to budget and allocate state funds.

The trustees are scheduled to vote in September on the proposal, which is part of a sweeping set of recommendations under a new unified systemwide budget process. Any tuition change would not take effect until the 2017-18 academic year, officials said.

Tuition has been frozen in the system for six years, in contrast to an average 13 percent increase in inflation-adjusted tuition at public four-year schools nationwide over the past five years. The trustees voted in March to keep tuition flat, after Gov. Paul LePage promised an extra $4.65 million in state funding if they would hold off on a potential 2.3 percent tuition increase for the 2016-17 academic year. The current proposal would not affect that deal.

Among the other changes presented Monday by Low: charging one price for online-only undergraduate degrees, streamlining the various student fees, changing how state aid is allocated to the campuses, and creating a “One University” scholarship for in-state merit aid that could be used at any campus.

There is also a proposal to create a new $5-per-credit-hour student fee to pay for facility and information technology upgrades. Ryan said the proposed fee was one of the more controversial ideas.

“This is the one recommendation that the feedback was on one end or the other,” he said. “No one was indifferent.”

Currently, mandatory annual student fees range from $2,258 at Orono to $700 at Presque Isle.

The recommendations also addressed some implementation issues, including requiring campuses not to compete for price-shopping students by offering additional campus merit aid to in-state students.

Campus and system leaders have been working for more than a year to move the system to a unified budget model, part of a larger “One University” model aimed at cutting costs and streamlining operations internally and making the system more student-friendly.

In May, after years of budget deficits that prompted deep staffing and program cuts, Low told the trustees the system is finally forecasting a budget surplus in 2021.

Some parts of the One University plan have been completed, such as consolidating certain back-office functions. Other aspects lie ahead, such as the academic program changes. At the last trustees meeting, a string of faculty members spoke in opposition to some of the efforts, saying they felt left out of the process.

Also Monday, the trustees heard a presentation on the new $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for an experimental turbine being developed by a UMaine-led consortium for use in a floating, deep-water wind farm. It’s the largest single research and development project in the system’s history, officials said.

The consortium known as New England Aqua Ventus has the most advanced floating technology being developed in the United States, said Peter Vigue, chief executive officer of Cianbro, a partner in the consortium.

“This is a game changer,” Vigue told the board of trustees, after briefing members on the project. “This university, this system, has a massive potential to benefit. I believe that it not only puts Maine on the map, but it puts the university on the map.”

“We are off to an excellent start on this. This is a very big deal and also a very big commitment on our part,” Chancellor James Page said.

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Bowdoin College shows up for food fight with best-selling author Sat, 16 Jul 2016 00:59:35 +0000 Bowdoin College’s high-profile food fight with New Yorker commentator and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell boiled over Friday when Bowdoin alum and Black Lives Matter leader DeRay McKesson blasted Gladwell on Twitter, calling his criticism “a sham.”

Meanwhile, Bowdoin issued a strongly worded defense of its food program and invited Gladwell to Brunswick “to answer his questions over a good meal.”

The spat started when Gladwell posted his latest “Revisionist History” podcast on Thursday morning comparing the food services programs of Bowdoin and Vassar colleges, and arguing that Bowdoin spends money on food at the expense of financial aid. Bowdoin College has the best food service among American colleges, according to the Princeton Review. It also is one of a handful of colleges in the country that does not consider a student’s financial background when making decision about admissions.

Gladwell called Bowdoin’s food service “a moral problem,” and said foo-foo food programs are keeping poor kids out of college. At one point, Gladwell said, “If you’re looking at liberal arts colleges, don’t go to Bowdoin, don’t let your kids go to Bowdoin, don’t let your friends go to Bowdoin, don’t give money to Bowdoin, or to any other school that serves amazing food in its dining hall,” he says. “Atrocious fresh fruit is a small price to pay for social justice.”

Bowdoin’s response was swift and sharp. The school provided a point-by-point takedown, as well as financial aid information dispelling Gladwell’s arguments. And on Friday, McKesson, a leading national spokesman for Black Lives Matter, chimed in with a series of tweets, vigorously defending his alma mater. In one, he wrote, “@Gladwell, there are many fair critiques of Bowdoin. But saying ‘the food is good therefore the college isn’t focused on equity’ is a sham.”


“Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast ‘Revisionist History’ (aptly named) takes a manipulative and disingenuous shot at Bowdoin College that is filled with false assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and incorrect conclusions,” the college said in a statement. “Bowdoin’s commitment to meeting the full financial need for all admitted students is longstanding, unwavering, and unassailable. And it has nothing to do with food.”

Bowdoin listed details of its financial aid programs, and noted it is one of only 15 colleges in the country that does not consider a student’s financial situation when deciding admission and that 15 percent of its incoming freshman class are first-generation college students.

In its statement, Bowdoin also included an email from Gladwell’s producer, sent in the winter, seeking an appointment on campus. The producer wrote, “I’m specifically investigating the food at Bowdoin, which tops lists of the best campus dining in the country, as an example of how good college food can get. I would love to get a quick recorded tour of one of your kitchens and dining hall for this episode,” the producer wrote. Bowdoin suggested the email misrepresented the reason for the visit.

Doug Cook, Bowdoin’s director of news and media relations, said the school would not comment further. “We stand behind our financial aid practices and our dining service,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bowdoin earned high marks for its response from Joe Kuffner, a former West Coast college PR professional who writes a blog, Social Media for Colleges. He called Bowdoin’s quick and decisive response “extremely smart” and praised the college for coming “out swinging against such a well-known figure. That takes guts, but it resonated much more strongly than any sort of mealy-mouthed PR pablum could have.”

In an interview, Kuffner said he was impressed with the speed of Bowdoin’s reply. “I know how at an institution, things are pretty slow-moving. There are layers of administration and approval. I was surprised they put together such a quick and fact-based and punchy response in what seems liked just a couple of hours,” he said.

The school’s current and former students and faculty chimed in.

“When I heard about it, to be honest, I thought that clearly, something must have been lost in translation,” said Cordelia Orbach, who will be a senior in the fall. “There has to be some kind of mistake, because I knew what he was saying was incorrect. I was stunned.”

Orbach said the attack felt personal and mean-spirited, given the school’s progressive admissions policies. “We are one of 15 schools in the country with a ‘need-blind admissions policy.’ It’s crazy that he went after us, and I am sort of wondering why,” she said in a phone interview, asking Gladwell rhetorically: “Do you have a vendetta against the school? What did Bowdoin ever do? It seems you are angry at us for no reason.”


Gladwell did not respond to a request for an interview on Twitter – though he did post on Twitter, “In retrospect this week’s episode of should have included a trigger warning for Bowdoin grads,” a possible reference to the negative response he received from the Bowdoin community.

Art professor Mark Wethli enjoys Gladwell’s podcasts – “heady, intellectually engaging, thought-provoking stuff, and as far as I can discern very fair and sympathetic to all parties concerned.” He found a piece that Gladwell did about the basketball player Wilt Chamberlain fascinating. But the Bowdoin one stung. He thought Gladwell took cheap shots that “verged on the kind of populist, anti-intellectual hysteria that (Donald) Trump and (Paul) LePage like to dish out, painting an image of college life as effete and privileged, while the rest of us are stuck eating soggy pizza. Manipulative, false, and misleading in the extreme,” Wethli said.

Justin J. Pearson, a senior from Tennessee, said he would not have attended Bowdoin if the school had not offered to pay nearly all of his education costs. “My parents had kids when they were teenagers. They had five sons, and I am the fourth one. When they learned how much Bowdoin was going to cover, the tears rolled down their cheeks. That’s reality,” he said. “(Gladwell) minimized our campus in an unfair and a manipulative way.”

Ella Driscoll, a senior from Massachusetts, said she simply didn’t understand what Gladwell was trying to say. “While we all recognize that paying for people’s education is important, comparing financial aid to the true cost of supporting local farmers and consuming quality food is like comparing Twinkies and kale,” Driscoll wrote in an email. “In the context of Bowdoin College spending money on sustainably sourced or locally produced, healthy food, Mr. Gladwell omits the weight of the fact that food justice and food security are social, environmental and economic issues inextricably tied to the importance of financial aid.”

Anne Ireland, a Bowdoin graduate from West Bath, said there’s no shame in serving good food. “Malcolm Gladwell needs to do his research,” she said. “He would have benefited from a Bowdoin education.”


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Augusta school board approves drug and alcohol policy Thu, 14 Jul 2016 00:47:13 +0000 AUGUSTA —The Board of Education approved a drug and alcohol policy that some have criticized because its provisions call for suspension and expulsion from school in some cases.

Board members unanimously approved the new Drug and Alcohol Use by Students policy, which states school principals may suspend and/or recommend expulsion of students who violate it.

Parents, substance abuse experts and some school board members have previously criticized the proposal saying students caught with cigarettes, booze or drugs should be counseled and disciplined, but that discipline should take place in school. They said suspending students with substance abuse problems could make their problems worse, not better, by forcing them out of the school environment.

School administrators say suspension is not the first option, nor even a commonly used option, when students are caught violating substance abuse rules on school grounds. But it is a tool they need in case students don’t comply with the rules and other discipline is not effective, they said.

]]> 3 Wed, 13 Jul 2016 20:47:13 +0000
South Portland school officials move forward with possible start-time changes Tue, 12 Jul 2016 20:01:30 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Board agreed Monday night to have a special committee recommend an implementation plan for possible changes in school start times in the 2017-18 school year.

The board voted 7-0 to have Chairman Richard Matthews appoint a committee to review information gathered by the superintendent’s Start Time Study Group and report back with an action plan by December, said Superintendent Ken Kunin.

In conducting recent surveys, the study group found that 63 percent of parents of middle- and high-school students, and 52 percent of school staff members agree that the school department should adopt later start times at South Portland High School and the middle schools.

The study group identified various benefits, challenges and considerations related to changing start times, including effects on student transportation and athletics. The group didn’t recommend specific start times.

Kunin is expected to develop several start-time options with estimated impacts, which will be reviewed by the special committee and forwarded with a recommendation to the full board.

]]> 2 Tue, 12 Jul 2016 17:58:36 +0000
Augusta schools consider substance abuse rules Tue, 12 Jul 2016 01:46:38 +0000 AUGUSTA — The Augusta Board of Education on Wednesday will consider drug, alcohol and tobacco policies that some have criticized because provisions call for suspension and expulsion in some cases.

Up for a final vote is a policy called Drug, Tobacco Products and Alcohol Use by Students, which states that school principals may suspend and/or recommend expulsion of students who violate the policy.

Parents, substance abuse experts and some school board members have previously criticized the proposal, saying students caught with cigarettes, alcohol or drugs should be counseled and disciplined, but that discipline should take place in school. They said suspending students with substance abuse problems could make their problems worse, not better.

Laura Hamilton, an at-large board member, said during a discussion of the issue last month that research on students with substance abuse issues indicates that they should be kept in school and receive counseling. She also suggested requiring them to do community service at the Alfond Center for Cancer Care.

School administrators say suspension is not the first – nor even a commonly used – option when students are caught violating substance abuse rules on school grounds. But it is a tool they need in case students don’t comply with the rules and other discipline is not effective, they said. They also noted the policy states students “may” be suspended for violations, not that they “shall” be suspended, giving administrators leeway in handling individual problems.

Stewart Brittner, an assistant principal at Cony, said under both the new and old policy, students violating tobacco rules would first be offered participation in a two-day alternative to suspension program and, if the student declined to take part, could be suspended for between one and three days. He said it generally is not necessary to suspend a student. But he said administrators need that option, or some students may not take the consequences seriously.

Superintendent James Anastasio could not be reached for comment Monday.

Board members are also scheduled to hold first readings – two readings are required for passage – on two other similar policies: one on tobacco use and possession and one on tobacco use and possession administrative procedure.

Board members meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

Twitter: kedwardskj

]]> 0 Mon, 11 Jul 2016 21:46:38 +0000
Another 10 states sue Obama administration over directive for transgender students Fri, 08 Jul 2016 19:20:42 +0000 Ten additional states are suing the Obama administration to stop a directive that requires schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity under the threat of losing federal funding, bringing the total number of states challenging the guidance to 21.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson announced the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Nebraska, on Friday afternoon. The state is joined by nine others: Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The Obama administration, via the departments of Education and Justice, issued guidance to schools in May directing them to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, a move that plunged the administration further into the debate over how schools and the public should accommodate transgender people.

Lawmakers, school administrators, parents and the courts have been arguing over the issue. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates say barring transgender people from the facilities that align with their gender identities is a violation of their civil rights that threatens their well-being. But those who support such rules say they are necessary to safeguard privacy and traditional values.

Peterson argued that the administration bypassed the necessary procedures to create new federal regulations, in this case regulations that apply to every public school in the nation. Peterson also is asking for an injunction to stop the guidance while his lawsuit proceeds.

“The recent action by these two federal agencies to require showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms be open to both sexes based solely on the student’s choice, circumvents this established law by ignoring the appropriate legislative process necessary to change such a law,” Peterson said. “When a federal agency takes such unilateral action in an attempt to change the meaning of established law, it leaves state and local authorities with no other option than to pursue legal clarity in federal court in order to enforce the rule of law.”

This is the second lawsuit brought by a group of states over the Obama administration’s move to expand the rights of transgender students. Eleven states, along with the Arizona Department of Education, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas two weeks after the guidance was issued, arguing that the administration had overstepped its authority.

This week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the court to allow localities to ignore the guidance while the case proceeds, hoping to stop it in its tracks before school starts in the fall.

In an appearance in Washington on Thursday, Paxton leveled sharp criticism against the Obama administration’s directive on transgender students, calling it a “gun to the head” that threatens the independence of school districts to handle the issue as they see fit.

]]> 12, 08 Jul 2016 18:56:52 +0000
Portland council sends school bond to committee; November vote unlikely Wed, 06 Jul 2016 22:59:47 +0000 The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to form a committee to study a $70.6 million proposal to improve four elementary schools that have not been updated in nearly 50 years.

Councilors said the committee is needed to build consensus for the projects among the community and council members. Seven of the nine council members would have to approve the bond for it to appear on a city ballot.

The decision makes it unlikely that the bond would go to city voters in November.

“I think this is a good approach,” said Councilor Nicholas Mavodones. “There need to be seven people sitting around that dais who feel comfortable about that number. I think that’s important that we all think about that.”

Parents and school board members largely supported creating the ad hoc committee, but wanted to make sure the process is not delayed – Portland schools have been studied repeatedly over the years, at considerable cost.

“These task forces have all found the same thing over and over and over,” said Emily Figdor, a parent and co-founder of the Protect Our Neighborhood Schools group, which has been pushing for a vote on the bond in November. “Our schools don’t meet educational standards and need to be updated. The city has been considering this for a long time. It’s time to put this to voters and let them decide.”

The order to establish the committee was co-sponsored by Mavodones, chair of the Finance Committee, and Mayor Ethan Strimling, who has also pushed for a November vote. Typically, bond requests are sent to a council subcommittee.

Several board members and parents suggested setting a deadline for the panel to complete its work.

“I just want to move this along,” said school board member Sarah Thompson. “I just think this is way overdue.”

But the council did not set a deadline, and Mavodones said the bond proposal is not likely to make the November ballot – the council would have to approve the bond by its first meeting in September for it to go to a vote in November. But the council could call a special election once the committee’s work is complete, Mavodones said.

School board members backed the $70.6 million bond proposal by a 6-2 vote on June 21, rejecting a last-minute proposal to reduce the request to $40.3 million – a figure Thompson believed the council would find more palatable. The lower figure would have meant fewer improvements to Lyseth and Presumpscot elementary schools. The other two are Reiche and Longfellow elementary schools.

Strimling said the council will likely hold a workshop July 18 on the $70.6 million bond proposal. He said he’d support having the committee then set a timeline for completing its work.

The ad hoc committee, consisting of four councilors and four school board members, would then review details of the proposal. Any changes would be sent back to the school board for a formal endorsement. Any recommendations by the school board would be sent back to the ad hoc committee before being sent to the council’s Finance Committee and ultimately the full council.

The four council committee members are Strimling (co-chair), Mavodones, David Brenerman and Justin Costa. The four school board members are Marnie Morrione (co-chair), Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, Sarah Thompson and Anna Trevorrow.


]]> 1, 07 Jul 2016 00:01:23 +0000
Superintendents urge LePage to appoint permanent education commissioner Wed, 06 Jul 2016 01:49:16 +0000 The Maine School Superintendents Association is calling on Gov. Paul LePage to appoint a permanent education commissioner.

Officials from the association said in a letter dated June 30 that the uncertainty about the position in the LePage administration has diminished the position’s stature, created instability in the office and caused confusion for the staff about who is leading the Department of Education.

The letter, signed by outgoing association President Susan Pratt and newly elected President Steven Bailey, was delivered to LePage’s office Friday. Acting Deputy Commissioner William Beardsley was copied on the letter.

The LePage administration did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the letter, which said a permanent commissioner is essential because school districts and the Department of Education must work together on data reporting, compliance with state and federal rules, distribution of aid to school districts, student transfer requests, compliance with special education law and Medicaid reimbursement.

“We urge you to exercise your leadership and outline the process and qualifications you envision for finally naming a permanent commissioner,” Pratt and Bailey wrote. “The uncertainty around that position has … been an ongoing problem since the end of 2014, and our concern is it will continue for the remaining two-and-half years of your second term.

“School administrators, and their boards, need a well-run Department of Education to effectively run their schools and provide the best education possible for our students. We believe restoring that relationship is essential.”

The Department of Education has not had a permanent commissioner since 2014, when Jim Rier left for health reasons.

LePage nominated Beardsley, the former president of Husson University, to be commissioner in January, then withdrew his nomination after Democrats on the Legislature’s Education Committee indicated they might vote to block Beardsley’s appointment.

LePage then outflanked lawmakers by using procedural moves to install Beardsley temporarily in the role of acting commissioner.

Because Beardsley already had begun serving as temporary commissioner in the fall and under state law could only hold the post for six months, LePage named Debra Plowman, who was director of policy and programs, as temporary deputy commissioner on May 24. A day later, she appointed Beardsley as deputy commissioner.

“This is a legal formality. After Dr. Bill Beardsley’s six months as acting commissioner expired, it was necessary for the governor to empower someone at the Department of Education with the authority to sign on behalf of the commissioner,” spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett wrote in an email to the Press Herald in May. “… Dr. Beardsley will continue to lead the department and remains a member of the governor’s Cabinet.”

Under the commissioner’s link on the Maine Department of Education’s website is a profile and picture of Beardsley, who is listed as the contact person for the commissioner’s office.

State Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, a co-chair of the Education Committee, said the department has never operated without a permanent commissioner.

Kornfield said the field of education is in a period of transition as school districts in Maine and across the country try to comply with new federal laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in December. The bill narrows the federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education, shifting accountability to states.

“We really need strong leadership in the Department of Education,” Kornfield said. “It’s important to have a steady leader at the helm to guide all our schools, and we don’t have that now.”

Kornfield said her committee has no way of persuading the governor to nominate a permanent commissioner, calling his appointment of Beardsley “a complete end-around of the Legislature and the citizens of Maine.”


]]> 6, 05 Jul 2016 23:40:26 +0000
New principal of Westbrook High School appointed Tue, 05 Jul 2016 23:44:19 +0000 Westbrook High School will have a new principal when classes begin in September.

The Westbrook School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday evening to appoint Kelli A. Deveaux to the position, according to acting Superintendent Marc Gousse.

“We are blessed to have her,” Gousse said. “She is just an exemplary candidate.”

Deveaux has served as assistant principal of Windham High School since 2002. During her time in Windham, Deveaux also served as acting principal in 2008-09.

In her new position, Deveaux will be paid an annual salary of about $104,000. Gousse said she was given a two-year contact.

She will replace former Principal Jon Ross, who started July 1 as the superintendent and principal in Acton, a district with one school that serves grades pre-K through 8. Ross had served as principal of Westbrook High School since 2012.

Gousse is also leaving the Westbrook school district, having accepted as position as superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.

He will continue to serve Westbrook on a part-time basis through the end of July as the district continues to search for a new superintendent.

Gousse said Deveaux is taking over leadership of a “good-sized, diverse” high school whose latest enrollment was about 750 students.

Deveaux, who lives in Gorham, was recognized as Maine’s Assistant Principal of the Year in 2014 by the Maine Principals’ Association.

The MPA in 2014 said that Deveaux received the honor based on her accomplishments as a collaborative educational leader, as a role model in the development of a positive school culture, student-centered policies and programs, and as a tireless advocate for assistant principals.

“Ms. Deveaux is a visionary educator who consistently inspires her colleagues to bring their best game to the table when it comes to doing what is right for students,” MPA Executive Director Richard Durost said in a statement issued at the time.

Before becoming the assistant principal at Windham High School, Deveaux worked in the South Portland school system as an English teacher and grant coordinator.

She attended the University of Southern Maine and earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education from the University of New Hampshire.


]]> 2, 05 Jul 2016 22:05:52 +0000
University of Maine System names new vice chancellor Tue, 05 Jul 2016 17:51:50 +0000 The University of Maine System has selected an academic official from Texas to lead the system’s One University Initiative.

As vice chancellor for academic affairs, Robert Neely is expected to work to expand access to Maine’s public universities for “learners of all ages, backgrounds and locations,” as well as tailor the public system’s offerings to the needs of the state, according to the University of Maine System.

Neely currently works as provost and vice president for academic affairs and as a biology professor at Texas Woman’s University, the nation’s largest university primarily serving women. Neely has held several administrative and professorial positions at Eastern Michigan University and Iowa State University since the early 1980s.

“Working as one, Maine’s universities have achieved national leadership around affordability, expanded access to our programs, and improved fiscal stability and our capacity to serve,” James Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said in a statement. “In Dr. Robert Neely our search committee identified a proven academic leader with the experience and approach needed to transform our academic programs into a truly statewide, strategically aligned portfolio.”

Neely is set to start as vice chancellor for academic affairs on Sept. 1, earning an annual salary of $225,000, according to the university system.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 1, 05 Jul 2016 18:11:45 +0000
Portland school bond vote unlikely to happen in November Tue, 05 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A $70 million bond to improve four elementary schools in Portland is not likely to appear on the ballot this November, as many parents and some elected officials had hoped. That’s because the City Council on Wednesday is slated to vote on a recommendation by Mayor Ethan Strimling to have the bond proposal reviewed by an ad hoc committee, rather than sending it the council’s Finance Committee. The move all but guarantees a longer review process, Strimling conceded.

“This is a big deal. This is a very important project for the entire city,” Strimling said in an interview Friday. “We want to get this right and that’s much more important than doing it fast.”

The council would have to vote on a bond proposal by Sept. 7 for it to appear on the November ballot, said Jessica Grondin, the city’s communication director.

A group of parents and community members called Protect Our Neighborhood Schools, along with several councilors, have been pushing for a November bond, highlighting the fact that the four elementary schools have not been updated in 40-50 years and do not comply with building or fire codes. Emily Figdor, the spokeswoman for the neighborhood group, could not be reached Friday.

Protect Our Neighborhood Schools member Jeanne Swanton said the group would like to see a bond proposal as soon as possible, but emphasized the importance of having council and community buy-in.

“A good process is critical to being able to build enough support on the council to pass a bond to fully renovate all four schools,” she said. “We would like the proposal to advance as quickly as possible; however, we feel it will fail if all are not invested.”

The School Board voted 6-2 on June 21 to recommend the $70.6 million bond package to the council. Board members chose that proposal over a last-minute suggestion to reduce the request to $40.3 million – a figure board member Sarah Thompson believed would be more palatable for the council. The lower figure would have made fewer improvements to Lyseth and Presumpscot elementary schools.

School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione said she hopes the council refers the bond to the committee. Although that likely means it would not appear on the November ballot, as she originally hoped, it would allow the board members to work with councilors to address unanswered questions, including how the bond would affect the city’s property tax rate, she said.

“I just really, really don’t want to see us stall again. I want to maintain the momentum,” said Morrione, who noted that elementary school upgrades have been a perennial issue in her eight-year tenure. “I remain very hopeful. I don’t agree that it’s stalling in anyway. It’s finding a good way to move us forward in areas we’ve needed city help with.”

The bond would finance upgrades, recommended in the “Buildings for Our Future” study by the Oak Point Associates architecture and engineering firm, at four elementary schools:

n Lyseth: ($20.2 million, 500 students) Add second floor, improve driveway and parking lot, steam line upgrades, stormwater repairs.

n Reiche: ($17.9 million, 400 students) Reconfigure interior space, replace roof, rebuild library and stairs.

n Longfellow: ($16.4 million, 340 students) Add elevator to make second floor compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replace roof, remove asbestos, update electric, replace windows, repoint masonry.

n Presumpscot: ($16.1 million, 300 students) Add second floor, improve parking lot, repair athletic field.

Strimling said he has not yet selected the members of the ad hoc committee, but suggested that City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, the council’s finance chairman, would likely lead the group. The resolution establishing the committee states that the bond request needs to be reviewed within the context of the city budget and “other longterm city and school capital needs, and other bond obligations,” as well as the proposed improvements.

After the committee is selected, the council will hold a workshop on the proposed bond. Any changes suggested by the committee would be sent back to the school board for approval. Once the bond total and scope of work is complete, it would be referred to the council’s Finance Committee before being sent to the council.

Although there is no firm deadline for the committee to complete its work, Strimling said he hopes it will only take months, not years.

“We need to make sure all of our kids are in phenomenal facilities, and right now they are not,” he said.


]]> 4 Mon, 04 Jul 2016 22:07:03 +0000
Good Will-Hinckley charter school names new president Fri, 01 Jul 2016 23:04:27 +0000 FAIRFIELD — Good Will-Hinckley announced Friday that former Regional School Unit 74 Superintendent Kenneth Coville has been chosen to be its president and director of development, while Rob Moody, who has served as president on an interim basis, will become executive director.

Coville was picked recently by the board of directors to become president of the organization, which includes the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences. He will begin work at the Fairfield campus on Aug. 29.

The position has been filled on an interim basis since Glenn Cummings left in 2014 to become interim president at the University of Maine at Augusta. Cummings is now president of the University of Southern Maine.

Last year, Good Will-Hinckley named Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, as its president but rescinded the offer after Gov. Paul LePage threatened to cut the organization’s funding.

The Eves controversy still hasn’t wound down, more than a year after it began. In May, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that Eves brought against the governor, accusing him of using the power of his office to prevent Eves from being hired, and contending that his actions violated Eves’ constitutional right of free speech, association and political affiliation, as well as his right to due process.

Eves is appealing the case to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a news release Friday, Moody said: “Mr. Coville is a proven educational leader, we are fortunate to have him join our team. … Ken brings a set of skills to help us build on our current strengths and realize the enormous potential and promise that this organization has.”

Moody has been vice president and chief operating officer at Good Will-Hinckley since 2013.

Jack Moore, chairman of the board of directors, described Coville and Moody as “our dream team.”

“Good Will-Hinckley is incredibly fortunate to have Ken Coville and Rob Moody leading this great organization,” he said in the release. “Ken and Rob have over 60 years of combined experience as Maine educators and an equally long track record as leaders that know how to best educate, nurture and support non-traditional students.”

Coville, 58, will oversee the advancement and development of Good Will-Hinckley, which serves 126 students. As executive director, Moody will oversee the organization’s internal operations.

According to Friday’s news release, in his 35 years in education, Coville has been a teacher, a principal, a special education director and a superintendent. Coville announced his retirement from RSU 74 in June after leading the school district for 12 years. The district covers Anson, Embden and New Portland.

Coville began his education career at Good Will-Hinckely in 1981 as a teacher after graduating that year from the University of Maine at Farmington. He then worked in the Rangeley school district as principal and then superintendent until 2004, when he was hired as the principal at Carrabec High School.

Coville received a master’s degree in administration from the University of Maine in 1989.

At Good Will-Hinckley, Coville will be “keeping the school on its growth plan, supporting the development team as they develop advancing the organization and keeping the momentum on the capital campaign underway to develop the facilities required to serve more young people from all over Maine,” the release said.

Founded in the 1890s, Good Will-Hinckley has offered a residential education and social experience for generations of at-risk youths. In 2009, it shut down its core service because of financial problems, but in 2012 it opened the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, the state’s first charter high school.

The organization also operates the Glenn Stratton Learning Center, a day program for students with significant social-emotional and behavioral challenges, and the L.C. Bates Museum.

]]> 12, 02 Jul 2016 09:56:07 +0000
Provost of UMaine Presque Isle named interim president Wed, 29 Jun 2016 18:14:26 +0000 The University of Maine System has named the provost of the University of Maine at Presque Isle to the presidency of the school.

Chancellor James H. Page on Wednesday announced Dr. Raymond J. Rice’s appointment as interim president effective July 16. Rice will also remain as provost. Outgoing UMPI President Linda Schott is leaving to lead Southern Oregon University.

Rice, a professor of English, has been a faculty member at UMPI for 19 years, and has served as chair of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 2014, Rice was named provost and vice president for academic and student affairs.

Rice’s term as interim president will run through July 15, 2017. His salary will be $140,000 annually.

Rice has also overseen the expansion of early college offerings at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone and area secondary schools and has worked closely with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges on reaccreditation for UMPI. He has also been a key contributor to the One University Initiative, co-chairing the committee that established a General Education Transfer agreement among Maine’s public universities and Maine’s Community Colleges.

“The sentiment of campus and community stakeholders is clear and aligns with my own; our leadership at the University of Maine at Presque Isle must remain committed to the university’s strategic vision and direction,” Page said in a statement. “With Dr. Rice’s ground floor understanding and commitment to the direction and methodology of proficiency-based education in place, UMPI can remain focused on its established goals of service to our students and the region.”

]]> 0 Wed, 29 Jun 2016 14:27:15 +0000
UMaine hosts program on stormwater management Sun, 26 Jun 2016 14:24:19 +0000 ORONO – High school students and teachers from Maine and elsewhere in the country are coming to the University of Maine for a program to create environmental solutions to stormwater management.

The university says the event will bring students from 16 Maine high schools and one each in New York and Missouri. The students will work with university facility, students and others during the program from Sunday to June 29.

The program is called the UMaine Stormwater Management Research Team Institute and it’s in its third year. The university says the program engages students in the implementation of science to address an environmental issue. About 85 students and 20 teachers are expected.

Many cities wrestle with how to environmentally and efficiently handle stormwater runoff, which can be an expensive problem.

]]> 1 Sun, 26 Jun 2016 17:20:23 +0000
Colby to present plans for 3 athletic fields Sat, 25 Jun 2016 02:37:31 +0000 WATERVILLE — Colby College plans to start building three athletic fields this fall on about 19 acres behind the Harold Alfond Athletic Center, with a goal of having them completed and ready for use in the fall of 2017.

There will be an artificial turf field for soccer and lacrosse, a grass field for soccer and a third practice field to be used for soccer and other sports, according to Mina Amundsen, Colby’s assistant vice president for facilities and campus planning. The fields, which will be built in the area of the former softball field, will replace those to the west of the biomass plant, which is on Washington Street just west of the Alfond athletic center.

The athletic fields’ construction is part of a larger, multi-year athletic complex project Colby plans to undertake that would include building an athletic center, possibly on the west side of the biomass plant, and tearing down the current one. The building will not be razed until the new one is built, according to Amundsen.

“That’s a few years out,” Amundsen said Thursday.

Colby officials are scheduled to go before the Waterville Planning Board at 7 p.m. Monday with an informal pre-application for the plan to construct the three athletic fields. The board will review the plans under the city’s subdivision and site plan review ordinance, and Colby will return at a later date for further review.

Kate Carlisle, Colby’s director of communications, said Thursday that the larger athletic complex project is still in the planning stages and many things need to be finalized before applications and permits are sought.

Colby recently completed a baseball and softball complex on campus, just across Mayflower Hill Drive from the area where the three new fields will be developed.

Amundsen said grouping all the competition fields together will provide a more pedestrian-friendly and convenient environment.

“Visibly, you’ll see this sort of wonderful complex of fields,” she said. “I think it allows us to be far more efficient in our operations, but the important piece is encouraging much easier walking between fields and the ability to see everything that’s happening there.”

The new fields are designed to coincide with the natural terrain and the wooded areas will be kept intact, Amundsen said. The fields will be built around the trees, she said.

The Alfond athletic center, which is a little more than 200,000 square feet, includes the field house, gymnasium, ice rink, fitness center, offices for coaches and locker rooms. The building replacing it would be larger, according to Amundsen; but she, like Carlisle, emphasized that project is still in the planning stages.

The center, built from the 1950s to the 1980s, is not the right configuration, according to Amundsen.

“It no longer meets our needs,” she said.

When the building is torn down, the property it is on probably would become green space, she said.

Meanwhile, she noted that area school graduations that are now held in the Alfond center, including those of Waterville and Winslow high schools, would be held in the new building.

“We care about the graduations,” she said. “Our facilities are a community resource.”


]]> 2, 24 Jun 2016 22:40:25 +0000
Sex assault charges being dismissed against former Sacopee Valley ed tech Fri, 24 Jun 2016 17:20:39 +0000 Prosecutors in Oxford County are dropping two sexual assault charges against Zachariah Sherburne after determining that the 23-year-old former education technician at Sacopee Valley High School had left his job there and no longer had disciplinary authority over a teenage student at the school when they had a sexual encounter.

Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Winter said Friday that she planned to file the dismissal of the charges with the Oxford County court by the end of the day after reviewing information provided by Sherburne’s attorney that proved Sherburne had stopped working for the district the day before he and the girl had sex late on Feb. 12 or early on Feb. 13.

Winter said the information was included in a court motion filed this week by Sherburne’s attorney and was not available when Sherburne was indicted in April.

Sherburne had been facing one charge each of gross sexual assault, a felony, and sexual abuse of a minor, a misdemeanor. Sherburne engaged in a sexual act with a female student who was 16 or 17 years old, according to an affidavit by the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department in February.

The age of consent is 16 in Maine, but Sherburne had been charged under Maine’s gross sexual assault law because one of the criteria listed in the statute is having “supervisory or disciplinary authority” over a student in a school setting.

Allan Lobozzo, Sherburne’s attorney, said his client’s family was relieved at the outcome after being put through a gantlet of media scrutiny after Sherburne’s indictment and the subsequent revelation that he had been hired as an ed tech by his father, School Administrative District 6 Superintendent Frank Sherburne, in violation of the district’s nepotism policy. The uproar over the hiring eventually led Frank Sherburne to resign as SAD 6 superintendent on May 16.

Lobozzo filed a motion to dismiss the sexual assault case Monday, including Zachariah Sherburne’s undated resignation email and a confirmation by the SAD 55 superintendent that Feb. 12 was Sherburne’s last day of work. Lobozzo said after the court appearance this week that Sherburne had in fact finished his work at the district a day earlier, on Feb. 11.

“Obviously Zach and the family are ecstatic,” Lobozzo said. “There’s been so much of a media feeding frenzy. At least from a legal standpoint this is good news. I was getting hate mail and hate phone calls.”

The teenage girl is now pregnant. Lobozzo said that if the child is Sherburne’s, he will “participate financially,” but confirmed that Sherburne and the girl are not in a relationship.

“Was it a smart decision? No,” Lobozzo said. “But was it consensual, and was she of the age of consent? Yes.”

After Sherburne left Sacopee Valley High School, he was hired as an ed tech in SAD 6 in Buxton. The hiring violated the district’s nepotism policy barring the hiring of family members of the superintendent or members of the school board.

The SAD 6 board, rather than enforce its policy, chose to take no action against Sherburne, drawing intense criticism from the public and scrutiny from the press, including the revelation that Zachariah Sherburne did not have state approval to work in a classroom environment.

After weeks of rancorous debate and confrontational board meetings where angry parents called for Frank Sherburne’s ouster, the elder Sherburne resigned with a $40,000 severance package – a move considered to be less costly than breaking Sherburne’s contract and dealing with the related litigation expenses later, the SAD 6 board president said.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

]]> 64, 24 Jun 2016 20:41:59 +0000
Texas university admissions office can consider race, Supreme Court rules Thu, 23 Jun 2016 23:56:17 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday said admissions officials at the University of Texas may consider the race of student applicants in a limited way to build a diverse student body.

The 4-to-3 decision was a surprising win for advocates of affirmative action, who say the benefits of diversity at the nation’s colleges and universities are worth the intrusion on the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection that generally forbids the government from making decisions based on racial classifications.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the university’s consideration of race was a “factor of a factor of a factor” and met the court’s narrow precedents.

“A university is in large part defined by those intangible qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness,” Kennedy wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

“Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission,” he wrote. “But still, it remains an enduring challenge to our Nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”

When the court considered the case in 2013, Kennedy wrote the opinion that sent it back to lower courts for a closer examination, and it seemed that the majority was skeptical that the admissions plan would survive.

Justice Samuel Alito began his 51-page dissent: “Something strange has happened since our prior decision in this case.” And he added that “the university has still not identified with any degree of specificity the interests that its use of race and ethnicity is supposed to serve.”

He read the lengthy dissent from the bench to stress his disagreement. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas joined his opinion.

Kennedy had never before voted to uphold a race-conscious plan, but he also had been reluctant to say that race may never be used. He was joined by three of the court’s liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she had worked on the issue as President Obama’s solicitor general.

The specific case was brought in 2008 by Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission to the university. Her suit was organized and funded by a conservative legal organization that opposes racial preferences in government and brought the challenge that resulted in the justices striking a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students applying to the Univ. of Texas can be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity. I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action,” Fisher said in a statement.

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Eight teachers named semifinalists for Maine Teacher of the Year Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:08:42 +0000 A Yarmouth middle school teacher is one of eight semifinalists for the Maine 2017 Teacher of the Year, state education officials announced Thursday.

The eight were selected from among the 2016 County Teachers of the Year.

They will now go through a portfolio review and oral presentation before three finalists are selected. The winner will be announced at a surprise assembly at their school in October.

The semifinalists are:

Morgan Cuthbert, a seventh-grade math and science teacher at Harrison Middle School, Yarmouth.

Michael McCartney, Maine School of Science and Mathematics, Limestone. He teaches English, fitness, history and first-year seminar.

Selina Warren, a second-grade teacher at Kingfield Elementary School, Kingfield.

Rebecca Tapley, who teaches all subjects for grades four through eight at Brooklin Elementary School, Brooklin.

Andrew Forster, Messalonskee High School, Oakland. He teaches band, music production, independent study and jazz band.

Beth Heidemann, a kindergarten teacher at Cushing Community School, Cushing.

Cherrie MacInnes, a third-grade teacher at Brewer Community School, Brewer.

Tamara Ranger, who teaches English in grades seven and eight at Skowhegan Area Middle School, Skowhegan.

The 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year was Talya Edlund, a third-grade teacher at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth.

]]> 10 Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:22:32 +0000 Portland school board endorses $70 million renovation plan Wed, 22 Jun 2016 02:21:17 +0000 After dozens of people spoke about a desperate need to improve four elementary schools, Portland’s school board voted 6-2 Tuesday night to ask the City Council to propose a $70 million bond to voters in November to pay for renovations.

“We need to make our full-throated commitment to education in Portland,” said board member John Eder. “It’s a great day.”

The City Council has final say over whether to send any bond to voters, and at what amount.

The school board’s vote followed a public hearing at which almost all speakers supported the $70 million proposal and opposed a last-minute proposal by board member Sarah Thompson for a $40 million bond, funding fewer improvements at the Presumpscot and Lyseth elementary schools.

Thompson said she made the alternative proposal because she is worried that a $70 million bond will be rejected or the improvements will be delayed.

“I’ve very concerned about getting nothing done,” said Thompson. “I want action.”

In the end, Thompson voted for the $70 million proposal, as did Chairwoman Marnie Morrione, who said earlier that she supported the more “prudent” $40 million proposal.

Board members Stephanie Hatzenbuehler and Laurie Davis voted against the proposal.

“I am thrilled,” said Emily Herlihy, the Presumpscot school’s literary coach, after the vote. “I do think we have a fight before us to get it passed (by voters), but Portlanders have always supported their schools.”

If voters approve a $70 million bond, the city will be authorized to issue a series of bonds up to that amount to pay for projects at the Lyseth, Presumpscot, Reiche and Longfellow elementary schools. Those bonds, paid off over 30 years, would likely be staggered, and taxpayers would see annual increases in the school portion of their tax bill to pay off the debt.

The $70 million bond, on its own, would create annual tax rate increases of 1 to 1.5 percent for the first five years, totaling $34 to $43 a year for a property with an assessed value of $225,000, according to an estimate by the district’s chief financial officer.

If that bond is added to the anticipated “base budget,” the total annual tax rate increases would rise to between 5 percent and 6 percent for the first five years, totaling $115 to $148 a year for a property with an assessed value of $225,000. In subsequent years, the annual increases would get smaller.

The cumulative effect of the bond and the base budget on a $225,000 property over the initial five-year period would cost the owners an extra $670.50 by the fifth year, according to the estimate.

The four schools have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, parents were vehement about the need to improve the schools.

“How long will the students of Presumpscot have to suffer from a lack of political will?” asked Brad Post, the father of a Presumpscot Elementary School student. “Our kids are worth it.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said the school board has been studying the need for improvements for decades.

“Our schools are unequal. That is immoral on our part,” Strimling said.

Portland used state funding to build the East End Community School in 2006 and the Ocean Avenue Elementary School in 2011.

In April, Portland voters approved a plan to pay for a new Hall Elementary School. The state will pay for almost all of the $29.7 million project, with Portland taxpayers paying $1.4 million for specific upgrades such as a larger gym that can serve as a community center.


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Sanford school budget headed for second referendum Mon, 20 Jun 2016 14:44:09 +0000 After some confusion about an unusual city charter provision that sets a threshold for the number of voters needed to reject budgets, Sanford officials have determined a second vote on the proposed school budget is required.

Sanford voters last week rejected both the city and school budgets by slim margins, but officials believed both were considered passed because the number of votes cast fell short of a threshold laid out in the city charter.

In order for a Sanford budget to be considered rejected by voters, the total number of votes cast must meet or exceed 25 percent of the city’s votes from the last gubernatorial election. There were 1,849 ballots cast in last week’s budget referendum, 18 short of the number required to reject a budget.

But after the school budget failed by a vote of 1,054 to 862, both school and city attorneys looked at state law and the charter to see if the 25 percent requirement applied to the school budget. They determined it did not, Superintendent David Theoharides said Monday.

That means the school budget will again go to voters for the first time in the past decade, but Theohardies said the process remains unclear. School and city officials met Monday and will meet again Tuesday to determine if the school budget process will start from “square one,” with the budget committee forwarding a proposal to the school board, he said. The proposal would then be sent to the City Council for a public hearing and vote before a second referendum.

“I’m unsure what to do with the budget. Am I supposed to cut it? We have no indication on that,” Theoharides said. “I have no idea if people want me to cut $5 or $500,000. This vote didn’t tell you anything at all about what to do other than that they were unhappy.”

Residents voted last week on a $24.2 million city budget and a $38.1 million education budget. The combined budgets amounted to a 2.44 percent overall spending increase. The increase would result in an extra $120.70 on the tax bill of a home valued at $170,000. But city officials say that increase would be offset by an increase in the homestead exemption for anyone who owns a home valued at $170,000 or less.

The proposed school budget would have eliminated four positions that had previously been funded by a Nellie Mae grant. Educational programming would have remained the same, but school officials said an increase was needed to deal with special education costs and increases in salaries and benefits.

In the week before the election, City Councilor Victor DiGregorio posted signs across the city urging people to vote against the budget and calling for no tax increase.

Voters ultimately rejected the city budget by a vote of 1,054 to 785.

The City Council on Tuesday will vote on orders to send the budget back to the budget committee for consideration, to set a public hearing at 6 p.m. June 30 and to require the budget committee to recommend a budget to the City Council no later than July 25. The council also will vote on an order to set a referendum vote for Aug. 23.

Theoharides said he would like to have the referendum sooner than Aug. 23, but didn’t know Monday if that would be possible. The school department will operate using the current budget when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Theoharides said the school department will not be allowed to spend its 2016-17 allocation from the state because it hasn’t been approved by voters.

“It’s a mess,” he said.

City Clerk Sue Cote said applications for absentee ballots for the August referendum are now available on the city website and at City Hall. Absentee ballot requests must be made by Aug. 18 and the ballots must be returned to the clerk by Aug. 23.

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

Twitter: grahamgillian

]]> 1 Mon, 20 Jun 2016 20:12:10 +0000
Incoming Portland schools chief faces depleted leadership team Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Three top administrators are leaving the Portland School District, two to become superintendents elsewhere in the state, just as a new superintendent begins work July 5.

Chief Academic Officer Becky Foley will be superintendent in RSU 5 in the Freeport area, and Director of School Management Kim Brandt will be superintendent in the Turner School District. Chief Financial Officer Ellen Sanborn is leaving to head up finances for the Metro transit system.

That means incoming Superintendent Xavier Botana, who is Portland’s sixth superintendent in nine years, will have to immediately rebuild his executive team.

“It’s obviously a huge gap in the leadership in the district as I move in,” Botana said Friday. “We really are in a state of flux.”

His first decision was to ask outgoing Acting Superintendent Jeanne Crocker to stay in the district, allowing him to fill the chief academic officer position temporarily with an in-house hire. The CFO position, posted last week, will be a permanent hire, Botana said.

Botana said that will give him a leadership team while he evaluates district needs, and Crocker, who had planned to retire, can be a resource to him.

“That’s truly valuable from my perspective,” said Botana.

Crocker will return to her previous role as director of school management, working directly with district principals. Crocker has been acting superintendent since Emmanuel Caulk, the previous superintendent, left last August to be superintendent at a Kentucky school system.

School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione said the board appreciated that Botana was “proactive” and made those hiring decisions before starting work in the district.

“He wants to be extremely thoughtful and measured in his approach of what the district needs are,” Morrione said. “This is to ensure some stability, but he also wants to listen and learn.”

School Board member Sarah Thompson said the changes give Botana the chance to create his own leadership structure, and pick his own people.

“I think it’s an opportunity,” she said, noting that previous superintendents have changed job titles, job duties and created entirely new positions that were in line with their priorities.

Officials have said the turnover, and shifting priorities that have come and gone with various leaders, have led to an extended unsettled period for the district. Hiring and turnover can be time-consuming, distracting and expensive – and the school board has repeatedly said stability is a top priority.

“What people want is stability and the right people in the right seats. I think Xavier will bring a fresh perspective,” Thompson said. “Not that we want a lot of major changes, but education changes all the time.”

Botana said the changes “really bring … home for me” how the district suffers from a lack of stability.

“One of the big takeaways for me is the importance of trying to build the leadership capacity within the district so that we really have a pipeline of school and district leaders and we don’t have to be reeling every time people move on,” he said.

There has been turnover at the principal level, too. This fall there will be new principals at Portland High School, King Middle School and PATHS – Portland Arts & Technology High School.

When Crocker replaced Caulk, she quickly filled three executive-level vacancies, including hiring Foley and Brandt.

Before Caulk, the superintendents were James Morse, Jeanne Whynot-Vickers and Mary Jo O’Connor, who resigned in 2007 after a $2 million deficit sent the district into a financial and management tailspin that took years to stabilize.

When the board was searching for a new superintendent, members agreed that finding someone who would stay for the long term was a high priority. When they hired Botana, who has a three-year contract, they said they were convinced he intends to remain in Portland for an extended period.

“Ideally, I wanted to have the most seasoned and consistent team possible coming in,” Botana said. “But you’re not always dealt the cards you want.”

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Southern Maine schools dealing with superintendent deficit Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 About 15 years ago, the University of Southern Maine offered a program to put aspiring superintendents on a fast track to get certified for the position. About two dozen educators took the course and the majority got superintendent jobs soon after.

When the college decided to offer the program again a couple of years ago, there weren’t enough students to justify holding it.

“We couldn’t come up with more than five,” Jody Capelluti, a professor of educational leadership at USM, said about the number of educators interested in becoming superintendents.

Pressure to improve test scores, constant communication on smartphones and heightened public criticism through social media are among the reasons many school administrators are opting to forgo the six-figure salaries that go with the top job in the district to stay in less stressful positions.

At the same time, higher turnover in the position – whether because of burnout, local politics or clashes with the community – has put school boards on the hunt for new superintendents more often.

“I think it’s a crisis situation,” Capelluti said.

In the past year, at least seven school districts in southern Maine have had superintendent openings and some have found just how hard it is to fill the job. School districts have conducted multiple searches, and sometimes have competed for the same candidates.

After having its two finalists withdraw from consideration, Cape Elizabeth will start its search anew this winter, when it will likely compete for candidates with Westbrook and Bonny Eagle, who lost their superintendents this spring – one to a smaller district with a higher salary, and the other after a scandal over hiring his son.

Being in a crowded field of prospective employers is nothing new to Cape, which lost its superintendent when Meredith Nadeau took a job in the Newmarket, New Hampshire, school district.

In its initial search, Cape shared a finalist with neighboring Scarborough, whose superintendent is retiring this summer. That finalist ended up going elsewhere, and Scarborough eventually hired a candidate who was the runner-up to Nadeau in New Hampshire.

Cape now has an interim superintendent to provide more time for its search.

Although superintendents’ reasons for leaving their jobs vary, districts are facing common challenges.

Superintendents don’t stay in one job as long as they used to and their jobs are harder to fill.

In southern Maine, Portland probably knows best how high turnover can affect a school district.

With seven superintendents in less than 10 years – the most recent hired last month – the state’s largest school system seems to be searching for a superintendent more often than it’s not. That instability can stymie a district’s ability to effect positive change, said Susan Pratt, president of the Maine School Superintendents Association and superintendent of School Administrative District 58 in Phillips.

“It takes awhile to gear up when you move to a system,” she said. “That consistency in leadership is critical to be able to move the system forward.”

A commitment to stay in the job – and not just use the position to forward their career – was stressed in interviews with candidates for the Portland superintendency, said Debra Hill, managing partner of BWP and Associates, the Illinois-based firm hired to conduct the search.

She said their tenure in past positions was scrutinized and the candidates were asked point-blank about their intentions.

And Portland’s school board made no secret of the fact that the city’s new superintendent, Xavier Botana, expressed a commitment to stay “for the long haul.”

Five to seven years is considered the typical tenure for a superintendent in one district, Hill said.

In Maine, the average is less than five years, said Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, which leads the vast majority of superintendent searches in the state, including 10 this year.

A 2015 study by the American Association of School Administrators found that the most common reason for superintendents leaving their jobs was for a new challenge in a different type of district, followed by better pay, then conflict with school board members.

When asked what they’d like to be doing in five years, 30 percent said they hoped to be retired.

The aging of baby boomers is one reason more superintendent jobs are opening up, Hill said.

Another, like in most industries, is that people simply tend to move around more, both geographically and between companies.

“The old model, the superintendent that came up through the district and stayed for 25 years, is unusual,” Brown said.

Turnover on school boards can also lead superintendents to jump ship – when the people they’re working for are completely different from the ones who hired them, especially if new board members have a specific agenda.

Capelluti said it’s becoming less common for people to run for the office simply to serve their community.

“Many people run to get something or get rid of something,” he said.

The superintendent’s relationship with the board and the community can make or break his or her job, in Hill’s opinion.

And with social media giving a platform to spread criticism – often anonymously – those relationships can sour quickly.

“People tend to read what’s on the surface without understanding the rationale or underlying reasons,” Hill said about the effect of social media, leading people to pass judgment based on incomplete or inaccurate information.

Pratt agreed.

“There’s more of being in the limelight, more accountability to the public,” she said. “Everything is out there and upfront and things hit the airway before the dust settles at the local level. It’s just the way society has changed.”

Technology has also made superintendents more accessible. Email, text message and Facebook allow members of the school board and the community to get in touch on any day at any time, often expecting an immediate response.

“It has become a job that really is 24-7,” Brown said. “It’s very difficult to manage the expectation that you must always be available to people.”

All that is happening at the same time that more is asked of superintendents, who used to be more like business managers and are now expected to be experts on curriculum and to improve student test scores, along with managing finances while receiving fewer resources, Hill said.

Pratt has heard from other superintendents and felt firsthand how the job has gotten “bigger and bigger” with more responsibilities than ever before.

“The value of our job is huge and yet we don’t always feel like we’ve gotten that respect that we have in the past,” she said.

Capelluti said he thinks things started to change about 20 years ago when districts started cutting assistant superintendents, a position that was once in nearly every Maine school system and now exists only in the largest ones.

That’s left superintendents with less opportunity to train for the job and less support when they’re in it.

As a result, more people are staying at the principal level or taking other jobs in the central office with no further aspirations, and it’s creating a problem.

Clearly the salary doesn’t seem worth it, although districts may have started to offer more money to the right candidate. Brown estimated that the average salary of superintendents in Cumberland County is around $125,000. However, recent hires have been offered between $128,000 – the new salary of Becky Foley in Freeport-based Regional School Unit 5 – and $148,000 – the new salary of Botana in Portland.

Capelluti believes the solution is to make school boards understand their boundaries, both in terms of time and responsibilities, and to give superintendents adequate support and compensation for a job that, in many Maine towns, is essentially the chief executive officer of its largest employer.

“We desperately need more superintendents, but the job has to be more attractive,” he said.

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Casco Bay High students cast off for summer with cardboard boat races Fri, 17 Jun 2016 21:34:55 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — Tanner Nussinow wasn’t overly optimistic about his chances of paddling his cardboard pirate ship to victory, but that did little to dampen his spirits.

The Casco Bay High School junior, decked out in a sailor hat and pirate eyepatch, stood on Willard Beach just after noon Friday as crowds of spectators gathered along the water’s edge. Next to him was the pirate ship he and classmates from the Portland high school had crafted using cardboard, tape and paint. A mermaid graced the bow, her tail wrapped artfully around the side of the little brown ship.

“It’s not going to float, absolutely not,” Nussinow said as his crewmates waved cardboard swords, hoisted a treasure chest in the air and got themselves hyped up for the race.

Friday marked the 11th year that Casco Bay High School students trekked across the bridge to South Portland to race cardboard boats at Willard Beach. The grand prize is bragging rights.

As the school year draws to a close, each crew – or advisory team – at the expeditionary learning school designs and builds a boat. Each boat carries two paddlers who try to navigate about 50 yards into the water, around a teacher in a kayak and back to shore.

This year, 21 cardboard boats built by students – plus one designed and raced by teachers – were carried onto the beach as parents, alumni and beachgoers cheered.

Everyone was ready to race.

Brooke Teller, a chemistry teacher, said the races showcase not just boat-building skills, but the creativity, teamwork and camaraderie the school fosters. It’s also a chance for students to show off their competitive side at a school that doesn’t have sports teams, she said.

“It’s really a big community event,” Teller said. “It shows the joy of our school.”

Anna Hall, a 17-year-old junior, helped her crew craft the Titanic, a wide boat designed to allow a rower’s legs to dangle in the water.

“By the time you get to junior year, you build the boat the way you feel,” she said of the Titanic, whose ultimate fate was similar to its namesake.

“We wanted to go for silly,” chimed in her crewmate, Devon Case. “We’re going for giggles.”

After students lined up the boats in the sand, paddlers were outfitted with life jackets. The first three races were for individual grade levels, with the winner of each heat moving on to the final championship race.

During the freshman heat, several boats broke into pieces the second they hit the water. The Leque Crew boat cut quickly through the water and made it back to shore first, though it was sitting noticeably lower in the water by the time two paddlers scrambled back to the sand.

“It was cold, but it was a lot of fun,” paddler Anna Power of the Leque Crew said as she dragged the boat up to dry land. “We didn’t think it would make it, but it was exciting.”

By the time the junior heat began, Jasper Sommer, a crewmate of Nussinow and the second paddler in the pirate ship, was ready to race.

“I’m going to get pretty wet,” he said. “Hopefully I make it back to shore.”

Sommer did make it back to shore, but not before the pirate ship sank. Nussinow and Sommer waved their cardboard swords in the air victoriously as pieces of cardboard floated around them and their classmates raced ahead of them in the water.

In the championship heat, the canoe-shaped boat built by teachers finished ahead of the students, but it was the Bernstein Crew of sophomores who were declared the winners. Students cheered and hugged, then picked up the soggy remnants of their ship and headed to the buses for the short ride back to school.

“It’s a last day of school all the kids want to be at,” said Teller, the chemistry teacher. “It’s a great way to send the kids off into summer.”


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Incoming Portland superintendent tours schools ahead of July 1 start Fri, 17 Jun 2016 01:10:57 +0000 Xavier Botana, the incoming superintendent for Portland Public Schools, spent many years teaching English as a second language prior to becoming an administrator.

But for the last six, while he was associate superintendent in Michigan City, Indiana, he never really got to employ those skills. That school district’s diversity, he said, was black and white, and not international.

That’s one of the things that drew Botana to Portland, a district that has seen its enrollment diversify considerably through immigration, primarily from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Roughly 1 in 4 students in Portland is an English language learner.

“I think the ELL component is something I’m looking forward to embracing,” Botana said Thursday during a break while touring several Portland schools. “It’s a big challenge for the district but I think a great opportunity as well.”

Botana, 53, was hired by the school board last month and begins a three-year term as superintendent on July 1. He decided to come to Portland for two days this week to tour the schools and meet staff and students before the summer break starts.

At King Middle School on Thursday morning, newly named principal Caitlin LeClair gave Botana a tour. The halls were unusually quiet. The eighth-graders were all at an end-of-year ceremony and the seventh-graders were on a field trip to a local beach.

He stopped and spoke with teachers and a few students. When he introduced himself, a slight accent came through. Botana is a Cuban immigrant and speaks fluent Spanish.

Although he’s spent his career mostly in the Midwest, Botana and his family have ties to Maine. They have been coming for several years to participate in a program at Sunday River for skiers with special needs. Botana and his wife, Suzanne, have a 13-year-old son, David, who has a limb difference.

“We don’t have deep roots here,” he said. “But we’re looking forward to settling down. I don’t see this as a springboard to something else.”

Board members cited Botana’s interest in staying long-term as one of the reasons he was chosen. Since 2007, Portland has had six superintendents. Botana succeeds Jeanne Crocker, who has served as interim superintendent since Emmanuel Caulk left last summer after three years to take a job as head of a school district in Kentucky.

Botana said he envisions staying in Portland indefinitely and wants to build on a strong foundation that already exists.

“This is a district that has so many things going for it,” he said. “It’s not a situation where I feel I need to come in and turn it around or fix anything.”

After touring King, Botana visited Hall Elementary, one of the city’s oldest schools and one that is due to be replaced by 2018. The pupils at Hall were much chattier than the ones at King and Botana engaged with several. When he was introduced to a group of second-graders as the new superintendent, many asked, “What’s that?”

“Well, it’s kind of like the head teacher,” he said. “I work for all of you. I get to help make decisions about what happens next and how to improve things for everyone.”

As he left Hall and made his way to Deering High School, Botana remarked that although he wanted to meet as many staff members as possible over the next two days, he likely wouldn’t remember many names. Yet when he entered the main office at Deering, he greeted the principal, Ira Waltz, by his first name.

“Good memory,” Waltz said, before leading Botana to the library, where teachers had gathered for an informal meet-and-greet.

Botana began his career as a teacher in Illinois and graduated to administrative positions on the Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools. He has been associate superintendent in Michigan City, Indiana – a district of 6,000 students – since 2010.

Sue Olafsen, president of the Portland Education Association, spent Thursday chaperoning Botana throughout the district. She said the response to his hiring has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think everyone is excited to have him on board,” she said.

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SAD 6 nepotism policy got short shrift in hiring of superintendent’s son Thu, 16 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 School Administrative District 6 board officials knew that hiring the superintendent’s son as an ed tech might violate the district’s nepotism policy, but there is no indication they read the policy in detail to find out, according to an investigators’ report released to the Portland Press Herald.

The hiring of Zachariah Sherburne came to light after he was charged with sexually assaulting a female student in another district. The outcry over his hiring grew after revelations that he did not hold any state credentials. The ensuing uproar led his father, Frank Sherburne, to resign as superintendent May 16.

A short summary of the 21-page report was released the day Sherburne resigned. The Press Herald received the full report, with some sections heavily redacted, in response to a Freedom of Access Act request. The redactions, the district’s attorney said, are mostly because of laws protecting employee confidentiality.

The investigation, by board members Paul Mosley and Cindy Meserve and the district’s attorney, Elek Miller of Drummond Woodsum, was mostly limited to the nepotism policy. SAD 6 board Chairwoman Rebecca Bowley and Vice Chairman Jacob Stoddard have acknowledged that they approved the hire despite knowing about the nepotism policy.

The SAD 6 investigators also questioned officials about whether they knew of “an alleged relationship” between Zachariah Sherburne, 23, and a student in SAD 55. The report found that no one did.

According to police reports, Zachariah Sherburne is accused of sexually assaulting a student in SAD 55 on Feb. 12, four days after he began working at SAD 6.


In the full report, Frank Sherburne told investigators that he “pointed out that hiring Zachariah could be a violation of the (nepotism) policy, but that the district needs education technicians.” Stoddard said that when he, Sherburne and Bowley discussed the hire, “the existence of the nepotism policy was brought up, as was the fact that hiring Zachariah might be a violation of that policy.”

In the findings, the investigators say Bowley “was not familiar” with the specifics of the nepotism policy, that Stoddard was aware but misunderstood the policy, and that Sherburne “did not know” the policy required a full board vote to grant a hire under the exception provision.

The report does not indicate if any of them read the policy, or looked it up as they discussed whether hiring Zachariah Sherburne would be a violation.

Before Sherburne resigned, the community was in an uproar, packing the audience at hours-long board meetings and demanding that Sherburne be fired. Most of the outrage was focused on the sexual assault and the violation of the nepotism policy, but many critics say they are more concerned about the lack of credentials. They questioned whether the district had other instructors who were not properly credentialed.

In an email this week, SAD 6 attorney Peter Felmly said the district had 33 employees at the beginning of the school year who had some sort of problem regarding their state certification, license or criminal background check, but were allowed to teach under a district-issued extension. Felmly said that list has since been narrowed to one ed tech, who is not working as an ed tech while his state authorization is being renewed.

“That is not to say that they were not certified, authorized or permitted to work in a public school or that there was a gap in their certification/authorization,” Felmly wrote. “Many employees were in the process of obtaining their renewal from the Maine Department of Education and, as you are likely aware, due to staffing levels at the Maine Department of Education last fall, the processing of employees’ renewal applications took much longer than anticipated.” He said the department told the district that if the renewal application was filed and being processed by the state, the prior credential remained valid.

SAD 6 has more than 600 employees and serves about 3,900 students.


Under state law, Zachariah Sherburne should have been fingerprinted, had a criminal background check and been authorized by the state as an ed tech before he first started working in a school, for SAD 55 in November 2015. He began working for SAD 6 in February and was arrested in March.

The SAD 6 report has conflicting and incomplete information regarding Sherburne’s credentialing, including the question of when, where and if he was fingerprinted, and when and whether he had a criminal history background check – both required of all school employees in Maine before they begin working in a school district.

The report says the state approval process, “which includes fingerprinting and a background check, had begun for Zachariah (Sherburne) when he applied for work” in late January, which is not consistent with a reference in the report’s time line to his fingerprinting appointment on Feb. 16.

The summary of the report said Sherburne had applied for education technician certification with the state, and the Department of Education acknowledged receipt of his application on Feb. 2, but later said the paperwork was incomplete because of transcript problems. The summary report said Zachariah Sherburne had his fingerprints taken on Feb. 16, but the state said it never issued an eight-week temporary card indicating he had applied for a criminal background check.

The department is investigating the situation, and will not comment until a final decision is issued.

Under state law, superintendents can be disciplined or even stripped of state credentials if their district employs someone without proper certification, authorization or approval from the Department of Education. It also can lead the district to lose state funding equal to the state’s share of salary and benefits paid to unauthorized employees.

Don Isaacs, board chairman in SAD 55, has refused to comment on any questions regarding Zachariah Sherburne, citing both employee confidentiality and the Department of Education investigation. Superintendent Carl Landry confirmed Sherburne’s employment, but declined to answer more detailed questions, citing employee confidentiality.


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Feds seek shutdown of largest accreditor of for-profit colleges Wed, 15 Jun 2016 14:51:27 +0000 BOSTON — The U.S. Department of Education is taking the first step to close the nation’s biggest accreditor of for-profit colleges.

Department staff recommended Wednesday that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools be terminated.

The council serves as a watchdog for 900 campuses and decides if they can receive federal funding.

But several state attorneys general have accused it of overlooking deception by some schools. The council has accredited some institutions accused of fraud, including the now-defunct Corinthian College chain.

Education officials found problems with the group’s standards during a review.

The recommendation goes to an advisory committee before top department officials make a final decision.

If the council closes, its schools would have 18 months to find new accreditors or lose federal funding. The council did not immediately comment.

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University of Maine at Presque Isle president leaving Tue, 14 Jun 2016 01:27:06 +0000 The president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Linda Schott, is leaving to be president of Southern Oregon University, the University of Maine System announced Monday.

“President Linda Schott brought innovative and engaged leadership to the University of Maine at Presque Isle,” Chancellor James Page said in a statement. “While we will miss Linda as a colleague and leader, she leaves in place an award-winning strategic mission and a leadership team with a greater capacity to serve our students, the region, and our statewide needs.”

Page said he planned to name a transitional leader sometime before Schott leaves. She will begin her new job before this fall.

Schott was known for moving UMPI, which enrolled about 1,300 students last fall, to “personalized education” – also known as proficiency-based learning – in which students learn at their own pace and are educated in an array of methods that are “personalized” for them. The state is moving to a proficiency-based diploma system for graduating high school seniors.

The New England Board of Higher Education recognized UMPI’s achievements in personalized education with its 2016 Maine State Merit Award.

Southern Oregon University, located in Ashland, enrolls about 6,200 students.

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