The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Schools & Education Sun, 25 Sep 2016 14:49:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Loss of two dances doesn’t sit well with some South Portland students Tue, 20 Sep 2016 04:47:18 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — Many students are upset by the decision to eliminate two of four dances held each year at South Portland High School, but administrators say it was a necessary step to curb substance abuse among teens and ensure their safety after other efforts failed.

The high school will still hold a homecoming dance this fall and a senior prom in the spring, Principal Ryan Caron said Monday. But the winter ball and the spring fling have been canceled because students were found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at two of four dances last year, Caron said.

That doesn’t sit well with students like David Fiorini, a sophomore who went to three dances last year. Fiorini questions why school administrators took such a drastic step to address the bad behavior of a few students.

Sophomore David Fiorini is disappointed that South Portland High is canceling some dances this year. He sees it as a drastic step to address the bad behavior of a few students. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Sophomore David Fiorini is disappointed that South Portland High is canceling some dances this year. He sees it as a drastic step to address the bad behavior of a few students. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

“I don’t like it,” Fiorini said Monday. “There weren’t that many people doing it. They shouldn’t cancel dances just because of a few kids.”

Juniors Shannon Murphy and Chloe Birmingham are disappointed, too. The canceled dances were a primary way that students raised money to put on the prom. “I don’t know what we’re going to do for fundraising now,” Murphy said.

School administrators plan to work with class leaders and faculty advisers to find alternative fundraisers for the prom, according to a letter sent to students and their families on Sept. 9. School officials also plan to monitor substance use at future dances, the letter said, leaving open the possibility that eliminated dances might be reinstated some day.

But for Caron, the decision to trim dances reflects broader concerns among school administrators and faculty who see many students leave dances shortly after their parents drop them off. Sometimes up to one-quarter of the 400 to 500 students who attend dances leave within an hour of arriving at the three-hour events, he said.

Caron, who typically greets students as they arrive at dances, said he feels responsible for the well-being of students after they leave, especially because he has no idea where most of them are going. And while school officials didn’t provide numbers showing a rise in substance abuse incidents at dances, they said they have witnessed an increase that can no longer be tolerated.

“For me, it’s about the overall safety of the events,” Caron said. “I know it’s not all of our kids. I know dances don’t cause students to use substances. I don’t want the whole student body to feel they’re being punished. I want to consolidate our resources and put on better, safer events.”

Caron said he reached out to high school principals across southern Maine and learned that many had curbed or eliminated school dances other than proms. “We’ve held onto dances longer than most schools our size,” Caron said.

By reducing the number of dances held each year, Caron hopes to recruit more teachers to volunteer as chaperones. In recent years, Caron said he has “scrounged” to find a minimum of 10 chaperones required to hold a dance, not counting the school resource officer and two special duty police officers who also staff dances. He’d like to have 25 or 30 chaperones to ensure sufficient oversight for a large group of teens.

Caron also hopes to collect contact information for parents or guardians when dance tickets are sold, so school administrators and chaperones will have a better chance of reaching parents if a student leaves a dance or there’s some sort of emergency. In the past, school officials have struggled to reach some parents using emergency numbers provided to the school.

Now in his fourth year as principal of the 900-student school, Caron said previous steps taken to curb substance use before dances have had limited impact. Students must sign in with chaperones and walk by police officers who are looking for signs of substance use.

While Yarmouth, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Portland and Casco Bay high schools have used breath tests to screen students for alcohol use, South Portland has police officers conduct field sobriety tests, Caron said.

South Portland School Resource Officer Al Giusto said his office typically issues five to 10 citations per school year related to alcohol or drug use at the high school, some of them at dances.

South Portland School Resource Officer Al Giusto said his office typically issues five to 10 citations per school year related to alcohol or drug use at the high school, some of them at dances. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

The high school also provides snacks at dances so students aren’t allowed to bring in food, water or other drinks. Still, at one recent dance, a student became distressed after drinking an unknown clear liquid, Caron said.

School Resource Officer Al Giusto said his office typically issues five to 10 citations per school year related to alcohol or drug use at the high school. A few of the incidents occur at dances. Since school started two weeks ago, Giusto said he has issued four citations to students for substance use on school property – three for tobacco use and one for coming to school under the influence of alcohol.

Students are immediately suspended for seven to 10 days, depending on whether it’s alcohol or drugs and whether it has happened before, according to school policy. The high school and the justice system offer various intervention programs that can reduce suspension periods, keep students out of court and eliminate $200 to $400 fines, Giusto said.

“We don’t go into any of these dances heavy handed. We get involved if staff needs help,” said Police Chief Ed Googins, who signed Caron’s letter along with Giusto and school Superintendent Ken Kunin.

Despite the administrators’ good intentions, eliminating two dances surprised and disappointed many students, parents and others. Students especially were angry and shocked, said Julia Stanton, a student representative on the city’s school board.

“They feel unjustly blamed for the actions of a few students,” Stanton said. “Substance abuse has been a problem at school dances as long as I can remember, as long as my parents can remember and even before that.”

Stanton understands the concern that school officials feel, both for the safety of students and the legal liability they pose if something were to happen while in the school district’s care. She also acknowledged that youth substance abuse is a community issue that’s being addressed by the newly formed SoPo Unite and the $625,000 federal grant that the coalition received this month to fight drug and alcohol use among teens.

“It should be something we’re all concerned about,” Stanton said. “There will always be kids abusing substances, with or without a dance.”

]]> 43, 20 Sep 2016 08:00:59 +0000
Portland gives nod to new use for old school in Riverton Tue, 20 Sep 2016 00:41:42 +0000 The Portland City Council gave initial approval Monday night for a Portland-based developer to give new life to an old school in the Riverton neighborhood.

Developers Collaborative plans to renovate the former Thomas B. Reed School so it can be used as a preschool for children with special needs. The existing two-story brick structure and community open space at 19 Libby Ave. would be preserved.

Children’s Odyssey, which serves children with mobility challenges, would run the programming. Director Susan McCormick said the school would have space for infants and toddlers as well as two pre-kindergarten classrooms. It would also offer before- and after-school care for some local students.

The city has been studying re-use options since 2014. Its first request for proposals to redevelop the school produced two responses, both of which were for about 45 units of senior housing, but that type of density prompted neighborhood opposition.

After the neighborhood expressed concern about the potential effects of so many units, the city reissued its request, emphasizing the need for community input before the sale of the property and the redevelopment plan could be finalized.

Nearly a dozen residents showed support for the proposal Monday night.

“The neighborhood is organized, ready and supportive of this project,” Lexington Avenue resident Elise Scala said. “We’d like to move ahead.”

Although one resident wanted the school converted to housing, Kevin Bunker of Developers Collaborative said that housing was only “marginally feasible” at the densities previously proposed. Any reduction in units, as requested by neighbors, would make housing unfeasible.

Bunker said he proposed an education use to give the community a clear choice and he’s pleasantly surprised with the results.

“I’m surprised that it has struck a chord the way it has,” he said. “It’s kind of nice.”

Developers Collaborative will now work with local residents to draft a final proposal. After that, City Manager Jon Jennings will negotiate a sales agreement, which will still need council approval.

The nearly 34,000-square-foot building, which was built in the 1920s and most recently used as the central kitchen for Portland schools before it was turned over to the city in 2014, sits on 2½ acres.


]]> 2 Mon, 19 Sep 2016 23:39:42 +0000
‘Time to invest’: UMaine System seeks 12% increase in state funding Mon, 19 Sep 2016 20:26:41 +0000 The University of Maine System is seeking a 12 percent increase in state funding to move into growth mode, and says tuition and fees are likely to increase if that funding falls short.

“We are moving from a period of austerity, times when we had to do very hard and difficult work,” Chancellor James Page told trustees on Monday. “It is time to invest. We will make our strong case to the Legislature and, ultimately, to the people of Maine.”

Annual state funding for the seven-campus system has been at about $200 million or below since 2006, just before the recession. For the past five years, the UMaine System had a tuition freeze, compared with an average 13 percent tuition increase at public universities nationwide over the same period.

Now, that freeze is thawing. In addition to seeking a bigger state subsidy, the trustees also approved a new tiered tuition model that will increase tuition at four campuses.

On Monday, the trustees unanimously approved the state funding requests covering three years: 2017 and the 2018-19 two-year budget. If approved, the total state appropriation to the system would increase from $200.6 million in 2016 to $225.1 million in 2019.

Those increases include an extra $7.2 million in the 2017 appropriation, the result of an agreement made with Gov. Paul LePage this spring. The system was considering a tuition increase for the 2016-17 academic year, and the governor offered the funds in exchange for the system freezing tuition and earmarking some of the extra money for early college programs and scholarships. The governor has pledged to request the funds in a supplemental budget in January.

The funding requested in the 2018-19 budget includes increasing general education funding by $14 million, or 5.1 percent. It also includes an additional $2.5 million in debt service to improve aging facilities, and an extra $4.2 million over two years in additional research funds.

“The current operating budget is the same as the 2008 budget. I’m not sure a lot of entities can say that. That said, we can’t work with just freezing that number,” Page said. “So this represents a deliberate approach, to request … cost-of-living increases so we don’t lose ground.”

To close multimillion-dollar budget gaps in recent years, the board of trustees has voted to slash personnel, lay off tenured professors, cut undergraduate and graduate programs, and restructure the system to consolidate support services such as human resources, finance and information technology. The moves prompted student protests, including the takeover of a trustees meeting in 2014.

This year, system financial chief Ryan Low announced that the system was moving toward a budget surplus in 2021. The 2021 projection relies on certain financial factors going forward, including annual increases in tuition, the state subsidy being tied to the rate of inflation, and enrollment increasing by about 1.5 percent a year.

The trustees, who were meeting at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, also approved a new three-tiered tuition plan, part of the move to a unified budget system.

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 will default to the highest tuition charged in each group, meaning USM students will pay the higher UMF tuition. That means under current tuition rates, USM tuition will increase $240, from $7,590 a year ($253 per credit hour) to $7,830 a year ($261 per credit hour.)

USM President Glenn Cummings said Monday that USM would phase in the increase over multiple years to minimize the impact on students. Other campuses could phase in the increases as well.

Tuition at the four remaining campuses will be at the Machias level of $6,660 per year, meaning students at Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Augusta will pay about $60 a year more.

The unified budget includes other changes, including charging one price for online-only undergraduate degrees, streamlining 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.

The recommendations also include a plan to consider a new $5-per-credit-hour student fee to pay for facility and information technology upgrades.

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

Low said the $5-per-credit-hour student fee may not be necessary if the state agrees to its appropriation request.

“However, if the Legislature/governor significantly reduced our request, we may want to move forward with the fee as a way to fund our capital needs,” he said.


CORRECTION: This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. on Sept. 20, 2016, to correct the amount sought from the state in 2019 and the percentage of the increase.


]]> 16, 20 Sep 2016 15:45:28 +0000
Without language teachers, high schools are resorting to computer programs Mon, 19 Sep 2016 01:22:12 +0000 MADISON — With just a few weeks to go before the start of school, Madison Area Memorial High School Principal Jessica Ward faced a dilemma: Classes were about to start, and the school didn’t have a foreign language teacher.

She contacted nearby universities and the Department of Education and posted the job online, but no one applied, even as five other open teaching positions were filled.

“It was coming down to the wire and school was starting,” Ward said. “Students were already scheduled for foreign language, and we can’t just not offer it.”

The school district had earmarked money for the position, so the guidance counselor and superintendent started researching other options, ultimately putting the money toward the computer program Rosetta Stone to take the place of a full-time French and Spanish teacher.

They also hired an education technician to supervise students and oversee the program’s administration.

“Ideally we do want to get a teacher in,” Ward said. “This isn’t perfect, but it was the best option to move our students forward this year.”

Madison is not alone in its struggle to attract foreign language teachers. The problem is statewide, especially in rural school districts, because the shortage allows teachers to be more selective about where they work and live, according to Jay Ketner, world languages specialist at the Maine Department of Education.

The problem largely stems from a lack of students pursuing degrees in teaching foreign language at colleges and universities, perhaps because of the elimination of some teacher training programs in Maine’s public university system, Ketner said. Because there is also a nationwide shortage of foreign language teachers, it is hard to attract teachers from out-of-state.

While technology like Rosetta Stone is not a replacement for a live foreign language teacher, educators say it is a way to allow schools to continue offering foreign language instruction.


In Madison, 67 out of 215 high school students take a foreign language, which Ward said is usually recommended or required by colleges.

In nearby Farmington, Mt. Blue Regional School Unit Superintendent Tom Ward said students at Mt. Blue High School are required to take one year of foreign language in order to graduate.

“In the last two or three years we’ve had a particularly hard time trying to find French world language teachers,” Ward said.

While the high school has a French and Spanish teacher, the district has been unable to fill a French teaching position at Mt. Blue Middle School and as a result does not currently offer French. The district also stopped offering German about four years ago because it couldn’t find a German teacher.

“It’s a major problem, not just in Maine but nationwide,” Ward said.

In Bingham, School Administrative District 13 Superintendent Virginia Rebar said that recruiting foreign language teachers, in particular those who are certified to teach both French and Spanish, is a problem.

That district has also adopted the Rosetta Stone program for the first time this year for its Spanish students.

“It’s difficult, not just finding someone certified in a language but dual-certification so they can teach more than one language, which is often what we look for in a small school,” Rebar said.


The Rosetta Stone program is currently used in more than 4,000 schools nationwide and by more than 500,000 students. Ideally, the software is used in conjunction with a live teacher, said Franklin Moomaw, a Rosetta Stone regional sales director for education.

“We never want to replace someone’s job,” Moomaw said. “But when you have that problem of not being able to find a teacher, it’s a way for schools to still provide that high quality language instruction.”

In Madison, the program has allowed the high school to expand its language offerings. Instead of just French or Spanish, students can now choose from up to 30 different languages.

It also allows for flexibility around different abilities and skill levels with one classroom containing students of different levels all working in different languages.

The program uses language immersion to teach, meaning that students are forced to use the language to learn it, but that also means they can’t always ask questions about word meaning and grammar, Moomaw said.

In a traditional classroom, it’s common for some students to feel uncomfortable speaking in front of their peers. The computer eliminates that problem, said Education Technician Nicholas Paradis, who oversees the language classes at Madison High School.

Paige Wong, a senior foreign exchange student from Taiwan, said she likes the program because it picks up on areas that are challenging for her – listening skills and conversation.

“With a teacher there’s more focus on grammar and vocabulary,” Wong said. “This is focused on listening and conversation.”

The program also allows students to work at their own pace, the only requirement being that they finish one language level by the end of the year.

There is no homework, although students can work on the program at home, and the only tests are the ones prompted by the program. There’s also the opportunity to return to a particular lesson if it’s something a student struggles with.

That happened recently for freshman Laurie LeBlanc, who was told by the program that she would return to a particular lesson later this month.

“In a regular classroom, that wouldn’t happen,” Paradis said. “The teacher would say, ‘OK, you got an 80. You’re good forever. Bye.’ Instead, everyone that got an 80 now has to come back and take the quiz again.”

LeBlanc said she wasn’t sure what to think of the program, since she had never studied a foreign language. “It doesn’t make a difference to me since I didn’t have a teacher before,” she said.

In Madison, Ward said the school hopes to hire a foreign language teacher by next year, even if the Rosetta Stone program continues to be successful this year.

“It’s hard to replace having a real person there to help students when they are struggling or to make the learning relevant to their lives,” she said. “Yes, they are learning the language with the Rosetta Stone program, but I worry that they are missing out on the cultural education and the personal touch of having a real teacher available.”


]]> 73, 19 Sep 2016 15:51:54 +0000
South Portland cancels most high school dances because of substance use Sat, 17 Sep 2016 13:25:08 +0000 South Portland school officials have canceled almost all high school dances this year because they say too many students are arriving drunk or under the influence of drugs.

Superintendent Ken Kunin and high school principal Ryan Caron made the announcement in a letter to parents and students Sept. 9. In the letter, Kunin, Caron and two police officials wrote that 40 percent of all alcohol-related incidents and 80 percent of other drug-related incidents during the last three years at South Portland High School have occurred at dances.

“After careful consideration, due to concern for student safety as it pertains to school dances, the administration has decided to reduce the number of dances at the high school level to two for the 2016-2017 school year: homecoming and senior prom,” the letter states.

The announcement coincides with a $625,000 federal award for a South Portland coalition that is working to prevent youth substance abuse. In both Cumberland and York counties, a 2015 statewide survey showed that 25 percent of students had used alcohol in the past 30 days. That figure was above the state average, and only a few counties – Knox, Sagahahoc, Aroostook and Hancock – had higher percentages.

Other Greater Portland high schools, including Yarmouth and Scarborough, have tried to curb underage drinking in the past by administering breath-alcohol tests at dances. Kunin said the school administration consulted with other area districts and found that many are dealing with the same problem.

“Most high schools in southern Maine have cut back on dances for the same reason, so we are not at all an outlier,” Kunin said in a telephone interview Saturday. “Really, it’s not a South Portland High School issue. It’s a high school issue. It’s a high school issue in Maine, it’s a high school issue nationally.”

South Portland High School usually hosts five or six dances each year, Kunin said. The administration consulted with the police department about its dance policies, and Police Chief Edward Googins and School Resource Officer Alfred Giusto co-signed the letter to parents and students. Kunin said local police see a higher-than-normal volume of calls related to underage drinking and substance abuse around dances. A call to the department Saturday was not returned.

“They told us, ‘Don’t have dances,’ ” Kunin said. “They see a real uptick in activity regarding the police before, during and after high school dances.”

Caron declined to talk about the change when reached by phone Saturday, and he did not respond to further requests for comment. Board of Education Chairman Richard Matthews responded in an email saying that he did not personally agree with the decision to cancel dances but that it is not the board’s decision. He added that he respects the administration’s decision.

South Portland High School has about 900 students; Kunin said about 500 students usually attend dances.

Students learned about the change in their classrooms during the first week of school, shortly before the letter went out to their families. Kunin said the response has been minimal but mixed. Some parents of graduated students have reached out to support the district’s decision, while others have expressed disappointment.

“They think it’s an overreaction, and they wish we weren’t taking the students’ fun away,” Kunin said. “I understand that, but again, our first concern is going to be student safety. We think we do a lot in and around school that is quite fun.”

Just last week, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy awarded SoPo Unite $625,000 to prevent youth substance abuse in the next five years, which will allow the organization to hire a director and combat drug and alcohol use among local teenagers. Community members representing the school department are part of that coalition.

At dances in particular, South Portland has already taken steps to discourage students from using alcohol and drugs, Kunin said. Students are required to sign a dance policy, and any outside guests need to be approved by school officials. School chaperons and police officers are present at dances, and any bags brought in are searched.

Other high schools have struggled with this same issue. Both Falmouth High School and Yarmouth High School started using Breathalyzers at school dances a few years ago. After several intoxicated teenagers attended a Yarmouth semiformal dance in 2011, students and school officials developed a policy to use the portable breath-testing equipment provided by the local police department. Scarborough High School also administers random alcohol breath testing at the beginning and during dances. Many schools have also banned suggestive dancing known as “grinding,”

Kunin said the South Portland school administration did not want its officials to administer Breathalyzers or require hundreds of guests to submit to a test from law enforcement.

“We just think that’s unmanageable,” Kunin said. “We’re in the business of educating students for their future, not in the business of running large dances.”

School dances are used as fundraisers for the prom, but the letter states the administration will work with class officers and advisers to find alternatives.

“School administrators will monitor the substance use incidents at school dances and will use that data in making decisions about future school dances at South Portland High School,” the letter states.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:40 a.m. on Sunday, September 18, 2016 to correct the name of the chairperson of the South Portland Board of Education and to include his reaction to the cancellation of dances.


]]> 34, 19 Sep 2016 21:33:59 +0000
National Merit Scholarship semifinalists announced Fri, 16 Sep 2016 00:30:01 +0000 The National Merit Scholarship Program has announced the semifinalists for its 2017 scholarship program. Finalists will be named in the spring. National Merit Scholarship winners receive $2,500 scholarships.

They are:

Bangor. Bangor HS: Reginald Kollman, Emma Payne. John Bapst Memorial High School: Annina Breen.

Bar Harbor: Mount Desert Island High School: Alden Burgess; Kai Fox; Annie Painter.

Bath: Morse High School: Samantha Brown.

Brunswick: Brunswick High School: Anna Webster.

Cape Elizabeth: Cape Elizabeth High School: Natalie Gale, McCarthy Huffard, Wesley Parker, James Planinsek.

Corinth: Central High School: Tuuli Overturf.

Cumberland: Greely High School: Samuel Bonnevie, Sarah Johnson, Patrick Lyden, Maggie Nolan, John Saffian.

East Machias: Washington Academy: William Davidson.

Falmouth: Falmouth High School: Madelyn Adams, Mary Giglio, Karan Godara, Jack Hepburn, Allison Murphy, Lisa Smoluk.

Gorham: Gorham High School: Thomas Matthews, Samuel Roussel. Homeschool: Esther Eaton.

Hampden: Hampden Academy: Mikayla Holmes.

Kennebunk: Kennebunk High School: Matthew Albaum, Caleb Eickmann.

Kittery: Robert W. Traip Academy: Olivia Stites.

Limestone: The Maine School of Science and Mathematics: Sadie Allen, Nathanial Ferguson, Nathan Gere, Irja Hepler, Marsden Jacques, Peter Nielsen, Trilok Polavaram, Henry Terhune.

Newcastle: Lincoln Academy: Jacob Brown.

Newport: Nokomis Regional High School: Austin Taylor.

North Berwick: Homeschool: Nathan Jordan.

Orono: Orono High School: Jake Koffman, Lowell Ruck, Matthew Williamson.

Portland: Casco Bay High School: Jasper Sommer, Nathaniel Youngren. Cheverus High School: Schuyler Black, Steven Larkin. Deering High School: Alex Smith. Portland High School: Rose Griffin. Waynflete School: Sebastian Lindner-Liaw, Althea Sellers.

Scarborough: Scarborough High School: Adam Desveaux, Rachel Ferrante, David Flewelling, Evan Kane, Isaac Sparks-Willey.

South Berwick: Berwick Academy: Jeanne Allen, David Eaton, Aarom Fleischer, Charles Thut. Marshwood High School: Brian Austin, Aidan Byrne, Mary McColley, Katherine Mercer, Samee Mushtak, Paige Singer.

South Paris: Oxford Hills High School: Zane Dustin.

South Portland: South Portland High School: Calvin Laber-Smith, Ellen Stanton.

Standish: Bonny Eagle High School: Rohahn Clarke.

Yarmouth: North Yarmouth Academy: Alexander Bartone. Yarmouth High School: Aaron Dustin, Andrei Lougovtsov.

York: York High School: Benjamin Eneman, Peter Kenealy.

]]> 0 Thu, 15 Sep 2016 20:30:01 +0000
Westbrook will hold referendum Nov. 8 on school expansion plan Wed, 14 Sep 2016 00:05:40 +0000 A $27 million expansion for two Westbrook schools will be voted up or down on the November ballot.

The Westbrook City Council sent the question to referendum with a unanimous vote, 7-0, Monday night. The money would pay for a renovation and 12 new classrooms at Saccarappa Elementary School, as well as 12 new classrooms at Westbrook Middle School. The school committee voted unanimously in favor of the plan last month.

“Our building project is something that is absolutely necessary for the children who are in our schools right now, and the children who are coming to our community,” newly appointed Superintendent Peter Lancia told the City Council at a public hearing in August.

Residents have voiced support for the expansion at public hearings, citing the five portable classrooms currently needed at the elementary schools. But as developers like the Risbara Bros. eye Westbrook for new housing developments, locals have also worried the new classrooms won’t be enough to accommodate incoming children. Lancia has said the schools can handle future growth, which the district has predicted to be 331 additional students by 2025.

He also told the council only three new staff members would be needed to staff the expanded buildings – an administrative assistant, a custodian and a cafeteria worker.

“Initially, the growth at Saccarappa would be addressed by reassigning teachers from other schools,” he wrote in a report to the City Council. “Any additional teaching positions would be requested through our annual budgeting process as enrollment increases.”

Documents related to the school expansion are available online as part of the City Council agenda and on the school department website. The election is Nov. 8.


]]> 2 Tue, 13 Sep 2016 20:13:27 +0000
Bowdoin continues to rank among elite U.S. colleges Tue, 13 Sep 2016 04:01:00 +0000 Bowdoin College remains a top liberal arts college in the nation, coming in sixth in annual college rankings released Tuesday by U.S. News & World Report. Bowdoin was ranked fourth overall last year.

The news magazine releases several “best of” lists, from best national universities and “Top A+ schools for B Student” to “Most Innovative” and “Best Value.”

Princeton University remained the top school in the best national universities category, while Williams College was the top national liberal arts college for the 14th consecutive year. For the 19th year, the University of California, Berkeley, was the top public national university.

Many institutions and groups release “best of” lists ranking higher education institutions, and U.S. News has released its annual list for more than 30 years. The news magazine evaluates schools on up to 15 measures of academic quality, and 30 percent of the ranking is based on graduation and retention rates.

The Maine colleges and their rankings are:

Best liberal arts colleges: Bowdoin College (6), Colby College (12), Bates College (27) and College of the Atlantic (83). A list of second-tier schools between 179 and 232, but not ranked, included the University of Maine at Machias. The magazine categorizes as liberal arts colleges those schools that emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in the arts and sciences. It evaluated 219 private and 20 public liberal arts colleges.

 Best national universities: University of Maine in Orono (183), down from 168 last year.

 Best regional universities: University of New England (80) and Saint Joseph’s College (137). A list of second-tier universities, not ranked numerically but between 144 and 187, included Husson University, Thomas College and the University of Southern Maine. Regional universities offer a full range of undergraduate majors and master’s programs but few, if any, doctoral programs.

Best regional liberal arts colleges: Maine Maritime Academy (5), University of Maine at Farmington (7), Unity College (15), University of Maine at Fort Kent (23), University of Maine at Presque Isle (27). A list of second-tier schools on this list included the University of Maine at Augusta. Regional colleges offer a full range of undergraduate programs and a broad range of programs in the liberal arts. They offer some master’s level programs, but few, if any, doctoral programs.

Maine schools that appear in other categories, some listed without numeric rankings:

 Best undergraduate business program: UMaine (184), based on surveys of business school deans and senior faculty.

 Best value listing for liberal arts colleges: Bowdoin (13), College of the Atlantic (16), Colby (19) and Bates (38).

 Best value for regional colleges: UMaine Farmington (5) and Unity (6).

 Best A-plus colleges for B students: College of the Atlantic.

 Best programs to look for: Colby College (Study Abroad and Undergraduate Research-Creative Projects).

 High School Counselor’s Top Picks: Bowdoin, Bates and Colby.

 Best Undergraduate Teaching: Bates, Colby and Bowdoin.

 Economic Diversity (measuring percentage of undergraduates receiving federal Pell grants at the top-ranked schools): Bowdoin and Colby.

 Best Colleges for Veterans: University of New England, Maine Maritime Academy and UMaine Farmington.

]]> 7, 13 Sep 2016 08:18:34 +0000
South Portland school welcomes back winning teacher Mon, 12 Sep 2016 15:14:30 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — Students at Kaler Elementary School turned out in force Monday to welcome back Laura Stevens, a second-grade teacher who received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching from the National Science Foundation.

Stevens traveled to Washington, D.C., late last week to attend a ceremony where she received the $10,000 award, which she can spend at her discretion. She’s one of 213 teachers nationwide and one of two in Maine who won the award this year.

Stevens has taught in South Portland since 1999, first at Small Elementary School and at Kaler since 2014. She has a doctorate in personality and social psychology and earned her teaching certificate at the University of Southern Maine.

Lauree Gott of Veazie Community School is the other Maine educator who received the award this year.


]]> 0, 12 Sep 2016 19:51:05 +0000
Fewer students overall at UMaine System, but more from outside Mon, 12 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Fewer students enrolled in the University of Maine System this fall compared to last year, but the seven-campus system more than made up for it financially with a nearly 8 percent increase in out-of-state students, who pay significantly higher tuition.

According to the latest fall enrollment data, overall enrollment is 28,187 students, down 1.3 percent from a year ago, while out-of-state enrollment of 5,202 students is up 7.8 percent.

That’s an improvement over last year’s early fall enrollment figures, when overall enrollment was down 2.7 percent, and out-of-state enrollment was up 5.6 percent. Final enrollment figures will be available in mid-October, after the deadline to add or drop classes.

“The initiatives that the campuses have been doing around out-of-state recruitment are really good,” Chancellor James Page said. “We’re going to take what works and build on them as long as they work and adjust our strategies in a very nimble way.”

Two of the system’s campuses, in Orono and Fort Kent, reported enrollment increases over last year, while the others posted declines. The University of Southern Maine saw enrollment decline about 1 percent from last year, but USM President Glenn Cummings said he expects to close that gap to zero as last-minute students enroll.

The focus on growing enrollment is critical for the system, which is emerging from years of financial turmoil. Over the last five years, the system has been sharply focused on cutting costs and increasing revenue, even as it faced declining enrollment amid a tuition freeze and a state funding freeze. Hundreds of positions were eliminated and whole academic departments cut, and an ambitious overhaul of academic and back-office departments is going on to stabilize system finances.

But the financial bottom line this fall is positive, since the decline in overall enrollment is slowing and the system is getting additional revenue from out-of-state students, many of whom pay more than twice as much as in-state students.

“Out-of-state credit hour growth at several of our campuses has the potential to offset and in some cases even exceed revenue declines attributed to lower in-state enrollments. Every dollar of additional out-of-state revenue strengthens our public education system,” said Ryan Low, the system’s chief financial officer.

Over the last five years, systemwide enrollment has declined 9 percent, from 31,012 in fall 2012. Over the same period, out-of-state enrollment increased 31 percent, from 3,966 students to 5,202. In-state enrollment declined 15 percent, from 27,046 students to 22,985.

These are key metrics for the system’s long-term planning, as the system receives almost all revenue from state subsidies and tuition.

five-year financial projection, issued late last year, forecast a 2020 budget gap of $22.4 million. But that projection relies on certain assumptions, including enrollment increasing 1.5 percent a year and annual increases in tuition and the state’s subsidy tied to the rate of inflation.

In-state tuition and fees are about $10,606 at Orono and $8,450 at USM. For out-of-state students, tuition and fees are about $30,000 per year. Room and board adds on about another $10,000 a year.

Some out-of-state students pay less, either under Orono’s new “flagship match” tuition plan or the longtime regional rate of 150 percent of in-state tuition offered to students in nearby states and Canada under a regional agreement.

The flagship match program allows students to pay only what their home state’s flagship university would have charged them as an in-state student. In every case, that is more than UMaine’s in-state tuition but less than they would have paid without the program.

That program helped boost UMaine’s figures and finances, Provost Jeff Hecker said. Overall enrollment there is up 1.6 percent to 11,077 students. Out-of-state students now make up 30 percent of the overall student body. This fall’s incoming class of 2,300 students is 44 percent from out-of-state, compared to only 16 percent five years ago.

That increase in out-of-state students is particularly important because Maine has a steady decrease of high school graduates, a result of the state’s aging demographics. In 2010, there were more than 14,000 Maine high school graduates. In 2015, the number was 12,365. By 2020, the figure is expected to be around 12,000.

Hecker said UMaine plans to expand the flagship match program next year to California and Illinois, which have raised in-state tuition in recent years.

“It’s a challenge having flat tuition in (Maine), but it is in a way an advantage because other states have really increased their in-state tuition,” Hecker said. “We’re benefiting from those decisions.”

Massachusetts native Tim Ryan said he decided to attend the University of Maine after hearing about the flagship match program online.

“The big thing for me was I didn’t want to have any debt when I graduated,” said Ryan, a freshman. After some scholarship aid, it’s cheaper for him to go to Orono than stay in Massachusetts, he said.

UMaine doesn’t plan to increase its overall out-of-state enrollment beyond about 45 percent, Hecker said. It has not resulted in any Maine student being turned away, he said.

Over the years, UMaine has maintained a steady proportion of Maine high school graduates: Of the roughly one-third of the Maine high school graduates that go on to college, about half attend UMaine, he said.


Even without a “flagship match” program, USM saw a 9.5 percent increase in out-of-state students this fall largely because of college price hikes elsewhere and USM’s focused marketing and recruitment efforts.

New Hampshire’s tuition and fees alone are now $15,160, so the regional rate at USM – about $14,350 – is less expensive. Massachusetts has annual tuition and fees of $11,590, before adding in room and board costs.

Out-of-state students make up 17 percent of the incoming class at USM, and are now about 8 percent of the overall student body.

The uptick in out-of-state students means tuition revenue is up at USM by almost 1 percent, Cummings said.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to measure. That’s our best barometer,” he said.

To capture more of the out-of-state market, USM plans to launch a modified version of the flagship match program next year. The “Mountains to the Sea” program for Vermont and New Hampshire students will match the in-state rate of local public universities comparable to USM: Castleton University in Vermont and Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Other fall enrollment data:

UMaine-Fort Kent increased enrollment by almost 5 percent, from 1,355 students last year to 1,420 students this year. Fort Kent is one of the smaller campuses, in far northern Maine, but it boosted out-of-state enrollment by 26 percent, to 191 students. Officials credit the increase to the strength of their nursing program and the targeted recruitment of students from community colleges and technical high schools.

UMaine Farmington reported a decline of about 1 percent compared to the same time last year. UMaine Augusta and UMaine Machias both decreased about 7 percent, and UMaine Presque Isle dropped 12 percent. System spokesman Dan Demeritt said Augusta and Presque Isle are likely to see more late enrollment activity because they have a large number of older, nontraditional students who tend to enroll later.

Correction: This story was revised at 10:11 a.m., Sept. 12, 2016, to reflect that out-of-state students in the flagship match program pay more than UMaine’s in-state tuition but less than they would have paid without the program. An earlier version of this story had incorrect information.

]]> 4, 12 Sep 2016 12:16:06 +0000
Maine’s private colleges show increase in enrollment after expanding courses Mon, 12 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Several private colleges in Maine are reporting increasing enrollment this fall, mostly as a result of expansions into new academic areas.

The University of New England has seen its enrollment explode, tripling from 4,000 students in 2006 to 12,000 today, as it expanded into Portland and the medical fields.

Husson University, traditionally a business school, has expanded into communications with the merger with the New England School of Communications and launched multiple degree programs in medicine. Husson has seen its enrollment almost double in the last decade, from about 2,000 students to 3,699 this fall. About half the Husson students today are in the health sciences.

Thomas College in Waterville increased enrollment by 15 percent in the last three years to about 850 students this fall, after adding eight new fields of study and targeting low-income and first-generation students.

The more prestigious private colleges – Bowdoin, Bates and Colby – have had steady enrollment over the years but are less sensitive to financial pressures because of large endowments and the ability to attract students despite charging almost $50,000 in annual tuition.

The state’s community college system, which has not released fall 2016 enrollment data yet, has seen mixed results at its campuses in recent years. The York County and Eastern Maine community college campuses both had their strongest enrollments last year, while the Southern Maine, Kennebec County, Northern Maine and Washington County campuses all saw enrollment peak in 2011, and decline since.

Education and enrollment specialists note that it is not surprising to see college enrollments dip – particularly at the two-year colleges – when the economy is stronger and more jobs are available.

]]> 1 Mon, 12 Sep 2016 12:12:49 +0000
Unity College’s new leader sees a sustainable world without end Sun, 11 Sep 2016 22:34:28 +0000 UNITY — This isn’t a bad time to be president of Unity College.

The school received its largest incoming class this fall with more than 731 students enrolling, up 9.9 percent from last year.

But Melik Peter Khoury wants to push the school even further so a greater number of students can get an education rooted in sustainability and environmental science.

“We’ve had a number of presidents who’ve incrementally sharpened our mission a little bit,” Khoury said. “What is it that I’m going to be bringing to the table to continue that momentum?”

Khoury, 43, has been the interim president of the college since January, and the school’s board of trustees voted unanimously to appoint him the 11th president on Aug. 12.

One way Khoury is pushing Unity College forward is by piloting a distance learning program this fall that allows students to complete classes entirely online for one of the master’s programs.

The college is looking at nontraditional ways of educating the environmental leaders of the future.

“How students want to learn is changing,” he said. “The idea that students will come to school for four years is losing its relevancy.”

He wants to make college education more student-centric and flexible, as well as financially viable, he said.

Meanwhile, Unity College has managed to increase its tuition at a slower rate than other private four-year colleges, keeping tuition 15 percent below the national average. For the 2016-17 academic year, tuition is $26,370.

To Khoury, the answer to how the college has managed to keep costs for students down in an era of hyper-inflation for education is simple. “Every facility that you see here is based on a need and not because it’s just there,” he said. “We waste very little.”

The college’s expenses align with its mission as well. Unity Three is the third new dormitory on campus to be built over the past three years, and all are free from fossil fuels. The newest dorm also features gender -neutral, single-stall showers that help make the residence hall feel more like home for first-year students.

The school also built a new Collaborative Learning Center with classrooms and a student success center. With construction done, they are now working on renovations, Khoury said, 80 percent of which are complete. Since 2012, more than $20 million has been spent on campus improvements. The money came from a bond, donors, money set aside annually for operations and capital improvements and board-released cash reserves, according to spokesman Bob Mentzinger.


Khoury came into higher education with degrees in business. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, his master’s at the University of Maine in Orono and a doctorate in business administration at the University of Phoenix.

He chose to enter higher education because of the impact he could make.

Khoury was born in Sierra Leone and grew up in Gambia and England before immigrating to Maine.

Growing up, Khoury said he would watch “M*A*S*H” with his father. He loved the fictional home of Hawkeye – Crabapple Cove, Maine – so it made sense to move to the state where this place was, even if it wasn’t real, he said.

While he considers Maine his home, his childhood helped shape some of his perspective. “Growing up in West Africa, education is a privilege,” he said. “It was viewed by many as a way to transform your life.”

Education to him, he said, means enlightenment and bettering oneself. If the school is successful, he said, it can affect “society as we know it.”

“I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself,” he said. “Education, in my mind, is a solution to everything.”

Khoury said his story of attaining higher education is similar to that of other students in the United States and around the world.

Khoury has worked in higher education for more than 16 years, most recently serving as senior vice president for strategic positioning at Upper Iowa University and vice president for enrollment management at Culver Stockton College before deciding he wanted to come back to Maine and then finding Unity College, where he’s worked since 2013.

“He was a change-maker at Upper Iowa,” said Andrew Wenthe, who is now vice president of external affairs.

Wenthe worked with Khoury in external affairs on a number of projects, he said, including a major reorganization of enrollment services. Khoury worked to move and integrate multiple departments, like financial aid and admissions, into one enrollment center. The system is still used today, Wenthe said.

“He was not afraid to create a necessary change,” he said.

At Unity College, Khoury instituted a leadership team made up of “chiefs” to help him run the college. One of his key strengths is his ability to foster this team dynamic, said board of trustees Chairman John Newlin.

Newlin has worked closely with Khoury at the college and said it was “not at all a difficult decision to have Melik step in as interim president” after Stephen Mulkey retired at the end of 2015. Khoury made quick progress, Newlin said, so it was also an easy decision to move forward with him as the permanent president.

In the future Newlin sees Khoury leading the college further into the national ring.


Khoury said merging a liberal arts education with an environmental mindset has become his life’s mission.

The liberal arts are what make up the tenets of a good citizen, but with the realization of the effects of climate change, Khoury said there needs to be an “overhaul” of what students learn. Sustainability and environmental stewardship need to be infused into the liberal arts education for citizens of the 21st century, he said.

An advantage the college has in the tumultuous higher education market is its clearly defined mission of environmental stewardship, he said.

“Higher education, in my mind, is going into a little bit of an identity crisis,” Khoury said. State funding is just starting to recover from the recession, according to multiple studies, the demographics of college students are projected to change dramatically over the next 10 years and studies show that finding “good” jobs is getting more difficult for recent graduates.

Many small private colleges struggle with finding a clear identity or a niche to dig into, but Unity College already had that when he arrived.

The college began as an initiative to stave off economic decline in Unity, started by a group of local business people.

“Unity College developed as an economic driver and a place for entrepreneurship and good thinking,” Khoury said. Over time, it’s adapted to deal with students’ needs and pressing issues in the world, all while looking at how it can use Maine to educate students.

Now, the college is working with research and marketing firms on a study of trends in environmental science, branding and higher education to determine the future of how students will want to learn and what kind of preparation employers will want them to have.

Gunnar Norvack, president of the Student Government Association, said he sees the college moving in a positive direction with Khoury at the helm.

“His leadership style is not authoritarian,” Norvack said. He said he knows students who email Khoury directly and get responses.

Khoury will also join in fun projects that students do, like trying to calculate the spread of viruses using Nerf guns. Norvack and Khoury even outfitted a golf cart together to hand out ice cream and water bottles to students who were moving in.

“I have a very good relationship with Melik, as do many students, so it’s not unique,” Norvack said.


Khoury also wants to focus on Maine and finding a way to truly make Maine the college’s classroom. Students already have opportunities to interact with the community through the school and get chances at experiential learning, and 18 percent of the student body had internships this past summer, according to Mentzinger. The same idea applies to classes, as well.

“In many if not most courses … there’s a real live research or active component,” Khoury said.

For example, just last summer students did research with professors on Allen Island. There are also students working in nature reserves with jaguars in South Africa. One student won a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct research on Unity Pond.

This is all to ensure that the first time students are exposed to what they want to do in their careers isn’t their first day on the job, but rather well beforehand.

Khoury would like to expand that kind of learning, while maintaining a well-rounded liberal arts curriculum.

“I have an obligation … to make this college better every day,” Khoury said.

His hope is for Unity College to become a driving research-based university that allows students to learn about the environment without political rhetoric getting in the way. He explained that while he doesn’t think Unity College ever had a bias, he sees the world becoming more partisan. Khoury said he wants the college to be about the science and research, not making arguments that suit people’s purposes.

“All perspectives are welcome as long as it’s grounded in fact, regardless of rhetoric,” Khoury said. “You don’t have to be against someone to be for something.”

He envisions students on either side of the political spectrum learning the facts and analyzing the data of the same topics to learn the answers to how and why something happened.

“Taking a position means nothing,” he said. “I want us to be arbiters of fact.”


]]> 6, 11 Sep 2016 19:04:06 +0000
New generation of teens doesn’t remember 9/11 Sun, 11 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Sally Reagan, a teacher at Portland High School, spends the first few sessions of her U.S. history class every year discussing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But there was a wrinkle when she started the lessons last week.

“This year was interesting because they literally know nothing” about the attacks, she said. The juniors who take her class were infants when the attacks took place and have no memories of that day or the grief and sadness that enveloped the country for weeks after.

That emergence of a post-9/11 generation is forcing teachers all over the country to re-evaluate how and what they teach about the attacks on the country. For instance, Reagan said her students hear more about terrorism than their older brothers and sisters did, with news about attacks in the U.S. or Europe becoming unsettlingly routine. But, she said, her students now associate terrorism with ISIS, not al-Qaida. They don’t remember when a trip on the plane didn’t require a long wait in a security line, removing shoes and entering a full-body scanner.

Sally Reagan hands out papers during her history class at Portland High School. The juniors she teaches were infants when the Sept. 11 attacks took place and have no memories of that day or the flood of grief that washed over the world.

Sally Reagan hands out papers during her history class at Portland High School. The juniors she teaches were infants when the Sept. 11 attacks took place and have no memories of that day or the flood of grief that washed over the world.

“They don’t remember Osama bin Laden, actually,” she said.

Reagan said she tries to mix the straight history with a sense of the emotions that reverberated that day – including the very public displays of grief and people in front of their houses holding candles – as well as how quiet it was for days after because all the planes were grounded.

New York’s 9/11 museum takes a similar approach.

Spokesman Michael Frazier said the museum’s workshops for older children encourage discussions about balancing national security and civil liberties. Reagan said she, too, encourages students to think about the long-term impact of the attacks, but she said that 9/11 has become history and is only a current event in terms of some of its repercussions. Like a previous generation learned about the attacks on Pearl Harbor, she said, it’s difficult to relate how it feels when the world shifts under everyone’s feet.

One of Reagan’s students, Morgan Kierstead, 16, said she knows, on an intellectual level, that the country and the world changed on that day, but said there’s a difference between grasping that idea and feeling it happen.

“We don’t have memories (of the day) and all we hear is what other people think,” she said, “so it’s hard to understand.”


Another student, A.J. Smaha, 17, said he gets the sense that, to him, relating this year’s Orlando nightclub massacre to his younger siblings or children will be like his parents telling him about 9/11. There’s a big difference, he said, between living through an event and a more sterile retelling of it years later.

“When any of us have children, they won’t feel the same way we do about it,” he said.

Another student, Ochan Ogak, 17, said he and his family were in what is now South Sudan on Sept. 11, 2001, so even his parents don’t have memories they can relate of the impact of the day’s events. But he said the attacks still affected them, with his father hearing nasty comments about being a Muslim, even though his family is Christian.

Ochan Ogak, left and Tasha Tracy, both juniors in Sally Reagan's Modern US and World History class at Portland High School, pay attention as the class discusses terrorism on Thursday, Sept. 8. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Ochan Ogak, left and Tasha Tracy, both juniors in Sally Reagan’s Modern US and World History class at Portland High School, pay attention as the class discusses terrorism on Thursday, Sept. 8. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Reagan said she teaches her students what terrorism is – Thursday’s class included 10 different fictional scenarios and discussions of whether the events described were terrorism or “just” violence that didn’t have a political aim behind them.

“I want them to start with things that are pertinent now. So I want them to start with terrorism, which, unfortunately is pertinent to them now,” she said.

She showed the class an infographic with circles that depicted the death tolls from various acts of terrorism, from relatively small circles for “the troubles” in Northern Ireland during the 1970s to a larger circle depicting the 168 killed in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The circle for the nearly 3,000 who died in the 9/11 attacks is so big that the bottom half was cut off in the display she put up on a classroom screen.

The students are told that two of the hijackers spent the night of Sept. 10, 2001, at the Comfort Inn in South Portland, a short distance from the Maine Mall, and they flew out of the Portland airport on Sept. 11.

“That really pulls them in,” Reagan said.


She also tries to explain the ripple effects of the attacks, telling her students about a friend who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial services firm, in Boston who learned that day that nearly two-thirds of the company’s workforce had died in the company’s headquarters in one of the World Trade Center towers, and about the memorial at Ground Zero in Manhattan “and whether it’s appropriate to have a PokeStop there.” (PokeStops are physical places in the Pokemon Go game where players can collect items.)

Eden Osucha, a Bates College professor, said she’s intrigued to see the perspective on 9/11 her students have now that those with memories of the attacks are graduating and being replaced by those unable to recall the events and emotions of that dark day.

Osucha teaches a course called “Narrating 9/11 in Literature and Film” and helped put together Sunday’s program “Site Seeing: 9/11 Through Documentary Shorts,” which is a Maine Humanities Council presentation at the Space Gallery in downtown Portland.

Her new students, Osucha said, “don’t have personal baggage” associated with the attacks, but they do have “cultural baggage” because of how events have been related to them by those who lived through that day.

But, she said, many don’t have a full understanding of the cultural landscape of America prior to the attacks because, understandably, the events of that day overshadowed the years that immediately preceded them.

“Students don’t have a lot of information about what came before,” Osucha said.

For instance, she said many students are surprised to learn that the towers, with their blockish design and cold steel exterior, were not exactly beloved by New Yorkers before they were attacked, and that scenes of the towers have been edited out of movies and the opening credits to television shows such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” to avoid evoking sad memories.

Still, she said, younger students need to understand how the public’s view of the towers has shifted.

“People hated them, but now the towers have become ennobled,” she said.


Anne Schlitt, assistant director of the Maine Humanities Council, said it’s important for people to recognize that 9/11 isn’t really a static event, that the perception of it and its relevance to today has shifted and will continue to change.

“Its importance is still unfolding in real time; it’s not fixed,” she said.

In recognition of that, the MHC will hold a forum in November called “9/11 and the Creation of Collective Memory,” which will look at “how society remembers – or forgets – together.”

In addition to Osucha, panelists will be Alice Greenwald, director of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, and William Hirst, a psychology professor at the New School for Society Research, also in New York. Hirst’s work includes research on the collective memory relating to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Schlitt said the event will help people frame their own memories of 9/11 and, perhaps, make it easier to relate the event to their children.

“As culture puts out stories about it, your perception of an event can change,” she said.

]]> 17, 11 Sep 2016 15:29:02 +0000
ITT Technical Institute closes 130 U.S. campuses Fri, 09 Sep 2016 00:27:49 +0000 The for-profit college chain ITT Technical Institute is shutting down all 130 of its U.S. campuses, saying Tuesday it can’t survive recent sanctions by the U.S. Department of Education.

In a letter to more than 35,000 students, the Indiana-based parent company ITT Educational Services announced that campuses won’t open for the fall term that was scheduled to begin Sept. 12 – leaving students scrambling for last-minute options since many U.S. colleges already have started fall classes. ITT also cut more than 8,000 jobs immediately.

The chain was banned Aug. 25 from enrolling new students who used federal financial aid, because, Education Department officials said, the company had become a risk to students and taxpayers. The department also ordered ITT to pay $152 million within 30 days to help cover student refunds and other liabilities if the chain closed.

Days before those sanctions were announced, ITT’s accreditor reported the chain had failed to meet several basic standards and was unlikely to comply in the future. It had also been investigated by state and federal authorities who accused ITT of pushing students into risky loans and misleading students about the quality of programs.


ITT Educational Services CEO Kevin Modany told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that ITT was the victim of a “regulatory assault” and never had the chance to defend itself.

“For what appears to be political reasons, there seemed to be an outcome in mind that was going to be forced here,” Modany said.

Other education companies had made overtures to buy the chain’s schools over the past year, Modany said, and ITT had offered to “wind down” its operations gradually if federal officials eased some of the sanctions against it, but he said federal officials rejected those options.

Department Undersecretary Ted Mitchell, however, said ITT never made a formal proposal, and that the department’s “informal conversations” with potential buyers had failed.

“We just didn’t see that there was a path forward providing a quality education to the students of ITT Tech,” Mitchell said.

One of the biggest for-profit chains in the nation, ITT had been closely monitored by federal officials since 2014, when the chain was late to submit an annual report of its finances to the government.

About 200 ITT employees will help students obtain grade transcripts and apply to other schools, and the chain said it is seeking agreements with other schools that would help students transfer class credits. Education Department leaders are also urging community colleges to contact ITT students and welcome qualified students.

Students who were enrolled at ITT within the last 120 days can apply to have their federal student loans erased by the Education Department. That’s an estimated $500 million worth of loans, a cost that would be covered by taxpayers and $90 million in insurance that ITT previously paid the department.

Under President Obama, the Education Department has led a crackdown on for-profit colleges that have misled students or failed to deliver the results they promise. The now-defunct Corinthian College chain agreed to sell or close more than 90 U.S. colleges in 2014.

]]> 5, 08 Sep 2016 21:54:11 +0000
Ex-teacher’s appeal goes before Maine’s high court Sept. 14 Mon, 05 Sep 2016 00:55:06 +0000 The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments Sept. 14 in the appeal of a former Nokomis Regional High School music teacher who was convicted last year of aggravated assault and domestic violence assault. Proceedings are set for 9 a.m. at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta.

Andrew Maderios was found guilty in Somerset County Superior Court last September on four of nine domestic violence charges, including two felony aggravated assault charges.

Maderios, 30, formerly of Pittsfield, was sentenced to 15 years with all but three years suspended and six years of probation, with the first two years to include electronic monitoring.

In his appeal on behalf of Maderios, Auburn attorney Leonard Sharon says the trial judge erred in excluding evidence of the prior conduct of the victim to show her motive, intent or plan in accusing Maderios of beating, kicking and choking her.

Sharon also says the court was wrong to admit as evidence audio recordings and photographs presented by the state and erred in not granting a mistrial on the basis of “improper comments” made by the prosecutor, District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.

Sharon and his co-counsels contend that Maloney expressed her personal opinion about or “vouched for” the witness in an attempt to sway the jury.

Sharon said in court briefs that Maderios’ conviction should be vacated and remanded back to Superior Court for a new trial.


Maloney had asked for a 15-year sentence with all but six years suspended on Maderios’ conviction of two counts of felony aggravated assault and two counts of domestic violence assault.

He was tried on nine charges, and the convictions were on charges related to attacks recorded by the victim, who was his live-in girlfriend at the time, on her cellphone.

A letter to the presiding judge from Stephen LaMarre, the victim’s former husband, said the victim in the Maderios trial sent him threatening text messages once it was learned he might be called to testify in Maderios’ defense. LaMarre alleged that the woman had been physically violent with him in the past and injured herself “in an effort to set him up,” just as she had done to Maderios.

In her answer to the appeal, Maloney said that raising issues of the victim’s prior conduct with intimate partners would amount to a “trial within a trial” and that the court was correct to deny the motion for a new trial.

Maloney said any evidence of what the victim may have done with or against other men is “not logically related” to the charges against Maderios.

Maloney said the court was not in error when it allowed the jury to listen to audio recordings and see photographs that had been saved to a computer. The original cellphone recordings were no longer available and Sharon suggested the evidence was “secondary” in that the original recordings could have been doctored.

Maloney also said that her statements in closing arguments were not deliberate and did not affect the outcome of the trial.

She said the trial judge refusing to admit evidence of prior conduct and assertions that the audio records were edited copies of original audio already were addressed and dismissed by Justice Robert Mullen.

Prosecutors said Maderios beat, kicked and choked the victim in incidents occurring from December 2013 to July 2014.

The victim documented the attacks at the Pittsfield home the couple shared with audio recordings and still photographs, all on her iPhone, which became key evidence in the five-day trial.

“The fear of dying was overwhelming,” the victim told Mullen at sentencing.

The victim said she was sorry she “brought a monster” into her children’s lives.


]]> 0, 04 Sep 2016 21:11:05 +0000
Short of supplies, teachers relying on crowdfunding Sun, 04 Sep 2016 22:33:50 +0000 PHILADELPHIA — Paper? Pencils? Laptops? Robots? Teachers are increasingly relying on crowdfunding efforts to stock their classrooms with both the mundane and sometimes big-ticket items.

Contributions to education campaigns have climbed on GoFundMe and Donors- Choose, collectively, from just more than $31.2 million in 2010 to nearly $140 million in 2015, the do-it-yourself fundraising sites report. Both sites are on pace to eclipse that in 2016.

GoFundMe has collected $58 million in just the last 12 months, and Donors- Choose saw more than 50,000 campaigns live on the site for the first time this back-to-school season.

In her first year as an elementary school teacher in Kingman, Arizona, Shannon Raftery raised $340 through crowdfunding to supplement the money she took out of each paycheck to pay for classroom supplies. Now in Philadelphia, she’s looking to raise $500 for her new kindergarten classroom at Roosevelt Elementary School.

She has a supportive principal, she said, but there is just not enough money in the notoriously cash-strapped Philadelphia district to equip her classroom the way she’d like.

In her case, reality is a $200 budget allocated to cover 25 students in a school where at least 40 percent of students live in poverty. She has spent that even before the start of classes after Labor Day.

“I’d rather spend my own money than have my kids go without something,” she said. “Every dollar helps.”

But even as Raftery plans to continue pulling $100 to $150 from each paycheck to meet her classroom needs, she said, she knows it won’t be enough. She has bought cleaning supplies, bulletin board paper, and paint to cover her stark white walls. She hopes to add to seating with beach chairs and bean bags.

“I don’t want a cold environment to ruin a kid’s first impression of school,” Raftery said.

Donors can scroll through all education campaigns listed on the sites, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of supplies and equipment infused into both high-poverty schools and more affluent districts.

“There still is that group of teachers that has amazing ideas even in the most well-funded districts, like the sixth-grade teacher wanting and currently campaigning for an underwater robot to restore fisheries,” said Chris Pearsall, DonorsChoose spokesman.

Teachers create campaigns by writing a story about their needs, often accompanied by classroom pictures.

Teachers have turned to crowdfunding even in states with high per-pupil spending. But while the numbers are enough to cause pause, they aren’t necessarily surprising, said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Post-recession local, state and federal revenue has been unable to keep up with states’ needs after deep cuts. Now, other economic factors, like low property taxes and inflation, are preventing them from a full recovery, even as most states have seen gradual improvement in education funding, Leachman said.

]]> 0, 04 Sep 2016 19:06:50 +0000
Later school start times yield teachable moments Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Angel Brecht and Vanessa Benwell, both juniors at Biddeford High School, were getting their morning jolt at Dunkin’ Donuts last week, but they said they don’t need it as much this year.

That’s because Biddeford High School – and other school districts like Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Yarmouth and SAD 51, which serves students in Cumberland and North Yarmouth – all moved their start times later this year. It’s part of a national movement to have older students start school later, based largely on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics that middle and high school students start school at 8:30 a.m. or later.

Numerous studies have found that teenagers simply need more sleep, and later school start times improve student health and ability to learn.

Brecht didn’t need a scientific study to tell her what she already knew from personal experience.

“It was so draining last year,” when school started at 7:35 a.m. and she tried to focus in geography, her first class of the day. Now that she doesn’t even need to be awake at that hour – because school starts a full hour later at 8:30 a.m. – “I like it.”

According to the latest available CDC report on the topic, Maine’s average high school start time is 7:53 a.m., 10 minutes earlier than the national average of 8:03 a.m., and many Maine high schools start at 7:30 a.m. or earlier. Nationally, at least 200 schools have instituted later morning start times over the past few years.

“It really is a milestone,” said Tracey Collins, a Saco parent who lobbied for the change after watching her then-sixth grade daughter struggle in the morning to get up in time to catch a 6:45 a.m. bus. “It was like having an infant again, helping her put her shoes on,” she said and laughed.

Now her 11-year-old son is showing signs of the body clock switch that flips around age 12.

“I noticed it this summer. He’s sleeping in later and later,” said Collins, who heads up the Saco chapter of Start School Later, a national advocacy group that helps local parents advocate for the change and provides materials to share with local school officials.

Knowing there’s a scientific explanation to why her children are so groggy in the mornings actually helps her as a parent, she said. “It’s biological.”


Numerous research studies have proved that early starting times for teenagers are harmful to their health, because the developing brain is wired differently than an adult’s. For a teenager’s brain, 7 a.m. is equivalent to 4 a.m. for an adult, according to the CDC. Also, teens need more sleep than adults, at least 8½ hours compared to seven hours for an adult. In addition, teens’ biological clocks mean they feel sleepy later in the evening than elementary school students, which is why many teens have a difficult time falling asleep before 11 p.m.

That means teenagers, unlike adults, cannot simply go to bed earlier and still be alert at the beginning of the school day, according to the CDC.

Starting school early has led to higher rates of adverse health problems, including obesity and depression, and has also been shown to lead to more frequent car accidents when drowsy teens drive to school, according to the CDC. In addition, sports performances are compromised when students get too little sleep, as reaction times decline and the body does not heal as well from sports injuries.

Studies correlate improved student performance to well-rested teens, especially during morning classes, and reduced use of drugs and alcohol, according to scientific research.

But not everyone is thrilled with the change.

Later start times pose a logistical problem for some families, and Biddeford High sophomore Harmony Coolbroth said it interferes with sports practice after school. “I don’t like it. It’s too much,” she said, before acknowledging, “I like to sleep in.”

Saco Superintendent Dominic DePatsy said he spent a lot of time last year going to meetings and explaining the benefits of later start times.

Like other school superintendents, he made adjustments to accommodate parents who, for example, had to drop off children earlier because of their jobs.

Saco’s bus schedule was adjusted, and the middle school opens at 7:30 for early drop-off students. Changes to the middle school class schedule created more professional development time for teachers without losing instructional time for students, he said.

“We’re ready to rock and roll,” DePatsy said.

Last year, to test the idea, he had school officials pair up with students of varying academic abilities for the first part of the day, observing them through the first few periods of the day. They saw a big difference in the students’ ability to concentrate between the first and second periods of the day, and whether they were low- or high-performing students made no difference.

“It affects them all the same,” DePatsy said. “You see them walking like a zombie during that first class, then follow them to second, you see it.”

He said he sees the shift in his own teenagers. “It’s crystal clear.”


The school boards of Biddeford, Saco and Dayton made a joint decision to start the school day later. Old Orchard Beach, which had already shifted its start times for the middle and high schools from 7:30 to 8 a.m. last year, moved it again, to 8:30 a.m., this fall for middle and high school students.

Old Orchard Beach Superintendent John Suttie said it went so well last year, it was easy to adjust the start time again this year.

“Last year we saw a huge difference, just walking through the halls,” said Suttie, who also serves as principal of the high school. “They are so much more alert and ready to learn.”

Suttie said he was surprised that when he spoke to students’ families, they weren’t focused on the science.

“It was about whether it was an inconvenience. If it was, they were against it,” he said. “That’s where we, as educators, have really got to make a decision.” But once they reviewed the studies, it wasn’t a hard decision.

“It was easy for us to make a difficult decision,” he said. “I thought it was a very courageous act.”

A student survey in Old Orchard Beach after the move to 8 a.m. found that 70 percent of the district’s high school students believed the later start times had a positive effect on their school day. An informal survey of parents during parent-teacher conferences also found support, officials said.

Some districts are still considering later start times.

In South Portland, where the high school starts at 7:30 a.m. and the middle schools start at 7:55 a.m, the school board voted in July to have a committee study the matter. But they based that vote on a school survey that found most parents and staff agree with the idea of a later start time.

Westbrook and Cape Elizabeth have also adopted later start times in recent years.

Changing school hours, for whatever reason, is disruptive, officials acknowledge. Classroom teaching time, the hours teachers work under their contracts, bus schedules and students’ after-school sports, jobs and child-care issues are all factors. In Portland, a decision to add 20 minutes of teaching time to the school day set off bus schedule changes that angered many parents and forced the district to change school start times again the following year.

The impact on sports, and the ability of students to travel to regional academic programs, are frequently raised as concerns when neighboring schools don’t have the same schedule. Sports practice and game schedules are a bigger issue in rural areas where teams have longer travel times.

That’s one reason a regional approach helps. In SAD 51, Superintendent Jeff Porter said he consulted with neighboring superintendents before making a “conservative” shift in school start times, with sixth-grade and older students moving from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., and younger students moving from 8:30 to 8:45 a.m.

“I am absolutely happy we did it,” Porter said. “It’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

The move coincided with Greely High School changing to a classroom schedule that shortens the school day slightly, but does not reduce instructional time. Students now have four 84-minute block classes per day, replacing seven 50-minute-long classes previously.

Porter said a survey last year found that about 80 percent of 1,300 respondents in SAD 51 supported the move.

“It was a huge percentage of people,” he said. “That helped our committee feel like it was doing the right thing.”


In Biddeford, officials said they saw the difference immediately.

On Thursday, the second day of school, dozens of students were milling around the front of Biddeford High School at 8:20, chatting with friends, trying out skateboard moves and just hanging out.

It was a bit surprising for Superintendent Jeremy Ray. “This never happens,” he said, looking around at the buzzing crowd waiting for the bell to ring and the school doors to open. Next to him Principal Jeremie Sirois smiled and nodded his agreement.

“You see kids come to life right around 8:15, 8:20,” Ray explained. Last year, when school started earlier, they were more likely to see students rolling in just as the bell rang, with “a line of students out the door” marked as tardy because they’d arrived late. He’s hoping the time change will lower the tardy rate.

Sirois said the school had to make some changes to make the later start time work: He shifted the teachers’ contract slightly, since teachers are coming in later and leaving later, and he doesn’t allow any meetings before 8 a.m., so teachers aren’t obliged to be at the school “early.”

The after-school impact, even on sports, is minimal because Biddeford has two indoor gyms and the fields have lights.

Biddeford High junior Julia Pearl said she likes the change, which gives her more time to get ready for school and have breakfast at home.

“I feel like I’m not as rushed,” said Pearl, 16. “I think we’ll all be more awake in class.”

That was a problem for sophomore Alyssa Landry last year, when her first class of the day was freshman math.

“I was just so tired. I was so out of it,” said Landry.

Her mother, Michele, said she didn’t support the change at first. But after attending the meetings, that changed.

“I realized it was just a science thing,” she said.


]]> 15, 04 Sep 2016 14:56:37 +0000
Excess lead in Yarmouth schools’ water sparks call for testing at all schools Fri, 02 Sep 2016 03:46:33 +0000 Elevated levels of lead found in water at two Yarmouth schools show the need for broader testing of drinking water in schools statewide, an environmental health advocate said Thursday.

Yarmouth school officials this week announced that voluntary tests in the district’s two oldest school buildings showed lead levels that exceed Environmental Protection Agency standards. Those tests – at Yarmouth Elementary and Harrison Middle schools – were the first done in the district in 25 years.

It’s unknown how long the town’s school children have been exposed to the elevated lead levels. A total of about 800 children attend the two schools.

The state’s public health information officer said that although no lead exposure is safe and corrective action is needed, the levels found in Yarmouth are not cause for alarm.

But a Portland-based health advocate said the findings are alarming, and suggested that children in many other schools may be exposed to the toxin without anyone knowing that it’s happening.

“This demonstrates that children across Maine and across the country are exposed to contaminants that affect their brain development,” said Emma Halas-O’Connor, the campaign manager for Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Maine-based organization that advocates nationally for the elimination of toxic chemicals.

“It really speaks to the need for statewide, school-by-school testing, not just for the water source, but for the water coming out of the taps,” Halas-O’Connor said. “We know lots of schools have lead in their pipes.”

The state requires 240 Maine schools that get their water directly from wells to test for lead and copper at least once every three years. But 521 schools on public water supplies – including Yarmouth – have no regulatory requirement to do the same testing.

Schools on well water have been considered at higher risk because well water can be more corrosive and draw lead out of aging pipes and fixtures. The Yarmouth tests show that schools on public water supplies also might be at risk, especially since the Yarmouth Water District draws its water from wells.

Yarmouth officials didn’t test water at the Rowe School, which serves kindergarten and first-grade students, or at Yarmouth High School because they are newer buildings, but they plan to test and monitor water in those buildings going forward.

Four other Maine schools – Dedham Elementary, Somerville Elementary, Standish Baptist Church School and Carmel Elementary School – are known to have elevated lead levels and are working to address the issue, state officials said.


The lack of across-the-board testing in Maine schools is not unusual. The New York Legislature this year passed a bill requiring all school districts to test water for lead contamination, becoming the first state in the country to approve such sweeping testing requirements.

Though health officials have long warned of dangers of lead poisoning, the issue was thrust into the public spotlight by the recent lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan. Residents there are grappling with a public health crisis created by the decision to switch to a cheaper but more corrosive water source that caused lead to seep from the city’s pipes into the water supply.

The EPA requires action to remove lead from drinking water when it reaches 15 parts per billion, but the agency also says there is no safe level of lead exposure. Children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can cause learning and developmental disabilities, behavioral problems and a host of physical ailments.

The Yarmouth Water District, which serves about 3,000 ratepayers in Yarmouth and North Yarmouth, draws water from four wells in North Yarmouth. The water is tested regularly for contaminants and meets federal drinking water standards without regular chlorination. However, according to the district’s Consumer Confidence Report for 2015, the lead level in Yarmouth’s water is 13.1 ppb – lower than the 15 ppb federal action trigger, but high enough that customers are urged to take steps to minimize potential lead exposure.

“When your water has been sitting for several hours, (flush) your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking,” advises the report, which is posted on the district’s website. “If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested.”

Yarmouth Superintendent Andrew Dolloff notified parents via email Wednesday that tests at two school showed lead levels above 15 ppb. The testing did not find elevated levels of copper, another toxin of concern to schools.

Dolloff, who came to the district in 2014, ordered the water tests after discovering that the district had not examined its drinking water in more than two decades, and after hearing about the lead crisis in Flint and elevated levels in Maine schools.

“Notices such as this can understandably cause alarm, but we are communicating and taking action with an abundance of caution,” Dolloff said in the email to parents.


On Thursday, Dolloff said water tests from three drinking fountains and nine faucets at Yarmouth Elementary School showed lead levels above the 15 ppb EPA threshold. The school has about 300 students.

The fountains had levels of 15.4 ppb, 22 ppb and 24.2 ppb. The faucets in the district’s oldest school building had lead levels ranging from 17.7 ppb to 64.6 ppb.

At Harrison Middle School, which has about 500 students, none of the drinking stations – water fountains and bottle filling stations – had lead levels that required action. However, fountains used for hand washing and science experiments had levels ranging from 16.7 ppb to 46.3 ppb, Dolloff said.

None of the water samples taken from sinks used for food preparation at either school contained lead at or above the federal standard, Dolloff said. No unsafe levels of copper were detected at either school.

While the district is acting immediately to provide safe water to its students, the levels found in Yarmouth are far from the highest seen in Maine schools. Tests in some rural schools have found hundreds of parts per billion in the water supplies, including one pre-2015 sample in Waterboro-based MSAD 57 that registered 635 ppb.

John Martins, public health information officer for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said state officials analyzed the Yarmouth lead levels and determined they would not likely have caused children to accumulate enough lead in their bloodstreams to have reached an elevated blood level under federal guidelines.

“While it is certainly best to avoid unnecessary exposure to lead because no level of lead exposure is safe, parents should not be overly alarmed by these numbers,” Martins said.

Halas-O’Connor disagreed.

“It’s cause for alarm even if we find 15 parts per billion,” she said. “A level of 64.6 is very concerning.”

Dolloff believes the higher lead levels at the elementary and middle schools came from older faucets that have not been replaced since they were installed. He said it is likely that the solder in the pipes has become corroded, leading to the elevated levels.

While schools such as Yarmouth’s with public water supplies are not required to test for lead, Martins said a growing number of those school districts are conducting voluntary tests, though he could not provide an exact number for those doing so.

Schools that find elevated lead levels must notify parents and staff members about the findings and provide “public education” about lead. Further tests are then done on the water to help determine a corrosion control plan because most lead in drinking water comes from the heavy metal seeping out of old pipes, faucet fixtures or lead-based solder.

Schools must correct the problem, whether by simply shutting off problematic water fountains or replacing plumbing. Schools must then test the water every six months until two consecutive tests come back with lead below 15 ppb.


Dolloff already has begun taking those steps in Yarmouth.

By the end of Friday, 5-gallon bottled water dispensers will be installed in each classroom at the elementary school. Students and staff will be told not to drink from fountains until they have been replaced and follow-up testing shows the water is safe to consume, Dolloff said.

The district also is replacing faucets at hand-washing stations in both schools that tested higher than the EPA standard.

Once school is back in session and the water flow is more consistent, water from those faucets and fountains will be retested, he said.

The district will then analyze the results from those tests to determine if more faucets need to be replaced. Dolloff said parents will be updated on the results and action plan as information is available.

Dolloff also has directed staff to facilitate sampling at Rowe School and Yarmouth High School.

“Although those buildings are newer and are not considered likely candidates for elevated levels of trace elements, we believe it is worth the effort to ensure that our water is as safe as possible,” he said. “This is an issue that we are addressing as rapidly as possible.”

Tim Shannon, a founder of Yes for Yarmouth, praised school officials for their proactive approach.

“The school system is extremely well run by very professional people,” Shannon said. “Our facilities have some very old infrastructure like many other districts and I’m glad we are addressing it.”

Given the results in Yarmouth, Shannon said, other school districts on municipal water supplies should be required to test their water, too.

Halas-O’Connor, of Environmental Health Strategy Center, also praised Yarmouth for testing its water and taking action to immediately stop lead exposure. “If more schools were testing and more communities knew what was in the water,” she said, “we’d see more of this type of proactive action.”

Dolloff will provide the Yarmouth School Committee with updated information at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. next Thursday at the Log Cabin on Main Street.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard contributed to this report.


]]> 11, 02 Sep 2016 08:12:00 +0000
Five Monmouth Academy students are honored for their documentary in national competition Thu, 01 Sep 2016 23:20:57 +0000 MONMOUTH — Cody Roy said he first heard about the Acadian deportation of the 1700s in seventh grade, from a substitute French teacher of Acadian descent. Four years later, he and four classmates created a 10-minute documentary on the subject that received an award during a national history contest.

The documentary by Roy, Maddie Amero, Abbey Allen, Devon Poisson and Dylan Goff was chosen as the best presentation from Maine by the National Park Service during the National History Day contest in June at the University of Maryland. Monmouth Academy history teacher Jocelyn Gray presented the quintet with medals during a short ceremony Thursday afternoon in front of parents, grandparents and officials from Regional School Unit 2.

“It’s an incredible achievement and we’re so proud of them,” said Superintendent Bill Zima. “I would love to say I know (a lot about the Acadian deportation), but I’m dying to know more.”

The British forcibly removed the Acadian people from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, known in the 17th century as the French colony of Acadia.

According to the Canadian-American Center at the University of Maine, the expulsion lasted from 1755 until 1778. More than 10,000 Acadians were deported from their homes in Nova Scotia. Descendants of displaced Acadians who settled in Louisiana are known as Cajuns.

For the Monmouth Academy students, the history project proved to be “an awesome achievement” because the students worked on the project on their own time in addition to a full class schedule, Gray said.

“Their work ethic is amazing,” she said. “They realized the Acadians were so passionate about their history and they wanted to represent how important this heritage is to them.”

The students did extensive research in creating the documentary, including reviewing archival documents at the Maine State Museum, speaking with people from the Acadian Museum in Erath, Louisiana, and exploring the Acadian influence in the Washington County city of Calais.

Roy said his seventh grade substitute teacher went out of her way to teach the students about the subject because it was clearly important to her and her family’s history.

“It’s not something they normally teach you in school,” Roy said. “A few of us knew a little bit about it, and we wanted to think of something relative to this area” for their project.

One of the most famous writings of American poet and Portland native Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is “Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie,” about an Acadian girl searching for her long-lost love during the expulsion.

Roy said comments by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump about the deportation of illegal immigrants resembles what happened to the Acadians more than 250 years ago.

“It’s a pretty similar thing but on a more massive scale,” Roy said. “It puts it into perspective, because we read a lot about specific families that were split,” which could happen under Trump’s plan.

The Monmouth Academy group placed second in April’s state competition, allowing it to move on to the national competition in Maryland. A group from Morse High School in Bath was the first-place Maine winner for a project called “Africa: The Explorations of David Livingstone.”

Three of the Monmouth students spent a week in the nation’s capital visiting local sites and participating in the competition while staying in dormitories on the Maryland campus in College Park.

“We got to do a lot of things and see a lot of landmarks,” Roy said. “The competition was definitely the highlight.”

The same students already are thinking about their documentary project for the 2017 competition, and have told Gray they plan to begin working in October instead of January.

The theme for this year is “Taking a Stand in History.” The students have chosen to create a documentary on the Milan Conference in 1880, which banned the use of sign language in schools across the United States and Europe.

“To be honest, none of us know anything about it, which is one of the reasons why we picked it,” Goff said. “There isn’t much of a challenge in doing a project about something you already know.”

Goff said they plan to incorporate sign language into their documentary.

“When you have something that you haven’t learned about at all and that the general public doesn’t know a lot about, it’s all that more interesting to do and the project can be that much more creative,” he said.

National History Day started as a local competition in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio, with 129 student participants. Last year more than 600,000 students and about 30,000 teachers took part and were awarded more than $150,000 in prizes and scholarships.

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

Twitter: jasonpafundiKJ

]]> 0, 01 Sep 2016 22:24:20 +0000
Water tests at 2 Yarmouth schools exceed federal standards for lead Wed, 31 Aug 2016 21:24:11 +0000 Drinking water samples taken at two public schools in Yarmouth had lead levels that exceed Environmental Protection Agency standards, the school superintendent said Wednesday in an email to staff and parents.

Water tests from three drinking fountains and nine faucets at Yarmouth Elementary School – the town’s oldest – showed lead levels of more than 15 parts per billion, the EPA standard, said Superintendent Andrew R. Dolloff.

At Harrison Middle School, test results from four faucets used for handwashing, but not food preparation or drinking, had levels above 15 parts per billion. But none of the drinking fountains or bottle-fill stations at Harrison exceeded the standards, Dolloff said.

The email did not say how high lead levels were and phone messages to Dolloff were not returned Wednesday night.

Dolloff said he plans to meet with the Yarmouth School Committee on Sept. 8 to discuss the results and answer questions from residents.

Staff will place 5-gallon bottled water dispensers in each classroom at Yarmouth Elementary School and in other areas throughout the building. Students and staff will be instructed to drink water only from the dispensers, Dolloff said.

None of the water samples taken from sinks used for food preparation at either school contained lead at or above the federal standard, he said.

“Notices such as this can understandably cause alarm, but we are communicating and taking action with an abundance of caution,” Dolloff said in the email. “By ensuring that students and staff only drink from fountains and bottle fill stations at Harrison Middle School, and bottled water at Yarmouth Elementary School, we will gain the time necessary to conduct further analysis and take appropriate action steps for other sources of water in our buildings.”

Dolloff said water will also be tested at Rowe School, which houses kindergarten and first grade, and Yarmouth High School.

“Although those buildings are newer and are not considered likely candidates for elevated levels of trace elements, we believe it is worth the effort to ensure that our water is as safe as possible,” Dolloff said.

In late July, the Yarmouth School Department hired Dr. Emily Lesher from the Trace Element Lab at Saint Joseph’s College to test water sources in the town’s older schools for elevated levels of lead or copper.

Lead and copper can enter drinking water when clean water interacts with plumbing fixtures.

]]> 12, 02 Sep 2016 11:37:10 +0000
Portland officials examine details of proposed school renovations Wed, 31 Aug 2016 02:27:54 +0000 City and school officials drilled down on details of the proposed renovations at four elementary schools in Portland on Tuesday night as they weigh whether to put a $70 million bond out to voters for the fixes.

Architect Tyler Barter of Oak Point Associates walked the School Facilities Ad Hoc Committee through the latest plans for Presumpscot, Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche elementary schools, which the committee toured in recent weeks.

Barter pointed out that at the schools – all 40 to 60 years old – replacing aging plumbing and electric systems is a significant cost in addition to new construction.

“It’s most important to explain the learning needs,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said, joining Barter at the podium to address the committee. He said if the renovations are approved, the extra space would be used for new learning spaces, pre-K rooms, hands-on learning labs, expanded libraries and media labs, and music and art rooms.

At all the schools, the renovations would create new, separate gymnasiums and cafeterias, a high priority for school officials who can’t use the space when students are eating. In bad weather, that means some students get their exercise in classrooms, Botana said. Each school would also get a pre-K classroom for 18 students.

The additional space at three of the four schools wouldn’t increase the enrollment capacity, but it would ease cramped conditions, Barter said. Currently, all the schools are using odd spaces, from closets to hallways, as office space for social workers or learning space for students.

Several committee members pressed for details on ways to reduce costs. A second floor at Presumpscot, which has declining enrollment, may not be necessary, Botana said.

More than $5 million in costs, described in Oak Point documents as “renovation non-equity” costs, are not new construction costs, but are for deferred maintenance that school officials had requested be covered by city capital improvement funds in the past.

Barter’s full presentation is viewable here. Among the details of the proposed renovations at each school:

• Presumpscot: $16.1 million. Adds 36,000 square feet, more than doubling the existing 29,000 square feet. Eliminates portable classrooms. Adds a two-story “classroom wing” off the back of the school, over the space used for the portable classrooms. Adds a new entryway that includes additional space for administrators, social workers and other student specialists who need privacy. New space allows for separate music and art rooms. Reconfigures drop-off area to encourage parents to use the Sherwood Street entrance, and adds parking along the back of the school. Deferred maintenance costs are $424,113. Eliminating second floor would save about $2.5 million.

• Longfellow: $16.3 million. Adds 17,000 square feet to existing 43,000 square feet. Adds elevator and reconfigures main entrance with ramps to make it accessible. Expands into the current parking lot, and partly into a teaching garden and playground. Opens an “area well” alongside building to allow natural light into basement rooms. Adds boiler to update heating system. Creates new discovery lab, new finishing kitchen area and larger music room and expanded library. Moves some teacher parking to existing Deering parking area. Deferred maintenance costs, including new masonry and replacing windows, are $1.6 million.

• Reiche: $17.9 million. Adds 6,000 square feet to existing 73,000 square feet. Addresses common complaint of acoustics through additional insulation, adds lighting, skylights and windows to increase natural light. Reconstructs main entrance, reconfigures space so all younger students are together on ground floor. Deferred maintenance costs, including new roof and replacing windows, are $2.7 million. High project costs are largely due to about $5 million in utility projects, including upgrades to heating system with piping under concrete slab.

• Lyseth: $20.2 million. Adds 37,000 square feet to existing 51,000 square feet. Adds a two-story wing across one of the open courtyard areas. Reconfigures entryway and moves expanded library across from entryway. Adds new gym with stage. Reconfigures current parent drop-off and bus area to widen roadway, eliminates some existing parking and move parking to near ball field, with a net addition of about 30 parking spaces. Deferred maintenance costs are $683,502. City is currently working on drainage issues and stormwater updates, so those costs are not part of the upgrades.

The next meeting of the committee is scheduled Sept. 12 at 5 p.m.


]]> 3 Wed, 31 Aug 2016 09:44:19 +0000
Metro buses to transport Baxter Academy students Tue, 30 Aug 2016 22:25:45 +0000 The Metro bus service has reached an agreement to provide transportation for students of Baxter Academy for Technology and Science and will add trips to towns north of Portland to accommodate the charter school’s passengers.

Metro’s Board of Directors approved a three-year agreement last week with the school in Portland to issue transit passes to students who live within its service area. Metro General Manager Greg Jordan said about 60 students will be given passes and 28 of those students live in towns served by or near the Metro Breez bus covering Portland, Yarmouth and Freeport.

The Breez service, launched in June, provides an express bus with nine round-trips a day and seven stops in Freeport and Yarmouth.

Because Baxter Academy’s release times do not match the Breez schedule, Metro will add a round trip to serve the students, Jordan said in a memo to the directors. The company does not want to adjust the schedule so soon after starting the Breez service, but the schedule could change in January depending on ridership trends and public input, Jordan said.

Baxter Academy has about 340 high school students from dozens of southern Maine communities.

Metro estimates the Baxter Academy pass will add 5,400 to 7,200 boardings a year.

The year-long passes will give students access to the Metro service for trips to and from school, Baxter Academy officials said. Metro reached a similar agreement last year to give transit passes to Portland high school students.

Using Metro is consistent with Baxter Academy’s mission to involve its students as active members of their community, said Head of School Michele LaForge. The school tries to use public options for student services whenever possible, such as using local restaurants and vendors for its lunch program.

Baxter uses three chartered school buses to transport some students, LaForge said. Other students use public transportation like the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach shuttle bus and the Lakes Region Explorer to get to school, LaForge said.

“The thing that will never change is, we try very hard to allow our kids to be part of our world,” LaForge said.

“Taking advantage of public options whenever possible is something we always want to do.”

]]> 0 Tue, 30 Aug 2016 18:25:45 +0000
Westbrook residents voice support for $27 million school expansion Mon, 29 Aug 2016 23:33:18 +0000 WESTBROOK — Residents spoke Monday night in support of a $27 million expansion at two Westbrook schools, but repeated their calls for a moratorium on housing development they said could strain the district.

The money would pay for a renovation and 12 new classrooms at Saccarappa Elementary School, as well as 12 new classrooms at Westbrook Middle School. The school committee voted unanimously in favor of the plan this month. The Westbrook City Council will need to have two public hearings before voting on the plan. About 20 residents showed up Monday night for the first; the second is scheduled for September.

If passed by the council, the bond will go to voters on the November ballot.

“Our building project is something that is absolutely necessary for the children who are in our schools right now, and the children who are coming to our community,” newly appointed Superintendent Peter Lancia said.

The city’s two other elementary schools – Congin and Canal — have been renovated in the last decade. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said Westbrook schools are at capacity, but the price tag for the construction might give pause to some in November.

“I don’t think there’s any question of the need for expansion,” he said last week. “I don’t know if they’ll be happy about the number.”

The six members of the public who spoke supported the project.

“I realize it is a big chunk of change, and we are all concerned about our taxes,” Cole Street resident Kathleen O’Neill-Lussier said. “However, education in this country and this city and this state still needs to be a priority.”

Ward 3 Councilor Anna Turcotte listed the challenges her two young children have experienced due to cramming at Saccarappa. Her son sometimes eats lunch in his classroom because the cafeteria can’t accommodate all the children, she said, and her daughter takes the bus to a different school for gym.

“They don’t know what’s not normal about that, because that’s what they’ve lived,” Turcotte said. “I think it does impede their education.”

In 2012, the school department closed Prides Corner School — and its 15 aging classrooms. In 2014, the City Council approved a sale of the building to a condominium developer. Fifth-graders moved to Westbrook Middle School, while elementary students were reshuffled throughout the district.

At the time, Prides Corner was in dire need of repair, and school officials said the district was experiencing a consistent decline in enrollment. From 2003 to 2009, the student population dropped from 2,688 to 2,390. The elementary schools alone shrank by 130 students during that period.

“Part of the rationale is, or was, how many school facilities do we want to maintain?” Bryant said.

That decline in enrollment, however, has reversed since then. For 2014, total district enrollment was back at 2,483. With 1,208 students in 2014, numbers for kindergarten through fifth grade are slightly higher than a decade ago. To accommodate those students, the district has added five portable classrooms at the elementary schools.

Bryant attributed that increase to a growing immigrant community in Westbrook, as well as new construction. Lancia has estimated 331 students could join the district by 2025, which factors in an ongoing housing boom in the city. Neighbors have pushed back on a major subdivision project, citing concern about its impact on already overcrowded schools.

On Monday night, some residents worried the planned expansion wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the city’s growth.

“It’s the dog chasing its tail,” Duck Pond Road resident Dale Perry said. “I think we need to control our growth. Don’t stop it. Just control it.”

Jessica Corriveau, who lives on Austin Street, echoed an earlier request for a 180-day moratorium on residential building permits, which residents have requested in order to revise Westbrook’s process for approving new construction. In particular, she and others advocated for a system of fees on developers to account for future impacts on public infrastructure like schools.

“It’s a Band-Aid on a wound,” she said. “I’m very upset that our city continues to give out permits to keep building when our schools are already overcrowded. … It seems like the city has the opportunity to ask (developers) to chip in.”

Rocco Risbara, president of Risbara Bros., said more than half of 146 apartments at his Blue Spruce Farm development are leased, and none have school-age children. He said charging a fee for an impact that might not exist is “unfair.”

“Our apartments simply don’t produce children,” he said.

If approved by voters, the renovation of the schools would be complete no sooner than 2018. In a report to the City Council, Lancia noted the school department would likely need to hire three new employees as a result of the expansion — an administrative assistant, a custodian and a cafeteria worker.

“Initially, the growth at Saccarappa would be addressed by reassigning teachers from other schools,” he wrote. “Any additional teaching positions would be requested through our annual budgeting process as enrollment increases.”

Documents related to the school expansion are available online as part of the City Council agenda and on the school department website. The second public hearing on the plan will take place during the council’s meeting Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Westbrook High School.

]]> 11, 30 Aug 2016 10:43:34 +0000
Maine’s education reform panel to accept fine for closing meeting Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:22:16 +0000 WELLS — An education reform commission accused of meeting illegally in closed session won’t challenge a legal complaint from the Maine Attorney General’s Office and will pay any fine the court sets, the panel decided in a unanimous vote Monday.

Eight members of the 15-member education finance reform commission voted without any discussion, declining to meet in closed session with an attorney hired to represent it in court. The lawyer was in the audience but did not address the commission.

One Democrat on the Legislature’s Education Committee said she was glad the commission dealt swiftly with the legal complaint.

“It was definitely a distraction and started the commission on a bad note,” said Sen. Rebecca J. Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, who was in the audience. “I’m glad the commission can move forward.”

Commission Chairman Bob Hasson, a Maine Department of Education employee, proposed the motion as the commission met in public for the first time. Several dozen people were in the audience, including education lobbyists, education officials and lawmakers.

One of the commission members, House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, did not attend. Rep. Michael McClellan, R-Raymond, took his place. McClellan voted to pay the fine, but his vote did not count.

Hasson said the vote would help the commission “put (the issue) behind us” and allow members to focus on education issues.

Deputy Education Commissioner Bill Bearsdley agreed. “I’m ready to move on,” he said during a break in the meeting.

After the vote, the commission immediately moved into a discussion of how it would operate and communicate, and Hasson asked members to suggest “big ideas” for education reform.

The commission, created by L.D. 1641, is charged with evaluating the state’s current education funding model and reporting back to the Legislature with “recommendations for action to reform public education funding and improve student performance in the state.” The commission is expected to meet through July 2018.

On Monday, members tossed out more than a dozen ideas for possible focus areas. Some of the ideas were familiar to education specialists: the benefits of universal pre-K instruction, satisfying the 55 percent state funding for education mandate, improving teacher training and increasing teacher pay. Other ideas, not as widely discussed previously, included moving to a year-round school calendar, adopting a common statewide school calendar, shifting sports away from schools to municipalities, and having a single statewide teachers contract.

Documents, past reports and meeting materials are all available at the Maine Department of Education website, Hasson said.

“I’m encouraged that (Gov. Paul LePage) said that whatever comes out of the commission, he will seriously consider it,” Hasson said.

LePage’s education adviser, Aaron Chadbourne, had no comment on the commission’s vote.

The Attorney General’s Office filed its complaint in Kennebec County Superior Court over whether the LePage administration violated the state’s open meetings law when the reform commission held a session closed to the public on April 25. The court date for the hearing is Sept. 12.

Maine law requires most meetings by elected bodies to be open to the public. The law provides for a civil penalty of up to $500 for a knowing or intentional violation.

Three days before the meeting, an assistant attorney general told Beardsley that the meeting needed to be open to the public under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, according to the court complaint.

After getting the opinion, the administration changed the description of the meeting and relocated it to the Blaine House, but kept it private. The governor’s office described the three-hour meeting as an informal, invitation-only, getting-to-know-you session, even though an agenda described it as the commission’s first meeting.

On the day of the meeting, members of the governor’s staff exchanged a flurry of texts when lawmakers and members of the public objected that they were not being allowed to attend.

The texts violated the governor’s policy against communicating via text messages.

In the wake of the controversy, LePage removed himself from the commission and appointed Beardsley as the governor’s representative. In turn, Beardsley named Hasson the Education Department’s representative and the commission chairman.

Hasson oversees certification, educator effectiveness and higher education for the department.


]]> 5, 30 Aug 2016 00:37:58 +0000
HVAC school offers a lifeline to workers in dying Maine industries Mon, 29 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In the weeks leading up to the Bucksport paper mill closure in 2014, Verso worker Curtis Hamilton realized he needed to change careers.

The 34-year-old Belfast resident did some research and decided that his best option was to join the growing industry that installs and repairs heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

Trevor Rollins, 28, left, discusses options for venting a furnace with senior instructor Bryan Champagne. Rollins already works in HVAC and enrolled at the technical center to take specific courses to expand his areas of expertise.

Trevor Rollins, 28, left, discusses options for venting a furnace with senior instructor Bryan Champagne. Rollins already works in HVAC and enrolled at
the technical center to take specific courses to expand his areas of expertise.

But Hamilton had no prior experience in the field known as HVAC, so with financial help from a state program, he enrolled in a three-month crash course at a Brunswick school funded in part by Maine energy companies.

Four weeks before his graduation in May 2015, Hamilton already had a job lined up with Maritime Energy in Montville, about 18 miles from his home.

“I was working for Maritime about two weeks after I finished school,” he said.

For Maine workers in declining industries, it can be difficult to find a new career with comparable pay that doesn’t require years of college. The challenge is even greater for those living in rural communities.

But since 2004, the Maine Energy Marketers Association has been operating a school in Brunswick to train workers in HVAC job skills. Graduates can obtain certifications to install, maintain and repair oil, electrical, propane and natural gas heating systems, as well as air-conditioning and refrigeration systems.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the HVAC industry is poised for “extremely high” job growth of 14 percent over the coming decade, making it an ideal second career for displaced workers in declining industries such as forest products.

“Companies right now are looking for new apprentices to bring into the trade,” said Bryan Champagne, senior instructor at the Maine Energy Marketers Association’s Technical Education Center.

The school, known as MTEC, graduated about 400 students in 2015, said Jamie Py, president of the association. Roughly one-third of those graduates were referred to the school by the state Department of Labor’s Career Centers and Rapid Response programs for displaced workers from other industries.

Steven Sweet works on a gas furnace. Strong job growth is forecast for the HVAC industry.

Steven Sweet works on a gas furnace. Strong job growth is forecast for the HVAC industry.


HVAC jobs are desirable because they offer relatively high wages without requiring a four-year college degree. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for HVAC workers in the U.S. is $47,830.

And most importantly, HVAC companies in Maine are hiring.

“If someone has an HVAC license, they can pretty much go out and find another job right now,” said Ed Upham, director of the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Employment Services.

Upham, who oversees the state Career Centers and Rapid Response program for displaced workers, said MTEC is one of several state-approved schools for worker retraining. In addition to HVAC, other common career moves for former mill workers include health care, information technology, and precision machining and manufacturing.

“A lot of it depends on where you live,” Upham said. “If you live in the Portland area, obviously your opportunities are a lot more diverse.”

In most cases, workers in Maine who have been laid off because of a facility closure can get the cost of their job retraining partly or fully subsidized by the state. Hamilton said the cost of his $8,500 MTEC tuition, tools and living expenses were fully covered through Rapid Response and another program for veterans.

Upham said the most important criterion for the Department of Labor’s approved schools list is the school’s ability to help place graduates in a new career. On that score, he said, MTEC has an excellent track record.

Wrenches and rags are tools of the trade at the Technical Education Center in Brunswick.

Wrenches and rags are tools of the trade at the Technical Education Center in Brunswick.

“The whole purpose of these programs is re-employment, so there has to be a job at the end of it,” Upham said.

Other students enrolled in MTEC said they are seeking a better-paying career with greater opportunities for advancement.

Brunswick resident Sara Myers was working in day care when she decided to enroll in the school. Now, with two weeks left until graduation, she already has job interviews lined up.

Although she had no prior HVAC training before enrolling in MTEC, the 22-year-old Myers said it seemed like a good fit for her interests.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve always liked working with my hands,” she said.

Other MTEC students, including 28-year-old Trevor Rollins, already work in HVAC and are taking specific courses to expand their areas of expertise. Rollins, who works for Branch Brook Fuels in Arundel, said he is licensed in oil heating systems but came to MTEC to learn propane systems and appliances.

“It gives you the basics,” Rollins said. “The company is paying me to attend.”

Hamilton said the three-month course at MTEC is intense and requires students to study hard and learn quickly. He said it could easily be expanded to six months with all of the material that is covered.

Still, he said those willing to put in the effort will acquire the foundation they need to go out and train as apprentices in HVAC. It’s a challenging but rewarding career, he said.

“You’re going to be working long hours, weekends,” he said. “The colder it is, the more you work.”


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Special education teacher shortage worsens at Maine schools Mon, 29 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Deb Alden had to find five special education teachers this summer, and she had to find them fast.

“It’s been such a crazy shortage. I thought other years it was tough, then I got to this year,” said Alden, special education director in SAD 52, which serves students in Turner, Greene and Leeds.

Typically, she might have one or two openings among the 28 special education teacher slots across six schools. But trying to fill five of them has set off ripple effects throughout the district.

Alden said she begged one retired teacher to come back, but that means the school’s administrative assistant will have to help her out with unfamiliar technology and paperwork. A special education teacher moved from the high school to the middle school, so now all of the high school teachers will have to take on one more class. Alden herself will be the case manager for 15 special education students, and some students in the day treatment program will be moved into mainstream classes.

“There’s not one person in our district that won’t work harder because of this,” Alden said. “They will, because they want to do what is best for the kids. But we will all feel it.”


Maine has long had a shortage of special education teachers, but this year hiring has been harder than ever, according to teachers, superintendents and state officials.

Several factors led to the shortage. For one, there are fewer education graduates in the state to fill entry-level jobs. Entry-level teacher pay, negotiated by local districts, is low, particularly in the northern part of the state, and there are no extra incentives to go into special education, which specialists agree is a difficult, complicated job. Special education teaching positions are frequently filled by first-time teachers, as an entry into general education, and many teachers move on within a few years, creating more turnover than in other specialties.

The shortage is likely to get worse next fall, when new federal rules will start requiring districts to hire only fully certified special education teachers for those students.

Currently, less-than-fully-certified teachers are allowed to be special education teachers in Maine for up to three years while they pursue full certification. Statewide last year, there were 256 of those less-than-fully-certified teachers working, along with 4,504 fully certified special education teachers, according to the Maine Department of Education.

It’s not a new problem, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which has put out an annual nationwide teacher shortage list going back to 1990.

In the early 1990s, Maine listed only special education and foreign languages as shortage areas. Last year, both those categories were still on the list, along with math and science, English as a second language, gifted and talented, industrial arts and librarians.

In Lewiston, Michelle Winslow said she noticed the drop in applicants as the special education director for Geiger Elementary School this summer.

“Oh yes, I live that on a daily basis,” said Winslow, who is now assistant principal at Geiger. She said other special education directors in the state also reported difficulty finding candidates.

“I feel like we’re all in the same boat,” she said.

In the classrooms, there are more special education teachers for fewer special ed students than five years ago, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story because each special education student has different needs, said Jill Adams, executive director of Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, or MADSEC. Adams works with special education directors in districts all over the state.

The number of special education students has dropped about 2 percent since 2009-10, while overall enrollment has decreased 4.5 percent, according to state data. At the same time, the number of special education teachers in Maine has increased 4 percent and the number of education technicians, who work closely with special education students and assist special education teachers, has increased 2 percent.

Special education students run the gamut from low-level needs, such as having an extra 20 minutes of specialized help each week, to intense one-on-one instruction and care for severely emotionally, physically or mentally challenged students.


Generally, most special education students are mainstreamed, which means they are in regular classrooms. The classroom teacher leads the entire class, while a special education teacher or ed tech may also be in the classroom depending on the students’ needs. When a classroom has several high-needs special education students in it, there can be multiple adults in the room.

At the farthest end of the needs spectrum, students with significant disabilities who are not ready to be in a mainstream classroom are educated in a public school day program or a public regional program. If a district doesn’t have the resources to care for those children, they may be placed out of district in a private school.

Teachers have to evaluate each student, write up an individual plan, teach the students, oversee ed techs or less-than-fully certified colleagues, fill out state and federal paperwork and meet regularly with students and parents.

“I think it’s a very tough job,” Adams said.

There are also fewer students in colleges studying education, and special education in particular, she said.

There are multiple teacher training colleges in Maine. One of the largest, the University of Maine System, has seen a steady decline in education graduates. Systemwide, the number of degrees in education peaked in 2006-07, with 1,222 graduates. Last year there were 787 education graduates, a decline of 36 percent in under a decade.

In addition to a shortage of special education teachers, districts struggle to hire for other positions related to special education, from education technicians to occupational therapists, speech therapists and other specialists. Adams said many districts have resorted to hiring online services for tele-therapy.

While special education teachers are paid at the same rate as other teachers, negotiated at the local district level, some districts offer financial incentives for certain special education positions that require more specialized skills, such as working at a day treatment facility with the most seriously affected children.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said his district’s new ed tech contract, approved this summer, increased starting wages and added vacation days.

“That’s put us in a stronger position,” Webster said. The district just created a new districtwide special education program to offer special education services to students who were previously placed out of district in private schools. He said that will allow the district to cut costs, from paying about $50,000 per student for out-of-district care to about $30,000 per student under the new program.

The district also hired about 50 special education teachers, drawing some teachers from elsewhere in the state.

Special education costs also have increased. According to state Department of Education data, total special education costs were 15.6 percent of total school expenses statewide in 2014-15, up from 13.5 percent a decade earlier, when there were more special education students to serve. That’s because the kind of needs have increased. Instead of students with dyslexia, there are more students with autism or multiple disabilities, which require more resources – and money – for school services.


Kathy Yardley, dean of education at the University of Maine-Farmington, said Maine faces a looming teacher shortage in many areas. Statistics show that about 30 percent of Maine teachers will retire within the next decade, and she can see the shortage in math and science teachers in her graduating classes.

Farmington had no secondary math graduates this year, she said, and the incoming class has only two students going into math.

“It really is in particular content areas,” Yardley said of the shortage. “English, social studies, elementary education – we have plenty of students. There’s no shortage there.”

But even though there is no shortage, there are fewer qualified teachers even in those areas, she said.

“Schools will tell us that they used to have a couple hundred elementary education applicants, and now it has dropped to 80. They are still getting a large number of applications, but not as many as they used to,” she said.

“The pool (of applicants) was much deeper even 10 years ago,” said Bob Hasson, a former Maine schools superintendent who heads up certification for the state Department of Education.

State officials are working now to come up with a plan to bring all special education teachers to full certification to meet the new regulations next fall.

A multipronged approach could be part marketing – using social media to tell millennials and out-of-state teachers about the teaching jobs here – and targeted recruiting of special education teachers elsewhere, Hasson said.

To fill the gap, the state Department of Education is working with Maine colleges to make it easier for students to get full certification, and the state needs to find “creative ways to grow our own” and retain teachers, said Jan Breton, the department’s director of special services. That might include financial incentives for working in rural locations, loan forgiveness after working in the state for a period of time, or helping pay up front for certification.

“It’s an issue everywhere,” she said. The state has to do “whatever it takes.”


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Locker Project latches onto the need to feed hungry children in schools Sat, 27 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It started with a simple act of kindness about five years ago.

Katie Wallace, a parent volunteer at Portland’s East End Community School, started bringing in extra snacks when she saw that a few kindergartners didn’t have anything to eat at snack time, while others ate around them. That snowballed into a food pantry at the school, then Portland designer and fellow Munjoy Hill neighbor Angela Adams came calling.

“I thought she just wanted to hear about it or write a check,” said Wallace. Instead, Adams encouraged Wallace and another parent helping her to think bigger, and set up a nonprofit to encourage donations.

So that’s just what they did, and today the 2-year-old Locker Project stocks food pantries at 14 schools, mostly in Portland and South Portland.

“In 2015, the word of mouth started spreading fast and we started getting calls like crazy. We started meeting with schools that were interested – and in some cases, desperate – for us to open a pantry,” said Executive Director Katie Brown.

School pantries, which frequently expand beyond food to include clothing and toiletries, have become increasingly common in recent years.

Katie Brown, executive director of The Locker Project, and volunteer Stephen Davis Phillips load boxes of food into the organization's van Wednesday. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Katie Brown, executive director of The Locker Project, and volunteer Stephen Davis Phillips load boxes of food into the organization’s van Wednesday. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Good Shepherd Food Bank, which partners with Locker Project and similar groups, now provides food to 5,000 children statewide through 130 community partners.

That doesn’t include the many schools where teachers, PTOs and parents run informal snack programs for hungry students – much like Wallace did at first at East End.

“Some schools just do this in a very low-key way,” said Shannon Coffin, who oversees child hunger programs for Good Shepherd. “It’s making a big impact. We’re very excited about that.”

Adams, nationally known for her home furnishings and textiles, said she read about Wallace and wanted to help.

“I thought, gosh, this is a single mom in my neighborhood who just took it on herself. I was totally inspired to help out in any way I could,” said Adams, who is vice president of the board of directors.

“You realize you can help a couple of kids, or one family, and have some exponential growth there,” Adams said. “It’s as simple as handing them a sandwich.”

In Maine, an estimated 15.5 percent of the population is food-insecure, mirroring the national rate of 15.4 percent in 2014, the last year for which data were available, according to Feeding America, a national nonprofit that operates a network of food banks.

That puts the state first among New England states for the number of people who are food-insecure, defined as those who have inadequate access to food because of lack of money or other resources.

The organization’s “Map the Meal Gap” study used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2014 American Community Survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the 2001-2014 Current Population Survey on individuals in food-insecure households, in compiling its report.

The same study found that 23 percent of Maine children were food-insecure in 2014, higher than the national rate of 21 percent.

In Maine’s public schools, 47 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, up from below 35 percent a decade ago, but a legislative task force report last year found that 20,000 of the 86,473 children who are eligible don’t take advantage of them, out of embarrassment or because they don’t want to give up non-classroom time to get and eat the food.

The consequences of child hunger range from lower academic performance in school to absenteeism and behavioral problems, the task force report found.


Brown said the Locker Project food pantries, mostly in Portland and South Portland, range from a few shelves in a closet at one school to an entire classroom at another school.

Brown says the group, which has a roughly $60,000 annual budget, has stopped adding new schools despite ongoing demand, until its budget increases.

Katie Brown, executive director of The Locker Project, and volunteer Stephen Davis Phillips load boxes of produce and bread that will be donated to local schools as part of the two-year-old Locker Project.

Katie Brown, executive director of The Locker Project, and volunteer Stephen Davis Phillips load boxes of produce and bread that will be donated to local schools as part of the two-year-old Locker Project. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

The Locker Project is a bare-bones operation, with volunteers using a grant-funded van to pick up and drop off donations roughly every two weeks at each school. The Locker Project doesn’t have a storage facility yet, although Brown said that may come as the organization grows.

In addition to grants, the group raises private funds and has fundraisers. The Locker Project recently won an Entreverge award, which came with an electric guitar. Adams arranged for Lyle Lovett, a personal friend of hers, to autograph the guitar when he played at the L.L. Bean concert series this summer.

The guitar will now be auctioned off to raise money for the Locker Project, Brown said.


When the Locker Project was first forming, Adams donated one of her signature rugs for a raffle in exchange for a $10,000 donation to a charity of her choice – and she picked the Locker Project, providing the group with seed money.

“It’s one of those organizations that if we can just turn the dial a little bit, we can make a big difference,” she said. “It really doesn’t take that much.”

In Portland, the Locker Project stocks pantries at Bayside Learning Center; Deering High School; Lincoln and Lyman Moore middle schools; and East End, Hall, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools. In South Portland, it stocks pantries at South Portland High School, Memorial Middle School and Kaler Elementary School. It also provides food at the Center for Grieving Children in Portland, the Margaret Murphy Center for Children in Saco and The REAL School on Mackworth Island.


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State offers plea deals to students in Colby dumpster fire Fri, 26 Aug 2016 23:17:37 +0000 WATERVILLE — The state has probable cause to charge one former Colby College student in connection with a dumpster fire investigated as arson on May 22 at the college, and may be charging as many as three more, according to Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.

The former student allegedly set off a firecracker inside the 20-cubic-yard dumpster, which was loaded with furniture and others item, igniting the fire. Maloney said Friday that two other former students named by that student have come forward with their attorneys. A fourth student believed to be involved hasn’t come forward or retained an attorney.

The state is offering plea deals to all the students and is awaiting their decisions, Maloney said. The names of the four, all of whom graduated May 22, were not released because they haven’t been charged. Maloney said once the case goes to court, the names and other details will be released.

Jonathan Sdao was charged with assault for allegedly throwing a red Solo cup of beer at a police officer at an earlier bonfire and ensuing melee that day. Maloney also said charges against him still are pending.

The dumpster fire was reported at 4:30 a.m. May 22, a few hours before the school’s commencement ceremony. The state fire marshal’s office said at the time that two students probably would be charged with arson. No charges aside from the ones Maloney anticipates have been brought, however.

The dumpster fire started a few hours after a crowd of more than 200 people at the bonfire at the senior dormitory reportedly taunted and threw items at firefighters and police called to the scene.

The bonfire melee was not related to the dumpster fire and the three arson suspects are being looked at only in relation to the dumpster fire, Maloney said.

“I want this to be clear,” Maloney said. “No students were ever identified and law enforcement has no leads (on the bonfire). There is no information on who set (the bonfire).”

Firefighters were called to the bonfire scene around 1 a.m. They encountered students drinking alcohol and burning furniture and other items. Some students were aggressive toward firefighters and police, Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said at the time. He said the students were unruly enough that firefighters were afraid to approach the fire until police arrived.

Sdao, 24, of Niwot, Colorado, a member of the class of 2016, was arrested at the bonfire and did not participate in graduation exercises later that day, college officials said at the time. Sdao pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault in connection with the incident.

Colby officials said in May they intended to investigate the bonfire and the behavior surrounding it, but a college spokeswoman Friday said she didn’t have any information the results of the investigation or whether any students were disciplined.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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St. Paul’s backers aided defense fund, documents say Fri, 26 Aug 2016 01:36:39 +0000 BOSTON — Lawyers for a New Hampshire prep school sex assault victim say parents and alumni at St. Paul’s School helped raise over $100,000 for her alleged attacker’s defense team.

The Boston Globe reported documents filed in a New Hampshire federal court Thursday allege that Joshua Abram, described as a “prominent SPS parent” in the filings, contributed $10,000 and solicited more donations from other parents and alumni.

The money allegedly helped graduate Owen Labrie pay for prominent attorney J.W. Carney, who represented Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

]]> 0 Thu, 25 Aug 2016 21:36:39 +0000
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.

]]> 4 Tue, 23 Aug 2016 21:51:19 +0000
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.

]]> 12, 23 Aug 2016 21:44:22 +0000
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.


]]> 14, 23 Aug 2016 00:10:31 +0000
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.

]]> 18, 22 Aug 2016 18:38:50 +0000
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.”


]]> 1, 19 Aug 2016 00:20:26 +0000
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.

]]> 0 Wed, 17 Aug 2016 21:55:54 +0000
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.

]]> 0 Fri, 12 Aug 2016 20:41:11 +0000
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.

]]> 0 Fri, 12 Aug 2016 18:30:02 +0000
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

]]> 1 Fri, 12 Aug 2016 21:24:20 +0000
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.

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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.

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