The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Schools & Education Tue, 25 Oct 2016 21:08:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Students accused of putting noose on black player Tue, 25 Oct 2016 03:26:13 +0000 WIGGINS, Miss. — The president of the Mississippi NAACP is demanding a federal hate crime investigation after the parents of a black high school student said as many as four white students put a noose around their son’s neck at school.

“No child should be walking down the hall or in a locker room and be accosted with a noose around their neck,” Derrick Johnson said at a news conference Monday. “This is 2016, not 1916. This is America. This is a place where children should go to school and feel safe in their environment.”

Johnson said the incident happened Oct. 13 near a locker room at Stone High School in Wiggins.

Hollis and Stacey Payton, parents of the alleged victim, attended the news conference but did not speak. Their son, a sophomore football player, was not with them and they did not release his name.

The NAACP said the incident happened during a break in football practice and that the noose was “yanked backward” while on the student’s neck.

Johnson would not say whether the noose left any marks on the black student. According to a statement from the student’s family, he returned to football practice after the incident, said Ayana Kinnel, a spokeswoman for the state NAACP.

Stone High has about 800 students, about a quarter of whom are black, according to state figures. That’s not a particularly high percentage in Mississippi, where half of nearly 500,000 public school students are African-American.

Wiggins, 35 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, remains a logging town. Many people commute from the 18,000-resident county to jobs in Gulfport and other coastal cities.

Mississippi has struggled with a history of racial division. It is the last state that still incorporates the Confederate battle emblem on its state flag.

In 2014, two out-of-state students at the University of Mississippi placed a noose on the campus’ statue of James Meredith, the black student who integrated Ole Miss in 1962. Both pleaded guilty to using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students and employees.

Names and ages of the other students allegedly involved in the Stone High School incident weren’t immediately released.

]]> 1 Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:26:13 +0000
Windham’s Richard Nickerson receives Grammy educator nomination Mon, 24 Oct 2016 15:44:27 +0000 Richard Nickerson, director of choral activities at Windham High School, has been nominated for the 2017 Music Educator Award, created by the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation to recognize “educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education.”

He has taught at Windham for 30 years, and is among 25 music educators nationwide who advanced to the semifinal round of the award process. He also was nominated in 2013, the first year it was awarded, and advanced to the quarterfinals. Ten finalists will be announced in December, and the winner will be recognized during Grammy week and will attend the 59th Grammy Awards ceremony on Feb. 12.

“I was kind of shocked,” Nickerson said Monday night. “The number of people who are nominated, and to be in the top 25, that is very humbling for me. I work with some incredible teachers. To represent those in our field is really quite an honor.”

At Windham, Nickerson conducts three choirs, teaches music courses and serves as music coordinator for the district. He’s been named Maine Music Educator of the Year, Maine Distinguished Choral Director of the Year and was runner-up for Maine Teacher of the Year.

Choral Director Magazine named him one of 10 “Choral Directors of Note” in the United States.

After he received his doctorate in choral conducting from the University of Missouri, Nickerson thought he would leave Windham to teach at the college level.

Ultimately, he decided he wanted to stay in Windham at the high school level. “Honestly, I feel this is where I am supposed to be. Working with high school kids is my gift,” he said.

One of his choirs just completed a tribute concert to the rock band Queen, and he has begun preparing his singers for a holiday concert on Dec. 3. Being able to move from the music of Queen to holiday songs is one of the things he loves most about his job.

“I am fortunate to work in an environment where I am able to take chances. We don’t do the same thing all the time,” he said. “And I have a supportive community. The tribute to Queen was packed, mobbed – and it was so far out of the box from what we would normally do.”

In addition to his duties at school, Nickerson is minister of music at North Windham Union Church.

He and his family live in Windham.


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University trustees support ambitious Maine graduate center Sun, 23 Oct 2016 18:20:52 +0000 The University of Maine System trustees voted unanimously Sunday to support a first-stage $15 million plan to create a new graduate center for business, law and public policy in Portland.

The vote, taken at a special meeting in East Millinocket, authorizes the system chancellor to ask for additional funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation, which has been the driving financial force behind the $150 million initiative.

Over the past two years, the foundation has provided $2.25 million for early-stage development.

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

If the multi-year first stage is successful, the trustees will be asked to authorize a second stage that includes raising funds to build a $94 million building somewhere in Portland to house the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies. A location has not yet been identified.

A business plan outlining the proposal was released last week.

“We’re building something that will be beneficial to the entire state,” board chairman Sam Collins said. “I am very much in support of it because of how we have structured it and minimal risk and what it can mean to the state of Maine.”

Chancellor James Page said Sunday that if the trustees decided not to go forward with phase two, the phase one developments would “stand on their own.”

The business plan, Page told the trustees, is the foundation “for the kind of robust discussions we need to have” in the next phase. “We need to take it for what it is, build, and with your approval, go forward and create this great opportunity.”

A faculty representative to the board told the trustees that while there was broad support for the concept and need for the graduate center, the faculty had concerns about the MBA merger in particular. The graduate business departments in Orono and USM are currently in talks about the merged program, from its curriculum to governance issues for faculties at different institutions.

“The merger will only work if both Orono and USM faculty work together as equals,” said Elizabeth Turesky, a professor at USM. “I believe faculty need your assurance that their significant concerns are addressed.”

Page noted that challenge in his presentation, saying the two campuses need to be “on equal terms” as they move toward the MBA merger.

“For the first time, we’ve taken a University of Maine degree and put it in a program in the Greater Portland area. That collaboration in two of the largest campuses is enormous,” he said, noting administrative and cultural barriers to that kind of collaboration. “We are taking two major programs and asking them to coalesce and to work together.”


]]> 3 Mon, 24 Oct 2016 08:10:11 +0000
Are your school’s employees qualified? The state doesn’t know Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 State education officials don’t know whether every employee who works with Maine students – from teachers to bus drivers – has passed a criminal background check or is properly credentialed.

To ensure their employees are qualified and safe to work with children, local schools rely on an antiquated, paper-based system that has errors. Districts trying to hire employees regularly experience delays of more than a month when trying to determine whether there is proper certification.

At least one recent criminal case revealed that some districts aren’t making those checks.

The certification process for the 34,811 public school employees in Maine has been under scrutiny since April, when an education technician in SAD 6 was charged with sexually assaulting a student. The charges were later dismissed because Zachariah Sherburne left the job before having sex with the student, but the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald learned that Sherburne did not hold any credentials despite already being employed in another district, SAD 55, before he worked at SAD 6, which covers Standish, Limington, Frye Island, Hollis and Buxton.

That means officials in both districts failed to verify his certifications or act on the information that Sherburne wasn’t qualified for the job. The DOE is now investigating how both districts hired someone without credentials and will not comment until a final decision is issued. So far, the investigation has not been finished.

When the controversy came to light, SAD 6’s then-superintendent, Frank Sherburne – Zachariah Sherburne’s father – came under fire from parents who demanded his ouster because he had broken the district’s nepotism policy by hiring his son. While the board did not immediately dismiss Frank Sherburne, under state law, superintendents can be disciplined or even stripped of state credentials if their district employs someone without proper certification, authorization or approval from the Department of Education. It also can lead the district to lose some state funding.

Frank Sherburne ended up resigning from his position.

In June, the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald requested a list from the DOE of all public school employees in Maine who do not have credentials. In mid-September, three months after the initial request, DOE officials would not release the list, saying that internal reviews of the list found errors – including credentialed educators showing up as being uncredentialed – and they couldn’t tell how many employees were working without current criminal background checks.

“You just can’t put kids at risk like this any longer,” said Phillip Rogers, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, a nonprofit organization that maintains a nationwide database on disciplined teachers and makes it available to state education agencies and school districts.

“If (teachers) don’t have certification and you’re letting them into the classroom, you are just taking a huge chance,” Rogers said. “Many districts will not even talk to someone who doesn’t have a certificate up front.”

Amanda Cooper, a teacher and parent who filed the complaint that prompted the DOE investigation into Zachariah Sherburne’s lack of credentials, said the system to catch such errors is not working.

“The system of checks and balances is overwhelmed,” Cooper said. “The intent for a quality system of checks and balances exists, but the reality is that we’re in 2016 and the system has become bogged down in the muck and mire of old-fashioned paperwork and snail mail.”


Under state law and DOE rules, all public school employees must have proper authorization for their specific job category. As a first step, all candidates for a school job, from janitor to superintendent, must be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check.

A nine-person team at the state Department of Education reviews applications and issues certifications for public school employees statewide. They approve or reject applications and put that result into an internal DOE database known as NEO. It is up to district employees to check that site to see if applicants and new hires are properly credentialed.

Part of the problem at the DOE is that information is kept in separate databases, one on all public school employees statewide, the other for all credentialing information. The two cannot be cross-referenced, officials say.

“The real answers are on paper,” said acting Deputy Commissioner Debra Plowman, referring to the paper files at the DOE.

Bob Hasson, who oversees certification for the Education Department, acknowledged the system “needs to be modernized.”

“There is an incredible volume of work with not a lot of staff in an antiquated system,” he said.

Hasson, a former superintendent, said he remembers seeing the rows and rows of paper files in the Augusta offices when he started working at the DOE.

“It took my breath away when I saw it,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it was all paper.

“There is a great deal of room for improvement.”


Maine is one of 10 states that do not have an online system for the public to verify and review the credentials of public school teachers, according to a USA Today report published in February. The yearlong investigation reviewed teacher screening processes nationwide and found “a patchwork system of laws and regulations – combined with inconsistent execution and flawed information sharing between states and school districts.”

Maine got an “F” from USA Today on its screening process, with the report noting that despite strong state-level screenings before licensing teachers, Maine has weak mandatory reporting of teacher misconduct, doesn’t share misconduct data with other states and has no information online about disciplinary actions.

The delay at Maine DOE in issuing certifications also leaves local district officials playing a waiting game, with employees working in classrooms with only temporary credentials or working as substitute teachers while they wait for approval from the state. Some districts that won’t hire people without credentials may end up losing candidates who can be hired more quickly at another district that allows them to start on temporary credentials.

The current process requires the local school district or employee to submit an application to the DOE, where it is reviewed and either approved or rejected. An application can be rejected for a variety of reasons ranging from serious – such as a criminal conviction – to mundane – such as failing to pay a filing fee or attaching a transcript.

However, the DOE does not notify the school district whether its applicant has failed or passed the review. It is up to the district to log into the DOE’s database and check for itself whether each of its potential hires has been rejected, and why. Because of the paperwork delays, that can take weeks or months after the initial application was filed.

The state DOE will issue an eight-week temporary card once an applicant has applied for a criminal background check, but it’s still up to the district to follow up on the results.

State officials say their responsibility ends once they’ve processed the application, and they have no ability to verify if anyone uncertified is working at a school. That’s up to the school district.

“We are not a policing agency,” Plowman said. “We are supposed to be providing guidance.”

After the Press Herald reported on Sherburne not having credentials, lawmakers said it was up to state officials, and perhaps local school boards, to act.

“Certainly if there (are) any infractions and violations between the school system and state regulations, the Department of Education would step in,” said Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “You start at that local level, and then DOE can hold the superintendent responsible through their certification.”


DOE officials acknowledge that the process of checking credentials gets bogged down, and delays of four to six weeks are not uncommon. At one point last year, the department had a 16-week backlog, officials said.

In a memo this summer, Hasson described what he called “this laborious task.”

In 2015, the department sent out 8,474 renewals and handled hundreds of new teacher applications, he said.

“In the course of a day, a certification specialist can process anywhere from one to ten applications, depending on the intricacies of each application,” Hasson wrote. The DOE has two full-time and two part-time specialists, he said.

The department is upgrading to an electronic credentialing system in December 2017, but district superintendents say they feel forced to act now, instead of waiting for a more efficient system.

SAD 6 has changed its hiring practices in the wake of the Sherburne case, according to interim Superintendent Paul Penna.

Now, no one is allowed to work in SAD 6 without a completed criminal background check, and teachers without current certification must work as substitutes, at lower pay, until their paperwork is complete. That is a tougher requirement than state law and a change from last year, when employees could still work while their paperwork was pending at the state level, Penna said.

“I think everyone is paying much more attention,” Penna said.


In Portland, the state’s largest school district with 1,300 employees, hiring policies were tightened in 2010 when the district started requiring on-site registration to conduct a criminal background check, ensuring that the employee has started the process.

Superintendent Xavier Botana, who took over the job in July, said school officials are discussing whether the district should conduct its own background checks to get the results faster, instead of waiting for the state to do them. In Indiana, where Botana worked before coming to Maine, the results of a comprehensive criminal background check, including a search of nationwide databases, was done within 48 hours.

“I didn’t realize we had people (waiting) for fingerprinting results. I assumed the next day they got the all-clear,” Botana said. “It does make the $30 or $35 cost to do a background check something that we need to consider.”

Botana said his review of the credentialing process “certainly has started a conversation here about how do we make sure we keep a tight process so we can make sure we keep our children safe.”

Portland also has a designated credential specialist whose job it is to make sure everyone’s credentials are in order. But that’s a luxury most districts can’t afford.

Ultimately, the person whose job is on the line is the superintendent, since under state law, employing someone without proper DOE approval is grounds for disciplinary action, including suspension or revocation of his or her certificate.

Teachers say they also want to make sure the credentialing system is improved, not only to move away from a paper-based system but to ensure student safety.

“If the system doesn’t work as it is, we have to find something different,” said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, the union for public school teachers in the state. “I think 18 months is way too long to fix a problem. We’ve waited too long.”


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Some Maine schools with polling stations opt to close on Election Day Sat, 22 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A number of Maine schools that serve as Election Day polling places are canceling classes on Nov. 8, citing big crowds, possible parking and traffic issues, and student safety.

Officials at schools that are staying open say the physical layout of the campus allows voters access to the polls without interacting with any students.

“I was not comfortable last year with having polls open in our school,” said John Suttie, who is both district superintendent and principal of Old Orchard Beach High School, where a polling station is located. This year, classes are canceled for students but teachers will be there for a staff development day.

Old Orchard Beach usually cancels classes for presidential and gubernatorial elections and remains open during off-year elections.

“It’s not just about people coming in and casting their votes,” Suttie said of his concerns. “There are petitioners there, candidates are there, vendors are there. For me, that was really the catalyst for canceling classes.”

In southern Maine, more than a dozen schools have polling stations, including Biddeford, Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, Gorham, Lebanon, Lewiston, North Berwick, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough, Wells and York. Most of them have canceled classes, and a few have made it a parent conference day or staff development day.

“We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks, and talking to town officials,” said Patti Gilley, principal at Lebanon Elementary School, which will remain open. “We have a plan in place and they (voters) really aren’t going to cross paths (with students.)”

Gilley said the layout of the rural school, with two buildings separated by a walkway, made it easier to remain open. Officials do anticipate big crowds and Maine State Police will help with traffic control and parking, she said.

State officials expect turnout to be slightly lower than in recent presidential elections, however. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap anticipates turnout to be about 67 percent of registered voters, compared to 71 percent in 2012 and 76 percent in 2008. In off years, voter turnout typically dips to about 15 percent.

In addition to concerns about big crowds on Nov. 8, Maine schools are responding to safety issues. Schools have instituted new safety procedures and strict campus access rules in recent years in response to school shootings nationwide.

In Portland, which has three polling stations in schools, the School Board canceled classes at Deering High School and East End Community School but is keeping Reiche Community School open for students.

“At Deering, parking and traffic congestion on busy Stevens Avenue will be a problem on Election Day,” read a district notice. At East End, which closed during the 2008 election, the polling will be in an area students use and a long line would “likely stretch into student areas.”

Reiche can remain open because the polling location is in the community side of the building, apart from the classroom and student space.

Earlier this year, Deering High School was swamped during Maine’s Democratic presidential caucuses, which have a different voting process. The line to vote stretched for more than a half-mile and thousands of voters waited for up to four hours.

In Lewiston, Superintendent Bill Webster told parents that he was canceling classes at Montello School and Longley Elementary School.

“In reviewing our past experiences with elections and knowing the potential for a record-breaking number of voters this November, I have decided to excuse Longley and Montello students that day,” he wrote in a newsletter. “This decision is based upon the level of school disruption and safety compromise that would otherwise be expected.”

Cape Elizabeth town officials asked that the high school close this year, according to Interim Superintendent Howard Colter. The school board voted to amend the calendar in late August to make it a day off for students.

“Traffic, adequate parking, and safety are at the heart of their concern,” Colter said in a message to parents. Some students will be on election duty, however, as Cape seniors are offering rides to the polls for senior citizens in the area as a service project.


]]> 15, 21 Oct 2016 23:11:53 +0000
Rolling Stone writer called for retraction of discredited gang-rape article Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:35:37 +0000 CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely fired off an email to Rolling Stone editors in the middle of the night with a sobering subject line: “Our worst nightmare.”

She wrote that she no longer trusted “Jackie,” the central figure in her article about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, and that she believed the magazine should issue a retraction.

As an attorney for a university administrator who is suing Rolling Stone over the piece read the email aloud in court Thursday, Erdely broke down.

“Are those your words?” attorney Libby Locke asked.

“Yes,” Erdely said softly, tears streaming down her face.

Jackie had told Erdely of surviving a brutal gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity when she was a freshman, an account that appeared to exemplify the problem with sexual assault on campus and the way the school responds to it. Jackie’s harrowing tale, and allegations that U-Va. administrators did little in response, was the backbone of Erdely’s cover story.

But during months of reporting, Erdely was confronted with conflicting information about how the tale was relayed to Jackie’s friends. She found that the number of assailants wavered. And she noticed that Jackie had changed aspects of the account.

But Erdely never questioned Jackie’s credibility, and she testified in federal court that she never confronted Jackie about the discrepancies.

Erdely said she attributed the shifting details of the young woman’s tale to the trauma she experienced. Erdely had written extensively about victims of sexual assault and said they often change the details of their stories.

“It takes trauma victims some time to come forward with all the details,” Erdely said, explaining why she remained unskeptical after she learned that Jackie had told two versions of the story to her first-year roommate. “It’s not unusual.”

Later, she said she regrets trusting Jackie: “It was a mistake to rely on someone whose intent it was to deceive me.”

Locke, who is representing U-Va. administrator Nicole Eramo in a $7.5 million defamation lawsuit against Erdely and Rolling Stone, highlighted Erdely’s failure to explain inconsistencies in Jackie’s tale and her decision to run the story despite having never contacted key figures in it, including one of the young men Jackie identified as an assailant. Instead, Locke said, Erdely relied solely on the student’s word even as she grew increasingly distressed while the reporter pressed for ways to corroborate her account.

In a statement, Rolling Stone countered that Erdely was not the only one who trusted Jackie.

“It is clear that she firmly believed in the credibility of Jackie, as did U-Va. and Dean Eramo, when the article was published,” the statement said. “We made journalistic mistakes with respect to Jackie’s story and we have learned from them, but these mistakes do not support Dean Eramo’s lawsuit.”

The story, which painted U-Va. as indifferent to victims of sexual assault, prompted protests, vandalism and calls for Eramo to resign. Eramo, then a top administrator working on sexual assault prevention, said the article undid her life’s work. She testified earlier this week that the article portrayed her as attempting to suppress Jackie’s allegations when in fact she pushed Jackie to report her story to police.

Within weeks of the article’s publication, key details began to unravel, leading the magazine to issue a retraction.

Eramo’s attorneys have argued that Erdely arrived at the Virginia campus with a preconceived narrative and sought to cast characters, with Jackie filling the role of traumatized victim and Eramo personifying an institutional indifference to sexual assault.

Locke pointed out that the Rolling Stone article omitted key details that might have painted Eramo, who was not interviewed for the story, in a more favorable light, including quotes from subjects who viewed her positively.

Locke also underscored Erdely’s failure to contact key characters in the story, including the trio of friends who Jackie said met her following her assault and one of Jackie’s assailants, who Jackie claimed had brought her to the fraternity that night. In “A Rape on Campus,” the friends, identified by pseudonyms, react to Jackie’s tale with disregard. Jackie said one friend, Kathryn Hendley, asked her: “Why didn’t you just have fun with it?”

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 20:47:25 +0000
UMaine System posts first look at plan for $150 million graduate center Thu, 20 Oct 2016 19:46:58 +0000 An ambitious $150 million proposal by the University of Maine System to create a new graduate center for business, law and public policy in Portland would be phased in slowly, with first-stage funding of $15 million for the first few years, according to a business plan posted online Thursday.

But a funding source for two-thirds of the capital needed has not yet been identified, according to the plan.

“It is, I think, something that can transform Maine’s economy, rebuild communities around the state and address several problems that have been plaguing Maine for years,” said Eliot Cutler, who led the effort to develop the business plan.

The business plan was included in materials for this weekend’s board of trustees meeting in East Millinocket.

The trustees will review and vote on the plan, then forward it to the Harold Alfond Foundation, which has been the driving financial force behind the initiative. Over the past two years, the foundation has provided $2.25 million for early-stage development.

If the multi-year first stage is successful, the trustees will be asked to authorize a second stage that includes raising funds to build a $94 million building somewhere in Portland to house the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies. A location has not yet been identified.

Chancellor James Page said Thursday he supports the center and is asking the trustees to sign off on making it a priority project, but he noted the plan is to move carefully.

“At this first stage, it’s really to endorse the concept, and also to recognize that this is a very, very big undertaking,” Page said. Approval means “we can start to build the programs, get more proof of concept. But it’s not asking us or the trustees or anyone to jump off the deep end on the first day.

“We know it will evolve over a couple of years, but we want to start walking down that road,” he said.

If the business plan is approved, Page will ask the Alfond Foundation for $10 million: $5 million for the first year of operations, and another $5 million in the second year that would be matched with outside funding.

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

Those programs currently enroll 490 students, and the plan anticipates enrollment will grow to 600 students by 2025.

Financial projections anticipate a total capital investment of $150 million, with over $100 million raised from foundations that invest in education reform, but the report does not identify potential funders. The center will be financially self-sustaining by 2024, according to the plan.

The University of Maine System is not committing extra money for the center. Alfond money has paid for all work up to this point, and officials say the university system will continue to provide the same funding for the programs – averaging about $3.2 million a year – that is currently budgeted.

Page said the center is meant to directly address the needs of the state, including replacing an aging workforce , increasing the skills of already employed workers and attracting new people to the state.

“(The university system) has a responsibility to be as responsive as we possibly can to the needs of the state,” Page said. “We have to address those needs on a whole series of fronts, and one of them is developing these kinds of educational opportunities.”

In addition to offering combined degrees, each program will have new offerings to attract students, Cutler said. Law, for example, will offer more certificate programs and new master of laws programs; the MBA program will include an executive education program and certificate programs.

“We have created something that will attract people to come to Maine,” Cutler said. “Millennials are looking for this kind of integrated program.”

One of the first steps in creating a center is a new MBA program, with students earning a UMaine graduate business degree even if they attend classes in Portland. The trustees have not yet approved a new MBA program, but it is scheduled to start being offered in fall 2017.

Talks are underway on combining the two programs, but campus officials say it will involve joint appointments for professors and collaboration between USM and Orono faculty and administration. Classes will be offered online and at both campuses, and the degree will not require students or faculty at either campus to commute to the other.

A new nonprofit, Maine Center Ventures, will handle marketing and fundraising for the center, and work with business and professional communities. The nonprofit’s chief executive officer would report to an advisory board, chaired by the chancellor, that includes the presidents of USM and UMaine.

The plan emphasizes the need for a new building: “It will represent to prospective students by its very design the kind of graduate education experience that millennials want – and that employers want them to have. Students will see the building, imagine themselves in it, and say, ‘I want to go there.’ ”


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

Twitter: noelinmaine

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Alternative school drops bid to be new charter school Wed, 19 Oct 2016 16:11:33 +0000 The leaders of an alternative school for pregnant teens and high school dropouts say they are ending their efforts to become a public charter school in Maine next fall, according to a letter sent to the Maine Charter School Commission.

“We have decided to stay focused on the work we know, and the work we do well as a private school,” read the Oct. 18 letter from Wayfinder head of school Dorothy Foote and Wayfinder Chairman Paul Andrews.

Earlier this month, the commission had split 3-3 on whether to accept the review team’s recommendation against moving forward with the application from Wayfinder Academy. The tie vote meant it moved forward and the commission had scheduled an interview and public hearing.

Maine has a 10-school cap on charter schools, and there are already seven brick-and-mortar charter schools and two virtual charter schools. A total of about 2,000 students attend charter schools in Maine, which has about 182,000 students in all.

Wayfinder’s withdrawal means the commission will consider new applications next year for applicants looking to open in fall 2018. The first two charter schools opened in 2011 and are currently going through a five-year charter review process.

Wayfinder Schools was created in 2011 out of the merger of The Community School – Maine’s first alternative high school – and the 100-year-old Opportunity Farm. It serves about 80 students through two programs. Eighteen students attend a nine-month residential program at its campuses in Camden and New Gloucester, and the rest are in an at-home program called Passages, for pregnant teens ages 14-20 who had to leave school because of parenthood.

Commissioners had raised concerns about the group’s ability to transition from its private operation to a public charter school, which must be open to anyone who wanted to attend, not just pregnant or at-risk youths.

Several of the existing charter schools in Maine started out as private schools that transitioned to public charter schools, including Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, Fiddlehead School of Arts and Science, and Snow Pond Arts Academy.

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

Twitter: noelinmaine

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Two Maine charter schools get strong support for renewal Wed, 19 Oct 2016 01:06:06 +0000 HINCKLEY — Dozens of students, parents and other supporters of Maine’s first two charter schools urged state officials Tuesday to renew the charters of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley and the Cornville Regional Charter School.

“This has been life changing for me and I’m only 16,” said Alex Campbell, a freshman at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, who said he “used to wake up every morning sick,” in dread of going to school. “This school has showed me there is so much more to life … It’s a totally different way of learning.”

By law, the Maine Charter School Commission must vote whether to renew any charter school after it has been open five years. The public hearings held at the two schools Tuesday were the last step before the commission votes on Nov. 8. The commission has already completed on-site inspections, interviews and written evaluations of the schools.

The commission can renew charters for as long as 15 years, add conditions for improvement, or choose not to renew.

The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, a high school with about 150 students, emphasizes agriculture and science in its hands-on learning style. Students raise animals, farm gardens and have three large greenhouses on a 1,800-acre campus that was once the Good Will-Hinckley School for Boys and Girls.

The school has year-round classes and offers boarding for students. The school is growing, and last year completed a $7 million renovation that allows it to enroll as many as 210 students over the next three years.

Officials said they are considering opening a middle school on campus and a home-based program for pregnant or home-bound students.

Cornville, an elementary school with 144 students, emphasizes its unique learning model. The students are clustered by ability, not grade level, and the school is based on students being self-directed and independent.

“I can’t tell you what a difference this place has made,” said Jamie Hyde, who has two children at the school, including a son with special needs. Through tears, she described seeing other students help her son in the classroom. “He is loved. He is wanted. It wouldn’t have happened anywhere else.”

“I thank God every day for this place. It is amazing,” she said.

Cornville officials are also looking to expand, with a high school in downtown Skowhegan and an early childhood center for pre-kindergarten students in the former Skowhegan Nursery School Building on Dr. Mann Road. The commission will vote on that request in December.

Cornville’s proposed high school drew both supporters and critics at the hearing.

Several parents and students said they want the high school so that students can go to a high school with the same learning style. But a handful of critics said the proposed site poses traffic and parking problems, and local merchants said the area can attract homeless or intoxicated people who could pose a safety issue.

State law allows a maximum of 10 charter schools.

Maine now has seven brick-and-mortar charter schools and two virtual charter schools. A total of about 2,000 students attend charter schools in Maine, which has about 182,000 students in all.

]]> 1 Wed, 19 Oct 2016 08:14:46 +0000
Westbrook School Committee races uncontested Tue, 18 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Two incumbents are running unopposed for reelection to the Westbrook School Committee.

Noreen Poitras is on the ballot in Ward 3. A West Pleasant Street resident, she has served one term on the School Committee. Poitras has two children – one Westbrook High School graduate and one current Westbrook Middle School student.

Mike Popovic also hopes to return to the School Committee, where he represent Ward 4. Seeking his second term, Popovic lives on Webster Street. His daughter attends Westbrook High School

Both candidates said they look forward to working on a proposed $27 million expansion at Saccarappa Elementary School and Westbrook Middle School. Voters will approve or deny that project with a referendum in November.

The School Committee has seven members, which includes five ward representatives and two at-large positions. Their terms are three years. Both Poitras and Popovic are Democrats nominated at their party’s caucus.

]]> 0 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 23:32:11 +0000
Seven College of the Atlantic students involved in van crash released from hospital Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:37:11 +0000 The College of the Atlantic students were riding in a van that crashed in Thorndike on Sunday.

Seven College of the Atlantic students who were taken to the hospital after a two-vehicle crash in Thorndike on Sunday have been released, according to school officials.

Connor O’Brien, a student, was driving a 2014 GMC Savana van owned by the college when he apparently failed to yield the right-of-way to another van before turning onto Crosby Brook Road off Route 220, Maine State Police said. The driver of the other van was also hospitalized, along with seven of nine students in the college van.

The crash, just outside the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Common Ground fairgrounds, destroyed the two vehicles.

The students are now back at the Bar Harbor college or home with their families, Rob Levin, director of communications for College of the Atlantic, said Monday.

College of the Atlantic has a fleet of seven vans used to transport students as part of the “educational experience,” Levin said. Any member of the college’s community can drive one of the vans as long as they have a license and a clean record over the past three years. This is the first time one of its vans has been involved in a crash, according to Levin, and the college is liable for the damage.

While the college will look into possible changes to its current policy, no decisions have been made, Levin said. The college is still reviewing the incident and has no plans at this time to discipline the driver, Levin said.

The group was heading to Unity for Great Maine Apple Day when the crash occurred, according to a history professor from the college.

“Our thoughts and good wishes go out to everyone involved,” Levin said Monday. He said the college is grateful there were no life-threatening injuries and is providing support to those involved.

Julia Clemens, a student in the GMC Savana van, suffered a head injury and was taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Clemens, 25, was in a stable condition with injuries that were not considered life threatening.

Six other students with non-life threatening injuries were taken to Inland Hospital in Waterville. State police identified the students as Leigh Rinkan, 18; Abigail Jackson, 20; Amber Wolfe, 20; Paige Hill, 23; Alijah Santenr, 19; Gillian Welch, 20; and Teegan Rose, 19. All are believed to be from out of state, according to state police spokesman Stephen McCausland.

Benjamin Stowe, 64, of Pennsylvania, was driving south on Route 220 in a 1996 white Ford conversion van when the crash happened, police said. Stowe was alone in his van at the time and suffered a broken knee and fractured wrist, according to State Trooper Bethany Robinson. He was taken to Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast.

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

]]> 0 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 20:33:07 +0000
Interactive map: graduation rates hit record highs Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:02:05 +0000 Maine’s 2015 graduation rate – the percentage of high school seniors who graduated in four years – rose to 87.5%, up one percentage point from the graduation rate for the class of 2014. Maine’s graduation rate is above the national average of 83.2%, but behind neighbors like New Hampshire (88.1%) and Vermont (87.7%).

Explore how other states’ high schoolers fare in the interactive map below, or compare graduation rates from the class of 2011.

Related story: National high school graduation rates reach record high

  • 2014-2015
  • 2010-2011

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education
INTERACTIVE: Christian MilNeil | @vigorousnorth


State Graduation rate, 2010-2011 Graduation rate, 2014-2015
State Graduation rate, 2010-2011 Graduation rate, 2014-2015
]]> 0, 17 Oct 2016 14:03:20 +0000
National high school graduation rates reach record high Mon, 17 Oct 2016 11:59:10 +0000 WASHINGTON – High school graduation rates have reached a record high of 83.2 percent, continuing a steady increase that shows improvement across all ethnic groups, the White House said Monday.

President Barack Obama planned to talk about the gains when he visits a Washington, D.C. high school on Monday morning.

Increases in the graduation rate for the 2014-2015 school year were seen for all ethnic groups, as well as for disabled students and students from low-income families.

Still, there were significant differences among groups. Asian Americans had a 90.2 percent graduation rate, while whites were at 87.6 percent, followed by Hispanics at 77.8 percent, African-Americans at 74.6 percent and Native Americans at 71.6 percent.

The growth in graduation rates has been steady since states adopted a uniform way of tracking students. In 2008, the Bush administration ordered states to begin using a formula that is considered a more accurate count of how many actually finish school.

The White House said that the graduation rate has increased by about 4 percent points since the 2010-2011 school year. Obama frequently cites the increase when he talks to groups about progress made during his presidency.

The White House said that money invested through a grant program called Race to the Top has helped improve some of the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The administration also said millions of students have gained access to high-speed broadband in their classrooms and that the states and federal government have helped hundreds of thousands more children gain access to preschool education programs.

The White House said that the District of Columbia made the most progress in 2014-2015 compared to the previous year. The District improved its graduation rate by 7 percentage points.

]]> 5 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 14:05:06 +0000
Two-term Portland School Board member facing challenger Mon, 17 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 One of the Portland School Board’s longest-serving members is facing a challenger for her District 3 seat this November, while two other people are running unopposed for two at-large seats.

Laurie Davis – who is seeking her third three-year term on the board – is running against Bill Linnell, a semi-retired carpenter and fisherman who served on the Cape Elizabeth town council in the early 1990s.

Both Davis and Linnell have experience working with older and alternative learners. Davis works at University of Southern Maine helping first-generation and low-income students be successful in college. Linnell was a longtime volunteer and a Jobs for Maine’s Graduates instructor at Long Creek Youth Development Center, a South Portland facility for juvenile offenders.

The nine-member school board oversees a $104 million budget for a 16-school district with about 6,800 students.

“I deeply believe that education is the thing that changes people’s lives and communities,” Davis said about her decision to run again, adding that she wanted to see the Hall School renovation project through and provide “stability” on the board. “This is about serving the community in education for me. It’s not about politics.”

Linnell said he decided to run after seeing Davis offer lukewarm support for a $70 million bond to renovate four elementary schools. Davis, who was one of two board members opposing the measure, has said she supported renovations, but did not believe the proposal would be approved.

“In Portland, the time for ‘nuances’ is well past,” Linnell said. “These schools should have been fixed 20 years ago. Children who suffered through these buildings are now registered voters with kids of their own. It’s time for District 3 to be represented by a leader who is willing to stop talking about it, and take action.”

District 3 covers the Libbytown, Stroudwater, Nason’s Corner, Rosemont and University of Southern Maine neighborhoods.

Davis said she would continue to focus on student achievement, something she said she has tried to keep front and center during her time on the board.

“I make sure it’s part of the conversation,” she said, adding that she has also been an advocate for adult education.

“Not all of our students are achieving at the levels they need to be successful,” she said. “I want to make sure all of our students are really ready for college or a career.”

As for opposing the bond, Davis said she wanted to see the final recommendation from the city’s ad-hoc committee that is investigating the details of the proposal. She said she would be “surprised” if they supported the $70 million bond with no changes, but if they did she would consider changing her position.

“If you can give me better information, better data, a better argument, I can change my mind.” Davis said. “I’m not inflexible and ideological.”

Linnell said he has been active in public service and working with children for decades, from teaching to volunteering as an assistant soccer coach.

“I enjoy public service. School board seemed to be a natural fit,” he said. A recent tour of an elementary school opened his eyes, he said.

“I saw that clearly the schools are in tough shape and they need an overhaul,” Linnell said. Aside from the bond, Linnell said he would push to expand pre-K education in the district, and promote programs to keep teenagers “positively engaged” in school.

“I think the early years are absolutely critical. We need to give them the best chance of succeeding in elementary school,” he said.

Linnell is endorsed by the Portland Education Association, which represents more than 700 teachers; school board members John Eder and Holly Seeliger and Portland State Rep. Ben Chipman.

Davis is endorsed by five school board members (Sarah Thompson, Pious Ali, Jenna Vendil, Stephanie Hatzenbuehler and Marnie Marrione;) three city council members (Spencer Thibodeau, Ed Suslovic and Justin Costa;) and local State Representatives Richard Farnsworth and Erik Jorgensen.

Also on the ballot are candidates for two at-large seats, both for three-year terms.

Incumbent Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodriguez are running for the seats, three-year-term at-large seats. In 2013, when Trevorrow was elected, there were six people running for the two at-large seats.

Trevorrow said her top priorities were working on the ad-hoc committee on the school renovation bond, supporting new superintendent Javier Botana, ongoing contract negotiations and working toward universal pre-k. She is an assistant clerk for the Maine Superior Court and has served as state chairwoman of the Green Independent Party.

Rodriguez, a physical therapist assistant, moved to Portland in 2011 from Miami. He said he wanted to be involved in public service, which was part of the reason his family moved to Maine.

“It is a positive way to be involved with the community,” said Rodriquez, who served in the National Guard when he was in Florida. He has been a volunteer for three years at Lyseth Elementary School, and credits Pious Ali with “planting the seed” that he should run for school board.

Rodriguez said he was interested in working on the “constant challenge” of improving outcomes for students, addressing socio-economic inequities and continuing outreach into the larger community.


]]> 3 Sun, 16 Oct 2016 22:39:18 +0000
At Southern Maine Community College, serving up a brunch to remember Mon, 17 Oct 2016 01:12:58 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — A group of friends who love to cook took time out Sunday to honor a friend by throwing a fundraising brunch in his memory.

They said cooking some of Adrianus Michael “Mike” Kusuma’s favorite foods and serving them to his friends was a way to come to grips with the shocking death of the 33-year-old member of the Class of 2010 in the Southern Maine Community College culinary arts program.

“He was good at everything, but his specialty had to have been breakfast,” said Brett Cary of Cape Elizabeth, a classmate.

Kusuma was killed Sept. 18 by two gunmen who broke into his home in Spring, Texas, an affluent suburb of Houston. He had moved from Maine in 2013 to open an upscale breakfast and lunch restaurant, Sunny Side of the Street, with the help of his uncle and brother.

The gunmen demanded money before shooting him and assaulting his brother, Sebastian. Police have made no arrests.

A family friend told the Houston Chronicle that he believed the gunmen knew about the restaurant’s success and the possibility that the day’s proceeds may not have gone into the bank because it was a Sunday.

“He was intelligent, happy-go-lucky, witty, passionate and creative. There is no way anyone would have a grudge against him,” said Lindsay Bradeen of Cornish, a classmate who organized Sunday’s brunch with Cary.

Kusuma followed his uncle, Tony Kusuma, from Jakarta, Indonesia, to the United States to attend college. He graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo, went to work for Mercedes-Benz, and then decided to go back to school and obtained a master’s of business degree from the University of Southern Maine before following his true passion, food, at SMCC. He worked in restaurants in Portland and Kennebunkport, including Vignola, Bandaloop and Hurricane Restaurant. His parents still live in Jakarta.

“His passion was food. He could out-eat anyone,” said Bradeen, who like her late friend runs a breakfast restaurant, Lindsay and Jennifer at Runway Restaurant in Limington. .

Kusuma worked it all off by practicing the Brazilian jiujitsu martial art, in which he held a blue belt.

Sunday’s brunch featured a menu of Kusuma’s specialties and his own favorite foods: baked blueberry custard French toast with almond crumb topping, buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy, assorted mini muffins, roasted root vegetable hash with corned beef brisket and cream puffs to top it all off.

His favorite saying, a takeoff of a Mae West quote, was printed on the menu: “You go ahead, use the butter, use the cream. You only live once, and in the South, once is enough if you do it right.”

The 15 friends who organized and cooked the brunch transformed the Culinary Arts Dining Room overlooking Casco Bay with fall decorations. All of the food was locally grown and raised. Proceeds will go to Kusuma’s family.

Wilfred Beriau, retired chair of the culinary arts program, said Kusuma was special.

“He was a brilliant young man but more than brilliant, a gentleman,” Beriau said.

In Texas, Kusuma quickly made friends, attended Mass at a local Catholic church and competed in juijitsu competitions.

Now Kusuma’s parents, who visited him at SMCC, are rethinking a move to the United States and his brother plans to move from Texas, the uncle told the Houston Chronicle.

The Sunny Side of the Street never reopened after Kusuma’s death.

“He touched a lot of people through his personality and his cooking,” said Kimberly Parent of Oakland, an SMCC classmate.


]]> 2, 17 Oct 2016 08:03:47 +0000
Fired Waterville principal Donald Reiter surrenders teaching certificate Thu, 13 Oct 2016 15:10:25 +0000 AUGUSTA — Donald J. Reiter, fired last November from his job as principal of Waterville High School after a student accused him of asking her for sex, surrendered his state teaching credentials permanently in exchange for the state dismissing a criminal charge against him.

The official oppression charge was dismissed Thursday during a brief hearing at the Capital Judicial Center.

“He won’t be in the classroom,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh told Justice Michaela Murphy.

The dismissal document filed in the court says the “defendant has agreed to permanently surrender his Department of Education credentials.” Cavanaugh said that includes credentials as a teacher and as an administrator.

The court action brings to a close more than a year of controversy over the former principal, who denied the allegation and was supported by many in the community and at the high school.

Reiter, 45, of Mount Vernon, was placed on administrative leave on Sept. 1, 2015, after an 18-year-old student alleged he had called her into his office from class on the first day of school and asked her for sex.

In an interview with a reporter on Nov. 7, 2015, Reiter adamantly denied the allegation.

But after Waterville Superintendent Eric Haley and Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot had conducted an in-house investigation, Reiter was fired by the Waterville Board of Education that month. Reiter had been principal at Waterville High School since 2007 and would have been paid $102,000 in the 2015-16 school year.

The Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office filed a charge of official oppression against Reiter late last year after a criminal investigation by Waterville police. Official oppression, a misdemeanor, holds educators and those in positions of authority accountable for their actions. Reiter had pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The charge dismissal had been in the works for some time, but was postponed until October to allow more time to work out details, District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said previously.

During their investigation, Waterville police learned of similar allegations against Reiter by two former students at Mascenic Regional High School in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, where Reiter worked from 1998 to 2004. He had been a teacher and an assistant principal there.

Maloney said Thursday that Reiter agreed to allow Maine authorities to share results of Waterville search warrants with police and school officials in New Hampshire.

“This will aid New Hampshire in their investigation.” Maloney said. Waterville police had executed search warrants on Reiter’s personal computer and his phone.

She also said the agreement for the dismissal “accomplishes far more than a fine of a few hundred dollars, which is the typical consequence of a misdemeanor.”

A telephone message and an email sent to New Ipswich, New Hampshire, Police Chief Tim Carpenter was not answered Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday, Reiter was in the lobby of the courthouse in Augusta but not in the courtroom when the case was being dismissed. His attorney, Walter McKee, said Reiter is now working in a different field.

After the hearing, McKee said via email: “The case is dismissed and over. Don is surrendering his Department of Education credentials which really means little because given what happened last year with the school, he has zero plans of teaching again.”

McKee added: “We would have loved nothing more than to challenge this case at trial – not only as to what happened but also as to whether there was ever even a crime here. But it is hard to turn down a complete dismissal.”

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

Twitter: @betadams

]]> 15, 13 Oct 2016 21:38:46 +0000
Skowhegan educator named 2017 Maine Teacher of the Year Thu, 13 Oct 2016 14:15:21 +0000 SKOWHEGAN — Tammy Ranger, a reading intervention teacher at Skowhegan Area Middle School, is the 2017 Maine Teacher of the Year.

In a surprise ceremony Thursday in the gymnasium where she learned of the award, Ranger, 53, told students that they are the reason she comes to work every day.

“We teach because we love our students and because we love learning,” Ranger said. “In my 16 years working as an educator, I’ve met many outstanding teachers in Maine. I feel like I know teachers; we have common experiences. I know that you love your students and you want the best for your students, and I know the joy that you feel when you see the ‘light bulb moments’ come on when you understand that they got the lesson that you taught.”

Ranger is the second Maine teacher of the year to come out of Skowhegan Area Middle School. Jennifer Dorman, an English and language arts instructor in special education, was named in 2015. Ranger also is the third County Teacher of the Year from the school, joining Dorman and Debora Tanner, a mathematics teacher.

Ranger entered the gymnasium through a side door to a wild round of applause and a standing ovation as Ranger hugged fellow teachers and members of her family.

Ranger began her career in 1999 as a sixth-grade reading and social studies teacher at Margaret Chase Smith Elementary School in Skowhegan. She is a yoga instructor for the elderly and for employees at New Balance Athletic Shoe Co. and sits on the Waterville Public Library board of directors. She is a volunteer at the Evening Soup and Sandwich program in Waterville.

Ranger is also an adjunct professor at the University of Maine, where she teaches a methods course in English language arts. She holds a bachelor of science degree in elementary education with a concentration in literacy from the University of Maine at Farmington and a master’s degree in kindergarten-through-grade 12 literacy from the University of Maine.

Skowhegan Area Middle School Principal Zachary Longyear said Thursday’s event was “tremendously exciting.”

“Her experience with you, our students, will shape the face of education in Maine and beyond,” Longyear said. “Mrs. Ranger validates what the state of Maine and the title Teacher of the Year stands for. She is the perfect example of an ambassador for this program – a mother, a mentor, a friend and an example that shines through your students, showing them that they, too, can be exceptional.”

Talya Edlund, the 2016 Teacher of the Year, who teaches at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth, told Ranger that “you are the teacher I want to learn from.”

“Today is like the biggest party ever,” Edlund said. “We are celebrating a truly exceptional, wholehearted and fabulous individual, who, like you all probably do, I feel so lucky to know.”

A plaque noting the Maine Teacher of the Year Award was presented to Ranger by Martha Harris and Peter Geiger, of the state Board of Education.

Ranger was among three state finalists for Maine’s top teaching award.

“Guys, your teacher just won a great honor, but she’s got a lot of work ahead of her, too,” said Ed Cervone, executive director of the nonprofit group Educate Maine, which administers the Teacher of the Year program. “But one of the cool things among many is that she gets to go to Washington, D.C., to represent all of you for the nation; and she gets to meet the president of the United States.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:; Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

]]> 0, 13 Oct 2016 22:01:04 +0000
Chicago teachers head toward strike as talks falter Mon, 10 Oct 2016 23:41:35 +0000 CHICAGO —Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district prepared to go on strike for the second time since 2012, as contract talks between the Chicago Teachers Union and financially troubled Chicago Public Schools headed into Monday evening with no sign of an agreement.

The CTU has directed its roughly 28,000 members to report to picket lines Tuesday morning unless they hear otherwise from union negotiators. All 652 schools will be open during normal school hours for the district’s 400,000 students, CPS said.

The two sides held negotiations throughout the weekend. On Monday afternoon, teachers picked up strike placards and painted banners.

Earlier in the day, parents and other supporters rallied across from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home, and another pro-educators rally was planned for Monday evening.

Teachers have been without a contract since June 2015. The union wants no cuts to salary or benefits and an additional $200 million – or $500 per student – in spending to ensure adequate staffing and “to accommodate the needs of our children,” CTU President Karen Lewis said.

CPS has said it is working within the framework of a January offer, which included pay increases and a cap on privately operated charter schools but would require teachers to contribute more to their pension costs. The union turned it down in February.

About two-dozen people with Parents 4 Teachers rallied in the leafy Ravenswood neighborhood on the city’s North Side.

Several children, off school because of Columbus Day, also were there; one held a placard that read, “Parents, Teachers, Students – United.”

Organizer Erica Hade has several children in the public school system and lives across the street from a school. She said she sees teachers arriving for work at 6 a.m. and leaving 12 hours later.

“How can parents not be supportive of teachers?” she said.

One theme struck by several at the rally was the perception that Emanuel focuses inordinately on wooing businesses to Chicago. At one point, protesters chanted, “Mayor Emanuel, we’re no fools. If there’s money for developers, there’s money for schools.”

People went door to door handing out cards that listed issues they saw as critical, such as enforceable class-size limits, a moratorium on charter-schools expansion and no cuts to teachers’ pay

During the last major strike in 2012, teachers were out for seven school days.

]]> 1, 10 Oct 2016 19:41:35 +0000
South Portland to consider building a consolidated middle school Thu, 06 Oct 2016 02:22:36 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The school district will consider the possibility of building a new, consolidated middle school to satisfy state officials who want to address major deficiencies at both of the city’s aging middle schools.

Where a consolidated middle school would be built remains to be determined, but the estimated $23 million cost would be funded entirely by the state, district officials said at a community forum Wednesday night.

The district also will consider the cost and logistics of renovating Mahoney and Memorial middle schools separately as part of a “new vs. renovation” building analysis that’s required to get state funding.

Officials at the Maine Department of Education want to meet the needs of all middle school students in the city, said Michael Johanning, a senior architect with WBRC Architects-Engineers, the firm working on the project.

“The state is going to require us to look at both middle schools,” Johanning said. “The state would prefer we address as many issues as possible with the middle schools.”

Johanning said state funding is available to renovate Mahoney, build a new school for Mahoney students or build a new consolidated school for all South Portland students in grades 6 through 8.

City taxpayers would have to foot the bill to renovate Memorial, build a new school for Memorial students, or include any features in a middle school that are beyond state guidelines, such as larger classrooms or green enhancements, he said.

While the project’s potential cost is unknown, Superintendent Ken Kunin noted that the average size of a new school in Maine is about 160 square feet per student and the going rate for new-school construction in Maine is about $200 per square foot. That would translate to a $23 million school to house the city’s 725 students.

District officials hosted Wednesday’s forum at the high school to explain the lengthy process that lies ahead since the Maine State Board of Education voted unanimously in August to put Mahoney on a list of projects approved for state funding.

The building analysis is the fifth of 21 steps, including construction, that could take as long as six years to complete, Johanning said. The district will hold additional forums to figure out whether to renovate or build a new school, then develop a concept, hold a community straw vote and seek state board approval before holding a citywide referendum on the chosen design.

The Middle School Facilities Committee has already visited two new middle schools in Greater Portland to get ideas: in Scarborough, which was locally funded, and in Westbrook, which was largely state funded, Johanning said.

Johanning presented rough concept designs for renovations to Mahoney and Memorial. Mahoney’s shows an added gym, office space, parking area and driveway from Highland Avenue that would consume all of its ball field space. Memorial’s shows construction of a whole new wing to accommodate myriad design flaws in the existing building.

While it’s unlikely that Mahoney’s site could accommodate a consolidated middle school, Memorial’s site could, Johanning said. An assessment of possible construction sites in the city would follow the building analysis.

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.

Mahoney serves about 325 students and sits on 15 acres at Ocean Street and Broadway, near Mill Creek Park. Memorial serves about 400 students and sits on 17 acres at 120 Wescott Road, in the Thornton Heights neighborhood.

While Mahoney is architecturally striking and historically important, both buildings have significant structural, health, safety and handicapped-access deficiencies, along with asbestos throughout and inadequate heating, ventilation, plumbing, electrical and communication systems.

A “thinking together” session of small-group discussions was held after Wednesday’s forum to begin a wider community dialogue on the project. About 70 parents and others participated.

Some parents raised concerns about maintaining smaller middle schools to serve neighborhoods. But while many students can walk to Mahoney, on the east side of the city, many students must be bused to Memorial, on the west side of the city, said Megan Welter, Memorial’s principal.

Matt McAleney, father of a third-grader and a kindergartener at Brown Elementary School, said his kids are the third generation of his family to attend the city’s schools, and his father attended Mahoney when it was the high school.

“I want to see what’s the best option for my kids and for future generations,” McAleney said.

Jamie Keene, mother of a fifth-grader and a second-grader, said she attended the forum to learn about the future development of the city’s schools.

“They did a great job with the high school,” she said. “I’d like to see them do the same for the middle schools.”

]]> 5, 05 Oct 2016 22:44:38 +0000
Alternative school’s application still alive after Maine charter commission splits vote Tue, 04 Oct 2016 23:43:56 +0000 AUGUSTA — An alternative school for pregnant teens and high school dropouts is one step closer to opening as a public charter school in Maine next fall, even though a state education review team recommended against it.

At its meeting Tuesday, the six-member Maine Charter School Commission split 3-3 on whether to accept the review team’s recommendation against moving forward with the application from Wayfinder Academy.

After the vote, the commission consulted its lawyer, and was advised that the split vote meant Wayfinder Academy automatically moved forward to the next stage of the charter school application process, an in-person interview and public hearing on Nov. 8.

“That was unusual,” Commission Chairwoman Laurie Pendleton said after the meeting. Pendleton, Jana Lapoint and John Bird voted against the recommendation. Members Nicki Farnham, Mike Wilhelm and Shelley Reed voted in favor of the recommendation.

If approved, Wayfinder would be the final charter school allowed in Maine under the state’s 10-charter school cap.

Wayfinder Schools was created in 2011 out of the merger of The Community School – Maine’s first alternative high school – and the 100-year-old Opportunity Farm, according to its website.

It serves about 80 students through two programs. Eighteen students attend a nine-month residential program at its campuses in Camden and New Gloucester, and the rest are in an at-home program called Passages, for pregnant teens ages 14-20 who had to leave school because of parenthood.

But as a public charter school, Wayfinder would have to be open to anyone who wanted to attend, not just pregnant or at-risk youth.

The charter school commission review team’s concerns centered on how the Wayfinder model would translate to public school requirements, such as how to give annual assessments and show progress for students in a nine-month program. The review team also said the application was not clear on how the charter school would operate independently from the existing Wayfinder Schools, financially and administratively.

“The applicant has not shown sufficient evidence in the application or in oral presentation of creating a school that meets applicable state public school laws in the areas of special education, teacher certification, state assessment, and truancy/attendance,” the review committee wrote. “These schools are constructed around the express needs of a specific and limited type of student.”

Several of the existing charter schools in Maine started out as private schools that transitioned to public charter schools, including Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, Fiddlehead School of Arts and Science, and Snow Pond Arts Academy.

The normally seven-member commission is down one member since Ande Smith resigned in April after being named to the State Board of Education. Former Education Commissioner Jim Rier has been nominated by the State Board of Education to fill the seat, but he has not completed the approval process. Rier needs to be interviewed by the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee and a date for that interview has not been set.

At the Nov. 8 meeting, the commission must have a two-thirds vote to approve entering into contract negotiations with the school. If a contract is signed, the school is granted a charter by the state and would open in the fall of 2017.

That means at least one dissenter on Tuesday must change his or her vote to support the application. Wayfinder is not allowed to change its application, but can submit additional information to “further define and clarify” what’s in the application, Pendleton said.

“Everyone is sort of going to have to vote their conscience on that,” Pendleton said about the Nov. 8 vote.

Wayfinder Schools CEO and Head of Schools Dorothy Foote said she hoped the commission would approve the application at the next meeting. She said she thought the commission’s concerns, such as how the school would handle special education students, was addressed in the current application.

“What we do is innovative. What is challenging is that innovation is pretty constricted,” she said.

She also reiterated that she believes the school should already be receiving public funds. Wayfinder has been trying for years to get public funding from the state, she said.

“Funding should be following students to our school anyways,” Foote said. “It doesn’t.”

Maine currently has seven brick-and-mortar charter schools and two virtual charter schools. A total of about 2,000 students attend charter schools in Maine, which has about 182,000 students in all.

Correction: This story was updated Oct. 5 to correct the date of the public hearing.

]]> 0 Wed, 05 Oct 2016 09:43:45 +0000
Chickenpox cases prompt exclusion of 5 unvaccinated students from Yarmouth school Tue, 04 Oct 2016 17:48:26 +0000 Two children at Rowe School in Yarmouth have been diagnosed with chickenpox in the past two weeks, prompting authorities to temporarily exclude five unvaccinated students from the elementary school.

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff said Tuesday that because of the chickenpox cases, the five unvaccinated students would be excluded from school for 16 calendar days, although two of those students could return to school sooner.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease, but there’s a vaccine for it that has been available since the 1990s. While children are required to get the chickenpox vaccine and other immunizations before attending school, Maine permits parents to opt out of vaccinations by signing a form saying they object on philosophic or religious grounds.

“We need to do this to protect them and others,” said Dolloff, explaining that Yarmouth is following rules of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. When health and public school officials determine that a public health threat exists, they can exclude unvaccinated students from school.

With the two cases, Rowe School is on the cusp of being considered an outbreak, which is defined by the Maine CDC as three or more cases of infectious diseases at any one location. Through Sept. 30, Maine had 149 cases of chickenpox, the highest rate in New England, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Hampshire, with nearly the same population as Maine, reported one case, while Connecticut, with about three times Maine’s population, had 78 cases.

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a Yarmouth pediatrician, said chickenpox is not a mild childhood disease and can be dangerous. In severe cases, children can be sick for weeks, hospitalized with encephalitis or skin infections. The disease can be deadly for those who are immune-compromised as a result of undergoing cancer treatments or other conditions.

The chickenpox virus – varicella zoster virus – can resurface as shingles in middle-age people or seniors who were not vaccinated and previously contracted the disease.

Dolloff said of the five children who will be excluded from school two have had their first shot but are missing a booster shot. He said as soon as they receive their required booster shot vaccination, they will be allowed to attend school. The other three children will miss school for the full 16 days because they haven’t received their first shot.

Dolloff said because the 200-student school has a high vaccination rate this year – less than 2 percent have opted out of required vaccinations – disruption to the school will be minimized. In the 2015-16 school year, Rowe School’s non-medical opt-out rate was 3.6 percent, almost matching the state average of 3.7 percent, according to Maine CDC data.

Maine has one of the highest kindergarten opt-out rates in the nation, but vaccination rates have improved in recent years.

There are pockets of vaccine refusal at some Maine schools, with some schools having opt-out rates that reach 20 percent or higher. Fiddlehead School of Arts and Science in Gray, Kennebunkport Consolidated School and Hancock Grammar School, for example, all reported opt-out rates of 20 percent or higher for kindergarten or first grade in 2015-16. The 2016-17 school-by-school opt-out rates will be publicly available next spring.

If an outbreak occurred at one of the schools with numerous exemptions, dozens of students would be required to miss school for 16 calendar days.

“You don’t want students to be missing school, and 10-12 school days is a significant part of the academic year,” Dolloff said. “Kindergartners and first-graders have rapidly developing brains and need to be in school.”

Blaisdell said removing unvaccinated students from school is “exceptionally disruptive to the school. It’s an unmeasured cost of not protecting the population with vaccines.”

Maine’s overall non-medical opt-out rate for kindergarten students declined from 3.9 percent in 2014-15 to 3.7 percent in 2015-16. State-by-state results for 2015-16 will be released by the U.S. CDC this fall.

Maine was fifth-worst for vaccine coverage in the 2013-14 school year, when kindergarten opt-outs reached 5.2 percent. Typically, the national median for opt-outs is about 2 percent or less.

A 2015 bill that would have made it more difficult for parents to opt out of vaccines for their children failed after the Maine House fell five votes short in an attempt to override a veto by Gov. Paul LePage.

While Yarmouth school officials are talking publicly about the chickenpox cases, a proposed rule change by the Maine CDC would, if approved, make it easier for the state agency to deny public records requests asking to disclose the locations of outbreaks. The Portland Press Herald and a number of health organizations – including MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center, and the Maine Medical Association, an advocacy group that represents physicians – have opposed the proposed rule change, which is pending a review by the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

]]> 450 Tue, 04 Oct 2016 18:18:09 +0000
Gov. LePage to push for consolidation of public school administrations Tue, 04 Oct 2016 15:49:37 +0000 AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that Maine has too many school superintendents and he plans to pressure school districts to consolidate administrations in the two-year state budget he will propose to the Legislature in early 2017.

“The issue is not the money in education, the issue is how the money in education is being spent,” LePage said during a talk show on WVOM radio in Bangor. LePage reiterated his dissatisfaction with the number of public school superintendents in Maine, comparing the state with Florida.

“We have 127 superintendents for 177,000 kids,” LePage said. “The state of Florida, who ranks number seventh in the best education system in America, has 3 million kids and 64 superintendents. That’s where the problem is. We are spending the money on the administration of our schools and not in the classrooms.”

The governor went on to say he believed teachers and students in Maine “are the two victims of our school system.” He said the state’s teachers union and the superintendents association “are the two winners.”

It’s not clear how LePage could force school systems to combine administrative functions. He did not offer any details of the plan. His staff did not respond to a question about the source of his information on Maine’s or Florida’s educational performance and ranking.

The Maine School Boards Association and Maine School Superintendents Association said LePage didn’t have his facts in order when he asserted that school administration is driving up costs. They cited a report from the Maine Department of Education showing administrative costs on the decline in Maine.

The report, submitted to the recently formed blue ribbon task force on education, shows that the state’s 96 full-time and 32 part-time superintendents account for about $12.3 million, or less than 1 percent, of the just over $2 billion total cost of public education, including local funding.

“Leadership matters, and the governor should know that,” Becky Fles, the president of the school boards association, said in a prepared statement. “Studies have shown that a strong school leader can make a difference in how a student does in school, even in districts where there is not a lot of money to spend.”


Steve Bailey, a school superintendent in Damariscotta and president of the superintendents association, said LePage has long criticized administration and now appeared to be blaming both superintendents and principals for rising costs.

“As a group, we have reached out to the governor and his staff to explain that administrators in Maine wear many different hats and are committed to student success,” Bailey said.

LePage made the comments Tuesday in the context of a conversation about Question 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot, which will ask voters to approve a 3 percent income tax increase for households earning more than $200,000 a year, with the increased revenue being earmarked for public schools. LePage has said the tax increase will drive business away from Maine and make the state less attractive to high-income earners such as doctors and engineers.

LePage’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, made an unsuccessful attempt to consolidate Maine’s public school system. LePage predicted his effort also would likely fail before the Legislature in 2017, but would then be a top issue for the 2018 gubernatorial and State House elections.


LePage also took aim at the Legislature, a recurring target of his criticism, saying lawmakers haven’t done their part to help bring greater regionalization and consolidation to public schools.

“They have been at fault for not willing and wanting to make the program that John Baldacci put forward. I’m not going to agree that it was the best program,” LePage said. “I’m going to say it was a great effort.”

LePage and Baldacci also agree in their opposition to Question 2. Speaking in September to WGAN radio in Portland, Baldacci said he believed schools need more funding, but raising taxes on a single income bracket was the wrong approach.

A law passed under Baldacci in 2007 sought to reduce the number of school administrative districts in Maine from 290 to just 80 regional school units, or RSUs. That law also allowed individual cities and towns to petition for withdrawal after a 30-month period, which more than 20 ended up doing – largely unraveling the consolidation effort.

LePage said Tuesday that he understood the desire for local control, but also suggested that if people wanted local control they should pay for it locally, which in Maine is largely in the form of property taxes.

He also said that since he had taken office in 2011, state funding for public schools had increased from $892 million a year to $1.1 billion a year in 2016.

“I have been the most pro-education governor in the history of the state,” LePage said.

Even so, the state has never achieved the 55 percent funding level for K-12 education that voters approved in 2004. The closest it got was in 2009, when it paid for 53 percent of costs. Currently, the state’s contribution is at 47 percent.

And many of the funding increases for public schools were in budgets negotiated by the Legislature and passed over LePage’s vetoes.

Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, a member of the Legislature’s Education Committee, agrees with LePage’s focus on more efficient and effective use of state funds for public education, but said the governor is oversimplifying the issue.

Hubbell said LePage has offered budget proposals for public education that have essentially been flat, but the Legislature has added to those amounts.

“Whatever the increases in education have been, have been a result of legislative increases,” Hubbell said. “The governor has a habit of using statistics that sound like they are precise and therefore accurate, but frequently I have found it impossible to verify those assertions he makes absolutely about either spending or school performance.”


LePage also said Maine ranked low nationally in terms of the quality of public education. “We are not very high on the totem pole,” LePage said. “We ranked between 35th and 40th as far as quality of education in the country, and we are in the top 10 or the top 12, if I am not mistaken, in spending.”

But LePage’s numbers don’t square with at least two recently published reports on public education spending and quality.

A December 2015 report in Governing magazine that looked at 2014 U.S. Census data ranked Maine 15th in per-capita spending on K-12 public education, while a January report by Education Week that graded public education in all 50 states and the District of Columbia ranked Maine 14th highest.

That report looked at a variety of factors, including standardized test score results, high school graduation rates and percent of taxable resources spent on public education, among a host of other indicators. The report gave Maine a C with a score of 78.5. The national average for all states was 74.4. Florida, ranked 31st, received a C minus with a score of 72.4. The top scoring state was Massachusetts with a B+ grade and a score of 86.8, while the lowest-scoring state in the report was Nevada, with a D grade and a score of 65.2.

Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, the ranking Senate Democrat on the Education Committee, said the governor was focusing on the wrong issues when it comes to public education in Maine and distorting the record on how funding for public schools was increased.

She, like Hubbell, said it was the Legislature and not LePage that pushed for additional state funding for public schools.


Millett also referred to the state’s report to the task force on education showing the costs of school administration on the decline in Maine.

“It’s really bizarre he’s focused on this because his own (Education Department) just a week or two weeks ago presented data showing that Maine’s administrative costs have gone down,” Millett said.

Rep. Matt Pouliot, an Augusta Republican on the Education Committee, shares LePage’s position on some of the issues.

“Simply pumping more money into education in our state is no way a panacea,” Pouliot said. He said he would rather see a statewide teachers contract to level the playing field for teachers across Maine. He also said he couldn’t necessarily agree with LePage’s conclusion that Maine was spending too much on school administration, or that school districts should be forced to consolidate.

“That’s really been a failed experiment in this state,” Pouliot said. “And it’s easy to point fingers at one person or the other being the problem and I don’t really think that’s necessarily the case. We do need good-quality administrators leading different districts in the state, but we also need to make changes in the way we negotiate contracts.”


]]> 84, 05 Oct 2016 07:56:47 +0000
USM president discusses fundraising, Portland campus expansion Tue, 04 Oct 2016 15:06:30 +0000 University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings highlighted progress on admissions, a stabilizing budget and plans to expand the school’s Portland campus in his pitch on Tuesday to members of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Cummings told local business and community leaders, including several members of the Portland City Council, that after years of declining in-state enrollment, the school is working to attract students from out of state with new scholarships, international exchange programs, and plans to build housing and a student center on its Portland campus.

“We have to be much more entrepreneurial in our efforts to reach out to students out of the state and around the globe,” Cummings said.

So far that strategy appears to be working as Cummings reported that USM had stabilized enrollment for the first time in 11 years, thanks in large part to a 17 percent increase in out-of-state admissions. The school also saw a 30 percent increase in the number of students of color admitted this year. With that kind of progress, Cummings said he hopes to increase enrollment from 8,000 to 10,000 students over the next five years, restoring the student body to historic levels.

To accomplish that goal, Cummings said the school will need to further distinguish itself in the crowded field of New England colleges. He sees the proposed plans for the Portland campus as key to those efforts.

“Portland is considered one of the best, if not the best, small city in America, so we have a huge asset that we’re not really applying, particularly with out-of-state students,” Cummings said.

The University of Maine system has come to rely on out-of-state students as its board of trustees voted this spring to keep in-state tuition flat for the sixth straight year, in exchange for an increase in state funding. The trustees also approved requests for a 12 percent increase in state funding for 2017 and the 2018-2019 budgets. USM’s out-of-state students will pay $19,950 in tuition for the 2016-2017 academic year, compared to $7,590 for Maine residents.

Cummings had previously outlined the long-range plan for a more cohesive Portland campus that would replace Bedford Street, which bisects the Portland campus, with student housing, student and arts centers and open green spaces. USM officials have said the plan, which has not yet been approved by the University of Maine’s board of trustees, would probably take five to 10 years to complete and cost up to $100 million.

USM is also working on plans for a new professional school that would combine its law, business and policy schools under a single roof. The Harold Alfond Foundation is the driving force behind that project, though questions remain as to whether the school would be built on the Portland campus or in downtown Portland.

Cummings argued that the proposed investments in the Portland campus would be a boon for both recruitment and retention efforts. In addition to attracting out-of-state students, student housing on the Portland campus would help USM students burdened by the city’s high rents. Cummings said upperclassmen are drawn to Portland’s nightlife, arts, culture and job opportunities but are sometimes forced to drop credit hours in order to cover housing costs. The proposed student housing would provide a lower cost alternative to students interested in exploring the Portland area.

Cummings stressed, however, that plans for the Portland campus were not intended to divert resources from the school’s historic hub in Gorham. That campus, he said, would still be the focal point for first and second year students learning to navigate the USM system.

]]> 2 Tue, 04 Oct 2016 18:18:59 +0000
Maine will have 2nd highest top tax rate in U.S. if Question 2 passes Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine’s top tax rate would become the second-highest in the nation if voters in November approve a ballot measure that would tax the wealthiest Mainers and businesses to increase state education funding.

Backers say Question 2, which would add a 3 percent tax on personal income over $200,000 a year, is a countermeasure to tax cuts under Gov. Paul LePage that have reduced state revenue. It would help fund a decade-old voter mandate to have the state pay for 55 percent of the cost of K-12 education.

“It is indisputable (that) the majority of tax cuts have gone to the wealthiest Mainers. So at the same time the Legislature is saying there is no money for schools, we continue to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Mainers. That is not a sustainable path,” said John Kosinski, a lobbyist for the state teachers union and campaign manager for Yes on 2.

“It’s not good for kids. It needs to stop,” Kosinski said. “We’re just asking them to pay their fair share.”

Opponents say it’s too much of a tax burden and could drive individuals or businesses out of state.

“Our tax burden is an impediment,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and head of a political action committee opposed to Question 2. “It scares off any prospective investor because they look at that top marginal rate, it’s a signal to them that they’re going to pay more to do business in Maine.”

Former Education Commissioner Jim Rier, considered an expert on Maine’s complicated education funding formula, said he isn’t even sure it’s constitutional because the money raised would bypass the state’s General Fund and go straight to a special account – a charge supporters reject. He is part of the PAC opposing the measure.

“I am sure that the legislative language accompanying Question #2 will present a number of challenges and unknowns. It is poorly written, was not subject to any legislative hearings, and ultimately may not even be constitutional in Maine,” Rier said in written comments. “If it passes it requires a change to income tax rates, those new taxes to flow to a fund to be distributed by the administration (Commissioner of Education) all without any involvement by the legislative branch. And if that isn’t enough it seems to say that the Legislature cannot change any of those requirements.”

Question 2 funds, expected to be $159 million the first year, would be administered by the Department of Education and added to state funds that are put through the existing education funding formula. The state currently allocates about $921 million a year in General Purpose Aid to districts.


According to the legislation supporting Question 2, the money can only be used for “direct support” of students, and cannot be used for “the costs of administration,” expressly the salary and benefits paid for administrative or clerical staff.

The Department of Education must announce how much money is raised through the tax, and school districts must report to the department how they spent the money.

A recent poll by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram found that although opinions were split along party lines, over 60 percent of respondents support the measure.

The poll found 32 percent oppose Question 2 and 8 percent are undecided.

Broken down by party, 80 percent of Democrats said they support it, compared to only 37 percent of Republicans who said they support it.

But wealthier respondents said they would support it: Among people reporting household incomes of $100,000 or more, 60 percent said they would vote for the measure, and 35 percent said they would not. In the lowest income bracket, those with incomes under $30,000, 66 percent said they support it, while 22 percent do not.

Kosinski said Question 2 has broad support because it increases state funding for education. The initiative was announced by a coalition of parents and teachers and supported by groups including the Maine Education Association, the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning economic think tank.

In 2004, voters agreed the state should pay for 55 percent of the cost of K-12 education. The state got closest to that goal in 2009, when it paid for 53 percent of costs. Currently, the state’s contribution is at 47 percent.

An economic analysis for the Yes on 2 campaign found that because of tax cuts, state revenue will be decreased by $297 million in fiscal year 2017 alone. Question 2 would bring in $159 million in its first year, according to the analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

In a campaign finance report, MECEP reported about $3,500 in expenditures, mostly related to research for Question 2 and the minimum wage initiative also on the November ballot.

The Yes on 2 campaign also received a $300,000 cash donation from the National Education Association and in-kind contributions of $40,000 from the Maine Education Association and $40,000 from the Maine People’s Alliance.


The measure would affect 16,000 households reporting $200,000 or more in personal income, according to David Heidrich Jr., spokesman for the Maine Department of Administration and Financial Services. Of those, 11,000 are small-business entities – say, a jeweler or a family-owned grocery store – that report their income on an individual tax return, he said.

Kosinski said those 11,000 businesses make up 4 percent of Maine’s small businesses. The Yes on 2 campaign is also supported by the Maine Small Business Coalition, an affiliate of the Maine People’s Alliance that represents more than 3,400 businesses.

In Maine, the top 2 percent of income earners make $225,000 or more a year and pay 30 percent of all income taxes paid to the state, according to the Department of Administration and Financial Services. The top 10 percent pay 60 percent of all income tax collected.

If Question 2 passes, the tax rate of 10.15 percent for income over $200,000 would be the highest rate in the country at that income level, and the second highest tax rate for any income level after California, which has a 13.3 percent rate for personal income over $1 million, Heidrich said.

Maine’s top tax rate has dropped twice under LePage, from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent in 2011, and then to 7.15 percent in 2015.

LePage has set a goal of cutting the top tax rate to 5.75 percent, according to a memo leaked to the Press Herald this summer from LePage’s senior policy adviser, Kathleen Newman, and sent to senior administration officials. He has also pushed to eliminate Maine’s income tax entirely by 2020.

Funding education is notoriously complicated, and that has muddied the waters around Question 2. State education funds are allocated through a formula that takes into account the value of property in a town and its enrollment levels. Generally speaking, wealthier towns get less state money, while less affluent towns get more.

Debate over the ballot question has focused on several key points:

Opponents say the measure isn’t fair because it won’t increase funding for some towns. That’s correct, but it’s because the referendum doesn’t change the funding model. The Question 2 funds would go through the state’s funding formula, which gives towns varying amounts of state money based in part on their local valuations. Wealthier towns are called “minimal receivers,” getting as little as 6 or 8 percent of their educational costs covered by the state, while poorer towns – such as a town with closed mills – get more than 80 percent of their costs covered.

Since Question 2 doesn’t change the funding formula but simply supplements the existing state contribution, that means some towns would not see additional Question 2 funds, while others would see big increases.

 Opponents question whether the money will wind up “disappearing” in the same way that lottery funds or casino funds earmarked for education seem not to have made a significant impact. Question 2 stipulates that the money would be to supplement, not supplant, state funds.

 The only prohibited use of the funds is administration costs, but critics say they interpret that to mean the funds can’t be used for construction. Proponents say the money can be used on construction, or textbooks, or equipment.

 If the tax generates money beyond the state’s 55 percent share, those funds would remain in the fund and be rolled over to future years.

 Because Question 2 is pegged to an income amount, not a percentage of top earners, the amount of revenue raised by the proposal could rise or fall depending on the economy. If the tax had been in place in 2007, it would have raised $103 million from 9,144 households. Two years later, in the recession, it would have raised only about half that amount, $55.5 million, from 7,181 households. On the flip side, if the economy surges, far more revenue could be generated.


Critics also question whether the money will flow to students the way it is intended. In a radio address in August, LePage criticized the initiative, saying the funds “would be subject to the whims of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee – and they could spend it however they wish.” Others question whether the state could just decrease the amount of money allocated to education, knowing the fund is there.

Kosinski said he was not concerned the money could be misdirected, since the Legislature holds the Department of Education accountable and school budgets are a public process at both the state and local levels.

“Legislators know our schools are underfunded. They are going to be bird-dogging this money,” he said.

Funding education in Maine is a perennial issue, with multiple studies and work groups analyzing the state’s funding formula and considering changes. This year, the Legislature convened a “blue ribbon” commission that is currently studying the formula. A comprehensive $450,000 review of the formula, called the Picus report, found it effective but underfunded.

In the past, Moody’s Investors Service criticized Maine for failing to meet the 55 percent mandate, saying the state budget puts pressure on municipalities because it increases the burden on local property taxes and leaves cities and towns with tough decisions about how to make up the difference.

To avoid program and staff reductions, many Maine communities have opted to raise property taxes, a 2013 Maine Policy Review paper found, putting more pressure on local taxpayers.

Supporters of Question 2 say they expect the additional funding to lead to lower property taxes, since state funding will increase.

Connors, a leader of the opposition group, said Question 2 opponents recognize that education needs more funding, they just don’t support this method.

“For us, it’s the wrong solution to a pressing problem,” Connors said. “We’re trying to resolve in this question a complicated education reform proposal in sound bites, and it just doesn’t work. It might arise out of frustration, but that doesn’t mean this is the way we should resolve this very important issue.”


]]> 225, 03 Oct 2016 16:40:08 +0000
Maine Community College System to request 13 percent increase in state funding Wed, 28 Sep 2016 23:14:18 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The Maine Community College System is seeking a 13 percent increase in state funding, with the bulk of the new money earmarked to expand workforce development programs, officials said Wednesday.

“We all know the needs of the Maine economy are changing. They are changing in scope and speed and diversity,” system President Derek Langhauser told trustees Wednesday at a meeting on the Southern Maine Community College campus. “We are uniquely situated to help meet those needs. We have a responsibility to not just request money, but present a meaningful proposal on how to help more Maine workers and more Maine businesses.”

The trustees voted to support the request.

If approved by lawmakers, the state allocation for the seven-campus system would increase from $62 million in 2017 to $70 million in 2019.

Langhauser said the system needs an annual 3.5 percent increase just to keep up with increasing costs, such as higher health care and energy bills. The rest of the increase would be used to expand workforce development programs, resulting in new initiatives and more graduates. Some of the programs are specifically intended for people already working in Maine, but who need additional training.

System officials also said the budget request assumes tuition will increase by $2 per credit hour next fall, to $94 per credit hour for in-state students. A final decision on tuition has not been made.

Langhauser noted that the state appropriation has become a shrinking proportion of the system’s overall budget. Currently, the state supports 38 percent of the $177.3 million budget, down from 51 percent in 2003 when the system transitioned from technical colleges to community colleges.

Also Wednesday, Langhauser told trustees that early fall enrollment numbers are up, which is notable since low unemployment tends to depress enrollment at two-year colleges.

“We have performed well in a difficult operating environment,” he said. “I’m very pleased.”

As of last week, enrollment was 16,659 students, 1.2 percent higher than last year’s enrollment at the same time.

Final enrollment figures will be available Oct. 15. The community college system can see big changes in the final weeks as people enrolled elsewhere transfer in, or students add or drop classes before the deadline.

Earlier this month, the University of Maine System trustees voted to seek a 12 percent increase in state funding. If approved, the total state appropriation to the university system would increase from $200.6 million in 2016 to $225.1 million in 2019.

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

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 39 Thu, 29 Sep 2016 08:43:21 +0000
Support for tax to fund education splits along party lines in survey Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000

Despite a strong split in support along party lines, a majority of Mainers favor taxing personal income over $200,000 to pay for education, according to a new Portland Press Herald poll.

Overall, 60 percent of respondents support a November ballot question that would tax Maine households earning more than $200,000 a year – $30 for every $1,000 over $200,000. The money, estimated to generate $157 million the first year, would be earmarked for “direct support” of student learning and administered by state education officials.

The poll found 32 percent oppose Question 2 and 8 percent are undecided.

There were notable differences in support based on political party and gender. Eighty percent of Democrats said they supported it and 15 percent did not. Among Republicans, 37 percent supported it and 52 percent did not.

Among women, 67 percent support it and 25 percent say they don’t. Among men, 52 percent support it and 40 percent say they don’t.

The measure would affect about 16,000 households. In Maine, the top 2 percent of income earners make $225,000 or more a year and pay 30 percent of all income taxes paid to the state, according to the Department of Administration and Financial Services.

The funding proposal comes more than a decade after voters agreed the state should pay for 55 percent of the cost of K-12 education – a goal the state has never reached.

If the measure passes, the revenue would go into a specific fund that would be used to reach the 55 percent mandate if the General Fund appropriation falls short. Any money from the fund must be used for so-called “direct support,” such as instructor salaries, and may not be used for administrative purposes.

The fact that the tax would only affect high earners did not significantly erode support among wealthier respondents. Among people reporting household incomes of $100,000 or more, 60 percent said they would vote for the measure, and 35 percent said they would not. In the lowest income bracket, those with incomes under $30,000, 66 percent said they supported it, while 22 percent did not.

Cheryl Howard, a Republican in Standish, said she supports the proposal.

“I don’t begrudge people the money they’ve earned. What bothers me is them paying their fair share,” she said. “If these rich people are using all these loopholes (to lower their taxes) then maybe we need to take a little bit of that for good programs, like to support education.”

Dan Partridge of Oakland said he did not support it, even though his mother is a retired teacher and his wife works as an education technician in a school.

“I’m not in support of any tax increase for anyone,” said Partridge. “I just think our government is far too large.”

“When I go to file my taxes, I’m disgusted,” he added. “I just feel like a victim.”

The poll of 506 likely voters was conducted for the newspaper by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center between Sept. 15-20. The survey has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Question 2 supporters include the Maine AFL-CIO, the Maine Education Association, the Maine Parent Teacher Association, the Maine State Employees Association, the Maine Small Business Coalition, the Maine People’s Resource Center and the Maine People’s Alliance. Opponents include the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Educate Maine, a business-backed education nonprofit.


]]> 113, 03 Oct 2016 16:40:10 +0000
South Portland plans forum on middle school project Tue, 27 Sep 2016 22:25:04 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The school department will host a public forum Oct. 5 to update the community on efforts to renovate or replace one or both of the city’s aging middle schools.

The meeting will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the lecture hall at South Portland High School.

The Maine State Board of Education voted unanimously in August to put Mahoney Middle School on a list of projects that have been approved to receive state funding. 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.

Both schools have significant building problems and site limitations. School officials have started a complex 21-step process to determine the best and most cost-effective way to educate the city’s middle school students.

At the forum, school officials will explain the process and what must be done to receive state funding. Parents, students, staff members and others are urged to attend, ask questions and share ideas.

]]> 0, 27 Sep 2016 18:28:25 +0000
University in Augusta aims high by offering a drone course Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:48:33 +0000 The University of Maine at Augusta will offer Maine’s first university-level unmanned aerial vehicle course starting in October, the school announced Tuesday.

The seven-week program, which begins Oct. 27 at the school’s Augusta campus, will offer students a path to seek a Federal Aviation Administration remote pilot’s license.

“There is a strong job market for licensed UAV pilots,” said UMA President James Conneely in a statement. “Serving the need to train UAV pilots will most certainly lead to economic growth for the state of Maine, attracting business or sparking development.”

Tom Abbott, project manager for the small UAV pilot training center at UMA, said applications for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are growing and included business uses and search-and-rescue applications.

Conneely, a pilot, and Abbott believe the school is well-positioned to expand its aviation program to incorporate drone training as a fourth-year option in the bachelor’s degree in aviation program.

During the school’s convocation earlier this month, two of the aviation program’s coordinators, Gregory Jolda and Daniel Leclair, piloted a drone over the ceremony and used it to record video to showcase the vehicle’s capabilities.

Leclair, northeast regional commander for the Civil Air Patrol, has been involved with national drone training programs for the last three years. School officials believe that with the right kinds of support, including public and private partnerships, the university could become an unmanned aerial vehicle training hub serving a national market.

“Maine is projected to achieve 5 percent of the national UAV market,” Abbott said in the release. “We think that we can do significantly better than that.”

The non-credit course is open to the public and planning is underway to offer a comprehensive series of courses to prepare graduates for the FAA exams required to be a licensed drone pilot.

]]> 0, 27 Sep 2016 17:15:39 +0000
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.


]]> 3 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.

]]> 6, 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.


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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.”

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