Politics

January 10, 2013

LePage blasts charter school commission, teachers union

In a rare news conference, the governor says Maine schools are failing and the charter commission is intimidated by special interests.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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Maine Gov. Paul LePage smiles during a ceremony at the Blaine House in Augusta, Maine, on Wednesday, April 18, 2012. LePage signed three bills he said will help to improve Maine's business environment and open the door to jobs. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

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Audio of Gov. LePage's news conference

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Gov. LePage's January 9, 2013 news conference — audio only

During a second press conference, the governor again criticized the charter commission. 

“I am asking them for the good of the kids of the state of Maine, please go away. We don’t need you. We need some people with backbones,” LePage said.

During Monday's charter commission hearing, the Maine Superintendents Association was ready to challenge an applicant. The association withdrew its challenge after the commission indicated it was going to deny the application. 

LePage said the school districts were deploying expensive lawyers to block charter schools. 

“The people that are crying that they are getting cuts are the ones hiring the lawyers to fight the charter commission and intimidate the charter commission," LePage said. "What have we come to? It’s about our kids. It’s not about them.”

LePage said the charter commission represented the status quo, which he said, was "attacking reform efforts." 

Jana Lapoint, chairwoman of the commission, said she resented the governor's comment that the commission was influenced or intimidated by charter school opponents. She noted that the Maine Superintendents threat of a legal challenge wasn't made public until Tuesday, well after the commission subcommittees reviewing the applications had recommended to deny the charter proposals on Monday.

"It had nothing to do with any group that was coming before us, absolutely none," Lapoint said. "I really resent that the governor would think that we would be influenced by any group. The only influences we have are that we do the best job that we can for the children in the state. It is our only goal. We're not political." 

Lapoint also hit refuted LePage's claim that the commission was moving too slowly to approve charter schools. The commission has approved two charter schools since it begin reviewing applications in May 2012. It is close to approving two more schools. 

"To those who say that it's working too slowly, I would say that the state of Maine and its people would be very upset with us if we moved any quicker," Lapoint said. 

The charter commission consists of seven members appointed by the Maine State Board of Education. Three of the commission members are directly from the board. The remaining four are selected by the board.

The Board of Education members are appointed by the governor. Four members of the nine-member board were appointed by LePage.

Lapoint noted the charter commission was a volunteer board with members working up to 40 hours a week reviewing 1,000-page applications.  

"We had to start from scratch. We have no money. We still don't," she said. 

Lapoint said she ran into Bowen Wednesday and told him, "thanks for throwing us under the bus."

She added that she believed Bowen was passionate supporter of charter schools and of the commission. 

"The governor has put him in a difficult position," she said.

As LePage's press conference continued Wednesday, the governor reiterated his belief that Maine schools are failing. 

“Because as soon as Puerto Rico becomes a state, they’re going to beat us because we don’t care about our kids," he said. "And people say, ‘Oh, we care, we care, we care.’ Well, actions speak louder than words.”

The governor also doubled down on his criticism of the number of school administrators in the state. He said Maine had too many. Maine has 127 superintendents for 186,000 students. LePage compared that number to Florida, which has 57 administrators for 2.7 million students.

The Maine School Superintendents Association has countered that the state's administrators work more closely with school districts than administrators in other states.  

According to the Maine School Management Association, the state has 94 full-time superintendents and 33 part-time superintendents.

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Today's poll: Public schools

Do you agree with Gov. LePage's statement that Maine public schools are failing?

Yes

No

View Results

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