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 2)

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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

Listen: Audio of LePage press conference

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

LePage said Wednesday he wanted to reduce the number of superintendents to "one per county" or one for each area career or technical school.  

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci had attempted to reduce the number of school administrators through school district consolidation. However, many rural districts, many in Republican districts, have attempted to unwind those efforts.

LePage initially rose to leave the press conference after his opening remarks. However, he sat back down to answer reporters' questions and remained there for approximately 15 minutes.

He said he was passionate about education and was determined to make Maine's system better. 

“I came up the rough way, I had to work hard and I had to struggle to get through college and damn it, we’ve got to step up and say our kids deserve better,” he said. 

He then made an appeal to the few reporters who were in attendance.

“I ask you all to report this truth for our kids,” he said, pounding the table once. “We need to put our kids first and these people that are retired making a couple thousand dollars, it’s about time we put them out to pasture.”

He added, “This isn’t partisan. It really should not be,” he said. “We’re here to run the schools and we have to provide them the absolute best and right now we’re not.”

LePage was asked if he planned to introduce legislation to reform the charter commission. He said that work was under way before criticizing the current commission. 

“A few of them ought not to be on the commission because they can’t do their jobs,” he said. “If they don’t have the backbone to do the job, just resign.”

The governor also said that Maine teachers were underpaid and said that many were using their own money to buy school supplies. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Maine teachers made an average of $48,000 last year. The national average is $56,643.

Bowen, the education commissioner, was also critical of a press conference by the Maine Education Association, a group that Republicans argue is hyper-partisan and favors Democrats.

The MEA was very active during an election that wiped out LePage's Republican majority in the Legislature. On Tuesday the group held a media event in the State House to protest the governor's plan to lift the cap on the number of charters schools that the state.

The cap of 10 schools is set to expire in 2022, but LePage wants to lift it now. 

The MEA opposes that move, saying it's too soon to tell if the law is working effectively. 

Bowen said the MEA's State House event was vitriolic. 

"We’ve got a ton of work to do; we’ve got to do it together," Bowen said. "If this is how it’s going to go, it’s going to be a very rough session."

Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the MEA, said the governor's comments were unfortunate. She also denied that the MEA was blocking charter school or other reform efforts.

"The press conference was not designed to get anybody upset," said Kilby-Chesley, adding that the event was designed to show lawmakers that the union supported public education. 

"It was not a personal attack against anyone," she said. 

Kilby-Chesley also applauded the efforts of the charter commission. She said the panel had been rigorous in its review of the applicants.

Alfond said the governor's decision to hold the press conference was disappointing.

"Here we are the start of a new session and Mainers spoke very clearly and loudly on Nov. 6," Alfond said. "They wanted the end of the partisanship and an end to the extreme language, the end of ultimatums."  

State House bureau reporter Michael Shepherd contributed to this report. 


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Today's poll: Public schools

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



View Results


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