Yes vote urged

Education is a journey. And like most journeys, there are a lot of ways to get to the same place. Like many of us, my personal educational journey started in a rural town. I grew up in northern Vermont, in a small town nestled at the base of Mount Mansfield. My kids often joke that my childhood embodies the cliche? of trudging to school uphill in the snow. Bad winters aside, though, if each of us looks back on our own personal educational experience, a lot has changed in the education world since we were in school.

Last December, Freeport voters chose to explore a new journey: withdrawal from RSU 5. Thus, for the past year, educators, parents and taxpayers have been very involved in a very public review of how we educate our children. Much of the discourse of late has been centered on the question of finances: How much will a stand-alone school district cost Freeport taxpayers? Although funding our schools is an important question, there isn’t an easy answer. Even the current RSU business model doesn’t provide financial guarantees. Maine’s method of paying for education is incredibly complicated, and requires a thorough understanding of state funding (which changes bi-annually), property values (which have gone up and down like the tides), and a series of other factors that far exceed the ability of this letter to address quickly.

So, before we head to the polls in November, now is a great time to step away from the financials and ask ourselves about our vision for education. How do we want to prepare all of our children for a 21st-century economy? Some food for thought:

Alternative funding: What if we explored alternative funding for educational programs? Many school districts have been able to keep costs down by hiring a grant writer, whose sole purpose is to explore funding alternatives. Further information on this can be found in this article, http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/profdev/profdev039.shtml.

Virtual education: Virtual classes and classrooms have seen tremendous growth in the past five years, and will continue to see huge growth as students’ needs in all areas become more global. Instead of focusing our taxpayer dollars on bigger buildings, let’s explore how the buildings will be used and renovate accordingly.

Early intervention: Although advances in health care and education are not often linked, overall improvements in medical care have a direct impact on education. For example, premature babies have a much higher survival rate than they did as little as 10 years ago, so this directly impacts early intervention programs for these students when they come to our schools. The last 20 years have also seen massive improvements in earlier diagnosis of learning disabilities, in mainstreaming students who have long-term physical and developmental challenges, and in identifying students who are high risk. To its credit, Freeport has been a statewide leader in special education since the 1990s, and we have the opportunity to expand our leadership role in this critical area.

Business/education collaboration: Growing a strong economy is critically linked to well-educated students. Maine is in the midst of a gubernatorial election, and all three candidates agree education is the foothold for a strong economy. Freeport has a long history of entrepreneurs, and we have a long pedigree of growing our community with a solid business baseline. How can we help align education with our local business experts to expand educational service delivery?

Advanced placement: There is now an option for Maine students to take AP courses free online (http://www.ap4all.org/). USM offers students the option of applying their AP courses for college credits (http://usm.maine.edu/pla/pla-ap). These are but a few of the options that cannot only provide a financial advantage for the school district in that it reduces costs locally, but it gives further potential savings for students seeking out a college degree.

Vocational education: Are there any economies of scale to be recognized with the Maine Vocational School in Brunswick? Should we explore sending students there for a full day instead of having them split their time (and energies) between two buildings?

These are just a few ideas to consider. Freeport has always been a town that has pragmatically supported education. We are a town full of people with amazing ideas and a passionate vision for how best to prepare our children for what lies ahead. Given Freeport’s long history of managing a quality school district, I have faith that we can do it again. As a parent, a taxpayer, and a school board candidate, I urge you to vote yes.

Charly Haversat Matheson

Freeport


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