The Chinese government and the Chinese minister of education oversee Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in the United States. Confucius Institutes are usually at institutions of higher learning, while Confucius Classrooms are in local school districts.

The local districts must pay modest, one-time costs for visas and miscellaneous expenses for instructors, about $1,000. The instructors are paid by the Chinese government; local districts must apply to become Confucius Classrooms.

The Maine Confucius Institute is housed at the University of Southern Maine. Portland Public Schools and the Oxford Hills school district (School Administrative District 17) both have Confucius Classrooms teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture.

Some parents have made impassioned pleas for Chinese to be taught in Scarborough schools. The Board of Education chairwoman, Donna Beeley, told me that Scarborough looked into the Confucius Institute program last year, but chose not to pursue it.

The district couldn’t meet the December deadline, and there was already a teacher on the payroll who was certified by the Confucius Institute to teach Mandarin. That teacher is not teaching Mandarin because he is teaching something else.

So instead of focusing on a timely application to a program that is essentially free – costing about $1,000 – the board continually submits a budget to the public asking to hire a full-time teacher at considerably more than $1,000. We have a teacher on the payroll who could teach Mandarin, but we are using him for something else. The impassioned parental pleas go unanswered. The school budget goes up.

Is it any wonder why people have such little faith that government and governing bodies like the Board of Education are looking out for our best interests?

Michael B. Turek