FREEPORT — As districts statewide begin to deliberate on school budgets, the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations is poised to hear testimony regarding the governor’s biennial budget. Given the many cuts to public education proposed by Gov. LePage, I urge fellow Maine citizens to speak up to protect our schools.

I am a school board member in Regional School Unit 5. It is with trepidation that budget deliberations have begun in our district – and across Maine: Embedded in the governor’s budget are 48 changes to the Essential Services and Programs funding formula, which is currently used to determine state contributions to local schools.

Normally, at this time of the year the Department of Education would be issuing spreadsheets showing the impact of funding changes to local aid. This year, however, given the complexity of the changes proposed by the Blaine House, this is not the case. The result is that districts have no way of knowing how much state aid they will receive from Augusta. Superintendents and school boards are struggling to craft school budgets without knowing what their revenue will be. We are, in essence, operating in the dark.

Additionally, having these 48 proposed changes included in the biennial budget makes it very difficult to evaluate the impact of each change separately. Maine citizens should be given the opportunity to deliberate the merit of each proposal independently, in a separate forum – not within the constraints of the discussion regarding the entire biennial budget.

One prominent change embedded in Gov. LePage’s budget is the elimination of funding for system administration, including superintendents and assistant superintendents, business managers, human resources directors and support for school boards and business office functions. While it is easy to target school administration, good leadership in schools is as necessary as good leadership in any type of organization or business.

Administrators plan professional development for staff and they coach teachers; they strategize and set goals for schools; they communicate with parents and students, setting a positive tone in school buildings; they craft budgets and oversee spending; and they run schools like any CEO would run a company. Without effective leaders, students suffer. We can’t expect public schools to attract, and retain, the talent needed to improve education unless we provide funding for these key positions. Nor can we count on good leaders being effective without good support staff – which, if Gov. LePage has his way, will be defunded as well.

The governor’s budget also cuts general purpose aid by $9.5 million, and an additional $5.5 million annually is being diverted to “regional education service agencies.” We are still waiting to hear from the governor which organizations fall into that category.

To put all these cuts in perspective, readers might recall that in 2004, Maine voters passed a referendum calling for the state to pay for 55 percent of all public K-12 education costs, and 100 percent of special education costs, as a way to reduce pressure on local property taxes. That percentage was never met. Not only did the state abdicate its responsibility to reach the 55 percent target; in 2013, the cost of teacher retirement was shifted onto localities.

Last November, however, voters reaffirmed their support for state-funded public education by approving a 3 percent surcharge on Maine annual incomes above $200,000. This new revenue source is intended to help the state reach the 55 percent funding target. Gov. LePage’s response to the election result, however, is to undermine the will of the people of Maine by changing the education funding formula to lower state contributions to Maine cities and towns.

We, local taxpayers, have been consistently asked to fund parts of school budgets that are supposed to be shouldered by the state. The proposed changes go too far. The state needs to live up to its responsibility of funding public education for all Maine children – and this needs to start now.

A good education is the best tool we can give our kids. In a changing economy where it is increasingly difficult to access well-paying jobs without high skills, the state owes every Maine child the opportunity to succeed by funding 55 percent of public education based on the current EPS funding formula.

The proposed changes would be devastating for our public school system. Please urge your state representatives and senators to stand up for our children by opposing Gov. LePage’s proposed cuts to education.


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