AUGUSTA — A legislative committee is opposing a plan to eliminate 11 educational positions at the state youth correctional facility’s school and instead is suggesting more staff be hired.

Several teachers told legislators that the plan would harm young people at a facility facing questions about its ability to serve residents with high rates of mental health and substance abuse issues.

The Department of Corrections’ plan, included in Republican Gov. LePage’s $6.8 billion budget, would save $1 million a year by eliminating 10 teachers and an assistant principal at the school at the Long Creek Youth Development Center.

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted to retain those positions and fund three mental health specialists at the Arthur R. Gould School. That recommendation now goes to the committee handling LePage’s two-year budget proposal.

The facility’s administrator, Jeffrey D. Merrill II, resigned over the weekend amid a now-closed investigation that the department has declined to discuss.

According to a report by the Department of Corrections that examined case histories of all 79 residents at Long Creek as of June 2016, nearly a third – 29.5 percent – arrived at Long Creek from residential treatment facilities. Roughly 85 percent arrived at the facility with three or more mental health diagnoses.


The state has commissioned an independent review of the facility’s suicide policies after Charles Maisie Knowles, a transgender boy who was housed in the girl’s unit, died Nov. 1 after hanging himself three days earlier. It was the first death in decades at Long Creek. A review by the Maine attorney general found the death was not suspicious.

Knowles’ mother said in a previous interview that she tried to raise the alarm with Long Creek staff about her child’s mental health problems, but found little traction. The Department of Corrections has disputed that claim.

“We’re asking Long Creek to manage kids that the mental health system has not been able to manage,” said Ned Chester, a member of the state Juvenile Justice Advisory Group and a Portland attorney, adding that the cost-cutting idea was “short-sighted.” Long Creek has received roughly $15 million in annual state funding in recent years.

“You can have the best program in the world but if you don’t prepare them to go back to their communities, they’re not going to be succeed,” Chester said.

Teachers at the school are also opposed to the cuts and have named other ongoing challenges at the facility.

Robin Herrick, director of special education, said the cuts would take away opportunities from students, including the school’s “disproportionately high number of students in the special education program compared to the rest of the state.

Teacher Catherine Parker said the facility’s staffing “is currently much lower than even a day treatment program, and yet we are doing incredible amounts of work with these students.” She said the cuts would mean the loss of “entire departments, including math and social studies” and mean “we cannot continue to operate as an approved school” in Maine.

“These students also are often not receiving the full measure of the services that their home schools should be providing to them, such as speech and occupational therapy,” Parker said last month in a letter to legislators signed by six fellow teachers.

Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick and A.R. Gould School Principal Jim Boisvert did not respond to requests for comment.

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