Maine’s classrooms have become a focal point of electioneering in recent weeks.

From tussling over book bans and squabbling over curricula, to the call by former Gov. Paul LePage this week for a Parents Bill of Rights, to the announcement by Gov. Mills on Wednesday that free mobile computer science labs would soon be provided to every public school; an onlooker would be forgiven for assuming that our public schools’ fundamentals were sound.

In fact, most of the state’s public schools are in crisis. And it’s not a crisis that has to do with educational philosophies or “culture war” disagreement – it’s a basic resourcing crisis. We do not have nearly enough education technicians.

The astonishing situation unfolding in Portland right now offers as clear a depiction as it gets. As the Press Herald reported Wednesday, ed techs in Portland Public Schools told a Tuesday board meeting that educators and students are in danger, day to day, because there simply are not enough staff to go around.

“How much is student safety worth to you?” asked David Aguirre, who has been working with special education students in Portland for 28 years, having given an account of physical attacks on ed techs and unattended students that had taken place just that day.

Ed techs, whose roles and responsibilities can span from substitute teaching to school transit support, are integral to any school district and heavily relied upon by special education students in particular. And yet, here in Maine, they are no longer paid a competitive wage.


Starting pay for ed techs in Portland Public Schools is about $15 per hour. At Augusta Public Schools, it’s about $14 per hour, and it’s lower again in the state’s more central and rural districts.

According to recent reporting by the Kennebec Journal, the hemorrhaging of ed techs in administrative district 11, serving Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner, has outpaced the statewide decline more than sevenfold in the last two years.

An administrator in the district said that the late-pandemic labor market was forcing its schools to compete for workers with the likes of Dunkin’ for the first time. “If it wasn’t for the money and lack of support from the district,” one departed ed tech told the paper, “I would have stayed.”

The effects of severe staffing shortages being endured in schools around Maine right now are more pronounced by far when it comes to special education. Back in Portland, so acute is the shortage that the district has entertained cutting the school week to four days for some special education students.

That this outrageous idea was ever floated indicates a willingness on the part of the district to put on the chopping block the provision of free and appropriate public education for one group of students – a legal right – before addressing the root of the problem.

The conversation regarding schools urgently needs to move from taste-based proposals and counterproposals when it comes to education (a lot of which will come at a price that is inconvenient for proponents to determine or disclose), to the imperative to improve ed tech wages and properly staff our schools.

Calls for schools to go “back to basics” that refer to anything other than funding to ensure that educators can carry out their jobs safely and dependably every week are gravely out of touch.

Every effort must go toward resolving the personnel emergency plaguing Maine’s student bodies and the workers dedicated to supporting them. How much is student safety worth to us? We better come up with a good answer.

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