Gov. LePage Offers Common Sense Reform of Maine Public Schools

Andrew Charleson, left, and Irene Song read assignments on Google Chromebooks during an advanced 6th-grade reading class at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg, Md., on Nov. 6. Apple products are being replaced as the inexpensive, cloud-based Chromebook makes inroads in to K-12 schools. In Montgomery County, Md. roughly 40,000 Chromebooks are being deployed to students. --T.J. Kirkpatrick for Education Week

For those concerned about the education of Maine’s youth, Gov. Paul LePage has taken another step toward improving the efficiency of our state’s public school system.

Public school reform was at the top of LePage’s priorities when he first took office, and after completing various efforts such as charter school reform early in his gubernatorial career, he promised that it “would return to the forefront of his attention” by the end of his tenure.

LePage’s return to education reform focuses on a two-pronged attack to reduce costs and improve the quality of education for Maine students. He has issued an executive order regarding “support for regional efforts to achieve efficiencies in delivering educational services,” and also has put forth plans to submit legislation establishing education service agencies that would “remove barriers and promote the sharing of educational programs and services.”

The first prong will cut costs by removing excessive administration from Maine’s public school system. As LePage recently pointed out, Maine has less than a tenth of the number of students as Florida has, but over twice as many superintendents. All this extra bureaucracy fails to produce educational results though, with Florida having higher test results according to the National Assessment of Education Progress, and Florida gets these higher results for less cost per student due to their streamlined system.

It’s time to cut Maine’s public education expenses, while at the same time improving the actual education standards for the state. In the last decade, costs have increased 27 percent while student enrollment has decreased 11 percent. In other words, we’re now paying more for less; currently it costs 43 percent more per student in the Maine public education system than it did a decade ago.

By tailoring our education system to our small population, we can cut costs while improving standards. Cutting bureaucracy is one way, but the other prong of LePage’s plan is to rally smaller schools into working together and sharing their resources in better cooperative efforts. If individual schools have programs and resources they can share, then these schools can benefit one another by exchanging materials and resources as they are needed.

I can understand this reasoning since my father was educated in a Maine one-room school house due to the size of his community. Maine continues to have small school setups today due to our widely dispersed population, but with modern communications and transportation, it only makes sense that these small education systems share resources.

Many programs have the potential to be shared across districts so that individual schools which couldn’t otherwise afford a program can still have access to it. Certain school programs are only needed for part of the year; sending the resources for these programs around a region will result in more schools getting access, improving education without incurring higher costs.

To achieve this, LePage is proposing the setup of “regional administrative centers that can reduce cost and improve resources and opportunities for students.” This attempt to establish administrative centers will decrease excessive administration in individual schools, while at the same time improve communication and sharing between schools. Not only is this a solid plan to cut costs and increase effectiveness, it’s also financially feasible to carry out. The starting money for these efforts is already available from education funding that was not spent in the last fiscal year. Apparently, LePage’s often mocked effort to save nickels and dimes actually does add up.

Impressively, not only is the money already available, but it will be doled out on a competitive basis to “assist with the upfront costs associated with efforts that promote economic efficiencies within and across schools and districts that enhance the delivery of educational services for the benefit of Maine students.” In other words, the money has already been appropriated, and it will only be spent on schools actually willing to regionalize and share resources.

The President of the Maine School Superintendents Association noted that “Forced school consolidation isn’t the answer, but incentives to share regionally have great promise” in enhancing educational results in Maine. Well, this $3 million dollar carrot is certainly an incentive for already beleaguered schools that need to cut their costs anyway begin the process of regionalization.

“If a school district wants to have a principal and a superintendent, the locals will have to pay for it,” LePage said regarding his proposed reforms. If these changes take shape, excess bureaucracy will now become the burden of localities who want the burden, rather than the burden of every Maine taxpayer. Localities who like the current system may keep it, and those who don’t may begin migrating to more efficient systems, with financial reward for those who do so.

It would seem that, as usual, LePage has kept his promise to cut government bureaucracy and expenses, while at the same time improving government services.


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