BANGOR, Maine — The School Department will receive about $200,000 less in state subsidy for gifted and talented programming after the state discovered that the city had been using some of that money for unapproved curricula.
At issue is whether the state funding can be used for Advanced Placement courses in the high school. For years in Bangor, the School Department has used state money for that purpose, believing that it fit into the qualifications under the provision known as Chapter 104.
This year, however, the state has indicated that it will not subsidize Advanced Placement programming for Bangor or any other school district.
Superintendent Betsy Webb and Paul Butler, the School Department’s gifted and talented director, said they feel like the state is going back on its policy.
“We’ve definitely gotten some conflicting information,” Webb said this week.
Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the explanation is simple.
“Advanced Placement is offered and is available to the general population; it’s part of what schools do,” he said. “But, it’s not a G&T offering, and it’s not supposed to be.”
Connerty-Marin further said that Bangor is the only district in the state that has used gifted and talented funding for AP programming.
“They are trying to massage the approved uses under Chapter 104,” he said. “The rules weren’t changed for Bangor, but they are now being enforced. It just wasn’t caught before now.”
Gifted and talented students typically make up about 5 percent of all students in Maine and are identified through criteria outlined in Chapter 104. Webb and Butler said the criteria as written limit students and don’t allow the Bangor School Department to keep its reputation of accelerating learning for all students.
Furthermore, Webb said she received assurance last fall from Education Commissioner Susan Gendron that things would not change, meaning Bangor would be funded the same way it has been for years.
City officials got word this week, however, that the School Department couldn’t count on state subsidy for AP courses.
“They have approved and reimbursed us for years,” Butler said. “What’s the law, what’s written or what’s enforced?”
Webb said the state’s decision seems to represent a philosophical difference in the approach to accelerated programming for students, one that concerns her. The Bangor superintendent sent a letter to Gendron and Gov. John Baldacci last week outlining her disappointment with the changes.
“It is our understanding that the state now intends to change course to enforce the strict letter of the law, a move that would severely impact students who do not meet the state’s [gifted and talented] criteria but who nonetheless have demonstrated great promise and who have historically met the challenge of accelerated course-work,” Webb wrote in her letter.
Connerty-Marin said that while changes are being considered to Chapter 104, adding AP as an approved use of state gifted and talented funding will not be one of those changes.
He said school districts are encouraged to be progressive with their AP offerings, but the state should not be asked to pay for them.
The School Department’s 2010 fiscal year budget reflects a loss in state subsidy for gifted and talented, but Webb and Butler plan to continuing lobbying the state.
“I’m not sure this is on anyone’s radar,” said Webb. “But maybe it should be.”
The entire text of Chapter 104 can be found online at: http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/rules/05/chaps05.htm.