Education funding cuts punitive, Bangor claims

Posted April 23, 2009, at 6:25 p.m.

As reported in the April 11 edition of the Bangor Daily News, the Maine Department of Education has determined that Bangor will lose its gifted and talented, or G/T, reimbursement for high school Advanced Placement and Honors courses, because, in addition to serving students who meet gifted and talented identification criteria, these courses also serve some nonidentified students.

The Bangor School Committee is confounded and dismayed to learn that unless we offer only elitist and exclusionary gifted and talented programs at Bangor High School we will lose state reimbursement for our secondary G/T expenditures. We are committed to our longtime priority of academic excellence for all students. Encouraging all Bangor High School students to embrace academic challenges is integral to our mission and our success.

We, like other school departments in Maine, use a process that has been approved by the state to identify G/T students. The G/T identification is useful in encouraging identified students to enroll in accelerated courses that offer the highest level of academic rigor.

However, Bangor High School’s gifted and talented identification is never used to exclude nonidentified students who wish to take our most difficult courses. In fact, we actively encourage such students, identified or not, to attempt Honors and Advanced Placement courses.

For many years the state has approved and reimbursed a portion of the cost of G/T courses with the knowledge that some nonidentified students are enrolled in these classes. Years of data show that participating nonidentified students perform at high levels. The Bangor School Committee and the Bangor School Department feel strongly that G/T identification never should be used to exclude students who seek academic rigor. Last October, School Committee members received personal assurances from Education Commissioner Susan Gendron that Bangor’s secondary G/T program would continue to receive approval and reimbursement.

Since Bangor High School continues to be inclusive rather than elitist and exclusionary, the Maine Department of Education has informed us that we will lose all G/T reimbursement for our identified students in our Advance Placement and Honors courses. Plainly put, either we adopt a practice of denying nonidentified students access to G/T courses or the department will reduce Bangor’s G/T funding by $200,000. We do not believe Gov. John Baldacci would approve such a punitive approach.

The Bangor School Committee appeals to Gov. Baldacci to reverse Commissioner Gendron’s decision on behalf of the department in order to allow continual pursuit of academic excellence for all students.

Phyllis Guerette is chairman of the Bangor School Committee. This commentary was written on behalf of the committee.

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