December 13, 2017
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Comments for: Mayoral math and the battle for Baxter Academy

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  •   

    Dear Dr. Farley,
                the  sarcasm of your statement
    “I concede I could be missing something here. Like many Americans, I’m not
    good with numbers:” is actually quite ironically humorous considering your
    profession.  Yes professor you are missing something.  You state,
      
    “Other than the one-time transition costs of moving students to a new
    place of instruction, how can it hurt the city to shift students to Baxter from
    the ordinary public schools? Presumably the school district gets enough money
    to teach the students it’s actually teaching. If it’s getting more, then an accountant
    needs to be hired ― or fired.” 

               This demonstrates a clear
    misunderstanding of both the nature of Charter Schools and of school funding in
    Maine. 
    Let me attempt to clarify.  First of all there would be no “one time
    transition costs of moving students to a new place of instruction”. 
    This statement would make some sense if the new charter school belonged to the
    Portland School Department and the students remained enrolled with Portland
    School Department simply at another location.  However even if this were
    the case it would still be inaccurate since there would be the new costs of
    operating the “new place of instruction” while still paying the cost
    of operating the existing places of instruction.  However, in fact the
    statement has no relation to reality at all since the students would not remain
    as students enrolled with Portland School Department.  Since they would no
    longer be the students of the Portland School Department there would be no such
    moving costs.
                Instead what
    actually does occur is quite different than what you describe.  As
    specified in L.D. 1553.
       “2. Revenue provisions. All state and local operating funds
    follow each student to the public charter school attended by the student,
    except that the school administrative unit of the student’s residence may
    retain up to 1% of the per-pupil allocation described in this subsection to
    cover associated administrative costs.”

    Therefore all state and local operating funds related to each student would
    leave the Portland School Department and be transferred to the new “Public Charter
    School” , which of
    course is neither owned nor operated by the public but rather only funded by
    the public.  According to the Maine Department of Education Portland’s
    secondary per pupil operating costs were in excess of $12,000.  Therefore for each student electing transfer
    of enrollment from the Portland public school to
    the Charter School $12,000 of revenues will be transferred
    annually throughout those students’ years of enrollment.  As an Associate Professor at UM I would
    presume that you could see that the departure of a student from one of your
    classes would not in fact appreciably affect the cost of delivering that
    class.  For example you would not expect
    your salary to be prorated downward due to having one less student
    enrolled.  Nor would the costs of heating
    and lighting the classroom be reduced.  Of
    course if the enrollment were to decline sufficiently then your class could be
    cancelled and your personnel costs saved. 
    The fixed costs of facility operation and organizational overhead,
    student transportation, etc. of course would not be appreciably altered.   Therefore while there could be marginal cost
    reductions made possible by the transfer of students from the Public Schools to
    the Charter School the departure of per pupil revenues would result in the need
    to either increase public revenues to cover the resultant shortfall or
    alternatively to reduce expenditures made for the education of the remaining
    students.  Unless operational
    efficiencies could be identified in practice this would mean reducing
    educational programs and or services to the remaining students. 

              The second
    half of your statement “Presumably the school district gets enough money to
    teach the students it’s actually teaching. If it’s getting more, then an
    accountant needs to be hired ― or fired”, is even more nonsensical than the
    first.  It is difficult to comprehend
    exactly what your point is. Even if your presumption that the current funding
    to the school district is adequate your subsequent non sequitur regarding
    accountants is interestingly non coherent for a mathematician. 

              Moving
    on I certainly do not disagree with your statement that there is a need to
    increase young people pursuing STEM careers but your fact claim in support of
    this assertion is inherently self defeating.  You state that “over 55
    percent of all Americans who received a math Ph.D. in 2008 went to foreign
    nationals”.  In fact by definition 0
    percent of the Americans who received math Ph.Ds in 2008 were foreign
    nationals.   I presume what you meant to state was that
    over 55 percent of math Ph.Ds issued by U.S. Universities were awarded to foreign
    nationals.  One hopes that this was a grammatical
    rather than a cognitive error on your part. 

             You go on to discuss possible opportunities
    for joint grant seeking on the part of the mayor and the proposed Baxter
    Charter School, suggesting this could offset the revenue transfer from Portland
    Public Schools to the new Charter School. 
    Of course this is  absurd.  Let us presume for a moment that such grants
    were in fact available and attainable. 
    Even in such a case the grant funds would accrue to the Charter school
    not the Portland Public Schools.  Nor
    would the receipt of grant funds do anything to change the legal requirement
    that theper pupil operating revenue be transferred from the Public Schools to
    the Charter School. 

                Further on
    you make the statement “Besides, Limestone is too far away to help students in
    most of Maine.”  I am confident that the folks at MSSM would
    take exception to that statement and would remind you that due to the
    availability of student residences they in fact do serve students from all over
    the state of Maine.  The Baxter Academy
    website indicates that it will be a non residential school.  As a result The Baxter Academy would in fact
    be less accessible to students outside its immediate area than MSSM not more
    accessible. 

             I could go on but in closing let me say I
    am in complete agreement with you that political ideology should not get in the
    way of advancing science and technology in the United States.  However, when a member of the a charter
    school advisory board posts a letter to the editor filled with such numerous
    misrepresentations, inaccuracies and plain untruths as this one, I can only
    conclude that your political ideology or perhaps even self interest is the
    driving force behind your advocacy rather than an impartial assessment of
    whether this charter school proposal is actually the most effective way of
    advancing STEM education in Maine. 

  • The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science doesn’t seem like a bad idea.  It seems like Portland is big enough to accommodate a school specializing in those subjects.  I’m not from Portland and I had no idea that in addition to Portland High, Cheverus, and Deering, it also has Casco Bay High School for Expeditionary Learning.  Math is looked on as a distasteful graduation requirement and given no particular consideration at least until the SAT results come in.  A school emphasizing math would be a great idea.

  • Anonymous

    “Not only is there is a great need to increase the numbers of children going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields ― over 55 percent of all Americans who received a math Ph.D. in 2008 went to foreign nationals ― there is also a need to support children with special talents in math and science for the sake of scientific progress itself”

    Maybe Dr. Farley would have done well to avail himself of the English courses a traditional high school would offer.

  • Anonymous

    “Like many Americans, I’m not good with numbers”

    And yet the college hired you as an associate professor of computing and information science and mathematics and statistics at the University of Maine.

    Way to go UofM!

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