I just read with great interest the June 8 OpEd by Janice Cynewski supporting independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler’s educational proposals and his bid for the governorship. As a fellow retired teacher and administrator in Maine’s public schools for more than 40 years, I must admit I can’t find much to fault in Cynewski’s OpEd. But I don’t find the points in it convincing enough to make me vote for Cutler.
I am not convinced, because what is more important is not what is said but what is not said. The missing piece is the role of the community at large in providing quality educational programs for children. Many communities in rural Maine simply do not have a sufficient tax base to fund public schools adequately.
The Essential Programs and Services funding model was supposed to fix this discrepancy. But after years of tight budgets, little has changed. In fact, LePage’s policies have caused local communities to shoulder more of the tax burden without state subsidies. School boards are forced to look at eliminating programs such as music and art, as well as many other programs that are integral to a good education.
There is no more simple truth in public education than communities usually get the quality of schools they demand and are willing to pay and fight for. There are many schools in Maine where parents volunteer countless hours, serve on school boards and run fundraisers to support programs threatened by budget reductions.
Unfortunately, these efforts alone simply are not enough to pay the level of salaries that will attract and keep excellent teachers in the classrooms. When communities work with support from state funding to provide public recognition and appreciation of teachers as well as fair salaries, schools with good leadership thrive.
I have seen countless efforts in Maine during my career to provide better professional development, to expand gifted and talented programs, to implement preschool programs, and to fund expansion of technology resources in the classroom. These are underway now in Maine but most likely need even greater support.
Maine needs to continue to raise the aspirations and skill levels of students. Our high school graduation rate is quite respectable, but post-secondary education needs much greater support.
I have read with shock and dismay about the underfunding of our state university system. If our goal is to improve our public education, we must fund our public university system. We must also make post-secondary education affordable and accessible.
While I feel Cutler’s proposals have merit, I am not convinced he could pull it all off as a governor. He does not have the experience of working with a Maine Legislature constrained by financial limits to create the kind of political coalitions that could get the work done. It takes a person who knows how to bring people together to support the tough choices as well as the good ideas.
I firmly believe that Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, has demonstrated his ability through his success in developing budgets in the Maine Legislature that not only provided support for education but also addressed the other pressing social needs in Maine today.
Michaud demonstrates the kind of leadership we need in Augusta now more than ever. He is open-minded and accessible to his constituents. His life story is one of remarkable self-improvement and accomplishments. He has faced the many challenges of growing up and living in rural Maine. His life is a model of the kind of hard work and public spirit that demonstrate what is possible.
We have had many people in Maine with great ideas to fix what is wrong, but what we really need are people who know how to make the system work for the benefit of our people and, above all, our young people. In my experience, Michaud has proven his ability to get the job done.
David C. Wiggin of Topsham taught high school English in Lincoln and Houlton; was principal of Southern Aroostook Community School and Houlton High School; and served as superintendent of schools in Houlton and for the district serving Lincolnville, Hope and Appleton. He is now retired.