LIMESTONE, Maine — The Maine School of Science and Mathematics recently received approval for the total $3.55 million budget request from the Maine Legislature. That’s $800,000 more than last year, and the school also is in line to get an additional $200,000 the following year.
A large portion of this additional funding is going to accommodate the approximate 30 percent increase in students and also enhance a number of Maine School of Science and Mathematics’ regular and summer programs.
“It would be hard to operate at the same level and with consistent quality without this funding,” said Luke Shorty, executive director of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, “and for that I’m extremely thankful to the taxpayers of the state of Maine, the Legislature, and to the Department of Education.
“This will allow us to continue to operate the same strong, quality program that people have come to expect,” he added.
Shorty briefly described what would have happened if the Maine School of Science and Mathematics continued to receive flat-funding as it has for the past three years.
“We’d have to look at doing some massive restructuring and cut back on outreach,” he said.
“We may have had to cut back on some of our programming. We’d also be forced to look at other revenue sources. For example, out-of-state students have to pay full tuition, and that’s something we’d really have to push. This would be difficult since our capacity is 168, and we’re already close to reaching that number. All in all, it wouldn’t have been fun or pretty,” he said.
The Maine School of Science and Mathematics, along with the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf, receives funding differently than any other public school in Maine. Projected fall enrollment is pegged at 154-156 students.
“We have a couple different sources of revenue that help with our operations,” said Shorty. “One of them is room and board. This is paid for by the families of attending students. It’s on a sliding scale, so a family can apply for financial aid if they don’t have enough money and their payments will adjust accordingly.
“Academic funding, on the other hand, comes from the state of Maine through general appropriations. It was a phenomenal moment when the dust settled and we were indeed given the full amount of funding. It’s truly a testament to the people of Maine for believing in what we do here and acknowledging that it’s difficult to operate at a flat funding rate, especially when your student population is steadily increasing,” he said.
Shorty already has several plans for the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in light of the recent funding approval.
“We will be able to bring in more teachers to help diversify our programming,” said Shorty.
“We’re bringing French back, which is great considering we only offered two foreign languages in the past. Also, since there’s a distinct connection between music and math, we are going to improve our music program by bringing in a full-time instructor. We’ll also be able to expand on social science programs,” he said.
The Maine School of Science and Mathematics offers seven weeks worth of summer programs in addition to the courses offered during the average school year. They have three weeks of summer camp for boys and girls each. Children ages 10-14 can live in the dorms and see what science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM fields, are all about.
“The summer programs are a great way to inspire young boys and girls,” said Shorty. “They can come and see how a prosthetic hand is made, learn about robots, or go on an astronomical adventure tour.”
The magnet school also holds a STEM Educators Camp for a week during the summer. This unique camp gives teachers in the STEM fields a chance to network, bond and share best practices.
Shorty emphasized the effect the Maine School of Science and Mathematics and its faculty/students have on the region.
“We have students come from all over the world,” said Shorty. “We had a couple students from Ukraine, The People’s Republic of China, and next year we’re welcoming a young man from Washington state. Most of our students, however, are from the state of Maine. Their parents and families come up to visit at least twice a year, and this helps out not only Limestone’s economy but also the economy of surrounding towns.”
Shorty was once a student at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, and he didn’t think twice when asked to come back to the school as a teacher. He was named executive director in 2011.
“I’d never been north of Bangor, and the community was very welcoming. The town has plenty to offer: grocery stores like IGA, a pizza place and the bank. Not only did it strengthen my bond with Aroostook County, but also with the entire state,” said the Fairfield native. “My experience was so great that when I got the opportunity to come back here, I said ‘Absolutely!’
“One thing I try to impress on our students here is that you should always give back as much as was given to you. We’ve been given this great opportunity, so we should take it and also give back to the state of Maine,” he said.