LePage Sounds Off On Education – Fires Back At MEA and Takes Aim At Charter School Commission 

Tuesday, the Maine Education Association ripped the governor for not spending enough money on Maine’s schools. Wednesday morning LePage fired back at the MEA for a school system that is “failing.” He also took aim at the Maine Charter School Commission, who rejected four out of five charter school applications on Tuesday, saying if the commission “can’t put the students first, they ought to resign.” Citing a recently released Harvard University study, LePage said Maine currently ranks 49th in the nation in academic performance. The governor says that’s a sign that the status quo is not working and school districts are not putting their students first. “The status quo, the MEA, the school boards, superintendents, principals, have not been totally honest to our kids. In fact our school systems are failing,” LePage said during a surprise press conference. “If we stay in the status quo we may drop from 49th to 51st because as soon as Puerto Rico becomes a state they’re gonna beat us. Because we don’t care about our kids. People say ‘oh we care, we care, we care’ well actions speak louder than words.”LePage says it’s not a matter of schools having enough money, it’s wasting the money they do have on high priced and unnecessary administration.He says in the state of Florida, there are 56 superintendents for 2.7 million K-12 students. In comparison, here in Maine, we have 185,000 students and 127 superintendents. “New York City has like half a million kids and they do it with one superintendent,” LePage said.LePage also says he’s upset that roughly 20% of Maine’s superintendents are double-dipping, collecting a full pension and a salary simultaneously. “Actions speak louder than words,” LePage said. “And when you’re taking a big chunk of the cash that should to go into the classroom to double dip…I just think that’s unconscionable. I think it’s absolutely disgusting,” the governor said. Shortly after calling the practice of double dipping “a character flaw”, one reporter brought it to the governor’s attention that several members of his staff are double dipping, including Finance Commissioner Sawin Millet. He said he was unaware of that fact and said he would look into it. LePage said there are a few proposals being looked at to reduce that number. Dropping down to one superintendent per county, or perhaps one per CTE location, which would mean 26 superintendents statewide. Lois Kilby-Chesley, President of the MEA, says the legislature addresses double-dipping last session when they passed legislation limiting a returning, retired educator collecting a pension to 75% of their salary and capped their employment at five years, restrictions the MEA does not endorse. “I think those restrictions actually should be lifted and the MEA supports that and we should go back to having educators be be able to come back after they’ve retired,” Kilby-Chesley said. “In that sort of situation and it actually saves the districts money.”LePage also spoke about the continuing debate over charter schools. Tuesday, the charter school commission rejected 4 out of 5 applications for new charter schools in Maine propmting the governor to accuse those opposed to charter schools of trying to bully the commission. “The school boards, the administrative boards of our public schools got together and hired lawyers to challenge the charter commission.” Lepage said. “To intimidate them to the point where they were afraid to do their jobs. And frankly, I think if they’re afraid to do the job, if they can’t put the students first, they ought to resign.”LePage appointed 4 of the 9 members of the board.The governor says if everyone were to sit down and be willing to put the kids first, all the education issues facing the state could be solved. “It’s when you bring in partisan politics and union dues so you can run political campaigns, and you get, ‘I’m worried about my retirement, the governor of the state of Maine shouldn’t say anything about double dippers because that affects their retirement’, that’s all crap. It’s all about what do we do in the classroom to optimize the performance of our children.”The governor reiterated his previous challenge to the MEA. “We should be paying our teachers more money. Now one thing, and I’ll say it again and I’ve said it every year since I’ve been governor. I’ve approached the MEA and said we will put up $5 million you match it and we will make money’s available for our teachers to do continuing education so they can improve their skills for the classroom.”Kilby-Chesley says during her tenure as President of the MEA LePage has not called once and says she would welcome a sit down with him.A link to the study referenced by Governor LePage is below: