2014-03-07 / Front Page

State, local officials weigh impact of education proposals

Senator tells school leaders state ‘is looking to cut $9 million from general purpose aid’
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

As Scarborough School District leaders prepare a draft of the budget for the 2014-2015 school year, state legislators are meeting in Augusta to review several educational proposals that could have an impact on the local level.

State Sen. Rebecca Millett, who represents Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough, met with members of the Board of Education and school administrators to talk about some of those potential impacts.

For years Scarborough, and school districts all across the state, have dealt with declining state aid, making it difficult to find sources of revenue to offset increases in operational and contractual costs. This year looks no different.

Millett said the state is looking to cut $9 million from general purpose aid to “find more efficiencies in school administrations.”

“Rest assured, as a former school board member, I am always very conscious of the fact that right now is when everyone is doing the hard work. It is very important (for the state) to be clear and quick with what will be coming the way of the school districts,” said Millett, a former member of the Cape Elizabeth School Board.

Complicating matters, state Rep. Heather Sirocki said the biennial budget is still up in the air.

“The biennial budget the state of Maine passed last summer was balanced with some unidentified savings,” Sirocki said. “They are still unidentified. We are still unbalanced and we will be working on a supplemental budget to fix some of those holes.”

“My advice to everyone,” she added, “is to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. We are trying to find efficiencies at all levels.”

As that work continues, Millett said the Joint Standing Committee for Education and Cultural Affairs committee, which she co-chairs, is working on several new educational proposals.

One proposal that has strong support in the committee, but still lacks funding, she said, is one that would expand early childhood education in the state.

“The hope is to have kids ready to learn by the time they get to first grade,” Millett said. “The results are blatantly clear how important to early years in education are.”

Board of Education member Jackie Perry said while she understands the importance of early childhood education, she worries about what that would mean for Scarborough.

“There are so many communities in the state, including Scarborough, who have very good (private) preschools,” Perry said. She said there is no space in town to educate these young learners, and directly competing against private preschools could put tax-paying businesses at risk.

Direct competition, Millett said, is not the goal.

“This is not to replace,” she said. “This is to make more robust.”

Superintendent George Entwistle said through a partnership with Sebago Education Alliance, the school district launched a kindergarten jump start program over the summer to better prepare children for education in the fall.

Entwistle said many of the program’s participants “entered school ready after five or six weeks of a summer program.”

Other measures the committee is working on are strengthening professional development, helping economically disadvantaged students and improving the comparable wage index.

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