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Gov. Paul LePage wants to shift education funding to local districts

Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday he wants to push the cost of paying school superintendents to the local level.

LePage’s comments came during his regular radio appearance on WVOM and offered one of the first glimpses of what to expect from his next state budget proposal, which is due in January.

“All of the backroom operations will be done at the [school] units but if a school district wants to have a principal and a superintendent, the locals will have to pay for it,” said LePage. “The problem is not the education system. The problem is our attitude here in Maine. We believe in home rule. If you believe, then be willing to pay for it. Not the state. It should not be the state’s burden. It should be the local community’s burden.”

LePage has long lamented the number of superintendents in Maine and pointed to other states like Florida, a much more populous state that has far few superintendents, as examples of what Maine’s public school administration system should look like. This topic usually comes up when LePage talks about school funding, which he said is far too tilted toward administrative costs.

LePage’s latest criticism of Maine school administrators came during a conversation about his opposition to Question 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

John Kosinski of the Maine Education Association, the union that represents Maine teachers, reacted by saying that if LePage is concerned about administrative costs, he should support the Stand Up for Students initiative, which is Question 2 on the November ballot. The initiative would place a 3 percent tax on individual income over $200,000 and earmark the money for public schools — and specifically states that the money cannot be used for administration costs. Kosinski said LePage’s proposal to shift the cost of superintendents to the local level is another example of his ongoing efforts to shift costs to the local level through tax cuts for higher earners, reducing municipal revenue sharing and pushing teacher retirement costs to local taxpayers.

“I’m not surprised to hear the governor say he’s going to push more costs onto local towns,” said Kosinski. “That’s what we’ve seen for the past six years. … Every state has a different structure for how they manage their schools. … The governor doesn’t tell the whole story. What I know is our schools are trying to do the best they can with limited resources.”

LePage called Question 2 the “scariest” of all five referendums on the November ballot because it would drive away professionals — including doctors, dentists and entrepreneurs — who would be subject to the new taxes.

“Why would I go to Maine for the privilege of paying a higher income tax when I could go to New Hampshire, where there is no income tax?” said LePage.

LePage also argued that school spending by state government has gone from $892 million a year when he took office to about $1.1 billion now. While that’s true, most of the increase is due to the Legislature adding tens of millions of dollars of education money to LePage’s budget proposals, which LePage then vetoed for a variety of reasons. LePage has proposed modest increases that education professionals say have failed to keep up with the increasing cost of public education.

“I have been the most pro-education governor in the history of this state,” said LePage. “I have undone a lot of stuff that was poorly done by other governors.”

LePage, who has faced years of criticism for his austere education proposals, has said in the past that his final two years in office would be marked by more efforts at education reform. It looks like that will start in his next budget proposal, though he acknowledged he expects modest progress at best.

“I’m suggesting that it will be an election campaign issue in two years,” said LePage. “It will get here but it will probably not get here right away.”

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