LePage: School reform commission ‘died at the first meeting’

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage has little or no confidence that the fledgling blue ribbon education reform commission will accomplish anything to improve Maine schools.

LePage said during his regular Tuesday morning radio appearance on WVOM that the commission, which was created in a school funding bill he signed into law in March of this year, was doomed from the moment it started with a controversial April 25 closed-door meeting at the Blaine House. The uproar around the legality of the meeting — which is the subject of a pending Kennebec County Superior Court case — caused LePage, who was originally a member, to threaten to pull the executive branch out of the commission. (Here’s his soundtrack.) Deputy Education Commissioner Bill Beardsley has continued the effort.

“I’m not going,” said LePage this morning. “It’s just a dead issue in my mind. It died the first meeting. I was in there for five minutes and I knew [Senate Minority Leader] Justin Alfond and [Assistant House Majority Leader] Sara Gideon didn’t want it so it’s dead.”

Alfond and Gideon are both members of the commission, as are Republican legislative leaders, educators and the chiefs of Maine’s university and community college systems.

The commission will hold several meetings between now and the end of the year with the intention of reporting recommendations to LePage and the Legislature by Jan. 10, 2017. LePage said one problem he has with the commission is that it’s public.

“How do you negotiate in public? I’ve never been able to negotiate a contract on stage,” said LePage. “For people to say you’re going to sit in the public and you’re going to negotiate as an elected official is absolutely insane. It only works if you’re termed out.”

According to Alfond, the commission was LePage’s idea and the Department of Education chose the members.

During his radio visit, the governor reiterated some of his often-repeated education goals: Reducing the number of superintendents in Maine and establishing a statewide labor contract for teachers. He also railed against superintendents who pull students from “bad schools” in neighboring districts “so they can get more money” from the state’s funding formula.

“We’re investigating one school district right now,” said LePage, who was not asked to identify the school but said it is located in northeastern Maine.

We don’t have all the pieces of this story, but hearing the governor criticize student transfers was bizarre, considering that the practice was encouraged and made easier by his own administration in 2012 and 2013 over the objections of school administrators. LePage even proposed in his 2013 biennial budget to allow students to take state state subsidies with them to whatever school they chose, including private ones. The provision was defeated.

LePage indicated that he would consider the blue ribbon commission’s findings, though grudgingly.

“I took the bait and shame on me,” said the governor of the commission. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Anti-Trump, anti-Clinton: The Americans Deserve Better Political Action Committee, which supports Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, has begun airing advertisements on television and radio in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Check out the ads by clicking here.
  • Addiction forum: Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin will host his second Operation Community SAFER Congressional Town Hall today beginning at 6 p.m. at Central Maine Community College’s Kirk Hall in Auburn. The meeting is open to the public and Auburn police will conduct a medication take-back for unwanted or unused prescription drugs.
  • Honoring Susan Collins: The American Ambulance Association will present Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins with its Legislator of the Year award today during a ceremony this morning at North East Mobile Health Services in Scarborough.

Reading list

Dreaming about the first car

I know how my 11-year-old feels. Still five years from his driver’s license, he is already fantasizing about his first car.

When I was his age, I poured through the auto ads in Uncle Henry’s every week and spent hours examining auto dealer fliers from the newspaper. I wanted a Chevy S-10 Jimmy but ended up with an old Ford Ranger I paid $500 for (but which lasted three years).

My boy has set his sights higher. He announced last night that he has decided his first car will be a Bentley. This is what I get for letting him watch “Top Gear.” He Googled prices and found the cheapest model sells for just under $200,000.

“I guess I should start saving for that instead of a swimming pool,” he said.

Seems logical, though I’m trying to talk him into spending a little more on the faster GT model. Here’s his soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.