Thursday, December 5, 2013
AUGUSTA — Local teachers and administrators said Tuesday they are frustrated by a perceived lack of respect from Gov. Paul LePage, and they asked their local state representative to do something about it.
"Something that bothers me is the language the governor uses when he talks about schools failing," said Stephanie Connors, a Farrington Elementary School teacher. "I don't feel like the kids in my room are failing. I get up every morning and I hear the governor saying, 'You're failing. You're not meeting students' needs.' I think he needs to stop."
Connors was one of about 15 people who attended a forum on education Tuesday that was organized by Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta. Pouliot, a local Realtor and University of Maine at Augusta graduate, is a new member of the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee who wanted ideas for possible legislation.
While those gathered talked about a lack of funding, a need for tougher truancy laws, and concerns about teacher evaluations, Pouliot also found himself on the hot seat because of LePage's comments.
"That's going to be hard for me to fix," he said in response to Connors' concerns. "What I will say about the governor is he is passionate about education. You may not feel that as an educator. He doesn't always put that out there in the most politically correct way."
After two others expressed similar concerns about a lack of respect for teachers, Pouliot tried again.
"I wish I could fix the governor, but I can't," he said. "I think teachers need to be put on a pedestal."
Last week, LePage described Maine schools as near the bottom of the barrel nationally. He said if Puerto Rico were a state, Maine would finish behind even it in school results. His anger was directed at a recent decision by the state's Charter School Commission to deny four applications for new schools, superintendents who retire and come back to work, and the teachers' union, the Maine Education Association.
"Because as soon as Puerto Rico becomes a state, they're going to beat us because we don't care about our kids," LePage said. "And people say, 'Oh, we care, we care, we care.' Well, actions speak louder than words."
LePage did say during a recent news conference that he's concerned that good teachers aren't paid enough and that many of them dip into their personal money to pay for school supplies. He once again offered to match money spent by the union on teacher training to improve performance.
Yet that's not what the locals are hearing.
"My concerns are, at a time when the budget is in the worst shape, the rhetoric is also the worst it's ever been," said James Anastasio, interim superintendent of Augusta schools. "Class sizes are too high and on top of that, (teachers) don't feel appreciated."
On another topic, Anita Hopkins, a first-grade teacher at Hussey Elementary School, said she's concerned about truancy. The state's current truancy law doesn't kick in until children are 7 years old, which she believes is too late. She said two of the children in her class miss at least two days of school a week and are often late other days.
"I need to have them at school," she said.
Jan Rollins, assistant Cony High School principal, said she thinks Pouliot should try to find a way to tie welfare benefits to school attendance.
"If they are receiving money from the state, why isn't that tied to the student needing to be in school?" she asked.
Susan Cover — 621-5643