PARIS — A straw poll of SAD 17 Directors indicates the majority of members want Director Barry Patrie to “muddy the waters” as he represents them at today’s Maine School Boards Association 2018 Delegate Assembly in Augusta.
The suggestion by some directors at the October 15 board meeting to Patrie and Curtis Cole, who will serve as alternate delegate, essentially asks that the SAD 17 representatives make noise particularly when the assembly discussion begins on issues such as increasing the minimum salary of teachers.
“Something has to change,” said veteran Director Elizabeth Swift of Hebron, who agreed with arguments that if the minimum wages of teachers are raised to $40,000 the teachers should become state employees.
The Maine School Boards Association represents and supports local school board members who are charged with providing all students in Maine with a comprehensive education. Each year the association meets and each district sends delegates to the MSBA assembly where proposed constitutional changes and resolutions are voted.
This year the MSBA will consider proposed resolutions that include increasing the number of instructional days from 175 to 180 and ten professional days; lowering the compulsory attendance age from 7 to 6, increasing state funding to raise the starting salary for a teacher to $40,000 and supporting the eventual move of programs for 3-to5-year-old children into public schools as long as they are “well planned” and appropriately funded by the state.
The source of funding is key to many of the proposed changes.
The majority of SAD 17 Board of Directors gave the go-ahead to Patrie in a straw poll at the October 18 meeting to vote “yes” to act on issues such as banning guns on school grounds and lowering the compulsory attendance age to attend school from 7 to 6 but not without a lot of discussion.
While Director Troy Ripley, who home schooled his children, argued there is no data to support the move of lowering compulsory school age, Director Don Ware said many parents are unable to educate their children at home before they start school.
“I think we have a responsibility to get these kids as early as possible,” he said.
Superintendent Rick Colpitts said most Oxford Hills School District 5-year-old children are already enrolled in kindergarten. The MSBA resolution came from research that show students perform better on tests if they are consistently in school.
In terms of increasing the teacher minimum pay to $40,000 Director Bob Jewell said his concern included the ramifications on retirement liability for the district. He urged Patrie to propose an amendment that would require teachers become state employees so the financial burden could be transposed.
Director Ron Kugell said it is important that the district keep local control on what it spends.
“I see a pile of challenges with moving this forward,” said Ripley.
Patrie says he believes teachers are “grossly” underpaid but is realistic to know that it can’t all be done at once. The district continues to increase the salary schedule as financially able, in order to be competitive with other districts, he said.
Colpitts said the resolution does include state funding to mandate that the state pay the difference between the locally negotiated pay levels and the suggested $40,000 minimum.
The SAD 17 district minimum pay is now $35,600.
The MSBA is proposing the increase in minimum pay primarily to keep more teachers in the rural school districts of Maine in conjunction with a proposal to increase the school year.
The association is also proposing an increase of instructional days to 180.
The majority of states in the country have 180 instructional school days, but Maine law requires only 175, MSBA argues that there is not enough time in the school year to do everything necessary to help students success.
“If we are going to expect more of our students – and the changing workplace most certainly demands it – we have to give them more learning time,” states the MSBA in its arguments. “And, if we ever hope to address the achievement disparity for students coming from poverty, a longer year is needed.”
The MSBA says the five additional professional days addresses the need for teachers to have “more collaborative time and meaningful training and support.”
Student representative Catrina Wilson said it is tough enough to make up snow days that can be frequent in Maine in addition to extending the school year. Others agreed saying summer is short enough in Maine.
“The snow days are going to keep coming,” said Wilson.
Director Lew Williams said a longer school day might be a better alternative.
Other proposed resolutions include suppurating the ongoing work toward the implementation of proficiency based diplomas in Maine schools and special education reform which would provide a more inclusive system of identifying children who may need special services.