Sunday, December 04, 2005

And Now For Some News From New England

The State of Maine is considering whether or not to restructure its system of education governance. One key element would be the elimination of 251 school local school districts:
Maine currently has 286 school administrative units overseen by 152 superintendents. These units oversee 689 separate public schools responsible for approximately 204,000 students.

While the costs outline the problem, the report recommends reducing the number of districts from 286 to 35, roughly in line with the 35 state Senate districts. The panel attempts to mitigate the inevitable tug between local and state control with the following suggestions:

School boards would maintain control over policy, budget and hiring a superintendent, who would, in turn, retain control over governance and personnel matters. Local advisory boards would be established that would work with community and neighborhood schools to ensure local input.

There would be one state collective bargaining agreement for all teachers and school personnel across Maine, and it would be negotiated with a team consisting of DOE, superintendent, school board and teacher representatives.

School sizes would be set with a minimum of 350 students for the younger grades and 450 for secondary schools.

Nor does the report leave out Maine teachers, 6,196 of whom hold master's degrees. Teachers need to be paid more, the report states. The national salary average for teachers is $45,726; in Maine, it's $38,864, 35th in the country (down from 28th), and below New Hampshire and Vermont. By comparison, Connecticut's state average is $57,337, second in the nation.

But teachers also must perform and the report recommends each one attain a master's degree or national certification within 10 years of entry into the profession, and that annual leadership training programs be established.
I agree that there would be some cost savings through consolidation, but I doubt that this proposal will become law. It has been said that all politics is local, and school boards tend to be very jealous of their independence and will exert every pressure to prevent such a law from being enacted.

Besides, when's the last time that anyone has ever heard of any bureaucracy actually getting smaller? A shrinking bureaucracy would fly in the face of several centuries of precedent and practice. I think that the effect of such a law would be a complicated and complex reshuffling of titles and organizational charts.

Few, if any, administrative staffers would actually lose their jobs.

Once, when we were vacationing in Bar Harbor a couple of years ago, I spoke with the captain of what the local folks refer to as a "mail boat." That was his summer job. During the school year, he's the principal of the local high school. Naturally, we discussed education-related issues and in the course of our discussion he happened to mention that after 25 years in public education he was finally earning an annual salary of about $65,000. Most teachers on his staff were earning less than $35,000 and could not afford to live in the community they served.
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