Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Gov.-elect LePage discusses plans for higher education

Posted on November 13, 2010 in News
By Michael Shepherd

Gov.-elect and current Waterville Mayor Paul LePage sat down with The Maine Campus in his downtown headquarters in Waterville Nov.9 for his first media interview since the Nov. 2 election.

The conversation revolved mostly around higher education, but energy, welfare and the Republican’s transition to the Blaine House were also discussed.

LePage said education officials across the state — from K-12, the Maine Community College System and the University of Maine System — must have a “sit-down” to examine policies he says are driving up the cost of education.

“I think we’re going to be having some very tough meetings,” he said. “The university and the community college system and the K-12 system are going to have to justify their expenditures.”

LePage said there is a gap in cost between the community college and university systems that must be bridged to serve all Maine students equally.

“What concerns me in Maine is that the tuition has been going up at twice the inflation rate … in the university system. The community college system is still a good bargain for the money,” he said. “I have some concerns because, in the community college system, some may [have] too many students and the classes are getting big, and at the university level it may be just the opposite.”

LePage also clarified his proposed five-year high school plan, which would allow participants to earn an associate degree while going to high school an extra year.

The normal four-year option for students to graduate with a diploma would still stand. He said students in the five-year program could utilize online education and video courses and physically attend community college courses at one of seven campuses statewide.

“It’s not unusual for a Waterville High School student to go to Colby [College] and take a couple courses,” LePage said. “If the college is right local, you can do it right on-site. If it’s not, you can do it virtual or do it online.”

The governor-elect also discussed a recent article printed in The Maine Campus and The Free Press that said 37 percent of the UMaine’s budget goes toward services duplicated at the system level and 72 percent of the system’s budget goes toward salary and compensation for its employees.

“When you run an organization, I believe in a skinny top management. From what I’m hearing, that’s probably not the case,” he said. “My administration, both from K-12 and higher education, is going to focus on getting the dollars into the classroom and that’s my most important mission in education.”

LePage said he was opposed to the idea of a proposed $983,000 UMaine distance learning facility in Falmouth, which is currently being considered by the system board of trustees.

“I’m not big on bricks and mortar. I’m really big on getting the resources inside the classroom,” he said.

LePage said he has “no idea” what percentage of his February budget will be devoted to higher education and has not started working on the specifics of the budget as of yet. However, he said he will allocate “whatever it takes without busting the bank.”

“What I’m going to be looking to do, from K-16 or 17 or 18, or whatever you want to call it, is to try to put as many of the limited resources we have into the classroom,” he said. “What I mean by that is we’re not going to spend more than we have.”

He said Maine’s high schools do not place enough emphasis on job placement and force students into a one-size-fits-all plan for their future, while many do not even graduate from high school.

“No matter what happens in education in this state, not every student is bound for college,” LePage said.

According to the Maine Department of Education’s website, in the 2008-09 school year, the state had a collective high school graduation rate of just over 80 percent, meaning just under 20 percent of students did not graduate in four years. The technical dropout rate was just over 3.4 percent.

“There’s got to be room for plumbers, electricians, designers, architects. These are all jobs we can build for the future, but our high school system doesn’t go down that path,” LePage said. “We say anybody in high school is a ‘college prep.’ I don’t agree with that.”

He also lamented Maine’s higher education programs for not being tied strongly enough to the geographical job needs of certain parts of the state.

“Ninety percent of the state is a forest, but we don’t have any natural resource courses in the western part of the state. Up north, we have agriculture and we don’t have a whole lot of specialization up in Northern Maine for agriculture courses for our kids, quite frankly, from junior high on,” LePage said.

He said education needs to be looked at like a business — but not one to be solely measured in profit and loss.

“We need to be profitable — and what’s the profit? A quality education at an affordable cost,” LePage said. “Do I believe in across-the-board cuts? No, I don’t. That’s not the way you run a business.”

He said the state could have used stimulus money to pay existing debts, but chose to put federal money into Efficiency Maine, a program that assists Maine citizens and companies with energy efficiency largely by offering $3,000 credits toward facility weatherization.

According to maineinsights.com, $37 million in federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was invested in the program.

“They could have spent all that money — and zippo. They would have immediately got a benefit. That’s the kind of benefits we need to be looking for,” LePage said. “Instead, they chose to distribute that money out over time.”

During the campaign, LePage’s stances on offshore drilling and nuclear power were criticized by state Democrats and independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.

LePage said geologists have shown that there most likely is not enough oil within the Gulf of Maine to make drilling worthwhile. If there were enough, he would pursue it as part of finding the cheapest possible energy source, he said.

“Nuclear is an alternative that has proven to be the lowest cost. Hydro is lower-cost. Natural gas — we have two pipelines in the state of Maine and we aren’t using them to the fullest extent,” he said.

Last week, it was reported by numerous outlets that LePage is endorsing former GOP primary candidate Bruce Poliquin, a businessman, for the position of state treasurer. LePage said the endorsement was not a political one.

“His experience with pensions on Wall Street, his experience in the treasury side of the state — as a governor-elect, I see that as a terrific skill set that’s going to be needed,” he said. “I don’t think over the years that we’ve had a professional treasurer. We’ve had political people that get the job.”

His office is also taking résumés from the general public for governor-appointed state positions. LePage said this week alone they have received résumés from 300 to 400 individuals.

They have come from people in “different walks of life — mostly lawyers, though. A whole lot of lawyers,” he joked.

LePage also said getting Maine citizens off state welfare programs will be a prime focus of his administration. He said he does not want to cut all benefits, but to make the methods of distributing aid to families more educational and efficient.

“We need to find a better way of distributing food stamps, for instance.” LePage said. “Right now, they do it with a debit card. We need to have a more effective way of doing this so that the food that is made available to people with cards gets into the bellies of our children.

“It’s not about throwing the kids off the system, it’s about making them a higher priority,” he said.

“We do the same thing over and over. We throw money at the problem but we don’t educate.”

(This article was republished with permission from The Maine Campus).

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