AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday he intended to push the issue of public school system consolidation as he begins to craft his next two-year budget proposal due to the Legislature in early 2017.

“The issue is not the money in education, the issue is how the money in education is being spent,” LePage said during a talk show on WVOM of Bangor. LePage reiterated his dissatisfaction with the number of public school superintendents in Maine and again compared the state to Florida.

“We have 127 superintendents for 177,000 kids,” LePage said. “The state of Florida, who ranks number 7th in the best education system in America, has 3 million kids and 64 superintendents. That’s where the problem is. We are spending the money on the administration of our schools and not in the classrooms.”

The governor went on to say he believed teachers and students in Maine, “are the two victims of our school system.” He said the state’s teachers’ union and the superintendents’ association, “are the two winners.”

LePage made the comments in the context of a conversation around an upcoming question on the fall ballot asking voters to approve a 3 percent income tax increase for households earning more than $200,000 a year, with the increase revenue being earmarked for public schools. LePage has said the tax hike will drive business away from Maine and make the state even less attractive to high-income earners like doctors and engineers.

In a way, LePage also complimented his predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, for his unsuccessful attempt to consolidate Maine’s public school system. LePage predicted his latest effort would also likely fail before the Legislature in 2017 but would then be a hot-topic issue for the 2018 gubernatorial and State House elections.

LePage also took aim at the Legislature, a recurring target of his criticism, saying lawmakers haven’t done their part to help bring greater regionalization and consolidation to public schools.

“They have been at fault for not willing and wanting to make the program that John Baldacci put forward. I’m not going to agree that it was the best program,” LePage said. “I’m going to say it was a great effort.”

LePage and Baldacci also agree in their opposition to the ballot measure, which will appear as Question 2 in November. Speaking to WGAN radio in Portland in September, Baldacci said he believed schools needed more funding but the approach being taken by the ballot question to raise taxes on a single income bracket was the wrong one.

A law passed under Baldacci in 2007 attempted to reduce the number of school administrative districts in Maine from 290 to just 80 regional school units or RSUs. That law also allowed individual cities and towns to petition for deconsolidation after a 30-month period, which more than 20 ended up doing – largely unraveling the consolidation effort.

LePage said Tuesday he understood the desire for local control but also suggested that if people wanted local control they should pay for it locally, which in Maine is largely in the form of property taxes.

He also said that since he had taken office in 2011 state funding for public schools had increased from $892 million a year to $1.1 billion a year in 2016.

“I have been the most pro-education governor in the history of the state,” LePage said, although many of the funding increases for public schools came Legislative in budget proposal that were enacted over LePage’s vetoes.

This report will be updated.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.