Town of Rome, Maine

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RSU 18 Rome update

9/25/17

Update in pdf

Everyone,


It’s been an intriguing and mystifying month for Rome and the RSU. The really good news is that school has restarted uneventfully (except for the rain induced flood in one of the China schools).


As always I hope you will reach out to me by phone, in person or email to share your thoughts and perspectives. (397-5332 [email protected])


The September pluses:

  • The new Chief Academic officer (and Assistant Superintendent) Keith Morin went over the most recent MEA test score results with the Academic Programs committee, the Board and also with our own Town Academic Options Exploratory Committee. I have been impressed with his interest in and understanding of the data and his sensitivity to what it all means.
  • While almost all scores in all RSU 18 schools showed significant improvement over last year (!!!), and many are above the state average, many rank below the state expectations for “meets or exceeds standards.”
  • Interestingly Belgrade Central School scored head and shoulders (it is amazing) above all the other schools in the district at any grade level! And in fact their scores would be considered to be outstanding for any school in the state. The message to me is – our district can be great. For sure The Belgrade team is showing the way!  Hooray! Kudos to the Belgrade students, parents, teachers and administration.
  • And kudos to our Academic Options Exploratory committee for inviting Keith Morin over to share facts and data with them, and kudos to Keith for making the trip and time! Well done

 

Other considerations:

  • After much effort on the part of Rome, the five town RSU 18 Cost Sharing Committee reconvened to reconsider the “additional local funds” and bond indebtedness tax allocation decision they made late last year.
  • The China delegation, much to their credit, proposed that the formula be changed from today’s 75% valuation 25% student count allocation to a 70% valuation, 30% student count allocation. This motion, if passed, would have saved Rome roughly $18,000/yr.in taxes (or about $400,000 over 20 years). It would also have saved Rome >$57,000 in indebtedness in the proposed $13.9M bond.  
  • This are significant numbers. This is enough to start our own K-3 academic excellence program summer school at town hall, or dramatically upgrade our town beach, or just plain old put money back in our tax payers’ pockets.
  • Again – kudos to the China delegation – they are team players and they were great. We owe them – wonderful people.
  • Bizarrely – when it came to a vote, it was voted down 7-8. China (3 votes) and Rome (3 votes) voted for it as did Rebecca Seel, the School Board member from Belgrade.
  • However, for reasons I cannot understand, the Selectman from Belgrade (Gary Mahler) and the Belgrade Town Manager (Dennis Keschl) voted against it. Had Gary and Dennis voted for this motion, it would have won 9-6.
  • I could not (then) and cannot now fathom why Gary and Dennis voted as they did. The proposed motion would have saved Belgrade roughly $20,000 a year in taxes and >$63,000 on the $13.9M bond indebtedness. It’s just amazing that they voted as they did. Further they offered no other ideas or motions.
  • Success was in our hands, and the two members of the Belgrade delegation let it slip through our (and their) fingers.
  • I am sorry to report that I think the consequence of their votes will stay with us for at least 20 years if not the rest of our participation in the RSU. It means that now – three times – the five towns have voted for the 75%/25% formula: once when the RSU was formed, once last year and then again last week.
  • The opportunity was right now. For sure in the next revisit of the formula (five years from now) the three precedents will prevail. So Rome (and Belgrade) will continue to pay a disproportionate share of the “additional local founds” and bond costs for many, many years.
  • I am so sorry. I apologize to you all. I could not have imagined that Gary and Dennis would vote as they did. I have no idea what I should have or could have done differently.

 

Oh well, so it goes. The good news is the Belgrade academic scores. Academics and a great education for our students is what it is all about. If we keep the pressure on I am sure we can once again make RSU 18 one of the best districts (if not the best) in the State. And that will be wonderful (and our goal) for the important young men and women from Rome!

 

Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.


Rome – a great place to live, and a great place to grow up!


Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

 

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!

[email protected]

RSU 18 Rome $13.9M bond/debt update

This update has been removed.
In compliance with the Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOAA), copies of this
document may be requested through the Board of Selectmen.
RSU 18 Rome July update

(Update in pdf)

 “Fire Safety, facilities maintenance, academic needs, food service debt, building consolidation and track and field”

It’s all on the table at the 7 PM Wednesday August 9 School Board meeting at the Middle school


If you have a perspective on any or all of these issues it would be great if you could attend and speak. The July 12th meeting was quite stimulating and intense. Rome, RSU 18 and most importantly the students need your voice and your thoughts.

 


Everyone,


A quick up date. I am titling this update “running a 3000 student school district on a shoe string.”

 

RSU 18 has been running on a shoe string for many years. It may not seem that way to you but indeed it is the case. As a result a variety of important issues have been continually deferred without funding or resolution. These include:

  •      Fire safety upgrades for all our buildings that have been formally identified by the State Fire Marshall’s office,
  •      Basic building maintenance including student drop off areas, roofs, bathrooms, kitchens, ADA (American Disabilities Act) upgrades to play areas, ambulance access to athletic fields, athletic field (track) conditions,
  •      Out of date science “lab” classrooms,
  •      Unfunded accumulated food service debt (It’s substantial – approaching $500,000),
  •      Building/school consolidation and
  •      The high school track and field

          To the credit of an intense & mobilized group, this has all come to a head around a question of taking a $4M bond issue to vote in November. The money would be used to rebuild the high school football field and track with a modern synthetic surface. The All Sports Boosters Club and the School Board Extra Curricular Activities Committee are strongly urging the Board to allow the $4M bond issue to go to vote. It is to their credit.

 

However several members of the board, me included, are concerned that we may not have our priorities set out well. And maybe of greater concern, we may not (don’t) have a plan to address and fund the several other important issues listed above. This has led to a fair amount of tension. It will all come to a head at the August 9 meeting. The Superintendent will present a five year (or more) capital investment plan so we can all see what is ahead of us. I hope he will present his recommended approach and timing to get these many issues funded, addressed and resolved.

 

As usual I believe our district can again be one of the best in the State, if not the best. However we have slipped over the last 8 years. We have slipped academically and we have slipped in terms of addressing these issues. As a result of managing the district “on a shoe string”, these issue have now accumulated into a significant bow wave. It is a bow wave that needs to be addressed. The questions ahead of us all are:

  •      Do we have the collective wisdom to address these issues in priority order and
  •      Do we have the will to accept the cost that is for sure ahead of us?

 

For my part I am more than willing to see us address all of them and get on with it. It will be a substantial impact for us. However things are not going to get better by continuing to defer them. And if we do address them, things will get a lot better for our students – the people we all care about.


Andy Cook’s Perspective:


My priorities (and the way I am voting at board meetings) are in this order:

·         Fire safety first – get the requested modifications done and installed asap,

·         Basic building maintenance, ADA compliance, ambulance friendly access roads, drop off areas, roof leaks, kitchen upgrades – do it now,

·         Food service debt – pay it off soon – our auditors are on our case to get it done!

·         Academic upgrades – do it soon and next on the list,

·         Building consolidation – get the wheels rolling – we are over due to reduce the elementary schools in Oakland by one and for consolidating the schools in China. Our failure to address these two topics is resulting in added costs which means money unavailable for the items noted above. One apparent complication is that Maine State law says each town must, on its own, agree to close the schools (or not) in its town. This complicates things since consolidation benefits all, but a school closure may be seen as adverse for the town it is in. But this is no reason for us to not press ahead and get the process moving.

·         And then address the high school track and field upgrade. I have been clear about this in board meetings. This upgrade will primarily benefit Oakland. China has almost no high school students at the high school (they are all at Erskine Academy).     

     Further primarily the town of Oakland will benefit during non-school hours. Rome, China, Belgrade and Sidney are too far away. I wish, hope and desire that Oakland will somehow step forward and accept more of the cost of this upgrade than the current RSU 18 “cost sharing “ formula would suggest. As it stands Rome and Belgrade would pay a disproportionately high share of the cost for the track and field while Oakland would get a disproportionately high share of the benefit. Something here is not settling well for me.

     I think we could do all the things. We are probably looking at a bond issue on the order of $14M or greater. But it is overdue. The district has been run on a shoe string for too long. Now these issues will not go away.

 

I give full credit to the people who are focused on the high school track and field. They have for sure precipitated long overdue board attention to these issues. However I am unwilling to proceed on the track and field unless we simultaneously address formally, in writing, these other topics.

 

I sincerely hope you will weigh in on these topics either at the meeting(s), with the Superintendent (Carl Gartley), with the School Board Chairman (Jim Isgro) or with me. At this point the voices for the track and field literally drown out any other perspective.* For myself, my position – which I think makes sense and I hope you support, has resulted in some unpleasantness. More specifically Rome has been excluded from being on any of the Board standing committees. We are the only town so excluded. Needless to say I am as unhappy about this situation as I am sure you are. I am working to get this corrected.


I think we are on a good track, we can get these issues addressed. They are a major step towards making RSU 18 the academic leader for public school education Maine. I am optimistic that the Board will do the right thing – soon. However it is for sure not smooth sailing. I appreciate any support, counsel, insights or comments you provide.

On a very positive note our Rome Academic Options Exploratory Committee is hard at work. I had an opportunity to meet with them at their first meeting. They are a wonderful set of people who are knowledgeable about public school education and RSU 18. I am quite optimistic about the outcome of their research. We are in good hands!


Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.


Rome – a great place to live, and a great place to grow up!


Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

 

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!

[email protected]

 

* Note: Our Selectmen read a letter into the record at the last School Board meeting stating the same priorities as I outlined above. It is to their credit that they did this. It was wonderful to see their thoughtfulness and their support of our students! Kudos to Richard, Lois and Malcolm!

RSU 18 Rome update

The Budget passed – THANK YOU!

Full Report in pdf

Everyone,


Some RSU 18 related items of interest.

  1. The budget and revolving renovation fund articles passed – The budget vote was 68.46% “yes” and the fund vote was 74.42% “yes.” Rome voted strongly for both items (68.66% and 72.39%). This is the biggest vote of support by Rome for our students in the last four years!

  2. Turnout – 134 Rome citizens voted! This is the biggest turn out in 8 years. In May of 2009 twenty-one Rome citizens voted. Our turnout has been continually rising since then! This is the really good news, more and more of us are expressing, at the ballot box, our interest in the future of the young men and women in Rome who are under our collective stewardship. Regardless of how you voted, your interest and concern is everything – and will make all the difference in the life success of these young men and women. THANK YOU ALL – WELL DONE! 

  3. Values – The new Superintendent, Carl Gartley, met with our Selectmen on June 12. Malcolm Charles urged that we start all School Board meetings, budget discussions, cost sharing meetings and so on with the pledge of allegiance. Given the divisiveness that sometimes develops this is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that we are really all in this together – a bunch of everyday people trying together to govern ourselves. I strongly endorse this thought and will encourage it at the next school board meeting and work to make it happen.

  4. Curriculum – The Selectmen also urged the Superintended to include cursive writing in the student’s training. Curiously this is not and never has been a formal part of the curriculum. As far as I can tell it is not required by Common Core or the State. There are several on the Board who think this should be done. I will also urge this when then Educational Programs Committee reconvenes next fall. Curiously not everything is uniform between schools and teachers. For example the children are expected to learn reading by using phonics, however the phonics approach used seems to be at the teacher’s discretion. As a result students move up a grade with a spectrum of experiences and knowledge.

  5. Mathematics- and again Third Selectman Malcolm Charles emphasized the crucial aspect of our young students having a strong basic grasp of arithmetic. He urged that they at least be able to make change mentally (i.e. without a calculator). This is an issue too. We need to focus – HARD – on the fundamentals in the K-3 grades and especially in mathematics. I am pushing on this but we are not there yet and need more focus and improvement.

  6. Fire safety – we all owe a big debt to Rich McCarthy, Assistant State Fire Marshall and also the parent of an RSU 18 student. His follow up and involvement in the resolution of the fire safety topics that came up in the Facilities Committee work is yielding a positive result. His efforts, and the great response by the district administration, will result in ever safer buildings for our students. THANK YOU RICH!

  7. Enrollment – as you consider the cost of education it is interesting to note that our total school population is expected to drop by 99  students next year (to a total of 2833) but our special education student population will increase by 47 (to 506).

  8. Cost sharing and costs – One of the Selectmen feels we are not getting value commensurate to the price we pay. Indeed Rome pays substantially more, out of property taxes, per student than any of the other five towns (China, Oakland, Belgrade or Sidney). In fact we pay ($15,717/student all in) almost double compared to three of the towns (they receive a substantial subsidy from the state). This is because of how the State school funding formula works. In the “Additional Local Funds” cost sharing formula we pay almost double per student what some other towns pay! There is a choice – improve the value (make our district and our students the best in the State! – Wonderful) or reduce our costs (!). One or the other – somehow things are out of whack for Rome! The Cost Sharing Committee is reconvening and we (Tammy Lyons, Lois Stratton, Malcolm Charles and I) will work diligently with the 5 town committee to try to impact this!

  9. Our goal is to create an enduring cost/value solution that is enduring and will draw the towns together as a team focused on helping the young men and women under our stewardship achieve academic excellence.

  10. Can our children, our Rome students be great – YOU BET! Mainers have the basic values and traits employers want – dependability, steadfastness, resilience in the face of adversity, integrity, honesty, resourcefulness and the willingness and ability to work hard. Who could ask for more? They can ask for one thing more – a solid academic foundation. If we can give our Rome students that solid academic grounding they can be some of the best (and wealthiest) and most successful citizens in the US. That is our goal – to help them to be the best – they have the most important thing – the core values, let’s give them that last piece, the mental tools to be leaders – dirigo!

  11. Once again THANK YOU! – It is well established that a student’s success is based on two things – parental involvement and the quality of the schools. Our great voter turnout shows us that we, as a community, are involved and care! And the push by our Academic Options Exploratory Committee, and the support and comments you provide me and the Superintendent, will help to drive us to be the state leader. We can do it!

  12. Expect, ask for and demand excellence – one of my favorite learnings is that people who demand excellence very often get it. Let’s demand excellence for our student’s – demand it of ourselves, of our school district and of our school board director (me!).

 

Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.


Rome – a great place to live, and a great place to grow up!


Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

 

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!

[email protected]

 

P.p.s When one of my immigrant friends (I am one too!) was sworn in as a US citizen the judge asked all the brand new citizens in the room, “Please help us to govern ourselves. This is a great experiment. Can a group of people govern themselves? Prior to the American Revolution no one thought it could happen. People thought you needed a king, or royalty, a privileged class, or a dictator to run things properly. But we in America are trying to prove them wrong. We struggle, we make mistakes, we disagree with each other - but we are trying to work together to govern ourselves. As new citizens please join us and help us to make this thing work!”

 

I agree.


Thank you all again for helping to make this democracy thing work!

June 2017 Update from Rome's School Board Director
Full report in pdf

“Is this a budget, all things considered, we can and should support? Absolutely!”

Vote yes for the Budget and revolving renovation fund

If you cannot make it in person, get an Absentee ballot – your vote counts!


Everyone,


A quick update


The 2017/18 Budget: Is ready for a vote.

               

Good things:

  1. Our school wide academic performance on standardized tests (NWEA, MEA etc.) are improving.

  2. We were approved for $250,000 in State revolving renovation funding. Our old schools (and they are old) need the work – leaking roofs, failed pipes, failed plumbing, sidewalks, fire doors, disabilities act compliance!)

  3. Three of our principals have been recognized as being best in their field around the State; Jennifer McGee, Paula Callan and Melanie Smith. Karen Alley has been named secretary of the year, Donny Sheets was named custodian of the year, Lisette Bordes, one of our Messalonskee High School English Teachers, was named Kennebec Teacher of the Year. Good leaders means good education which means good news for our students.

  4. We are addressing the deficit our nutrition (lunch) program has been forced to accrue.

  5. Our regular education funding is 45% of the budget versus a State average of 41%. This means we are spending more on our student’s education  (as a portion of the budget) than the average district in the state

  6. Our graduation rate (94%) is one of the highest in the state and nation. Our seniors are being accepted into some of the most rigorous colleges in our country. We have much improved from the 84% graduation rate in 2009.

  7. We are focusing on significantly improving our support of mathematics excellence. To that end look at our new faculty hires: Jamie Kriger (China Primary) – strong in mathematics, Chelsey Oliver, Messalonskee Middle School – strong in mathematics, Joshua Schmidt – China Middle School – strong in mathematics. Judd Thompson – Messalonskee High School, strong in mathematics, Nathan Davis – Messalonskee High School – strong in mathematics. GOOD DEAL – for our children!

  8. Our extra-curricular programs continue to set the standard of excellence.

Areas for consideration:

  1. We are being asked (by the State) to pick up even more of the teacher retirement program funding ($100,000)

  2. Despite excellent work on the “Wellness program” our health insurance premium went up by $265,000 (we are still 30% lower than our neighboring districts).

  3. While we did reduce regular education staffing consistent with our declining student count, there is an increase in funding for special education staffing. We need this because our special needs student population has grown by 17% and we are obligated to meet state requirements for caseloads and provide reasonable class sizes. The good news is proper staffing in this area enables us to avoid placing these students out of district, which is far more expensive.

  4. The State has significantly reduced its support of our district (approximately a $750,000 reduction).

Thoughts:

  1. Despite all these added costs (retirement, special needs, building remediation, health insurance, nutrition program) we held the budget increase to 3.6%. THAT’S A BIG DEAL.

  2. And despite the reduction in State funding we were able to hold the actual tax increase to Rome to only 5%. NOT TOO BAD.

  3. On the other hand over 50% of our actual school tax (for Rome) is paid by non-residents. That means we, the residents,  are getting a real deal in terms of how much we pay for the education the young men and women under our care.

  4. My estimate is that for residents we are actually paying less than $7000/yr. per student for the good education our children are getting. THIS IS A REAL DEAL!  The State average is greater than $11,000.

Andy Cook’s Conclusion:

  1. Are we there yet in helping our children get the very best educational start in life we can afford? Not yet – but things are improving and we are on the right track. I am dissatisfied, I hope you are dissatisfied – BUT – things are improving and actually are good.

  2. But we can be excellent and set the standard academic excellence for the state. We can do it! For the good of our Rome children. And we will.

  3. Is this a budget, all things considered, we can and should support? Absolutely!

  4. Do we need your vote and support? For sure. Not everyone sees the importance of education for our children (and all the district’s children) with the care and concern we in Rome do. We need everyone to vote, and vote yes, in order to ensure our Rome  children get the very best education we can afford.

Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.


Rome – a great place to live, and a great place to grow up!

Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

 

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!

[email protected]


May 2017 Update from Rome's School Board Director

Full report in pdf


Everyone,


A quick update:


New Assistant Superintendent: Our new Superintendent (to be) has selected Keith Morin to be our new Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic officer.  Most critically Keith will work with me and Educational Programming Committee on helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence amongst public schools in Maine. I was not on the selection committee however I am told the committee was broad based and included students, members of the school board and others (I believe faculty members). Keith is currently the Principal at Winthrop High School. He has served as assistant principal and as a high school social studies teacher at Lawrence high school. He has a master degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Maine and is a graduate of U Maine Farmington. One of Keith’s strengths is a knowledge of practical implementation of the proficiency based learning requirements. That is much needed!


Kathy Harris-Smedberg will return as principal of the Williams School from her sabbatical (to complete her PhD) on Monday, May 15. We just learned she is to become the assistant superintendent and chief academic officer in the Bangor Schools. We will miss her. I sincerely hope she will come back to help us some time in the future.


The 2017/18 Budget is now largely formulated. We have had several public working sessions and hearings. There has been an unusual amount of positive discussion about academics, academic excellence and helping the students under our stewardship succeed (!). I have been impressed. I have not heard a single voice that is opposed to the budget in any of the meetings (also a first for me!).


Budget and Rome: It is hard to tell what the impact maybe for Rome since the expense budget is only part of the story. The rest of the story is the split between the towns and also the State contribution (which appears to continue to drop). It appears both of those items may work to raise our net town tax. However, as I have pointed out earlier, given that so much of our school tax is paid by nonresidents, RSU 18 education is a huge bargain for Rome residents. Our per student tuition cost for our students as paid by Rome residents is extremely modest and for sure a bargain given the quality of the education.


Additional Local Funds: That being said, several of us remain concerned about the portion of the “RSU 18 additional local funds” that Rome has to pay. We have been successful in getting the “Cost Sharing Committee” to reconvene to reconsider this issue. It was a hard fought team effort to cause that to happen. Kudos to our Rome Selectmen, committee members in Belgrade and China, and even positive influence from some in Oakland! The School Board voted unanimously to reconvene the committee! Now  we have to go the next step and help all five towns converge on the thought that the best way to achieve an enduring, solution that draws the towns together as a team with a focus on our students’ academic success, is to create an equitable form of financial team work amongst the five towns!


Article on the State money: It appears the legislature may increase the amount of State support for public schools. This increase for RSU 18 could be between $500,000 and $750,000. It is all unclear and will not be resolved until after our budget and revenue plan is approved by the voters. So we, the School Board, have included a warrant article to allow these funds to be allocated if indeed they appear. The article would rebate 50% of the “new” money to the towns that get state funds, 25% to the students in the form of additional K-3 educators, facilities upgrades and resolution of our large ($750,000) nutrition program unresolved debt. The final 25% would go the “General Fund” which is a reserve fund for unexpected and emergent expenses. Regrettably Rome will receive none of the 50% rebate. On the other hand the other two allocations are for the good of our students. I support this warrant, because it is one that I think all five towns can support. I could have proposed to have 100% go for the students but it is unlikely that would have carried the day – so this is a reasonable compromise. 


Academic excellence: I am heartened to hear, at every Board meeting, budget meeting and public interaction, an increased focus on helping the children under our stewardship achieve the very best academic start in life we can collectively afford. This is really great. This is what public education is all about. And we are starting to see results! These wonderful young men and women of Rome, who are under our stewardship, deserve the very best start in life that we can afford to provide. I don’t think we are there yet, but for sure I see things heading in the right direction.


Academic options exploratory committee: Our Selectmen are convening this committee. For sure there are good reasons for a group of impartial Rome resident’s to review the situation. If you are interested I hope you will apply with the Select Board. We really need a hard, independent look at the facts in order to help guide a town decision.


Yours in helping our students by helping RSU 18 set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.

 

Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

 

p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!


[email protected]

A quick update – for the People of Rome (April 2017)

Full report in pdf

 

Come to the school Board meeting, this Wednesday 7 PM at the Middle school. The assistant Chief State Fire Marshall Rich McCarthy will be speaking. Rich has a child in our school district and has personally done fire safety walk downs in each of our facilities, schools and buildings.  What he has to say is significant. It is about our schools.


We had two school budget works shops last week. They went very well. Several people spoke up for ensuring a quality education for our students. In particular one requested an additional third grade teacher at Belgrade Central (the class sizes are in the low 20’s right now). Another asked for more funding for teacher and teacher’s aide training (an amount was not suggested but I suggested an additional $100,000). A concern was raised that our special needs student teaching aids may not be getting the behavioral training that might help them in their duties. On the other hand one person spoke out about concern for those on fixed incomes and the impact of the school budget on them.

 

More people spoke up for achieving an excellent education for the young men and women under our stewardship than I have even heard in my three years on the board. I was impressed. The entire tone of the meetings was favorable and supporting. And this is in spite of the increases the budget shows and the decline in state support that we are expecting. I think people really are concerned about the future these young men and women will face. People really want to do the best we can afford to help them get a very good start in lifeI know we in Rome want to provide the very best education we can afford for these important young men and women from our town.

 

Attached here are two interesting items the Superintendent sent. The first shows many of the school’s successes. 70% of our graduates plan to go to a 4 year undergraduate school, a two year school or join the military. 126 of our 2016 graduates took collegiate advanced placement exams. Of those 69% got a 3 or better on a scale of 1 to 5. That means they can place out of one or two college semesters of the subject they took the exam in. And we have 273 students “dual enrolled” at Thomas College or KVCC. This means they are taking college level courses in high school, and getting credit for that! Further we have had graduates go to some very good colleges: Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, MIT, Northeastern, NYU, Tufts, the University of Rochester and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (and many more – see the attachment).

 

On the other hand our SAT scores are not where we want them. Our 2017 class had an average SAT score of 974 versus a Maine State average of 993. We want to set the standard of academic excellence for public schools in Maine. Clearly we are not there yet. Further Tom Burton, who is on the School Board and the head Swimming Coach at Colby, pointed out that as schools move to “proficiency based” scoring systems colleges lean more heavily on SAT scores to judge applicants. So SAT scores matter even more for our students– for us!

 

The other attachment shows some ratios for our district expenditures versus others. Most notable is the chart below.  It shows that we are spending more on actual education as a percent of the budget than many of our neighbors (DOE means Department of Education). This is great!


We are on a mission here. Our goal is to ensure that the young men and women from Rome (and the entire school district) get the best academic start in life we can collectively afford. Times are getting more demanding: we have imposed special education requirements, more special needs students, imposed “proficiency based learning” requirements, imposed food service requirements, and reductions in State funding. And our economy is demanding better educated graduates – educated however in things many of us don’t even know about (or didn’t even exist when we were young) – database management, use of tools like Excel, applied knowledge of statistics, hands on experience with real world things (wood working, metal forming, writing, programming, web page development, computer generated imagery, etc. ). 


I am optimistic that – with your support and concern – we can truly have our school district set the standard for academic excellence for public schools in Maine.

And I can assure you, because of your support, Rome is leading the charge!

Please be in touch with your thoughts and concerns. And do sign up to be on our Academic Options Assessment Committee – it is well worth our time!


Rome - a great place to live and grow up!


Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

RSU 18 Budget Workshops

Dr. Cook's message regarding RSU 18 Budget Workshops
held on March 28-29


Parents, voters & concerned real estate tax payers, I encourage you to attend these budget workshops. This is your opportunity to impact the RSU 18 2017/18 budget.

 

The Good news:

Our goal is to be sure our Rome students get the best educational start in life we can afford. Further the School Board aspires to have RSU 18 set the standard of excellence for public school education in Maine. While we still have a good distance to go to get there, we are making progress. For example:


  1. Our Math Counts team finished fifth recently in the State. This is a good step in showing that RSU 18 is working to set the standard of academic excellence for public school education in Maine.  A special congratulations to Taryn Drolet, a grade 8 student at Messalonskee Middle School. Taryn took 2nd place at the State MathCounts Championship and will move on to represent Maine in the Nationals in Orlando, FL!
  2. Our graduation rate is 94%. This is well above the 84% rate when the RSU was formed and significantly above the Maine State rate and the national rate.
  3. Our high school (9-12) dropout rate is 1.3% and if we include the Middle School (grades 7-12) our dropout rate it is 0.86%, again both values are well below the State and National rates.
  4. The District got a $26,655.00 reimbursement check from Efficiency Maine for the good work it has done in making our facilities more energy efficient.
  5. The RSU was awarded $255,000 in State “revolving renovation” loans to make structural and safety upgrades to three of our schools including Belgrade Central. These are a good thing since ultimately the State “forgives” 44% of the loan. This means the State is essentially handing us $112,200.00
  6. In our 2017/18 budget (being developed) we are allocating 45.17% of the budget to “regular instruction.” That means money actually going to teaching. This is better than the State average of 40.76%.
  7. Our “System and School Administration” portion of the budget is just 5.68% of the budget versus a State average of 8.41%. So we are devoting more of the budget to teaching and less to administration than the Maine State average!
  8. And our girl’s basket team took first in the State and the boy’s came in second!

 

The not quite as good news:

  1. It appears the State may reduce its funding to our school district by $774,695.89 versus last year. This is not known for sure but may happen. That would mean that the tax payers would have to make up 2.15% of the budget’s “lost” revenue.
  2. Our food service operation has been caught in a bind of increased Federal food specifications, increased numbers of “free and reduced” meals we are serving, and a “capped” State and Federal compensation and reimbursement system. The net result is that the food service has been operating at a substantial loss for years.
    1. Our auditors have told us this cannot continue and we need to make up the loss.
    2. The food service operation is projected this year to be cumulatively about ½ a million dollars in debt. That must somehow be made up.
    3. We, the Board, have approved a very modest lunch price increase but the service will continue to lose money given the Federal and State constraints.
    4. As a result the shortfall will fall to us, the tax payers, to makeup. This year that will be approximately $50,000 in additional funds needed from us all.
    5. In order to retire this substantial unfunded debt the tax payer contribution amount is projected to rise over time to an ultimate value of $275,000 per year (10 years from now).
  3. We continue to absorb an ever greater portion of the teacher retirement fund obligations. These were in the past covered by the state however that cost has been systematically transferred to the local school districts. This year we pick up another $100,370.00.
  4. Health care costs for our employees continue to rise. This year (despite our very successful “wellness Program”) those premiums will go up $265,937.80 (5.75% increase).
  5. Our special needs student population has risen. This year it is up 10% to >480 students (roughly 16% of our total school population). This has resulted in an 8.83 % increase in that budget line item.
  6. In addition each of our school buildings is in need to attention. These are older buildings that have served us all well, but just like your home and car, they need attention and maintenance. And just like your home and car, because these schools house our children, it is critically important that we take care with their health and safety.
    1. For this reason the Board just approved the preparation of applications for several addition projects from the State “Revolving renovation Fund.”
    2. However even that is inadequate. Our Community Facilities Committee has determined that we have a substantial (>$25M) amount of remedial investment we need to make in these wonderful schools – and we have not yet addressed that topic fully.
  7. And for sure our school scores on various standardized tests are not where we want them to be. We are not yet “setting the standard of excellence for public school education in Maine.” We are improving but we, to quote Robert Frost, have “miles to go before we sleep!”

 

The bottom line:

We are doing better for those important young men and women of Rome who are under our collective stewardship. But it is costing us more.

 

My rough calculations from the first draft expense and revenue budget the Superintendent presented last week suggests that the Rome Tax payer contribution will increase 5.23% versus last year despite a steadily declining Rome school population.

 

So is it worth it? Should you support this school district? My perspective:

  1. We in Rome are getting a great deal. We are paying $15,668.89/student in Rome for their education. Consider:
    1. The Maine average private school tuition is $21,576!
    2. A large portion of our school taxes are paid by nonresidents. Regrettably I don’t have an exact figure as to what portion of our taxes are paid by non-Rome residents. I have heard numbers ranging from 50% to 85%. The table below shows, using these figures, how much we, the residents actually pay per student.
  2. These are very low tuition figures. This education is, for us, a great deal!
  3. Consider the impact on the children under our stewardship, and the potential impact on our town of getting these young men and women an excellent academic start in life.
    1. If we assume, for an average education, each of them earns $50,000/yr. for their 40 year career then their total earnings would be $2M.
    2. If however we help them to get an excellent education, the best in Maine, it would be reasonable to expect their average earnings would be $100,000/yr. That would yield life time earnings of $4,000,000 – a doubling of their earnings!
    3. And indeed some of them would likely do much better! Remember, you don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the other guy!
    4. And for sure they will remember that great place they lived (and grew up) and want to return, with their children – to live or just for the summer. But they will return! And they will bring business (their money, or even their own businesses) with them.
      1. Think big – yes we could be the home of the next Google, Twitter, credit card call center, server hub, Amazon warehouse,
      2. It can happen. There is no special reason why it cannot happen here!
      3. There is a special reason why it can – those 117 scholars under our care!
    5. In fact our 117 scholars in Rome represent $500M in life time earning potential (or more!). This is serious money. These are serious people. They deserve our serious attention and for sure it is well worth it for us to make a serious investment in their future.
  4. Candidly, and this may surprise you, I think we are significantly underspending on their education. That is one of the reasons why the Town voted recently to form an ”Academic Options Committee.” We want to look at the situation, the cost and the academic result and see if we can do even better for these young men and women.

 

Do I think we should cover for the State’s reduction in funding? For sure.

 

Do I think we need to fund the food program, especially for those who are in need? Absolutely.

 

Do I I think we need to make safety and structural investments in our schools?  Unequivocally.

 

Do I think we can and must do better academically? Resolutely.

 

Do I think each of us, the adults responsible for these young men and women, will be rewarded in the many years ahead for our attention to their future? No question.

 

It is the right thing for us to do, for them, for us and most importantly for our little town – Rome a great place to grow up and live!

 

In any event I hope you can come to the budget workshops. We need to hear your voice. There are always those who wish to cut a dollar here and 50 cents there. There are a very few who can see the bigger picture and longer term impact for our town. And they almost never speak up! Regardless of your perspective, your insight and voice is much needed.

 

See you there!

 

Yours in helping RSU 18 set the standard of excellence for public school education in Maine

 

Your School Board Director

 

Dr. Andrew Cook

397-5332

Table: Tuition Paid By Rome Residents

Estimated Non-Resident % Contribution to Total Taxes
 Resident Effective Tuition
per Student
50%
 $7,384
 85%
 $2,350

GOOD NEWS!

1. I am sure that you saw that the girl's basketball team won an impressive Single A statewide basketball championship on Saturday, March 4, And the boy's basketball team put up one heck of a fight against Greely, but regrettably lost. Still they are ranked second in the state in Single A ball! Well done! Selectman LaBelle was there, as were many from our town to cheer our teams on!

2. The District got a $26,665.00 rebate check from Efficiency Maine for completing its energy efficiency projects.

3. The acting Commissioner of Education, Robert Hasson, approved $254,549 in Revolving Renovation Fund monies for RSU 18 to address needed health and safety issues at Belgrade Central School, China Primary School and China Middle School. The district only has to repay 56% of these loans, the balance is forgiven by the State, so we essentially get the work at a 44% discount. This is a good deal for needed work and lessens the tax burden on us all!

4. The really good news is it appears that all five towns are starting to draw together as a team to help the schools develop enduring solutions to the issues (below) that will place academic excellence for the students first and foremost.  This team work is evidenced by the recent unanimous decision by the School Board to revisit the Cost-Sharing Committee's work. This is a huge sign of team work to create enduring solutions for our students! The China team proposed a resolution for the Cost-Sharing Committee. It is wonderful and a real sign of an effort by the five towns trying to work together for a common cause. I support the China proposal.

CONCERNS

There are several significant issues facing the district:

 
> A potential reduction of $744,000 in State support for the district.
> The ever increasing (and currently substantial) mandated expense for special education students. Our student count in this category has increased from 440 to 480+ (out of roughly 3,000 total students)
> The increasingly urgent need for facilities safety and basic infrastructure upgrades
> The increased cost to the district from absorbing (from the State) an ever increasing portion of teacher retirement benefits
> The impact of declining enrollment and potential need for school consolidation
> Most importantly, the quality of education and the achievement of academic excellence for our students
Even if the 2017-2018 budget does not increase at all versus the current budget, the impact of the reduced State funding will be roughly a 3.75% increase in the tax need from the towns.

BUDGET SEASON

School budget season is upon us. It all comes together when we talk about hard dollars. We have roughly 120 Rome students under our collective stewardship. I know we all want to do as much as we can afford to help them get the very best start in life that we can all provide. This budget will be a real test of our resolve to do our very best for these young men and women.
In addition to his seat on the school board, Dr. Cook serves on several committees, subcommittees, and ad hoc committees. These committees include, but are not limited to:
 
Educational Programming Committee
Facilities Committee
Budget, Finance, & Stewardship Committee

Rome Student Enrollment in RSU 18