May 2017 Update from Rome's School Board Director
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.
p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me or email me!
A quick update – for
the People of Rome (April 2017)
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 life. I 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
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:
The not quite as good news:
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:
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
Estimated Non-Resident % Contribution to Total Taxes
Resident Effective Tuition
There are several significant issues facing the district: