Town of Rome, Maine

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RSU 18 Rome Director’s update

Update in pdf

This note reflects exclusively my personal perspective as your Rome Town RSU 18 School Director. It in no way or manner represents the perspective of the Superintendent or the School Board. I am speaking strictly for myself in order to provide you with information. You are encouraged to access the RSU 18 web site and to contact the Superintendent for information.


Our youngest daughter got married in September (she was our last one - they are all married now!) As result I was a little tied up. So I apologize for my delay in getting out my usual monthly update. The result is that there is a lot here this time. 


  1. Academics - There is an ever increasing amount of time spent at the Board level on the district’s academic performance. This is a big positive. At our Board “retreat” we had a speaker from the Maine School Management Association (Steven Bailey, Executive Director). He emphasized the important role of the board in setting the big picture vision. He encouraged the board to be “data savvy.” He reinforced for us that one of our key assignments is “monitoring, evaluating and reporting the results of the educational program.”

  2. In that light kudos are due to our Assistant Superintendent/Chief Academic officer Keith Morin for the focused reports he is providing on academics at every board meeting. He is increasing our focus on metrics and their trends. He is helping us to become “data driven.” This is a huge step forward from when I started on the board in 2015 when we rarely discussed academic performance.

  3. More academics - In that light the State just released the results of the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) test the Maine public school students took last year. The results for RSU 18 are a cautiously positive. That is, in Reading the district has successfully returned to (and is sustaining) performing at the State average level of proficiency. We were well above State average in 2010 but then suffered are decline for four years. We seem to have recovered at least to State average (more on this below).

  4. And more - The situation is the same in mathematics. We were performing better than the State average in 2010 but then took a sustained dip for 6 years. This year have we recovered back to the State average and we are showing a track record of continuous improvement year by year.

  5. So kudos to the current administration led by Carl Gartley and to the faculty for the recovery they have succeeded in implementing. We are not yet back to the good position we were in in 2010 but we seem to be on the upward track. The charts we were provided are shown at the end of this report.

  6. Keith Morin, our Chief Academic Officer,  is forming teams of faculty members, education coaches and administration members to address the MEA and NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) results to determine what we could do differently both programmatically and instructionally to cause continued improvement in our student’s scores and hence their life success.

  7. MMTC and “trade” skills - An academic, college bound education is not ideal for everyone. In fact, despite my many academic degrees (B.A., M.S. Ph.D., MBA and more) a key gap in my education was the basics of welding, metallurgy, wood work and basic electrical knowledge. This hurt me in my career as I moved into experimental physics and then on into nuclear engineering. The Mid Maine Technical Center (MMTC) appears to be a premier opportunity for students to gain fundamental skills and knowledge in these “hands on” areas. We recently were shown the MMTC audio-visual-communications career area – it is nothing like we recall from our days. These students make first class, professional TV and radio news worth stories and videography. Some have gone on to take premier video story, news and movie creation positions in our State. I was impressed.

  8. MMTC participation - Our high school has consistently had about 11.5% of its students attend MMTC. This year our participation jumped to 15%. Of the 91 of our students who attended MMTC last year 67 earned industry “Board “certifications. That means they earned a license (e.g. in nursing) or a certification (e.g. in welding). This is good. Curiously it is not common knowledge but several basic “trade” skills are much in demand. Traveling industrial pipe welders can earn salaries in the $100k/yr range.

  9. Extracurricular - We were also informed that of the 713 students in our high school 500 are involved in extracurricular clubs and sports – an impressive turnout. And we were advised by our staff that we appear to be meeting our “Title 9” responsibilities in terms of providing opportunities for all the students.

  10. CNA - Chief Academic Officer Keith Morin and the faculty recently completed the mandated “comprehensive needs assessment (CNA).” They observed a continued need to focus on increasing our student’s achievement in English Language arts, mathematics and science. This observation and focus is great – they know what needs to be done. Curiously one of the key challenges (the #1 challenge) they identified in achieving this focus is student attendance.

  11. Attendance is important - Yep – if the students are not in school it is hard for them to learn. It was surprising for me to learn that last year 20% of our students were “truant.” Truant is defined by the State to mean:
    1. A student aged 7 or above who hadn’t completed 6th grade and had 5 or more consecutive unexcused absences
    2. A student aged 7 or above who hadn’t completed 6th grade and had 7 or more cumulative unexcused absences.
    3. A student who completed 6th grade but was not yet 17 and had 7 or more consecutive unexcused absences. Or
    4. A student who had completed 6th grade but was not yet 17 and had 10 or more cumulative unexcused absences

  12. So there is an effort (a good one) by the administration, school principals and faculty to help students and families ensure our students are getting to school. This is great!

  13. The RSU 18 Comprehensive need assessment team has set four specific goals for the district. The first is attendance, the second is on data informed instruction, the third is on “response to intervention” and the fourth is on “family engagement.“ I am very, very heartened by these goals and this analysis. Well done. If you would like a copy I have it as does Keith – it is well worth the read.

Areas for consideration:

  1. MEA - We should not be heartened by our overall MEA test scores. The State average for reading (we were told) is that 47% of the students in the State (and RSU18) are performing at a level that the State considers to “meet or exceed” proficiency. That means over half of the students in the State and the RSU are not “proficient” in reading as defined by the State Department of Education.

  2. Even less heartening - In mathematics the situation is of greater concern. The State and RSU average proficiency is 38%.This means that 62% of the RSU 18 students are considered to be below the proficiency standard in mathematics set by the State.

  3. Needless to say these scores (the relatively low RSU and State performance against “proficiency”) are a concern for us all. We for sure want to be sure our students get the very best start in life we can afford. And for sure basic capability in reading and mathematics form a foundation for all their life’s work going forward. At one time RSU 18 was one of the academically leading school districts in the State. That is a place we in Rome aspire to see the RSU return to. We seem to be on the road but we still have quite a distance to go. 

Other topics:

  1. Scholarship funds - We continue to pursue how our “scholarship” funds are being invested. There is a substantial amount of scholarship funds people have donated over the years (on the order of $500,000). Regrettably those funds have been allowed to earn at a low rate of interest (on the order of 1%.) This low return on investment means the earned return available for scholarships and donated funds work (the dental effort) are modest.
  2. When this became visible the Administration undertook an effort to determine how we invest these funds, according to what criteria and should we reconsider our investment strategy. We look forward to a report soon. Hopefully we can gain agreement to earn a better return on these funds and hence provide more substantial scholarship awards (and more dental care) to our students.

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



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

RSU 18 Rome Director's June update

Due to tables contained within the document, this month's update is only available in pdf format through the link above.

RSU 18 Rome Director’s May update

June 12 2018/19 school budget referendum

Please Vote – town hall!


Report in pdf



As always I hope you will reach out to me by phone, in person or email to share your thoughts and perspectives. (397-5332 The weather is just beautiful – hurrah and at last!


The big thing for us all is the June 12 BUDGET vote:

Some Information that may help you in your voting decision.

  1. Get a copy of the 2018/19 budget report the Superintendent created. I will work to get twenty to town hall on Monday. It is well worth the read. Most importantly the front page says “Striving for Academic Excellence.”

  2. This is great! Educating our young men and women for their lives is what it is all about! I have a sense that the RSU is renewing its focus on its critical mission – educational excellence.

  3. The school tax to Rome is going up 3.8%.  That sounds like a lot but consider the following.

  4. Last November all five towns, with a majority in each town (including Rome), approved a $13.9M bond. That bond is to finance school fire safety upgrades, school infrastructure maintenance (roofs, drop off areas, etc.) and the high school track and field improvements.

  5. The bond payment alone increases Rome tax by about 7.2%.

  6. However the Superintendent, his staff, & School Board found cost savings, plus the State has come through with additional funds. So the next result is an increase of only 3.8%. *

  7. In fact, with the bond payments taken out, the school budget increased only 0.65%.

  8. So the budget is very reasonable.

  9. And the decision to support the $13.9M bond was made last November by us all.
  10. I am seeing increased focus by the Superintended, the chief academic officer on academic excellence. They did just release the “RSU 18 comprehensive needs assessment” report. This is a start to having a long range plan to drive up academic performance.**

  11. So, I voted for this budget. I support the efforts that are underway.

  12. We are not there yet, we are not where we want to be in terms of academics and implementing the critical capital plan. But I do see progress occurring.

  13. I hope you will come out and vote. And if you endorse the facts above, please vote FOR the budget.


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



* Our tax figure could have been lower had the reconvened RSU 18 cost sharing committee voted to endorse a very fair proposal made by the China delegation. Their proposal would have reduced the “cost sharing” tax component to Rome and Belgrade. Regrettably, and for reason I still cannot understand, two members of the Belgrade delegation voted to leave things as is. That meant Belgrade and Rome lost the opportunity to reduce our school tax. It’s a shame. Becky Seel, the Belgrade Schoolboard Director, did vote for the change, as did the Rome and China delegations. She deserves our full support. It is the other two Belgrade members who voted in a most curious way. AGC


** Curiously the conclusion of the report is that the most important thing to improve academic performance is to get the students to school. Reducing absenteeism and tardiness are the two key areas for focus to help all student improve academically. The message: let’s get our children to school - it well worth it for us all!

RSU 18 Rome Director’s April update

School Security, academic excellence, and the 2018/19 budget


Update in pdf



As always I hope you will reach out to me by phone, in person or email to share your thoughts and perspectives. (397-5332 I hope you dodged this respiratory flu. I didn’t and it is really something. Ugh!

Some news:

Creation of a plan to achieve academic excellence:  

The Chief Academic Officer did provide the board, at our meeting on April 4th, with a timeline to complete the “comprehensive needs assessment.” This is a State mandated plan/analysis for fiscal year 2019 “Title 1” funding. Title 1 funding is:

 “the largest federal program aiding elementary and secondary education. States receive funds on the basis of a formula that takes into account the number of school-aged children living in poverty and other factors, such as the cost of education in the state. It targets the Title I funds they receive to schools with the highest percentages of children from low-income families. Unless a participating school is operating a schoolwide program, the school must focus Title I services on children who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet state academic standards.”

I asked again if this would be district wide plan (not school specific), would it address all students and have as a focus making RSU 18 one of the leading school districts in the state. The Chief Academic Officer, Keith Morin, indicted that this was his intent. This would be superb.

I still sense a reluctance (for reasons I don’t understand) to create a plan for achieving academic excellence. Every business (the successful ones) have some sort of strategic plan – and then they do it. I looked around on the internet and found such a plan for RSU 38 (Maranacook). It is superb. It is more, I think, then we need as a start, but for sure it sets a very good example. It is worth a look.

I am going to say the Comprehensive needs assessment (which is due to be completed by June 15) constitutes a plan to achieve academic excellence. Hence I will vote to support the budget.  However I wait (and hope) to be impressed with the potential actual district wide plan to achieve academic excellence.


Testing: To that end the Superintendent provided us a list with the many hours of “ testing “ all  of grade three through twelve students will be undergoing in April and May. These include the State assessments and also the collegiate Scholastic Aptitude tests (SATs). It is impressive and maybe a bit of over kill. In New York state starting in ninth grade we did do several days of “Regents” exams. They did serve to help drive all the NY state schools to high levels of academic performance. I went for my last two year to one of the premier private high schools in the US. The only standardized tests we ever took were the SATs. All our focus was on the subjects themselves. We had great teachers, great resources, hard class room tests and very high standards set for us. Those who didn’t cut it, didn’t stay. I am not sure public schools have that last option but we can for sure can have the first four (great teachers, great resources, hard tests and high standards).


In any case there is still much work to be done here on academic excellence. But I am impressed to see how RSU 38 has embraced a strategic planning approach. You can see the results in their test scores- it’s clear – they got results! You might want to take a look at their plan. The link is below.


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



p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me (397-5332) or email me!

RSU 18 Rome Director’s March update

School Security, academic excellence, and the 2018/19 budget


Update in PDF



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

The News:

School Security:

  1. The Superintendent and his building Principals responded quickly to the recent tragic violent school events in the nation. Access to the high school has been significantly tightened, CIT (crisis intervention training) has been provided to members of the staff that work with “at risk” students, and the Superintendent has made it a priority to ensure that each student has a positive relationship with some member of the RSU faculty or staff. These are all BIG positives.

  2. Additionally the Superintendent and the Board have discussed many additional concepts. These include hardening the classrooms, providing class room “door stoppers”, installing exterior strobe warning lights, modifying the High School entrance area, providing additional faculty crisis training, running simulations, NASRO training for the administrators, expanding JMG* to the Middle School and adding additional School Resource Officers (SROs).

  3. There is a possibility that some of these ideas (and they are all good) if we implement them, may increase our school budget. The Superintendent will present his proposals and the costs at the April 4th school board meeting. I am 100% for them even if there is a substantial ($500,000) increase in the budget. It is worth it, I support them.  Our first and foremost goal is to deliver the students, faculty and staff back to their homes in the same good condition that they came to us in the morning – every day! Safety is #1.


The Budget (this is all first draft data – more to come – things are not final):

  1. The Superintendent gave a very good presentation on the budget, the impact of the bond issue and academic performance at the March 21st Governance meeting. It is attached here as a Pdf file.

  2. The tax bill to Rome, the 2018/19 school tax to Rome – not including the $13.9M bond payment – actually goes down! That’s right. Because of economies at the schools and increased support anticipated from the state, our tax bill – on an apples to apples basis compared to last year will go down – by >4%!

  3. On the other hand the $13.9M bond for capital improvements was approved in November by a majority of the voters in each of our five towns. This was for required (State Fire Marshall) upgrades in fire safety, school physical condition repairs, energy efficiency upgrades and upgrades to the high school athletic fields. That bond results in about a $126,964/yr. bond payment by Rome  (11% of the total bond payment)

  4. So in aggregate, primarily because of the bond, our tax bill is expected to rise about 2%.

  5. On the other hand Rome got a State rebate last year of about $29,000. It was carried forward and could be credited to this tax. So that could mean our bill will only go up 1%.

  6. All things considered given the bond this is pretty darn good!

  7. Finally the Superintendent makes a point that $5M of the bond money is for basic school physical plant maintenance. That’s true. He pointed out the eight year short fall in funding for this work has been almost exactly that $5M. So we have to pay the piper at some point, the schools need basic work just to keep going – like your house and your car. So this all makes sense.


Academic Excellence:

  1. It is important to note in the presentation, the Superintendent listed (to his credit) relative academic performance of our district versus other neighboring districts. On the same table he listed the “tuition” per student by district. He emphasized this is one “snap shot” of MEA scores school district wide.

  2. You will note - and this is important – RSU 38 (Maranacook) ranks highest in “tuition” and higher than RSU 18 in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency by 6%. Also RSU 38’s tuition ($11,036) is much higher than the RSU 18 average tuition ($8,809.84).

  3. On the other hand the RSU 38 (Maranacook) tuition is substantially lower than the actual tuition we in Rome pay per student (~$15,000).

  4. All in all none of the scores in any of the school districts is anything to be proud of. If we believe the scores to be meaningful (that is also an item of debate) only about 1/3 of the students in our mid Maine area are “proficient” in mathematics and only ½ are “proficient” in ELA. While I am not sure these scores are accurate to better than 5% they are consistent with other data I have seen on academic performance in our and neighboring districts.

  5. We want to be sure our students get the best start in life we can afford. I would expect that our district could achieve 70 or 80% ratings on both of these scores. It is possible – if we have a plan and if we focus on it. We don’t have a plan (that I know of) to get there.

  6. Further – and there is a lot of debate on this – it would appear there is a correlation between the school budget and actual results. I think we are dramatically underfunding our students’ education. The payoff of a Cracker Jack education for the students (and us) is huge. The cost is minor. I keep encouraging the administration to ask for more financial support (from us), as much as 50 % more, and then drive us, via a written improvement plan, to be #1 academically in the State. We can do it!

  7. If all the towns paid per student what Rome pays we would have one heck of a district with students just at the top of Maine academics!

  8. At the February 13 Board meeting it was noted that our dropout rate may be rising higher than our historically very good performance. I was unclear as to all the reasons but part seems to be associated with how students are counted (or not counted) who take 5 years to complete high school and also how a very small cadre of struggling students are helped through to completion.

  9. The Mid Maine Technical Center held a skills championship. Fifteen RSU 18 students won medals including golds in cabinet making, collision repair, digital cinema production, video production, and medical terminology. These “gold medal winners will go on to the State championship. Incidentally the Wall Street Journal has noted that many who pursue skills excellence (welding, electronics, machining etc.) are much in demand and are financially outperform many of their contemporaries who get a college education. This is an interesting twist on what we all consider common knowledge about the value of a college education.


The capital projects:

  1. It appears the athletic field upgrade and the energy conservation efforts are progressing well and per plan.

  2. I am concerned that the other $5M of building work has not received the same level of attention. I am pursuing that with the Superintendent. I am confident it will get on track soon.


Will I support even this modest and defendable budget increase? My perspective continues to be –

         - If we get a good, solid 5 year academic excellence improvement plan, then I strongly support the budget increase.

         - However in the absence of a plan, I do not see how I could support any increase.

I hope you will come and speak at the various budget hearings. We need your perspective. We in Rome really do care about our young men and women and their education. The people in Rome want to be sure our young men and women get the very best education we can afford. Now is the time to speak up.


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



p.s. If you want to talk or have thoughts, please call me (397-5332) or email me!


P.P.S. Thank you for reelecting me with such a strong vote of confidence. I take faith in your support every time I wonder if I am doing what you want and if I am doing the right thing. Thank you for your support. It has been very heartening. AGC


* JMG stands for “Jobs for Maine Graduates.” It is a State program to help students set a career path and then achieve it. It helps provide direction for those who may not have a clear path and strong motivation for achieving their future.

RSU 18 Rome Director’s January update

$13.9M bond, academic excellence, personnel changes and the 18/19 budget


Update in pdf



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

The News (some interesting, some less so but all important):

  1. The $13.9 M capital improvement bond referendum passed. From the perspective of providing funds to do overdue safety upgrades, repairs and facilities upgrades to each of the schools this is a big positive.
  2. Our Chief Financial Officer, Bobbi Avery, is moving to a new opportunity at the Lewiston school district. This is a great loss. She was superb.
  3. An “academics” report from our Chief Academic Officer, Keith Morin, is now part of every school Board agenda. This is a wonderful step forward. For sure academics are what the schools are all about. I am heartened.
  4. Our Rome Academic Options Exploratory committee is hard at work. They are iterating with the RSU 18 administration, looking at other possibilities and asking me to research questions related to schools and options. I look forward to hearing their report at our town meeting.
  5. And kudos to the Belgrade School Board Directors, especially Becky Seel, the China School Board Directors and a Sidney Director. They voted for a policy change which ensures that each town will be represented on at least one of the Board’s standing committees. This year Rome was blocked from representation on the standing committees. The vote corrected that.


Other considerations:

  1. This last item may seem hardly worthy of note. But surprisingly it is very important given the three major issues that face the Board and all of us. All three of these issues will take vigilance and active involvement by all the Board members, all the committees and all of us in Rome if the outcomes are to be positive.
  2. The capital projects: The $13.9M in capital projects will be the biggest capital effort the district has undertaken in years.
    1. For everyone who has done a home project, built a house or been involved in a major business project you know how easily projects can over run their budget and come in with major delays.  In extreme cases (like the Panama Canal) the project can be a factor of 10 over budget and decades late. In some cases projects (notably big power plants, new airplane designs, etc.) fail altogether.
    2. The way to avoid that outcome is careful planning, strong project leadership and rigorous, regular project reviews. I am strongly recommending that we do all of those, not just for the $3.9M athletic project (that one is obvious) but also for the entire remaining $10M of seemingly “cats and dogs.” For sure, as noted by Selectman Malcolm Charles, we don’t want to find the athletic field project reaching into the kitty for funds that were intended for the schools.
    3. The Superintendent is working to hire one or two “owner’s representatives” to watch dog the projects for the RSU. They will monitor (and control) change controls, ensure the work and invoices are reconciled etc. We still need the project plans (milestones, funding by milestone etc.) and also a schedule for the project reviews.
    4. I am encouraging quarterly, rigorous project reviews of the entire $13.9M project, separate from board meetings so we can take the time to really bore in on the work.  If there are some of you who have experience in managing capital construction projects I would love to get you involved in the reviews  if we can help to make them occur). Call me! I will keep you posted as to how this goes.
  3. Academics: It remains the case that we are not yet at the exemplary position our district once held in terms of academics in the state. One can take issue with the measures used to determine our relative academic success (MEA scores, NWEA scores etc.). However every measure I have been shown has demonstrated a decline over the last 8 years. We seem to be starting to recover but one could also argue that the improvement could be statistical variation and not a trend. As I have mentioned, the heartening point is how well the Belgrade Central School is doing.
    1. That raises the question, how could that level of success be achieved at all our schools?
    2. We are urging the administration to create a written 5 year academic excellence strategic plan and make it public. It would be the way forward to show us all how the RSU can and will take us back to top. We can do it. It has been done before.
    3. But achieving academic excellence is just like the major projects. Careful written preplanning is needed with regular progress reviews – and of course an overriding conviction that this an important effort and that we can do it is also needed.
  4. The Budget- so both of these topics come to a head in the upcoming budget cycle. Last year we had the largest budget increase in years. Now we have added to that the largest bond issue (and payments) in years. It remains the case that our enrollment is flat or declining.
    1. My perspective is (and remains) that we are dramatically underspending on the education of our students in the RSU. Not in Rome, in the RSU. It terms of actual out-of- pocket taxes Rome continues to be the highest per student payer into the RSU. We remain dramatically higher that three of the five towns.
    2. If all the towns contributed on a per student basis like Rome we would be off and running academically! However that is not likely to occur and several even take issue with presenting the cost of education in this way.
  5. Regardless, the issue will soon face us – will we support a budget increase? Today my perspective is –
    1. If we get a good, solid 5 year academic excellence improvement plan – then I would support a budget increase.
    2. However in the absence of a plan, I do not see how any of us could support any increase.


Action: Now is the time to express your perspective and provide input for the 2018/19 budget. Come to school board meetings. Speak in the “delegations” portion. Express your opinion. Now is when you can have an impact. By the time we get the “public hearings” your voice is meaningless, the wheels are already in motion. I learned this the hard way. If you wait to the “public hearings” to speak you are too late to impact the outcome, other than by your vote.


I hope you will come and speak. The next Board meeting in January 17 at 7 PM at the Administration building. You have to speak during the “hearing of delegations” section (agenda item 3).


People question if Rome is just trying to “save a buck” or whether we really do care about our young men and women and their education. I know you do care – the people in Rome want to be sure our young men and women get the very best education we can afford. Now is the time to speak up. 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



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


p.p.s. It is with trepidation and reservation that I have decided to run again for school board. It has been just an amazing experience. Rome seems has the least number of votes and often gets ignored. On the other hand we seem to be the town most firmly concerned about the quality of our student’s education. Several years ago when I was a new board member I reviewed the apparent decline in academic performance with a member of the administration. He said, “Where has the school board been?” Good point.


Well we are here now and Rome is being heard now. And we are all about academic excellence for our students.


If you feel I am on track, please come out and vote for me on March 9, not as a vote for me but as a signal that you support our effort to take RSU 18 back into the realm of top 10 schools academically in Maine.  

RSU 18 Rome update


Update in pdf


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

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/ 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



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

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.



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



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


* 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


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



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


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!


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).


  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



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

May 2017 Update from Rome's School Board Director

Full report in pdf


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



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)

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


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


Table: Tuition Paid By Rome Residents

Estimated Non-Resident % Contribution to Total Taxes
 Resident Effective Tuition
per Student


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.


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.


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