Bold Education Reform
To "reform" something means to improve it in major and meaningful ways — ways that many people might never consider. Tinkerers need not apply.
A fifteen-member panel looking at ways to reform Maine's public education system cannot be accused of tinkering. It has developed a lengthy list of bold recommendations that could take the state's schools from where they are now to where they need to be. Some of the changes call for combining most of the state's school districts, having students and teachers spend more time at school, requiring teachers to pursue further education, and, most intriguing, creating individual investment accounts to help Maine-born students pay for college.
The Select Panel on Revisioning Education in Maine, appointed by the state Board of Education, deserves credit for suggesting a sweeping overhaul of the state's public education system even though it is already held in fairly high regard here and around the country. The panel of educators, businesspeople, and politicians says Maine schools and school systems need a shakeup if students are to flourish in the new economy. We agree.
"I hope [the recommendations] won't just be another pile of paper," said one of the panelists, Sherri Grant Gould, chairwoman of the English department at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport and Maine's 2005 Teacher of the Year. We fear that could happen. Too many committee reports and recommendations go nowhere — except onto shelves or into file cabinets.
The sixty-page report calls for drastic changes, most of which would have to be approved by the legislature. We urge lawmakers to read the report closely and take its proposals seriously.
We are especially encouraged by the panel's recommendation to reduce the number of school districts from the current 286 to thirty-five. While we have seen no evidence that thirty-five would be the right number, it is clear that Maine now has too many districts. By combining many of them, the state would almost certainly increase efficiency and cut costs.
The panel has also called for:
? Increasing the school year by about fifteen days, with about half the time to be used for teacher and staff development.
? Boosting teacher salaries and instituting merit pay.
? Requiring teachers to earn a master's degree or national certification within ten years of entering the profession.
? Providing a wireless laptop computer for every student in grades five through twelve.
? Getting the most out of school-construction dollars by recognizing that it costs much more per square foot to build small schools than large ones.
In addition, the panel wants the state to create a $200 mutual fund account for every child born in Maine to help him or her with college costs. While the idea is intriguing, it creates an obvious question: Where would cash-strapped Maine get the money?
That important financial concern notwithstanding, it would be great to see Maine do more to encourage recent high-school graduates to continue their education. While some of the panel's ideas might be more than the state is able to take on at this time, they should not be dismissed or rejected simply because they are bold.
Maine's public education system, which has become the eighth-most- expensive in the country, is in obvious need of reform. A little tinkering here and there will not provide the answer.
—Kennebec Journal, Augusta
The Water Tax War
Maine's water wars aren't over. In December petitions to impose a new tax on large water bottling companies in the state fell short of the number of signatures needed to send the idea to voters. But supporters of a petition say they'll continue their efforts in the legislature and, if necessary, will try again to place a question on the ballot.
For Poland Spring workers, the petition's failure provides at least a temporary reprieve from job worries. According to the company, the tax would have put their operations in Maine at risk. The proposed three-cent fee on every twenty ounces of water extracted by Poland Spring for resale would have amounted to an assessment of about $100 million a year, a cost that could not easily be passed on to consumers in the highly competitive drink market. Poland Spring, while waiting for the outcome of the signature count, had put plans for a new facility in Kingfield on hold.
Poland Spring is a good corporate citizen and a responsible neighbor. Its business model relies on keeping the environment clean and sustaining the state's supply of clean water.
While other water bottlers would have been affected by the tax, its primary target was Poland Spring. The proposal would have exempted the first 500,000 gallons of water taken by a bottling company and would not have affected home wells or regulated utilities.
Opponents of the measure can take solace in the fact that there were not enough valid signatures to place the tax on the ballot, but the issue isn't resolved. As long as the idea is hanging out there, Poland Spring and other water companies will have to consider their business plans with a wary eye on a significant new tax.
—Sun Journal, Lewiston
A World-Class Port
With cruise ships from every major line already scheduled to make more than seventy port calls next season, it seems safe to say that Bar Harbor remains one of the most popular destinations on the eastern seaboard. Dire predictions that raising the parking fees for buses taking passengers on excursions would prompt the cruise lines to look elsewhere fortunately have failed to materialize.
Lately, Portland officials have been bragging that they managed to attract nearly 50,000 passengers from cruise ships this year. Bar Harbor, a town barely one-twelfth Portland's size, handled nearly twice that number. And, while some people are asking whether the number of passengers in town is too high when two large liners visit Frenchman Bay at the same time, most agree the amount of foot traffic and congestion is no worse than a busy day in July.
Several years ago, after the town was nearly overrun with passengers from three ships in port the same day, Bar Harbor officials wisely decided to cap the number of ships in port at two per day. While sidewalks may be crowded downtown for several hours when a ship is in town, had the same number of visitors arrived by private automobile, the congestion and traffic would be much worse. A brief visit by a cruise ship can provide first-time visitors enough of a taste to tempt their return to experience even more of coastal Maine.
It was no accident that the world's largest liner, Cunard's Queen Mary 2, made Bar Harbor its first New England stop on its maiden voyage along the East Coast. Its proud sister ship and the line's former flagship, the Queen Elizabeth 2, always had a special relationship with Bar Harbor. On each of her returns, it was like seeing a long-lost friend.
That relationship will move to an even higher level this year. The Queen Elizabeth 2 will return after a hiatus of several seasons. And her grander sister, the Queen Mary 2, will make three separate visits.
More than a decade ago, local officials explored the possibility of building a cruise ship pier in the harbor. The structure also was seen as a possible boon to the local fishing industry and would serve as a useful breakwater during the winter's many storms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the town's application, saying the amount of cruise ship traffic, then around two dozen ships per year, did not justify the expense.
Now, with three times as many ships regularly making port calls in Bar Harbor, perhaps the corps should be asked to reconsider its earlier assessment.
—Mount Desert Islander, Bar Harbor
No doubt, modern windmills used to generate electricity can look downright ugly. They can get in the way of migrating birds, too. They even can be a little noisy when one gets real close to them.
Those concerns have to be balanced against the environmental costs associated with other power-generating techniques, though. Burning fossil fuels fouls the air and contributes to global warming. Nuclear power creates radioactive waste. Dams used to generate power can prevent fish from migrating, keep pollutants from washing out to sea, and destroy valuable wildlife habitats.
That's why the state ought to give serious consideration to a partnership that wants to build thirty wind turbines near the Sugarloaf ski resort. Endless Energy Corporation, of Yarmouth, in partnership with a California company, has developed a proposal to build a wind farm on the Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountains.
The project would generate about ninety kilowatts of power, enough energy for about 44,000 homes. It's small compared to a big natural-gas generator or a nuclear plant, but good-sized relative to other renewable sources of power in Maine, including hydroelectric plants.
Already there's opposition to the wind farm. Not only would it be visible from Sugarloaf, but also the Appalachian Trail. The argument against allowing the wind farm is that it doesn't generate enough power to justify the intrusion on a pristine landscape.
That's certainly something that ought to be weighed as the wind farm proposal works its way through the regulatory process. But also to be weighed are the alternatives.
The projected energy demands of the region are such that even a highly successful conservation program won't be able keep up with the growth. We're going to need those ninety kilowatts, and more, in the future.
The only real question is, what price will we have to pay to get them?
—Portland Press Herald