Down East 2013 ©
Actually watching what goes on in a classroom seems unacceptable.
Security. Safety. Confidentiality. Nondiscrimination. Labor relations. Time constraints. All of those issues and others were cited by Superintendent of Schools Betsy Webb in a recent memo outlining why “we must not create drop-in access to Bangor schools.” How sad it is that circumstances have reached a point in our society where a parent no longer is welcome to make an observation visit to his or her child’s classroom. The public, it seems, can participate in public education when it comes to helping pay the bills or in privately arranged conferences with teachers or school officials. But actually watching what goes on in the classroom seems to be unacceptable, not just in Bangor but in other schools throughout the state and country.
Webb’s memo was the result of an inquiry by Mary Budd, a parent and member of the Bangor School Committee, about visiting her son’s classroom. After being told such visits aren’t allowed under school policy, she raised the issue with fellow board members, prompting Webb to take a fresh look.
Budd believes that parents have a right to see teachers in action. We do, too. Private talks with teachers or administrators, however well intentioned and comprehensive, may or may not accurately represent the interaction of teachers and students in the classroom.
Schools should be making every effort to foster, not discourage, parental involvement, including classroom visits. It’s more than likely that, were they allowed, such visits would occur very infrequently. But the few parents who care enough to visit are the very people whose support public education so badly needs.
Policies establishing appropriate security and safety standards are absolutely understandable for any school. It would be reasonable to require a parent to make an appointment for any classroom visit. But a policy that actively discourages or prohibits such visits only widens the gulf between educators and the community at large. That cannot possibly be a good thing.
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Going Around in Circles
We are not traffic engineers — nor engineers of any kind. Just “word people.” But we do drive cars and watch others drive their vehicles, and nothing about that experience tells us anything good about traffic circles. Which is why the mere possibility of five more roundabouts in Augusta makes us as jittery as being tailgated by an eighteen-wheeler driven by a teenager with her ear glued to a cell phone while applying mascara.
Portland Press Herald
Cutting Costs, Not Service
It happens so often in government that there’s even a name for it — the Washington Monument syndrome. The name refers to how, years ago, the National Park Service supposedly responded to any attempt to cut its budget: Close the Washington Monument. It’s a very real and common response to tight budgets from bureaucrats, and one that Maine’s elected officials should root out and undermine.
Unfortunately, the temptation to propose stinging budget cuts as a way to win public support for raising taxes is huge for the folks whose livelihoods depend on those tax dollars. And complicating the matter is the fact that the public often does indeed have to do without popular services if government budgets are to be brought into line with diminishing tax revenues.
As they comb through proposals for dealing with shortfalls — of which there will be many this year — it’s up to elected officials to ask if there is a way to impose a cut with less impact. For instance, many Maine towns and cities are considering cutting the hours of municipal offices in response to tight budgets this year. That may be a perfectly rational response to tight budgets, but officials ought to consider changing the hours at town hall if they’re going to offer fewer of them.
Specifically, if there’s going to be a four-day work week, one of those days should be a Saturday. It would also make sense to adjust the municipal office hours so that people can get business transacted before or after the typical workday. A 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule one day, with an 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule on another, for instance, would probably be helpful.
That kind of creativity and flexibility will help Maine people get the most for their tax dollars in lean times.
Times Record, Brunswick
Hearing the Message
Maine Public Broadcasting Network clearly got — and, more importantly, heard — the message its listeners, viewers, stakeholders, and politicians delivered in response to its plans to limit radio and television transmissions to the eastern and northern counties of the state. It has decided against ceasing transmissions from one television and two radio transmitters in Aroostook and Washington counties — a plan that had been considered as part of MPBN’s effort to reduce its costs because of reduced revenues.
In rescinding this aspect of its cost-cutting measures, MPBN’s management reaffirmed its commitment to maintain its broadcast statewide. As many of its loyal listeners in the two targeted counties had testified, MPBN’s news and public affairs, children’s and cultural
programming provides an essential service to rural communities.
We agree with Governor John Baldacci, who, in announcing the welcome news, noted: “It recognizes that we are one state and all our people are equally important.”
Sun Journal, Lewiston
The Missing Ballot Question
These are the approved ballot items for November, according to the secretary of state:
• The Taxpayer Bill of Rights: We’ve heard about this one before. The new version going before voters is merely Son of TABOR, with the same bloodline of tax and expenditure limitations.
• Excise taxes: This referendum attacks an unpopular, regressive levy, but is obscured with a coat of greenwash. Coined as “More Green Now,” it tries to give tax policy a social and environmental edge by extolling the bill’s incentives for saving money and buying hybrid cars. If the idea were that good, it wouldn’t need an ill-fitting green suit.
• Pot? Been there, done that, smoked the T-shirt. Maine has had a citizen-initiated medical marijuana initiative on the books for years that’s never really been implemented.
• School consolidation, for which many words and time have been spent trying to convince districts of its worth. Its repeal would cause as many problems as it may solve.
Missing among the items, however, is the one that should have made it: a referendum that included a slew of health insurance reforms, notably allowing the interstate sale of health
insurance policies within New England. That idea, to us, has merit. Other insurances that are both discretionary (like life insurance) and compulsory (like car insurance) are available from vendors across the country. The same should be true of health insurance, under the theory that increased supply could lower prices.
The proposed referendum question was more than that, however. It was an overt attempt to deregulate Maine’s health insurance market, including almost every hot-button issue, such as Dirigo Health’s Savings Offset Payment, guaranteed issue, and community rating.
Not everything in it deserved to be heard, discussed, or enacted. Undoing Maine’s statutory framework for health insurance in one bill would have been overkill, especially with federal momentum on health care likely to move in an entirely new and unique direction.
Cross-state sales of insurance policies, though, should survive for discussion. Putting health insurance on par with other policies, offered only in neighboring states, could work to reduce insurance costs, without the bureaucratic challenges a true national market could prescribe.
To us, it was the best idea of the bunch from these referenda. But, of course, it didn’t make it.
Bangor Daily News
Those who work in Maine’s tourism industry must have some sympathy for Sisyphus. A character from Greek mythology, Sisyphus is condemned for eternity to repeat the same task over and over, pushing a boulder to the top of a mountain only to see it roll back to the bottom. Maine’s tourism industry, which is the state’s largest in terms of dollars and jobs, is rarely able to rest on its laurels from year to year. Rather, it must start over each spring to reinvent itself, connect with new people, and reconnect with old friends.
And each year, it seems, there is a new challenge. In recent years, it has been bad weather and high gas prices. This year, it is the gloomy economy.
Of course, in past years, Maine’s tourism businesses have been able to spin some of these negatives to lure visitors here. High gas prices? Well, Maine is just a couple of fill-ups or less from its core markets, southern New England and New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Bad economy? Well, Maine is still a good value, with lodging and meals costing far less here than in other tourist hotspots.
At the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism recently, keynote speaker Reed Woodworth, vice president of PKF Consulting, Inc., urged those attending to continue focusing on what Maine does well. Specifically, he said, owners and managers of lodging facilities should work to ensure visitors have a great time.
Surveys of tourists show that Maine has high ratings when it comes to value. As Steve Lyons, marketing manager of the Maine Tourism Office, explains, value is not necessarily a discount on price. It may be a complimentary bottle of wine given to the guests on their arrival or a coupon for a free massage given to repeat visitors. Value is also imparted, Lyons says, when hosts offer packages for guests, with kayak tours, tickets to shows and museums, or restaurant discounts.
It all comes down to customer service. Lyons points out two bright spots: 95 percent of visitors say they enjoyed their stay, would recommend it to others, and want to come back; and Maine does not have a glut of new hotel rooms, as do other states.
The state has contracted with Davidson-Peterson Associates, of Kennebunk, to gather more data from visitors, but a new survey approach could lead to Maine tapping a huge potential for tourists. For the first time, Lyons said, people who have not visited Maine in the last three or four years will be questioned. Where are they going instead? Elsewhere in New England, or the Maritimes? Why?
As lodging property owners know, there is very little margin for error this summer, so they must roll out the red carpet for our visitors. Mainers not employed in tourism-related businesses also should be gracious — no giving directions from Bangor to Bar Harbor by way of Dexter. The dollars those tourists spend here may be in your paycheck next winter.
Bangor Daily News
Focus on New Civic Center
Bangor city officials must remain focused on building a new auditorium and civic center. Whether the project comes to fruition in the next five years or later is of less importance than getting it done right. A facility that is well matched to the Bangor region’s strengths, while also built with a dose of realism about its geographic limitations, could become a powerful economic development tool and cultural calling card for the city.
While caution, due diligence, and exhaustive planning are essential, questioning whether or not to proceed with the project should not enter the conversation at this late date. It’s true that the current economic downturn makes projecting demographic information
difficult, but, at the same time, a recession means that consultants will work for less, and construction costs, too, will be at a low ebb. The many beautiful and highly functional public facilities built on the federal dime during the 1930s are testimony to this dynamic.
The foundational funding source for a new auditorium and civic center is the Hollywood Slots casino. Its revenues are down, and the business probably is reduced to educated guesses about what its future bottom lines will look like. On one hand, stalling plans for a new auditorium and civic center out of worry that the casino will cease to be profitable and close seems fiscally prudent. But on the other hand, if such a worst-case scenario plays out for such a historically profitable business, far more frightening outcomes would follow than a study that gets shelved for lack of construction funds.
Bangor residents supported the casino with the belief that they would see a new auditorium and civic center. It is not acceptable for city officials to renege on that promise.