LEWISTON — Former Poland music teacher Lee Libby is one of many Maine teachers who lost their jobs this year due to budget cuts.
On Wednesday, she did something about it.
She went to Washington, D.C., and met with U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, urging her to vote for federal legislation that would give money to the states to help schools retain teachers, among other things.
The legislation is a $10 billion fund projected to save 138,000 education jobs, said Cynthia Kain of the National Education Association. Maine would receive $39 million from the proposal, which has support from President Barack Obama and has passed in the U.S. House, Kain said.
After meeting with Libby, Snowe's office said Maine's senior senator had not decided how she would vote.
Snowe praised teachers who have improved the lives of children. States faced with budget shortfalls are cutting education funding, "which in turn adversely affects students," Snowe said. While providing emergency funding to prevent teacher layoffs is important, Snowe wants to "support teachers in Maine and throughout the nation in a fiscally responsible way." She does not support deficit spending.
Collins, who voted for the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which gave Maine millions of dollars for education, said Wednesday she would not support the new legislation.
"Sen. Collins does not support President Obama’s proposal to borrow and spend an additional $23 billion to send back to the states and local governments because it is not paid for and would add to the already enormous deficit," her office said in a prepared statement.
School districts throughout Maine have cut teachers and programs. Collins is concerned that providing additional money would bail out other states that have not made tough decisions.
Libby, 50, taught at Poland Community School for 23 years. She was laid off when the Poland-Minot-Mechanic Falls school district had to cut $1 million from its $18.1 million budget. After the towns' schools consolidated, the new district created one middle school.
About 5 percent of the district's staff was cut. About half of the 22 who lost jobs were teachers, Superintendent Dennis Duquette said.
Libby has been looking for a job, but there aren't many in music, she said. "The career I've chosen, I don't get to do anymore." Out-of-work teachers can't pay taxes or buy goods which help the economy, she said.
What's more important, Libby said, is the impact on students. Fewer teachers will mean larger classes this fall. "Larger classes affect every single student," she said. In many schools, "kids are not getting what they need."
At Poland Community School, students used to get music class once a week. This year, the school will have one elementary music teacher for three schools. "It leaves it on the backs of classroom teachers to teach music," Libby said. "They're not trained."
Art and music make children well-rounded, which is what they need to be competitive in the global marketplace, she said.
If the Senate approves the money and Maine receives $39 million, Duquette said he would like to restore cuts to music programs.
But, he could not guarantee he'd "randomly hire people back. The positions have to be sustainable. Can we afford them year after year?"
Libby said the $10 billion would be one-time money that could be used this fall or next year; Maine schools are braced for deep cuts when the stimulus money ends.