AUBURN — School Committee members voiced opposition to a new state law requiring schools to ask parents to give the state their children's Social Security numbers.
The state wants to track students' performance to see how they do after graduating from high school, Auburn Superintendent Tom Morrill explained Wednesday night. The goal is to examine which educational programs work best and ensure policies improve education.
But like Lewiston and other school districts, Auburn officials balked at the idea, saying they don't want to put students at risk for identify theft. Several pointed out the danger of Social Security numbers getting in the wrong hands.
"There have been occasions both in Maine and nationally when things of a private nature do get out," Morrill said. And don't forget, he added, the state is collecting all kinds of data on students. Schools are required to report bad or violent student behavior, regardless of whether the student is in kindergarten or grade 12.
Committee member Bonnie Hayes asked whether Auburn can ignore the law. Does Auburn have to ask parents for Social Security numbers, she asked? Yes, Morrill answered, but Auburn can recommend parents not provide the numbers. "That will not be in small print," he said. "This is nothing that I endorse. There are risks involved."
Morrill said the Lewiston School Department gave him a copy of a resolution, first passed by school committee members in Bethel and endorsed by the Maine Civil Liberties Union, asking state lawmakers to get rid of the law. Lewiston is expected to vote on that resolution Monday. Auburn will vote on it Sept. 1.
As discussed, the letter and resolution would go to parents the end of September.
In other business, Morrill also told committee members that it appears dreaded cuts in education this year and next may not happen, or may not be so bad.
The U.S. Senate and House have passed two bills: one providing Medicare money, the other a jobs bill that includes money for schools.
"What that does for the state of Maine is significant," Morrill said. The federal legislation means there should not be big cuts coming this year because Medicaid will be funded by the federal government. If that didn't happen, the state stood to lose some $80 million, which could mean $40 million less for schools.
"There has been funding that will fill almost all of that Medicaid," Morrill said. "We can breathe a sigh of relief that we won't have any mid-year notice that will wreak havoc with our programs."
The jobs bill will bring $39 million to Maine schools.
"It will mean substantial money for Auburn," of about $500,000, Morrill said. The rules of that bill will have greater flexibility than initially thought, allowing schools to spend that money in the next 27 months, he said.
If Auburn does get that much, Morrill said he'll save that money for next year, when Auburn is expected to lose $1.6 million due to the federal government stimulus money ending. The jobs bill money would help avoid layoffs, he said.
Also, Morrill said there's a level of activity in schools that wasn't there a month ago. "Eyes are focused. Teachers are in schools getting ready." The first day of school in both Lewiston and Auburn is Aug. 30.