PARIS — Gov. Paul LePage told about 250 Oxford Hills residents Thursday evening during a "Capitol for a Day" tour that students must come first.
“We've got to get the money into our own classrooms,” LePage during a 90-minute town hall style meeting at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. “Our children should come first.”
LePage, who is supporting school choice and the adoption of teacher and principal evaluations as a way to strengthen the education system, said that although there will never be enough money for education, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that Maine provides the best education system available.
“It's all about our kids,” he said.
Earlier in the day, he met with students on Oxford Hills Middle School's Experimental Learning Team at Crazy Horse Racing in Paris where they are building a race car for next year's Oxford 250. The governor, a strong supporter of technical education, told the students they should find something they love to do.
“If you like what you're doing, it's a career. If you don't, it's a job,” he said to the dozen or so students studying marketing, fundraising, engineering and building.
Later, LePage toured Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and Oxford Hills Technical School with high school Principal Ted Moccia, tech school Director Shawn Lambert, SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts and other school officials.
Despite some two dozen protesters in the audience holding signs, the meeting was without controversy.
LePage fielded about a dozen questions, including questions about the role of the church in helping the needy, welfare abuse and the need to strengthen drunken-driving and texting laws.
“I would like to see automatic loss of license,” LePage said, when asked by Jerrold Mason of West Paris what could be done to stop accidents involving those issues. Mason's daughter, Rebecca, 16, and Logan Dam, 18, also of West Paris, were killed when the driver of a car they were riding in went off Route 219. Police have said alcohol and texting were involved.
LePage said the loss of license should be automatic and for increasingly longer periods of time up to three events.
“We need to toughen the law,” he said.
The Rev. Anne Stanley of Paris asked how the churches could take on more responsibility.
The governor said, “There is only so much a government can do.” Although a government can try to create more jobs and reduce the cost of living to help the needy, ultimately, people must help also, he said.
“We should be asking, 'What can we do to help?' instead of, 'What can you give me?'” he said.
LePage also said wind power is not the answer to the energy crisis, because it's not yet affordable. But he said residents would see much lower electricity costs in April because prices have dropped dramatically.
“The highest-cost energy we produce right now is wind,” he said.
In response to questions about welfare abuse, the governor said the government should be “trying to provide a hand up, not a handout.”
LePage said welfare laws are written so broadly that it's easy to interpret them “any way you wish to.” That leads to a “fair amount” of fraud and abuse, he said.
A woman asked the governor why he was taking $4 million of public funding from the Maine Public Broadcasting System.
“I need $4 million to make sure some elderly don't freeze to death and they can pay their bills. And Ma'am, I think that's more important,” LePage said.