Many plans, but only one roadshow

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Give Gov. John Baldacci and Maine Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron some credit. In the past week, they’ve faced fierce audiences in Lewiston and Portland regarding plans to consolidate Maine’s sprawling school administration into 26 regional districts.

The crowds have been combustible. In Lewiston, an aggrieved former legislator – in the midst of an lengthy filibuster – was begged to sit down. In Portland, Baldacci and Gendron heard “hoots of skeptical laughter,” according to the Portland Press Herald.

At least nobody threw rotten vegetables. Baldacci and Gendron are the only show in town, as the architects of competing education reform measures have remained silent.

Plans authored by the Maine Municipal Association and Maine Education Association coalition were staggered by the defeat of a spending rule in the House two weeks ago. Yet it’s still standing; the MMA said this week the coalition would introduce a revised version with stronger financial incentives.

Sen. Peggy Rotundo has scheduled a meeting on the State Board of Education’s plan, which she is sponsoring, for Feb. 6 in Lewiston. Unfortunately, the Legislature’s Education Committee will hear comments on all plans Feb. 5, which could overshadow Rotundo’s forum.

And on Jan. 25, the Maine Heritage Policy Center threw its battered hat into the ring. The authors of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights actually agree with the governor’s principle of savings through consolidating administration.

About nine education reform plans are circulating around Maine now, ranging from conceptual to concrete. Inside these counter-proposals must be the outline for making school administration efficient and effective.

Given the historical discordance from Augusta on school costs, the Baldacci and Gendron roadshow is a refreshing dose of dialog. It takes courage to appear before crowds intent on decrying and discrediting your work, and Baldacci and Gendron should be applauded.

Whether you approve of their ideas, or not.

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