Streamlined schools should start with L-A

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Gov. John Baldacci seems to have listened.

During his inauguration speech Wednesday, Baldacci said many right things: school administration spending is excessive and must be reduced through efficiency; state education aid must be legislatively earmarked for taxpayer relief, or be smote by his veto; valuations must freeze until a property sells.

Hooray for all. But architects design, not build, and Baldacci’s sketches for Maine will be as successful as their brick-and-mortar implementation by the Legislature, local governments and citizens. Lewiston-Auburn is positioned to be the perfect foundation for the governor’s ambition.

The governor has vowed to send Maine’s education system on a crash diet, to slim its administrative obesity (126 superintendents) into a trim 26, for savings of $250 million. While this figure’s calculation is fuzzy, creating education efficiencies is crisp thinking.

With Auburn schools between superintendents, and Lewiston schools captained capably by Leon Levesque, the opportunity exists for L-A (again) to become a model for regionalization. It’s not far-fetched to believe one administrator can manage the day-to-day business of the Twin Cities’ schools.

L-A’s regional cooperation, although oft-criticized for its molasseslike movement, has earned the respect of coffer controllers in Augusta. Some $150,000 of $500,000 set aside in an “efficiency fund” was awarded to L-A in 2006 to hire a joint services coordinator, which should happen soon.

Money means momentum. Carrying the governor’s standard for administrative efficiency in schools could continue L-A’s fortunes, and lead to taxpayer relief. We suggest Auburn appoint an interim superintendent until the administrative merger with Lewiston is solidified.

To grumblers, we urge a monastic vow of silence. Previous reform efforts – through policy and polls – have yet to unburden Maine taxpayers. Lightening the load will require, to echo officials in SAD 58, wrenching decisions.

Plummeting enrollment at Mt. Abram High School is spurring an analysis of the aging school’s future, as its student population is estimated to decline from 330 to 220 by 2010. Superintendent Quentin Clark said a wide-ranging study for the next few years “is something we need to do.”

Making hard choices about schools is something all of Maine needs to do. The governor’s plan is a bold stroke, though his analogies need work. Using the state’s “technology centers” as a model for education was ambiguous at best, and should be dropped.

The River Valley Technology Center has had successes and struggles since opening in Rumford in 2004. It’s created 14 jobs, while its management consolidated with the River Valley Growth Council to save funds. Its affiliation with Central Maine Community College has educated residents, but officials admit many leave the River Valley for work.

Baldacci’s plan for regional education centers doesn’t need a model. It needs bold leadership and communities – and taxpayers – willing to finally accept uncomfortable change in return for tax relief. The governor must be credited for producing a tangible and sensible plan to save Mainers money.

Let’s get behind it. L-A is the place to start.

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