PARIS — A 15-member commission on education reform issued its first report last week, calling for exploring statewide or regional contracts to better compensate and retain effective teachers.

It was one of 17 strategies listed by the Blue Ribbon Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine.

The panel was created by the Legislature in 2015 and is charged with identifying solutions to lower the cost of public education and improve student performance.

The commission presented its five-page report on Phase I of its work to Gov. Paul LePage on Feb. 8.

It listed one goal: Improve student achievement and eliminate the income achievement gap between economically disadvantaged and advantaged students through education reforms and cost efficiencies.

Strategies to reach that goal include:

* Expand the availability and access of extended day and summer school programs for all students;

* Implement alternative out-of-school, community and career and technical education options for demonstrating academic proficiency.

* Implement 1-to-1 and/or small group tutoring programs in early grades, specifically focused on evidence-based effective reading strategies and programs.

* Increase and/or realign EPS allocations and General Purpose Aid for local schools subsidy to provide greater support of disadvantaged students.

Commission member Rick Colpitts, superintendent of School Administrative District 17 in Paris, wrote in a Jan. 27 letter to the Maine School Superintendents Association and the Maine School Boards Association: “Given the stakeholders and the perceptions of the executive branch of our state it is unlikely that the work of the Commission will have much bearing on future policy or funding.”

“Despite some of the challenges in the current funding formula, it is difficult to determine its effectiveness when it has never been fully funded by the state,” he wrote.

He said one thing he has learned from his experience on the panel is, “There is a growing tension between the state’s tax revenue sources (one heavily dependent on car sales) and the state’s growing educational needs.”

In his letter, Colpitts included 10 recommendations:

* Fully fund the Essential Programs and Services model because it is most likely to have the most impact on all students across the state. The EPS state money is intended to ensure that schools have the programs and services essential for all students to achieve the Maine Learning Results;

* Increase funding allocated under the EPS formula for socio-economic disadvantaged students to help address inequities.

* Create a “circuit breaker” for districts which receive unanticipated, high-needs, special-needs students after a local budget is approved.

* Revisit pre-kindergarten funding under EPS to recognize changes in state regulations for staffing and class sizes.

* Look for ways for the state to incentivize and assist districts in the startup of universal kindergarten programs.

* Examine opportunities for the state to negotiate a statewide teachers contract for ages and benefits but leave working conditions for local school boards to negotiate.

* Look at ways within the EPS model to incentivize districts in hard-to-staff regions to offer high levels of compensation.

* Promote the profession of teaching by examining expanding college and university loan forgiveness programs; and

* Resist efforts of the Maine Education Association) to limit class size to a 15-to-1 ratio and to make policy subject to bargaining.

A report on Phase II will be submitted in January 2018 to the governor and the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

School Administrative District 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts, left, talks with state Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, at a meeting of the state’s education reform panel in South Paris in 2016.

Robert Hassan Jr., chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine, listens at a meeting in Paris in 2016.

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