Herald Gazette letters
John Christie's article in The Herald Gazette on Feb. 3 about people being paid by the signature for citizen petitions is disturbing, but no more disturbing than the effects of money on our political process at all levels. The recent Supreme Court decision, ruling that paying for ads for candidates is "free speech," will allow not only large corporations but foreign countries as well to spend millions on advertising in support of certain legislators, who will then be in their debt. The real citizens no longer stand a chance. The vote, you say? Well, those ads will convince the ordinary man how to vote. Big money thinks we are easy to convince and maybe they're right.
Children in the courtroom
I feel the need to write this letter as a follow-up to my article published Jan. 27. As a mother, student social worker and concerned individual, I believe too many children are suffering as a result of the lack of opportunity to have their voices heard in cases of parental conflict and termination of parental rights. The bill LD1511, an Act to Remove the Age Limit Governing When a Court Must Consider the Wishes of a Child in a Proceeding for the Termination of Parental Rights, was passed on Jan. 28.
Approximately one week later, a similar bill, LD1623, an Act to Expand Options in the Permanency Plan for Children in Foster Care, has been put in front of the committee. Virginia Marriner of the Department of Health and Human Services has initiated this second bill. The focus is now on combining the two bills. The common denominator is the child and how much input into court proceedings he or she will have, even though the situations are different. Overall, I think this is a positive step in protecting the best interests of our children.
On Thursday, Feb. 11, the Judiciary Committee will hold a work session and not a public hearing. This means the public may not attend; therefore I urge you to contact your representatives in support of these bills in order to serve and protect our children. Each call or voice that is heard by a representative will draw their attention to the importance of these bills in order to get the court to consider the wishes of a child.
School operations and maintenance expense
At the Five Town Community School District, despite construction of the almost new Camden Hills Regional High School, operations and maintenance expense grew between FY 2001 and the budget for fiscal year 2010 by 72 percent or $520,312.
One would have hoped that new buildings, and more efficient systems, would have resulted in lower, not higher, operating and maintenance costs at the CSD.
At Maine School Administrative District 28, operations and maintenance expense in the same period grew by 57 percent or $616,385.
The SAD 28 figures do not reflect operations and maintenance costs of the new SAD 28 elementary school. The hope is that when operations of the new school, with all elementary students under one roof, are budgeted for 2011 operations and maintenance expense will drop at the SAD.
If, in budgeting for the 2011 fiscal year, a significant portion of the operations and maintenance expense increase ($520,312 + $616,385) of $1.1 million can be recovered, the impact on the budgets for the coming year will be significant.
Citizens for Value In Education
Amazing hat trick
The Maine Coast Skaters Youth Hockey Association, the Camden Hills Regional High School hockey boosters and the Midcoast Ice Cats boosters just completed a fifth Hat Trick Auction. The three groups share the same dream to play the game of hockey and support each other to keep that dream alive. On Feb. 5, at the Elks Lodge in Rockland, the parents and skaters of the three organizations pulled together for their fifth auction. Worried that the economy would affect the ability to raise funds, the organizers were delighted with the final result.
"Unbelievable" was the word mentioned at the Midcoast Recreation Center after learning that the Hat Trick Auction raised more than $38,000. The most gratifying, humbling part is that families and communities all over Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties made this happen. Donations came in from many businesses and individuals. Teams joined together and purchased gift cards to donate to support our community while they support us. Creativity ruled the day. Items up for auction were as varied as the individuals attending the event. Anonymous donors matched $3,000 to augment the final total of the evening.
To all those attending the event, thank you for your donations. Proceeds from ticket sales help support the hockey programs: ice time for both high school hockey teams, youth hockey scholarships, referee costs, and more. Jacob Filderman, a senior at Camden Hills Regional High School and goalie for the Windjammers, delivered an inspiring speech about hockey, drawing laughter and a standing ovation. Thanks to all the high school volunteers who worked the crowd while auctioneer Rosey Gerry did his part.
The Hat Trick Auction Committee wishes to thank John Ludwig and his amazing staff at the Elks Lodge for sponsorship toward the dinner; Rosey Gerry, our exuberant auctioneer, and his incredible support staff, Pat Shannon, Carol Putansu, Sherry Hansen, T.J. Mack and Karen Womer for donating their time and expertise; logo design, Brian Moyer from Franklin, Mass., who at age 16, drew the design; emcee John Magri; display sponsors the Samoset Resort, Camden Teen Center and Maine Sport; and video sponsors Camden National Bank, the Samoset Resort and Rona Spear.
Mostly, we must thank every individual and business in the community for their generous donations, contributions and support. You enabled us to offer an extensive and varied list of items. We had donations from as far away as New York. A huge thanks to the parents of youth hockey and both high school teams for again using their imaginations to create one of a kind items.
As in the past four years, the greatest success lies in that we did it together. To those in the hockey family: great team work, great community work. Thank you, and see you at the rink.
Hat Trick Auction Committee
Proposed school budgets
For 2010-2011 an unprecedented decrease in state subsidy for our schools will result in the largest reductions of state funding in history, making the development of the 2010-2011 school budgets immensely challenging. The Five Town Community School District will lose $1.32 million in state subsidy. This is in addition to the $550,000 subsidy loss it has absorbed over the past two years. The subsidy loss in Maine School Administrative District 28 will not be as great since it is a minimum receiving school. It will lose almost $400,000 in state subsidy in addition to the $150,000 loss over the past two years. However, on top of the subsidy loss, a need to change the way we bill the state for some special education services may result in another $250,000 loss of subsidy.
Difficult decisions by the school boards and administration will have to be made in order to absorb this historic loss of subsidy. We understand that the state of the economy has greatly impacted individuals, families and businesses in our communities, and many residents are now struggling to remain in their homes and to put food on their tables. We take seriously the responsibility of developing budgets that will maintain the quality of the education our communities have grown to expect, without exacerbating the financial struggle of taxpayers to fund education. We are committed to seeking better and more efficient ways to operate our schools without sacrificing quality.
The high quality programming provided to all students in our communities is a sense of pride for all of us. Students in our communities consistently perform extremely well on state assessments, achieve high performances in the arts and in athletics, and are successful in post high school education. In large part their accomplishments are the products of our communities' expectations and support for exemplary programming and of an exceptional teaching staff.
Over the next couple of months, the school boards, administration and staff will make necessary reductions in order to respond to the subsidy loss. Every attempt will be made to minimize the impact upon the quality of the programs offered in our districts. However, subsidy losses of this magnitude will mean reducing the breadth of programming, reducing staff, increasing class sizes, reducing or eliminating extra and co-curricular activities, and modifying overall district operations. Determining where and how deep these reductions will occur will be the focus of very difficult discussions over the next two months.
I encourage parents, students and all community members to get involved in these discussions. We need to hear from everyone who values our educational system. We encourage people to attend the finance committee meetings. The CSD Finance Committee meets on the first Wednesday of the month at 5 p.m. at Camden Hills Regional High School (next meeting on Wednesday, March 3 at 5 p.m. at Camden Hills Regional High School - Chorus Room) and the SAD 28 Finance Committee meets the third Wednesday of the month at 5 p.m. in the Camden-Rockport Elementary School Atrium (February's meeting has been moved to Feb. 10 at 5 p.m.). Individuals who want to receive agendas and minutes of the meetings should call Tina Swanson in the Central Office at 236-3358 to be placed on our distribution list.
The budget development process is currently under way, with the final proposed budget to be completed by mid-April. Budget hearings will follow and the official budget meeting to approve the CSD and SAD 28 budgets will be held on Tuesday, June 1 in the Strom Auditorium, with the referendum to follow on Tuesday, June 8.
I strongly encourage everyone who can get involved to do so.
Superintendent of schools
Five Town CSD/SAD 28
Rockland tree trimming
On Feb. 1, I attended the public comment portion of the special Rockland City Council meeting and added my voice to those of other citizens who were reacting to the ABC tree trimming on behalf of Central Maine Power. I later watched on TV the council members and CMP representatives have a discussion that led to the temporary hiatus in tree trimming until a public hearing is held Feb. 11.
While I was edified to learn that CMP has a local arborist and professes to have a program that allows citizens a voice in said tree trimming, by submitting online a request for "consultation" prior to any trimming of trees on private properties, in my 35 years of living in the same home and submission of at least three forms requesting prior consultation (yes, I preexisted online), I've never been consulted by CMP representatives prior to cutting. My most recent experience occurred on Jan. 22 when I found three men and an ABC bucket truck busily trimming the maples on the Talbot Avenue side of my property. When I went outside to talk to them, I was told he knew nothing about my three requests over 35 years for "consultation prior to cutting" and that I mustn't have filed one this year. An apology was given. The cutting was completed and a small stack of 1 to 3 inch branches was left as a peace offering. I followed it up with a call to CMP to reiterate my request for consultation prior to cutting.
The following week, ABC had a bucket truck busily trimming branches along Summer Street. One of the trees was on my property ... and there was no consultation.
In the week after the council meeting there was a CMP van parked briefly on Talbot Avenue in front of my house, but no consultation.
What I consistently asked for is the courtesy of consultation prior to cutting to review what is planned before fait accompli. I know old specs were 6 feet clearance along main lines and 2 feet along service lines -- now it is 8 feet by 15 feet along main lines and 3 feet along service lines. Now I know that this isn't absolute. My property is bordered by Talbot Avenue, Summer Street and Broadway (Route 1A). All have power lines. My property trees and their root systems play an important antierosion role as an infamous Lindsay Brook branch (Westerly) crosses the property. This branch crosses Talbot Avenue and Broadway via a box culvert that ends in a bulkhead on a severe grade upholding Broadway. While said bulkhead is fine, its flanks are protected by trees and their root systems. During a period of very shabby trimming of those trees by CMP and Rockland Public Works, erosion of the embankment led to the collapse of the original bulkhead and partial obstruction of the brook that provides surface drainage to upper Talbot Avenue, the Broadway/Route 1A intersection, Bartlett Woods and all of the new development this side of Old County Road. CMP doesn't have any interest in that.
Finally, CMP's arborist said that many of the trees are on right of way allowing CMP's minions (be they Lucas Tree or ABC) free rein in their activities. Some trees on my property predate CMP, even electric power. While I don't want any linemen injured trying to restore lost power during a storm, I think sensible compromise is feasible and it requires something more than hokie public relations on CMP's side.
Christopher F. Manning
Experience at Penobscot Bay Medical Center
Recently you may have read that Penobscot Bay Medical Center lost its Maine Health Management Coalition tier one status effective Feb. 1. The loss of tier one status has two consequences. First, Maine state employees seeking care at the hospital may have to pay a $300 annual deductible. Second, consumers who visit the Hospital Compare Web site where this information is published will see that patients have ranked their overall experience at Penobscot Bay Medical Center lower than patients at some other area hospitals.
You may be asking yourself how this happened and what it means. First, I would like to stress that our hospital's scores for clinical quality, patient safety and infection control were very high. We work hard on these issues every day and we are proud that our efforts have been recognized and rewarded by many organizations including the Joint Commission -- the national hospital accreditation agency.
Unfortunately, we did not score as high in two categories -- overall patient experience and willingness to recommend the hospital to friends and family. It was our lower scores in these two categories that prevented us from being awarded the sixth (and final) blue ribbon required for tier one status.
These patient satisfaction scores are based on the percentage of patients who rate aspects of their care with high scores of 9s or 10s (on a scale of 1 to 10). While we consistently receive scores of 8 and above, this simply is not good enough to achieve tier one status.
How is it that the survey can give us high scores for clinical quality, patient safety and infection control while at the same time patients rate their overall experience and their willingness to recommend our hospital lower?
We are convinced that the issue is customer service and have taken a number of steps to address this gap and to provide a better, more patient and family centered approach to care. A number of specific new initiatives under way at Penobscot Bay Medical Center include:
· New patient care coordinators whose primary focus is patient satisfaction and coordinated discharge planning.
· A cultural change within Penobscot Bay Medical Center through a program we call Safe Patient and Family Centered Care. As part of this effort, we are creating a patient/family advisory council -- a group of former patients and community members who will use their own experiences (both good and bad) to help guide our efforts toward providing the best possible patient experience.
· Management visits with patients. While in the hospital you may be visited by me or other members of our leadership team. We want to hear about your experience and what we can do to make your stay the best possible experience.
I believe that each hospital employee has the ability to impact every patient experience in a positive way. While we are proud of our high scores for clinical quality, patient safety and infection control -- we understand we must pursue every opportunity to exceed our patients' expectations -- good care is simply not enough. Only excellent care will earn the 9s and 10s that will return us to tier one status.
This is your community hospital. What does an exceptional health care experience mean to you? Over and above excellent clinical quality and patient safety, what do we need to do for you to be willing to recommend Penobscot Bay Medical Center to your friends and family?
We want to hear from you and hope you will call or e-mail us to share your thoughts. You can contact us by phone at 207-596-8491, or you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, if you would like us to, someone from our organization will contact you to discuss your suggestions. In return, we pledge that the information you share will be used to improve your patient and family experience at Penobscot Bay Medical Center.
President and CEO
Pen Bay Healthcare
Money spent on education
I am writing this to publicly commend the group Citizens for Value In Education, which is led by Alexander Armentrout. The group's mission, as I understand it, is twofold: to rein in the amount of dollars the local school systems extract from our towns, and to work to ensure that the money they do get is well spent -- in other words, that we as a community are receiving value for the money spent on education.
It differs from town to town, but in Rockport, 71 percent of our property tax dollars go to the schools. The amount is outrageous. The schools' administration shouldn't need a citizens group to spearhead a rethinking of how it does business, but it apparently does, and I am glad that the Citizens for Value in Education group is taking a serious and comprehensive look at the issues involved. I hope Superintendent Pat Hopkins is embracing its work. It is work she should have been doing all along.