Costs of special education

Citizens for Value In Education agrees with the points made by Pat Hopkins in her letter to the editor last week: The school budget making process this year is challenge filled. The objective must be to avoid increasing the burdens on the taxpayers, or better yet to reduce that tax load, while maintaining or enhancing education quality. In this effort the costs of special education deserve scrutiny.

In both Maine School Administrative District 28 and the Five Town Community School District, special education expense has grown enormously in the last 10 years. A portion of this growth can be attributed to the arrival of Harbor House. But that is by no means the full story.

In the current fiscal year, there are 128 SAD 28 students in special education, 15.7 percent of the student body. In the CSD 101 students, 15.2 percent of the population, are in special education. When asked, school personnel have said that ideally not more than 1 to 5 percent of students should be in special education.

In the past 10 years, again in part because of the arrival of Harbor House, the cost of special education has increased in SAD 28 by 74.6 percent to $2,164,251. At the CSD special education costs have risen in the same time period by 86 percent to $1,206,450. Part of the expense attributable to Harbor House is reimbursed by the state, but in contrast to the past, very little of the balance is state funded. The burden is borne by the taxpayers of the towns making up SAD 28 and the Five Town CSD.

In SAD 28 steps are being taken to reduce special education expense. A process known as response to intervention, or RTI, has been undertaken there. The objective of the RTI process is early identification of those students who are struggling to learn at the expected rate, to determine these students’ needs, to work with these students at a much younger age to overcome their learning issues and to closely monitor their progress. Through this approach, the objective is to overcome learning deficiencies, to enable many students to learn at the same rate as their peers and to keep them in the general student population rather than moving them in to special education. The RTI program is showing early positive results.

Success of the RTI process can be enormously important for SAD 28 and the CSD. It can result in better learning outcomes. That is, it can produce better educated graduates — which is, after all, the objective.

The RTI process can also help to dramatically reduce the now very heavy burden of special education on both SAD 28 and the CSD. This highly desirable outcome will, however, take time to accomplish. Meanwhile, all other possible steps need to be taken to reduce this heavy taxpayer burden.

Alexander Armentrout

Citizens for Value In Education

Rockport

State budget

Back in mid-January I spent some time with the Rockland city councilors to hear their thoughts about the legislative session and specifically the state budget. They shared some real concerns about the cuts proposed in Gov. Baldacci’s budget and how it would affect local citizens and property taxes.

I understand their concerns and worry that many of the proposed cuts may simply shift costs to other places. Our local officials understand all too well the belt tightening and search for efficiencies that has gone on in Augusta. They have had to work to get their own budget in line and, like many, are feeling the stress of cuts upon cuts upon cuts.

As the Maine Legislature considers the governor’s budget, calling for a reduction in spending to the tune of $438 million to address losses in state revenues, you may hear cries claiming a “bloated” state government.

This misguided perception ignores the very real and very painful cuts we’ve made as public officials and in state government during this Legislature alone.

In the last year, Maine’s revenues have fallen by $1.15 billion. Despite what you may hear from critics, the Legislature has made significant cuts in state spending to adjust to these shortfalls and improve efficiency. Last session, we cut $556 million from the budget, making it the first time since 1974 that a budget was smaller than the prior year’s.

We’ve eliminated more than 1,000 state positions, required unpaid shutdown days and pushed part of the cost of health insurance to employees all in an effort to save money to preserve what people say is most important to them.

While significant efficiencies were found last session and in previous years, many state programs and services have been cut to the bone, leaving them ill prepared to handle the influx of demand the recession has thrust upon them. With no fat left to cut, this Legislature is left with the most difficult of choices as we look to balance the upcoming budget.

As was said in an editorial in this paper, we are balancing the demand for services and the call for lower taxes.

It is too early to tell how the budget picture will look in the end. My colleagues and I are working tirelessly to mitigate the damage of these proposed cuts and are mindful of the precious responsibility we hold. Please make your thoughts known to me. More than ever, it is important to voice your opinions on the budget and the services provided by the state. We are all searching for direction in a storm of unfortunate choices.

Rep. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland

Thanks to Zoot Coffee

I would like to thank Sandra, Isaiah and Max of Zoot Coffee in Camden for hosting the expanded sale of our Noteworthy cards over the Valentine weekend. We took over the back of the store with lights, walls of cards and dangling displays of one-of-a-kind cards. For the five members of our group who spent time there, it was a pleasure to meet some of the regulars who have also been regular purchasers of the Noteworthy cards since June 2009.

After spending extended time there, making cards in the back of our “shop,” I would like to thank Sandra, the owner, for her vision and commitment to building a business that builds the community. From the early morning crowd of politics, Internet surfing, and socializing, the place moves seamlessly into the meeting place for all sorts of endeavors: parents taking children out for a treat, couples in town for a visit, and locals on coffee break from all kinds of work. Each customer is treated so cheerfully, many getting the question “the regular today?” The music is varied – great quality – and provides a pleasant backdrop to the multiple lives playing themselves out in the same small space.

After the first sale of Noteworthy cards in May 2009 at the empty garage up the street, Sandra has offered to sell the cards at Zoot throughout the year. They collect the funds for Partners In Health, I send it directly to PIH, and she takes no sales commission. Through her generosity and the enthusiastic support of her staff, Isaiah and Max, Zoot Coffee sold more than $1,000 worth of cards from May to December of last year, and they are already rapidly approaching that number just since Jan. 1, 2010.

It was such a privilege to meet just a few of our loyal buyers and to provide a creative shopping experience for all who came by. The mission of Noteworthy is “Engaging the creative spirit of artists, buyers and recipients while generating support for and education about, the Partners In Health mission.” Through the support of Zoot, more than 450 cards have been bought and sent around the country – and even around the world – spreading the word about PIH and about individuals making, buying or sending support, each in their own way, to help those with so much less. For more information, visit pih.org.

The Midcoast community is indeed fortunate to have such a warm and welcoming place to gather, to debate, to solve issues, to support friends, to nurture ourselves and to communicate electronically. Zoot Coffee gains its vibrant nature from a wide range of ages, backgrounds, interests and tastes. If you are not already a fan of its coffee, teas, breakfast treats or lunches, I urge you to find your way to 31 Main St. in Camden very soon.

Mary Amory, Noteworthy

Camden

Snow Ball a success

It has been more than two weeks since the 2010 Snow Ball rocked out the Rockport Opera House and positive comments can still be heard about town. The first Snow Ball was undeniably a success. We define success as sold out tickets, attendees putting effort into outrageous costumes, a gathering of a wide spectrum of community members, fun had by all and an overwhelming show of support for the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation and the Camden Snow Bowl.

Did we mention it was fun?

Yet we must remember that an event of this, dare we say, awesomeness simply can’t take shape or begin to reach such a level of success without the hard work and support of many individuals, businesses and organizations in our community.

The Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation Events Committee would like to take this opportunity to thank those very supporters, without whom the 2010 Snow Ball would not have happened: O’Hara Corporation, Graffam Brothers Seafood Market, The Chichi Chef, Seasons Downeast Designs, Party Fundamentals, Chris Van Dusen, Adventure Advertising, Squeegees, State of Maine Cheese, Farmers Fare, Market Basket, and French & Brawn.

With much thanks to all,

The Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation Events Committee: Suzanne Dunavent-White, Jeanne Fischer, Maureen Gordon, Hillary Jackson, Kitty Jones, Susie Laidlaw, Casey Heard Leonard, George Mueller, Anna Remsen, Lori Van Dusen, Wendy Weiler, Sue Wootton, Wendy Zwecker

 

Toboggan championships

The 20th U.S. National Toboggan Championships are now history, and we would like to thank everyone who helped make them such a successful event and memorable weekend. On Feb. 6, we believe we had our largest crowd ever (estimated at more than 5,000). We are proud to bring this event to the Midcoast each year and look forward to growing the venue with additional events around the community to create a true “ice-stravaganza.”

First, thanks to all the racers who were as local as just down the street, and from as far away as Holland. This event would not be possible without you. We had 400 teams competing this year, which was our capacity. Whether the racers were showing off their newest sled designs, their previous trophies, or their outrageous costumes, or just experiencing the event for the first time, we really enjoyed hosting them all.

Our sponsors were very generous and great to work with, including The First Bancorp (gold sponsor); Liberty Hospitality Group and Village NetMedia Publications (silver sponsors); Key Bank Corp, Paolina’s Way, Cappy’s Chowder House, Cedar Works, Cellardoor Winery, O’Hara Corp, Adventure Advertising, and Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce (bronze sponsors); and The Waterfront Restaurant, Peter Ott’s, Camden River House Hotel, Lord Camden Inn, Maine Sport Outfitters, Wright-Pierce Water Solutions, Bangor Savings Bank, Breakwater Design & Build, Cody’s Roadhouse, Elm Street Printing and Downeast Magazine (copper sponsors). Please give them your business and thank them for their community support.

The Toboggan Nationals Event Committee, under the capable leadership of Holly Anderson, put in dozens of hours over many months to ensure everything was in place by race weekend. We also want to thank all the other volunteers who managed and operated the chute, timing, toboggan inspections, information booth, souvenirs, parking, and cleanup. Many employees of the Snow Bowl worked really hard behind the scenes too. It took dozens of people pitching in to make sure it all went as smoothly as possible.

And considering the size of the crowd, hanging out in such a cold, slippery environment we had a remarkably safe event, due in large part to the efforts of the Camden police and fire departments, Camden First Aid Association, Snow Bowl Ski Patrol, and U.S. Coast Guard-Rockland. We also would like to thank Atlantic Communications for loaning us two-way radios to keep us connected. Thanks to you all.

We would also like to thank our vendors for keeping us fed and warm, including Mike’s Catering, Peopleplace Preschool Parents, Camden Real Estate, Lincoln’s Country Store, Paolina’s Way, Crazy Dave’s BBQ, Jaret & Cohn Real Estate, O’Hara Corp., and Haulin’ Ash Toboggans.

Finally, we would like to thank West Bay Rotary for manning parking and hosting the Chili and Chowder Challenge, Peopleplace Preschool for parking help, Maine School Administrative District 28 for the use of its school buses for the shuttle service, the Camden Lions Club and the Teen Center for hosting pancake breakfasts, the Camden Opera House for Saturday evening entertainment, John Orlando for music on Hosmer Pond, the Ancient Ones for their historical encampment, the 3rd Maine Civil War reenactors, the Owls Head Transportation Museum for its antique snow vehicle, and the Camden Hills Regional High School Alpine Ski Team for cleaning up after it was all over. If we have missed anyone, please accept our apology.

Thanks one and all. We look forward to doing it again next year!

Jeff Kuller, Camden parks and recreation director