January 21

Keep schools under local control

LETTER

The Legislature has an opportunity to affirm local control for Maine’s schools. An emergency bill introduced by Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, will provide an opportunity for the Legislature to ensure that local school boards maintain control and oversight of their school programs when it comes to student transfers between school districts. Superintendents, in consultation with local school administrators, are well-equipped to make decisions about student transfer requests. They know their students, their school systems and available resources.

When superintendents reject parents’ requests for transfers, families may appeal the decisions to the Maine Department of Education. Prior to 2012, the DOE used restraint when overturning superintendents’ recommendations. As few as three and no more than 20 decisions were overruled each year by the DOE in years leading up to 2012. In 2012, more than 90 percent of the 2,386 transfer requests were approved at the local level and 92 denials were appealed to then-DOE Commissioner Stephen Bowen. In a sudden change of practice, Bowen overruled the superintendents in 86 of those cases, siding with superintendents only six times.

Legislators passed a bill last year that intended to limit the commissioner of Education‘s authority to overturn superintendents’ agreements to rare cases in which students were receiving no educational benefit. The Maine DOE has misrepresented the legislation by claiming in official communications that the new law allows for free interpretation of the concept of a student’s best interests.

In other words, the governor’s administration is misinterpreting this law, to the detriment of local communities.

Rep. Hubbell’s proposal clarifies the Legislature’s intent concerning the authority of the DOE when it comes to overturning superintendent student transfer agreements. It’s a measure that I will support, and I urge my colleagues to support the bill.

Rep. Karen KusiakD-Fairfield
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