Not ready

Stephen Weber’s July 17 BDN OpEd, “The Wasted Potential at Maine Universities,” deserves our attention. As the recently retired president of San Diego State University, Weber speaks with authority when he says that since Maine has no way to produce more young folks, its economic salvation lies in producing more university graduates.

Weber has six ideas for improving six-year graduation rates: More programs for low-income, disadvantaged students; more counseling and tutorial support; “summer bridge” programs for incoming freshmen; mandatory freshman orientation; individually tailored maps to graduation; an “early warning” for students experiencing academic difficulty; and a “bounce back” program to support students on academic probation.

I saw all of these solutions, or close variations, at Middlesex County College. When I started work there in 1972, the dropout rate for freshmen was more than 40 percent. When I retired in 2004, the dropout rate for freshman was still more than 40 percent.

During my 32 years as a chalk-smeared academic foot soldier, about 10,000 students passed through my classroom. I made a regular practice of asking those who I’d identified as potential college drop-outs at some earlier time, whether there was anything their original institutions could have done to retain them. All said no. All said they were just not ready earlier. This was not scientific polling, but I found the unanimity and certainty of those replies significant.

It is very doubtful that many students can be manipulated, cajoled or otherwise persuaded into receptivity to education if they are not ready.

John Frary


Vote down school budget

Turnout was so poor at the RSU 20 budget meeting Monday that, from what I saw, a handful of tea party activists managed to gut our school budget.

Art education will be eliminated in the middle schools and probably in the elementary grades. One man claimed that supporters of education are a “special interest” whose voice should be ignored. Another argued that schools can find volunteers to teach art if they want it.

As usual, school board members demonstrated no vision or leadership because they are too busy pursuing petty political vendettas rather than working together to figure out how to provide a quality education. The behavior they have modeled has poisoned the well and turned our school district into a banana republic.

The hypocrisy and factionalism was most evident when the supposed “budget hawks” on the board voted to add administrative costs to the budget with an additional secretary in Searsport that was never even requested by the principal, simply because an additional secretary was requested by a Belfast school.

Other school board members who previously voted in favor of arts education voted to cut it at the meeting. They were for it before they were against it.

Unlike at the budget meeting, people who care about education need to turn out on Tuesday, July 30 and vote this school budget down. Get to the polls, or vote by absentee ballot. The school board needs to create a budget that serves the interests of students rather than its own political agendas.

Rob Brown


Money and influence

I was disturbed by the July 17 article about Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and her increased political donations. I firmly believe that individuals should be able to donate as much as they desire to whatever cause they desire. Certainly Pingree’s marriage gives her access to large amounts of excess income from which to donate. My concern comes from the lack of outrage about the Washington system to which she is indebted.

“Members are asked to pay dues,” Pingree said in the article. “The better your committee assignment, the more you’re asked to pay in dues. That’s not a secret. That’s just standard.” So in order to get her choice position on the Appropriations Committee she has to “pay dues.”

How exactly are “dues” different than “bribes”? In my lexicon, this is simply a word game. Obviously, in the U.S. legal system, this system of “dues” is not illegal, but it’s immoral as can be. And yet the reporting of this system of legal bribery was limited to a couple lines.

Where is the outrage? How can we sit quietly while committee assignments are, essentially, sold in Washington? Where is the investigative reporting to determine if one representative’s “dues” allow the recipient to “pay dues” back to the individual that bestowed the largesse? If that were true then the system would probably meet the legal definition of bribery and probably the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

And yet, we sit quietly, happily by, while our system of representative democracy is perverted once again by money and influence.

Stephen F. McGuire


Jail kitchen injustice

I am a food service specialist and employee in the Knox County Jail’s kitchen, and here’s what is going on in the Knox County Jail Kitchen. The jail administrator is very determined to bring in a big food service company, and the kitchen has been put up for bid. Only one food company, Aramark, responded, even though it’s been six months in the process.

Why are they using all this time and effort to bring in a food service company that will most likely never be able to beat our current food budget? The current kitchen manager implemented a new menu in February 2013 in order to reduce costs. It is competitive with everything Aramark has offered. If there are no substantial savings with Aramark, why are they wasting all this taxpayer time?

My question is, why wouldn’t the present kitchen manager, who has an impeccable record, be included in the bid for the kitchen? He now holds and has held this position for 25 years, which is impressive.

I’ve had this job for 14 years. Not many would consider working in a jail. For the most part, the job has been good, and I’m working for a respectful and honest boss who has a tremendous amount of integrity.

I am hopeful that our small kitchen will stay as is for the sake of the Knox County employees and taxpaying citizens. In my opinion, this process has been unfair and potentially biased.

Varna Anderson