PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Teachers in School Administrative District 1 say some aspects of new proficiency initiatives have left them without enough time for students.

At a packed meeting moved at the last minute to the Presque Isle High School cafeteria, the SAD 1 board of directors received the results of a workload survey of K-12 teachers, and ended up voting to look into their concerns.

“I am not new to teaching, but I can tell you that I have never been so unhappy,” one high school teacher said in the survey.

“People are terrified about sweeping changes that are being proposed or carried out with no feedback from the people things affect directly,” another teacher from the high school said.

Among the changes are new student competency initiatives and related software programs that teachers are using under the guise of proficiency-based education policies aimed at producing students who can show they understand their studies and skills rather than pass with minimum grades. Maine enacted proficiency-based education, or PBE, law in 2012, incorporating a version of the Common Core national curriculum standards, while still delegating a number of choices to districts.

SAD 1 teachers largely agree with the overall proficiency-based education philosophy, said George Knox, a high school social studies teacher and co-president of the SAD 1 educators association.

“We are against the tools that have been chosen without teacher input,” he said.

In the survey, almost half of teachers who have been in the district for at least five years said the workload has increased and 15 percent reported spending more than 20 hours a week working outside of the school day.

Carson Dobrin, a high school biology and chemistry teacher, said the curriculum she and other science teachers have access to is good, but that they spend too much time doing what amounts to manual data input.

“The time needed to bringing students quality lessons and activities is not there, because of the paper work and all of these other things on the back-end,” said Dobrin, who also has a doctorate in neuroscience and two young sons. “You’ve got to balance the time at home and the time at school.”

The SAD 1 educators association asked the board of directors to intervene and end the district’s use of the proficiency tracking software Empower, which Mapleton Elementary teacher Judy Atcheson described as “unbelievably time-consuming.” The teachers say their current grading system, Power School, allows them to track student proficiency progress.

After the presentation, the board voted to create a special committee to meet with teachers and administrators, consider the complaints, and figure out which proficiency programs are actually required by the state and federal governments.

The teachers’ complaints about too much bureaucracy are not unique to SAD 1, and

SAD 1 superintendent Brian Carpenter said he thinks “some of them are founded and some are not.”

A former civil engineer, Carpenter started teaching math in Madawaska in the 1990s, just as the Maine Learning Results standards were getting underway. “Teachers, we’re feeling the same way. Those who’ve been in it for a while have seen the Maine Department of Education go through six-year cycles and that’s about all they stay with an initiative. There’s no continuity.”

Carpenter defended the thrust of proficiency-based education, though. The PBE movement is “asking teachers to take a hard look at what they’re doing,” he said. “If I sit in my seat, behave myself, absorb like a sponge what the teachers tell me and regurgitate it to them in assessment and get a 70 and walk out the door, that doesn’t measure how much I learn. Can I take those math concepts and go out and apply them to a real world problem? Businesses complain we don’t teach kids the skills they need to know.”

Carpenter said he thinks the special committee and board members can help resolve some of the issues the teachers raised. “We’ll look at it and see what ground we can meet on and what is the right thing to do.” As for the software program that the teachers want to withdraw from, Carpenter said he wouldn’t necessarily oppose that. It was adopted in 2014, a year before he started.

Taxes and buildings

In other school news, the administration’s proposed 2016-2017 budget has undergone another iteration and would now bring a 10 percent increase in the local tax assessment. The administration shaved off about $200,000 from what would have been a 13 percent tax hike, in part by withdrawing a new position to oversee technology at Presque Isle High School.

As it stands, of the $25.2 million total budget, property taxpayers in Castle Hill, Chapman, Mapleton and Presque Isle would be responsible for $9.3 million. Most of the increase is related to the start of all-day kindergarten and the hiring of several new teachers and technicians. The state government’s required mill rate also increased from 8.23 to to 8.3, Carpenter said.

A budgeting session is planned for May 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the district’s board meeting room in the high school and a budget adoption meeting is scheduled for May 3 at the same time and location. A public hearing is set for June 2 at the high school cafeteria and a district-wide vote on the budget is slated for June 14.

Separate from the 2016-2017 budget, administrators and board members have been mulling over the district’s long-term building needs as part of a right-sizing initiative. With some buildings under capacity amid declining enrollment, the right-sizing committee has analyzed different scenarios, including closing the two oldest schools, Pine Street Elementary and Zippel Elementary, but there have not been any formal proposals.