Governor Paul LePage and his commissioner of education, Steven Bowen, said Monday night that the education system in Maine is broken and efforts to fix it had failed. Students are underperforming and too many of them are dropping out, at the same time that maintaining school infrastructure for shrinking class sizes is too expensive, they said. Meanwhile employers are having difficulty finding employees with the right skill sets, and educated students are leaving the state for jobs elsewhere.

The governor also contends that too many teachers are being promoted on seniority over performance and that better-educated teachers should be sought and paid accordingly.

What is needed, they told a midcoast audience in Rockland on Monday night, is a new education model. Governor LePage said charter schools are one workable model.

Bowen said, "It's a jalopy built for another time. It doesn't work. We cannot do what we have always done."

We must stop lurching from one so-called improvement to another, said Bowen, "but go to the core of the educational model and build a completely new type of system."

"There is no more money," said Bowen. "As we think about it, we have to do more with less."

Bowen said regional approaches make sense, including regional service centers that would include human resources, professional development, student assessments, data analysis and special education administration.

Bowen and LePage said new educational models should lower education costs, increase performance expectations of teachers and students, apply new teaching models and technology, and reinvigorate vocational and technical training opportunities by partnering with businesses.

Their comments seemed to be well received by many of the 270 people who turned out at the Strand Theatre on Monday, October 3, to hear over a dozen speakers at a forum on the connection between economic development and education in the state. The event was organized by the ManyFlags/ One Campus Foundation and several local economic and business community organizations.

Local school administrators headed up one discussion panel. Among them was 5-Town CSD and SAD 28 Superintendent William Shuttleworth who said his educational approach was "to convert tax burdens into tax payers."

Shuttleworth emphasized the importance of stressing vocational and technical education as a clear alternative to college, continuing education and professional training for adults, school choice for all students who are willing to pay their own transportation costs, career education and awareness as early as first grade and the importance of early childhood education.

"There is a good return on preschool education," he said. "For every dollar invested, you get a 16-dollar return on investment."

"Problem solving, collaboration, communication, the ability to use technology - these are the skills that students will need," said Susan Pratt, superintendent for SAD 40.

A second panel on the connection between education and a skilled workforce highlighted some current problems in finding the right employee for the job.

Jim Lattin of Fisher Engineering in Rockland said his company expanded two years ago and sought to hire 25 percent more workers.

"Since January 1st of this year we have hired 101 people but 92 have been terminated of their own accord, found other work or decided the work didn't suit them. We have a net gain of nine workers," he said.