ROCKPORT – Education Commissioner Susan Gendron had strong words Thursday in speaking about the Many Flags/One Campus idea floating about the midcoast.
“I’m excited,” Gendron said of the school consolidation concept. “I’m a champion for you.”
That night, Gendron spoke to more than 200 people who attended a Many Flags forum at the Samoset Resort in Rockport. The commissioner talked about education in general in Maine, but she also spoke specifically about the Many Flags proposal.
The blueprint calling for two high schools, a vocational technical school, boat-building school, graduate college, four-year college, and community college to be situated in one spot, has the attention of the Gates Foundation, too, Gendron said. “They’re very intrigued with this project.”
Gendron stopped short of “endorsing” Many Flags when asked that question by journalist Don Carrigan of WLBZ 2 and WCSH 6, who moderated the forum. “It’s pretty evident … I believe Many Flags is the right direction,” Gendron said. “I’m quasi endorsing.”
Maine’s economy is shifting as manufacturing jobs are replaced by technology and skilled jobs, she said, and the lobster and fishing industries are changing dramatically.
By 2012, Maine will have 68,000 new jobs, Gendron said, in fields such as biotechnology, biomedical research, financial services and radio frequency identification.
Those 68,000 jobs will require a minimum of an associate degree, she said.
“We have got to create a seamless system,” Gendron said, pointing to the Many Flags model. “It’s about the broader community of learners.”
The Many Flags steering committee, several legislators and Alan Hinsey of Eastern Maine Development Corp., who’s the instigator of Many Flags, presented details of the plan, which has the first class starting in the fall of 2011.
Currently, SAD 5, which is Rockland, Owls Head and South Thomaston, and SAD 50, which is Thomaston, St. George and Cushing, and Midcoast School of Technology in Rockland are considering such consolidation. University College at Thomaston, Kennebec Valley Community College, Washington County Community College boat-building program, and the university’s Hutchinson Center in Belfast are onboard, too.
One of the key questions from attendants was funding.
Gendron announced at the session that state officials are redrafting rules for school construction funding so that the criteria will be more than need-based. “Innovation” will be a factor, as well, she said, noting that a delay in application deadlines also has been proposed.
SAD 5, SAD 50 and MCST plan to submit individual state construction funding applications because there currently is no mechanism for a joint application.
Gendron indicated it may also be possible to fund a portion of the college and boat-building piece and that the state board may include incentives for this type of program.
Rep. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, has said the college components would require private funding from foundations and philanthropists and grants.
Les Murray of Warren, who has served on the SAD 40 and MCST boards, asked how the steering committee intended to “sell” Many Flags to the other districts tied to the vocational school.
MCST serves SAD 5, SAD 50, Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, Lincoln Academy in Damariscotta, and the islands of Islesboro, North Haven and Vinalhaven.
District leaders responded by outlining a host of meetings slated in all communities in coming months.
Rockland City Councilor Eric Hebert asked whether a residential component was included for island students.
“As a department, I’d be open to that,” Gendron said, pointing to the residential program at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone.
“We’re laying that groundwork,” she said. “We will think outside the box as far as the site goes [and] think regionally.”
For information about Many Flags/One Campus concept, visit www.manyflags.org.