What happens to state aid for Maine schools if legislators fail to get their act together

Good morning from Augusta, where the Department of Education has told public schools they will receive state subsidies this year even if the Legislature is unable to reconvene for an important vote on the school funding formula.

As has been widely reported, one of the bills left undone amid a squabble between House Democrats and Republicans was LD 1869, which would essentially release around $1 billion in education funding for public schools that was appropriated last year. The bill, which there is a version of every year, determines how the money would be divided among schools based on changing factors such as student enrollment levels and municipal property valuations.

Superintendents have been fretting over the issue. Many districts are in the process of proposing and voting on their budgets for the next school year and in late April, the Maine School Management Association sent a bulletin to schools stating that failure of the bill would put an “inordinate burden on local property tax payers.” The bill was tabled in the Senate on April 18.

The Department of Education has told schools not to worry about it. In a post on Wednesday, the department said if the Legislature doesn’t reconvene and enact the bill prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, it will distribute the money based on estimates it already distributed earlier this year to help schools with their budget processes. Those estimates, known as ED 279 subsidy reports, are often amended later in the year.

There has been no indication of progress toward calling a special legislative session and negotiations are at an impasse. House Republicans say they won’t return until the rest of the Legislature agrees to break up a number of bills that are currently included in a supplemental budget so they can be voted up or down individually. Included in the package is a bill that would provide $3.8 million in administrative start-up costs for Medicaid expansion, which will surely fail on a gubernatorial veto if it goes to the floor alone.

If legislators come back, they may also name a bridge after a fallen sheriff’s deputy. According to WGME, Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, has submitted a bill to name a bridge in his hometown after Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Eugene Cole, who police say was fatally shot by John D. Williams in the line of duty last month. The Legislature would likely quickly pass this if or when lawmakers come back to handle the aforementioned outstanding business.

Ranked-choice voting advocates blocked from intervenor status in federal case

A lawsuit over ranked-choice voting will remain between the state and the Maine Republican Party. A federal judge has told the Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting that it won’t be allowed intervenor status in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the Maine Republican Party, which seeks to block the use of ranked-choice voting for Republican candidates in the June 12 primary.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy ruled Wednesday that although the committee’s interests are at odds with other parties in the suit, such as Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, “the committee has failed to articulate what arguments it intends to make in this court that would otherwise be forsaken by the secretary.”

Levy said the committee could file its arguments in an amicus curiae brief but won’t be allowed into the case as a defendant. Oral arguments will be on May 23 at the federal courthouse in Portland.

Maine Democrats are OK with a candidate’s arrest at protest

The party said a U.S. Senate candidate’s arrest Monday ‘pales in comparison’ to the governor’s actions. Among a group of protesters who entered the grounds of the governor’s mansion on Monday and refused to leave when police told them to was, as we told you in Tuesday’s Daily Brief, U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein. Here’s the full list of the 22 protesters who were charged with unlawful assembly, according to the Maine State Police.

Ringelstein, who is vying to unseat independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, wrote that he opted to be arrested to protest Gov. Paul LePage because he has “prevented so many Mainers from living happy, healthy lives.”

In response to questions from the Bangor Daily News, the Maine Democratic Party supported Ringelstein’s decision, saying, “A charge of unlawful assembly for peaceful protests pales in comparison to Gov. LePage’s flagrant violation of the law by refusing to implement Medicaid expansion. But instead, the governor continues to break the law, flout the will of Maine people and leave tens of thousands of Mainers without the health insurance they need.”

Reading list

  • Maine corrections officials say an 11-year-old inmate is to blame for an incident in which some of his teeth were knocked out. In court documents filed Wednesday responding to a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of the youth and his mother, a lawyer representing the Maine Department of Corrections denied that guards bashed the inmate’s head into a metal bed frame or that prison officials refused to provide medical care to the child. The court documents filed Wednesday state that video of the incident shows that the injuries were self-inflicted.
  • Old MacDonald had a farm and on his farm he had some clams. Mainers might be adding that verse to the classic children’s song about domesticated animals if marine biologists and folks who work in the state’s beleaguered shellfish industry have their way. With Maine’s yield of wild softshell clams plummeting, researchers trying to save a key component of the state’s coastal economy are experimenting with clam farming — which provides a more controlled and reliable way to prevent predators from decimating the bivalve population. “Clammers today are hunter and gatherers,” Brian Beal, a marine ecology professor at the University of Maine at Machias and co-author of a two-year study on the problem, said Tuesday. “[The future of clamming] doesn’t look like hunting and gathering. It looks like farming.”
  • Even free rent can’t convince restaurateurs to open a business in rural Maine. A Dexter property owner is offering free rent for a year to anyone who will sign a five-year lease for freshly rehabbed 2,300-foot space. But he has had few takers. Frank Spizuoco has made the offer via social media and through real estate agencies, but dwindling population and limited economic growth opportunities in the town of less than 4,000 that used to be home to Dexter Shoe and woolen mills seems to be scaring away most potential renters. “I would love to have a shop there but there just wouldn’t be enough business to offset cost,” one Facebook response read.
  • Want to help buy a Maine island so you can play on it? The Maine Coast Heritage Trust has launched a $4.4 million campaign to buy Clark Island off the St. George peninsula. The family that has owned the 170-acre island since 1957 is working with the land trust to preserve the island for public use and to protect wildlife habitats there.

Rat patrol

Julia Bayly, the BDN’s resident expert on pests and vermin, put together a primer on how to keep rats out of your compost. Her suggestions are far more humane than the way our childhood neighbor, Joe Gribouski, handled the problem. He just retrieved his shotgun and blasted away at the compost until the rats were gone and the compost had been aerated.

Those were simpler — and louder — times.

Other than the snake, is any animal more reviled than the rat? In Maine lore, snakes might even come off better, as Wessie, the Westbrook python, garnered an adoring cult following while Templeton, the conniving, villainous barnyard rat in “Charlotte’s Web,” probably ranks as the Pine Tree State’s most prominent rat personality.

What if we were to reconsider our rat revulsion and try to reach across the deep divide that separates our species, the way President Donald Trump is seeking accord with North Korea?

Never mind. We probably don’t want a repeat of what happened to Ernest Borgnine in the 1971 film, “Willard.” Although it would give us an excuse to share a creepy, young Michael Jackson soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.