Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Confusion remains following Governor's decision on Maine's "laptops in schools" contract

On Saturday afternoon, Gov. Paul LePage announced his long-delayed decision on which of five technology packages would be awarded the new contract for Maine's "laptops in schools" program, the oldest 1:1 school computer program in the nation.

LePage picked a proposal built around Windows-based HP laptops over a lower-priced iPad tablet package that had received much higher scores from proposal reviewers. But the governor said schools which preferred to stick with the Apple technologies they've used to date -- adopting either the iPad or another proposal based on MacBooks -- could do so.

But at what price? As my story in today's Portland Press Herald relates, nobody is yet certain of the answer.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Speaking on American Nations, Rockport, Maine, May 3

Speaking on American Nations: For residents in the Penobscot Bay region of Maine, I'll be giving a talk on the issues raised in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America at the Samoset in Rockport on May 3.

It's for the spring luncheon of the Coastal Senior College of  University College Rockland, which is open to the public. Tickets are $25 for non-members and reservations have to be made by April 29. Details at their website.

My next scheduled, public talk on American Nations in Maine is June 26th at the Maine Audubon Society in Falmouth.

Delays for Maine laptop program: Also, in an unrelated development, I report in today's Portland Press Herald on how Maine's delay in naming the winner of the renewed "laptops in schools" contract is causing anxiety and consternation for the state's school districts. 

I last wrote on the laptop program last month, when the program's director was found to have not been storing his electronic correspondence on state servers..... for a decade.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Florida investigators ding K12 Inc; alewives free at last; Connor under fire

After a long period of workflow-induced radio silence, a few updates of interest to Mainers and, perhaps Floridians, New Brunswickers, and some Pennsylvanians as well:

Investigators ding K12 Inc.: K12, the nation's largest online education provider, has been under investigation in Florida over accusations it used unqualified teachers in a taxpayer-financed virtual school there. As I report in today's Portland Press Herald, a draft report has been made public which finds against the company on two of three counts. Testimony to investigators also reflects on the sort of attention -- or lack thereof -- students of the school receive.

K12 has been seeking to operate a virtual charter school here in Maine, but has been rebuffed by authorizers, angering Gov. Paul LePage, who strongly supports their creation. It was at the center of the Sept. 2 Maine Sunday Telegram investigation that won this year's George Polk Award for Education Reporting.

St. Croix alewives free at last: Last summer I reported on the bizarre odyssey of the spring spawning runs of St. Croix River alewives, which had been banned from the sprawling international watershed by an act of the Maine legislature. After many twists and turns -- and reflecting the scientific and economic evidence that the fish help, not hurt the ecosystem there -- a bill ordering the state to open the fishways to the schooling fish has become law, after Gov. LePage chose not to veto it.

Former Press Herald chief Rich Connor accused of stealing $500K from company: The parent company of the paper I work for, the Portland Press Herald, has accused former CEO and editor in chief Rich Connor of essentially stealing over half a million dollars from the paper while it was in precarious financial condition.

Long before I ever expected to work for Maine Today Media, I covered the Press Herald's plight for Maine-based magazines. Connor -- who is being sued by his other former employers, the Times-Leader of Wilkes-Barre, for appropriating another quarter million -- did a lot of damage to journalism as well as the paper's balance sheets. Here's his "no scoops" vision as articulated to me for this 2010 feature in Down East and, for context, a bit about how he left the paper on the eve of its rescue (ultimately to S. Donald Sussman, not Harte and company, as it turned out.)

DePoy-Warren moving from state DEP to Department of Education: For inside baseball people, Samantha DePoy-Warren, the iconoclastic communications chief at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is redeploying to the Department of Education, where she will take the communications portfolio from David Connerty-Marin. Warren confirmed her last day at DEP is this Friday. Marin said he's switching to another position within the education department.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Speaking on the oceans, Belfast, Maine, April 9

My first book -- Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas -- was on the collapse of marine systems around the world, and now, thirteen years later, there seems to be renewed attention on the issues it raised.

For those in Maine's Penobscot Bay region, I'll be giving a talk in this vein at the University of Maine's Hutchinson Center this Tuesday, April 9 at 4pm. It's entitled Rebuilding the Seas: how the world’s oceans were laid low and what to do about it" and it's free and open to the public, thanks to the co-sponsors, the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition and the University of Maine Senior College. If you're in the area come on by.

My next scheduled "free and open to the public" talk in Maine is June 26th at Maine Audubon in Falmouth, where I'll be talking about the thesis of my most recent book, American Nations.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Maine CDC official claims boss assaulted her for refusing to shred public documents

An official at the Maine Centers for Disease Control has filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission claiming she was ordered to shred public documents and, when she refused, was physically assaulted and discriminated against by managers. Here's my story in today's Portland Press Herald.

The documents in question dealt with the scoring of grant awards in connection with a health promotion program, one that raised controversy last summer.

We'll likely learn more this summer as the complaint works its way through the commission.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Maine: Alewives move a step closer to the upper St. Croix

For those following the St. Croix alewives saga, the fish seem to be winning the fight in Maine's capital, Augusta.

As I reported this morning at the Portland Press Herald, a key legislative committee unanimously endorsed a bill that would essentially open the river to the spawning fish. The fish had been barred from the river by a 1995 law passed at the behest of smallmouth bass fishing guides who feared the fish were harming the (non-native) bass. Last week the same committee heard an earful from the alewives' many supporters, which include lobstermen, groundfishermen, the Passamaquoddy tribe, environmentalists, and the federal governments of both the U.S. and Canada, which share control of the river system.

The emergency bill could be voted on by the House and Senate as early as Wednesday this week. It would then go to the governor for his signature. (A compromise bill endorsed by his administration was unanimously rejected by the committee.)