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Gov Seeks Maine Community College Head's Resignation

AUGUSTA, Maine - Gov. Paul LePage has reiterated his call for a change in leadership at the top of Maine's Community College System.

The governor first asked president John Fitzsimmons to resign during his budget briefing last Friday. LePage says Fitzsimmons has taken too long to install a credit transfer system, and backed away from another key reform. But, as Jay Field reports, the head of the system's board of trustees is standing behind Fitzsimmons.

John Fitzsimmons has led the Maine Community College System since 1990. More than 18,000 students took classes at the system's seven campuses last fall. Since 2003, when the campuses switched from being technical schools to community colleges, enrollment has jumped by more than 80 percent. Campuses have expanded their facilities and offerings. And they play a big role training, and re-training, people for work in growing fields in Maine like health care.

But Gov. Paul LePage says the system isn't doing enough to meet the state's changing workforce needs."We're stagnent. There's so much more we could be doing," he says.

LePage mentions a three-year pilot program that began in 2011, and allowed high school kids to earn community college credits before graduating. It had the governor's strong support. "He jumped away from the Bridge Year. He didn't even complete it," LePage says. "He was halfway through. He jumped away."

In 2011, LePage says he asked Fitzsimmons to set up a system so students could transfer credits between the seven campuses. The governor says it took the community college chief more than two years to deliver a plan that's only being implemented now.

But one educator says setting up credit transfer guidelines can be complicated, especially when there are differences between institutions, in how much a class like, say, basic biology costs. Wilson Hess is president of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, and chairs a committee that oversees credit transfer policies in the UMaine system.

"It's clearly something all of New England, not just Maine, needs to catch up on," Hess says.

A year ago, Hess says UMaine and the Community College System began working on ways of speeding up credit transfer. Credits for general education and core requirements are now able to be transferred more quickly. But Gov. LePage says the Community College System has taken too long to make these kinds of changes, and he's calling on the board to remove John Fitzsimmons.

"President Fitzsimmons has done a great job leading the college," says Robert Clark, chair of the Community College's System's board. "All of the board members support him."

Fitzsimmons declined to comment, saying he wanted to speak with Gov. LePage directly.

Reporters, meantime, asked LePage what he would do if the community college board failed to honor his demand. For example, would he cut the system's funding, after initially flat-funding it in his budget proposal?

"They're certainly going to feel the wrath," LePage said.