Monday, February 1, 2016

Crimmins on Crocodile Tears (about Brunswick School Dept budgets)

         

Frank Lee, we can’t remember whether we’ve posted before about young Jon Crimmins, or posted an item of his here on Side.  He is now a ‘featured opinion writer’ in The Ostrich.  He’s also a stand-up guy with deep Brunswick roots.  His father, Tom Crimmins, was a town councilor until his untimely passing, and he has a young family - wife and two boys -  last time I knew.

In our view, he’s also a clear thinker and observer of Brunswick town governance, and a damn good writer.  His latest item in the above referenced print outlet is a perfect example.  Jon has given us his permission to post it here, along with his email address so you can contact him and comment if you wish.  Should you do so because of this post, please mention that fact so he knows from whence the response derives.  Jon can be reached at: j_crimmins@hotmail.com

Here is the text of his column as he submitted it; it appeared in the January 27th edition of the local paper:

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When someone does a good job I think it is important to make note of it and applaud the effort. In keeping with this ideal, I want to take the opportunity to thank School Superintendent Paul Perzanoski on his efforts to bring entrepreneurship to the School Department. In case you missed the story from last week, the Superintendent is going to start selling clothing that will, in a small way, go to support some summer educational programs including a reading and math camp.

This foray into the world of clothing sales will undoubtedly raise fewer eyebrows than the last attempt to raise money by the school department. Several years ago, the School Department’s website had a link on it which allowed the user to purchase various quantities of male enhancement supplements. The address for the online pharmacy has long since escaped me, suffice to say that the school department was not peddling the wares of Osco or Walgreens. Despite this, I am sure that the firm was legit.

At the time, when I contacted the Superintendent about the information on his page, he was silent for a moment but said it would be removed later that day. True to his word, roughly four hours after alerting the department to the link it was gone. Vanished after what can only be seen as a stiff reminder as to why you should check your sites often.

All of this brings me back to my congratulations for Paul Perzanoski. He is going to overcome the, “budget difficulties” of the last eight years to restore some programs. Bravo!

The only question I have is what “budget difficulties”? Is the Superintendent saying that Brunswick has seen their school budget get decimated and cut? Maybe we really do need that math camp program after all.

If you have had the same passing interest in town governance over the past decade or so that I have had, then you may recall the yearly drama at budget time. You know the time, when the people of Brunswick routinely approve increases to the school budget and sometimes, the municipal budget.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, nearly a decade’s worth of budget documents can be found right on the School Department’s web page. That information paints a wildly different view of the idea that Brunswick schools have suffered through a financial crisis.

For the 2007-2008 year, again according to the School Department’s own figures, the approved budget was $32,734,737. No paltry sum. Some of the years showed increases in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. One year even topped out at more than a $1,500,000 increase, year to year.

Now, yes, there were three years where the school budget actually was smaller than the year preceding it. Those three reductions amounted to a grand total of $300,885. Even accounting for the reductions in the budget, by the time that the 2015-2016 budget was passed by the voters in June of last year, the school budget had ballooned to a total of $36,525,855. The eight years of “budget difficulties” saw the school budget grow by more than $3,791,118.

Remember, these are not just any figures. These are the figures that the School Department has put on their website.

Of course the dollar amounts don’t tell the entire story of this saga. No, if the School Department witnessed a vast increase of students there may be some justification for the increases. So what does the enrollment look like in Brunswick?

Again, using the numbers provided in the budgets from the School Department the number of students accounted for at the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year was 3,204. The number projected to start the 2015-2016 school year was just 2,288. Over the course of the time that the Superintendent is claiming that we are in a difficult position we have seen our school population drop by 916 students. This cannot be right.

How can it be that the enrollment has dropped by nearly 1,000 students or 30% of the pupils and yet the budget has increased by roughly 11% in that same timeframe? How can anyone in, good conscience, call this, “budget difficulties”?

I do applaud the Superintendent for his willingness to look outside the box with this new endeavor, but I really think we are being taken to the cleaners and it is not for the new shirts.

That’s my two cents…

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As we read it, the words “two cents” reminded us of an item we posted in the early days of Other Side.  This one: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2010/03/hes-hoping-for-change.html#more

                           

It’s about the Super’s plan then for drudging up extra jingle from local taxpayers because the School Department was being starved, as he saw it.

Horse puckey.

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Any objective review of School Department funding, especially when based on per student spending, puts the lie to anything the PP might say on the subject.  Of course, there’s the standard communications methodology favored by such bureaucrats.

That is, anything but approval of a requested increase in a budget is a ‘cut.’  If a 10% increase is requested, but only an 8% increase is granted, the budget has been ‘cut,’ of if you’re in a heated discussion, ‘slashed again’ or ‘cut to the bone.’

                           

Jackie the P, a town councilor for several terms some years back, frequently asserted that ‘we’ve been cutting school budgets every year for as long as I can remember’ or some such blatant claptrap.  We kept looking for budget declines year over year, and finally came to understand that we were being toyed with by a practitioner of public tears of distress, distraction, and delusion.

We started keeping track of budget totals back around then, along with school enrollment.  And recently, we asked the town finance department to compile our own personal property tax history for our domicile, along with the share going to the Brunswick School Department.

We have never had children in the Brunswick School System.  None the less, without telling you more than you need to know, our current tax bill includes a school allocation that is multiple thousands more than it was when we built our house in the late 90’s.  Matter of fact, it’s up by $1,500 or so in the last five years, or an increase in school taxes that averages in the range of $300 per year.  That’s not pocket change, friends and readers.

Especially when you consider that school system enrollment has declined by roughly 30% since base closure, and has not rebounded by any meaningful amount, even though expert consultants predicted we would be back at pre-closure levels by now.  Quick!  Somebody find 1,000 students so the consultants can be vindicated.

  

For now, however comma we leave the Superintendent and his mommy mafia with these words of wisdom.

And as for you, dear reader, you might chase down your own property tax history over the years of this century as well, so you can see for yourself the ‘budget difficulties’ in recent years, and how you, personally, have been such a tightwad when it comes to funding school needs.

Wouldn’t it be fun if at an upcoming budget hearing this spring, a bunch of us held up signs clearly showing how much more we’re paying in school taxes than we were 10 years ago, along with how many fewer students the school system is educating.

We doubt that Professor Gruber and Super PP would approve, but so what.  It’s time some realism, facts, and truth become part of the discussion, as unpopular as that might be with the ruling elites.  They proved their disdain for such things in the Downeaster ‘economic benefit’ debate, and they’ll surely look the other way in response to such signs of protest.

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Maine Wire: The Filibuster Update…

The Maine Wire recently ran an item of ours extending an earlier discussion of the filibuster, and we’re copying it here for your reading pleasure.  If you prefer reading it on their web site, you can find it here: http://www.themainewire.com/2016/01/schaeffer-updating-filibuster-conundrum/

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More than three years ago, The Maine Wire ran a brief item of mine on the filibuster concept memorialized in U.S. Senate rules; it read as follows: (note that the Maine Wire did not run this prior item, but substituted its link for editorial purposes.)

The Filibuster: Hypocritical Bi-Partisan Duplicity of the Most Transparent Sort

Wouldn’t you just know it; the venerable Senate filibuster is back in the news. The Maine Sunday Telegram featured a Maine Voices column on the subject on December 9th. Terms like ‘the nuclear option’ and ‘the constitutional option’ were on display.

Senator Chuck Schumer, that unctuous 55 gallon drum of sanctimony, is trying to ride the fence on the issue, claiming the filibuster is vital to senate operation, but that ‘Republicans are abusing it.’ This loosely translates to “hey, we Democrats want to use the filibuster any way we please, but you Republicans should go pound sand.” You can always count on Chucky to lobby for an unfair advantage. The same talking point was advanced by the author of the column cited above. Funny how that works.

Whenever I hear the term filibuster, visions of Senator Foghorn C. Leghorn come to mind. Or perhaps Senator Bobby Byrd in his prime, bloviating for hours on end in his stentorian style, pomposity on full display. Others may envision Jimmy Stewart’s role as Mr. Smith, as the Maine Voices column did, but not me. Frankly, the thought of Harry Reid, who comes across as the Head Mortician of the Senate, negates any illusion that a Jimmy Stewart type could have a meaningful role in our government.

The nagging question now is where our newly elected Senator, Angus King, will leave his footprints in the sand on this beach. What a perfect challenge for Mr. Independence, the self-described solver of intractable problems. Never mind that he quickly confirmed his liberal Democrat loyalties when he announced he’d caucus with Reid’s embalmers. Let the burial of the American founding proceed as planned.

At times like this, when things seem confused, we know that we can rely on the New York Times to clarify things. So I did a bit of research, and came up with this:

A January 1, 1995, New York Times editorial on proposals to restrict the use of Senate filibusters said this:

In the last session of Congress, the Republican minority invoked an endless string of filibusters to frustrate the will of the majority. This relentless abuse of a time-honored
Senate tradition so disgusted Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, that he is now willing to forgo easy retribution and drastically limit the filibuster. Hooray for him. . . . Once a rarely used tactic reserved for issues on which senators held passionate views, the filibuster has become the tool of the sore loser, . . . an archaic rule that frustrates democracy and serves no useful purpose.

A March 6, 2005, New York Times editorial on the same subject read as follows:

The Republicans are claiming that 51 votes should be enough to win confirmation of the White House’s judicial nominees. This flies in the face of Senate history. . . . To block
the nominees, the Democrats’ weapon of choice has been the filibuster, a time-honored Senate procedure that prevents a bare majority of senators from running roughshod. . . .
The Bush administration likes to call itself “conservative,” but there is nothing conservative about endangering one of the great institutions of American democracy, the United States Senate, for the sake of an ideological crusade.

Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too? At least on the editorial pages of our elite media, who for better or worse, serve the willfully uninformed.

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A few weeks ago, some friends and I engaged in a discussion of the same subject as it relates to politics and the challenges of governing at this moment in our history.  We have a ‘divided government;’ the U.S. Senate consists of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 independents.  The U.S. House consists of 246 Republicans, 188 Democrats, and 1 seat is vacant.  The Presidency, obviously, is held by a Democrat.

Simply put, Republicans have an overwhelming majority in the House, and should be a formidable factor in governance of our Nation and the direction in which it is headed.  While Republicans also have a majority in the Senate, it isn’t sufficient to overcome the ability of Democrats to block any legislation that comes before the body.  This stems from the ‘time-honored’ procedure mentioned above.

Given current congressional profiles, and the fact that the House has a new speaker, Paul Ryan, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that Republicans in the House should be able to exert considerable control over the legislative agenda, and hence the general direction of our government and our nation.  They can pass bills easily and send them on to the Senate.

All too easily, it turns out, because as long as the rule of 60 exists in the Senate, legislation sent over from the House has virtually no chance of being debated on the floor, let alone voted on.  This state of affairs is rationalized on the basis of ‘protecting the interests of the minority’ in the Senate.  Sounds good at first, until you realize that it does exactly the opposite for the American people, who with their votes constitute both bodies of Congress as they see fit.

Mitch McConnell, the current Senate Majority Leader, has the power, we are told, to change the rules so that a simple majority could put legislation approved by the House on the Senate floor for discussion and a vote.  When both chambers reached agreement on the bill, it would be sent to the President for his signature or veto.

In reality, however, because of the Senate rule, legislation approved by an overwhelming majority in the House dies in the Senate because Republicans don’t have a filibuster proof majority.  So the Senate constipates the gastro-intestinal system of Congress, blocking legislation from passing.  Absent a super-majority, for all intents and purposes, the Senate amounts to a useless chamber of self-absorbed patricians, given to bloviation and power preservation.

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(ed note:  the Maine Wire elected not to run this photo included in the original submission; we think it captures Senate countenance quite nicely)

This holds true no matter which party is in the majority, as long as they have 59 or less seats.  Think about the numbers for a moment, and you realize that rarely will one party have a super-majority.  Either party holding between 41 and 59 seats implies that the Senate, under current rules, is a feckless bunch of blowhards inhabiting the ‘most exclusive debating club’ in the world.  They’re more interested in strutting then they are in leading.  Like the Beefeaters, they amount to ceremonial “yeoman guardians extraordinary.”

This wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, if the only thing they did was neutralize the majority powers of the House in situations like we have today.  Paul Ryan could shepherd a bill through the house to a compelling vote of approval, and the Republican held Senate would be powerless to act upon it.  Unless, of course, the bill was so irrelevant that it has wide bi-partisan support.

Now imagine that the Senate is as we currently have, but the House had a Democrat majority.  The same circumstances would apply.  The Senate would lack a filibuster proof majority, and would therefore be unable to act upon legislation sent over from the Democrat majority House.

In other words, unless the Senate has a constitution of 60 or more members of one party or the other, it not only can’t act decisively on its own, it neutralizes, or emasculates the House, regardless of who controls it.

Which is to say that in the limit, the super-majority rule (filibuster) in the Senate will almost always neutralize the powers of the Legislative Branch of our Federal Government.

Or in other words, enable the unitary presidency, in which the executive rules by fiat and executive order.

This is, in other words, about much more than the arcane rules of a small body of elected elites; it is about the very ability of elected officials to exercise the powers granted to them by the Constitution and the will of those who elected them.

This is not a good thing.  A legislative branch that can’t act, as appealing as that can sound in some contexts, is a worthless assemblage of eunuchs, and with the challenges facing us today, both fiscally and existentially, this is a death sentence for the American experiment.

Especially with an executive determined to make transformative changes to this country.  Under the circumstances, this stubbornness on the part of Mitch McConnell (at the moment) seems near-suicidal.

Surely there must be a more responsible way of going about things.

In the meantime, is it any wonder the candidacy of Donald Trump has so much traction?

 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

“Making your numbers”…..Government style….

   

Many of us are familiar with the concept of ‘making your numbers’ in the business sense.  Once an enterprise moves beyond the ‘mom and pop’ level, and such things as outside financing become part of the operating plan, financial forecasts for the business become mandatory to document performance expectations, and to have something against which management performance can be measured and assessed.

This is especially true if private venture capital is part of the mix.  The business must have goals, and leadership that can realize those goals, or evn exceed them.  Once a business becomes publicly held via stock ownership, analysts from various entities begin to demand such forecasts so they can evaluate performance against them, and decide whether they should recommend buying, selling, or holding shares in the company.

One of the great philosophical debates in this regard is whether or not we should expect Government to be run ‘like a business.’  Which is to say, in the general sense, whether it should be financially viable and self-sustaining.  Or not.

This is a complex subject, and one worthy of much considered and thoughtful debate.

That is, of course, until Government decides to get itself into fields historically operated under private ownership.

Take, for example, intercity passenger rail service, like the Amtrak Downeaster, operated by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, an agency of Maine State Government.  Passenger rail service largely died 50 or more years ago because it was no longer a viable business to operate.  Demand and revenue could not come close to balancing operating expenses, so the business, such as it was, disappeared.

But if you really like riding on trains, such things don’t matter.  Whether doing so makes fiscal sense or not, all too many believe Government exists to trump such realities, and provide the wants of the few at the expense of the many.

And there you have the Downeaster in a nutshell.  A few hundred million dollars in capital expenditures, and next thing you know, you have a passenger rail service operating well under capacity, and with operating losses well over 50%.  How can you argue with that?

Apparently, the Downeaster is not achieving the levels of passenger demand we hear about from those who run the operation, and their lobbyist, TrainRiders Northeast.  The latter, as they will repeatedly tell you, single-handedly brought the Downeaster into existence, and keep it a favored ‘service’ of Maine State Government.

This must be why some loss leader fare deals are being offered recently.  For example:

Amtrak $16 fares anywhere

Which was preceded by this:

Amtrak five for $5

All of which seems odd, because as the map maintained by Departure Center staff in Brunswick shows, visitors to our perfect little town ‘span the country and the globe.’

  
A MAP at the visitor’s center in Brunswick shows where folks who have visited the town in 2015 have hailed from. 
DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD

But lest we all forget, NNEPRA has some numbers to meet for the current fiscal year.  First and foremost is an operating deficit of $13 million, against an operating budget of $22.6 million.

You can’t “make those numbers” without some special promotions.

We’ll close with this: we’re confident that a map of those who travel on Maine Street would ‘span the country and the globe.’  In other words, the Downeaster has about as much to do with who visits our town as milk has to do with men turning bald and women getting gray hair.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

VOD of 12/21 is on line and available….

OK, Brunswick fun seekers and students of all ages; the on demand video for Monday night’s town council meeting is ON THE AIR!

Cable 21 Dec VOD

Here’s the link: http://tv3hd.brunswickme.org/Cablecast/Public/Show.aspx?ChannelID=1&ShowID=3302

The discussion of the Brayman proposal for a Race and Gender Task Force begins just a minute or two before the 1:30 mark on the time slider at the bottom of the video.

We’ve watched only a few minutes of it so far; too busy making pie crusts and other holiday specials with family.  But we’re confident the video, once word gets around, will eat into the record-breaking box office for the latest Star Wars saga.

Our local governing stars may not have light sabers, but their thoughts, words, and actions can be just as worthy of outer space.

Merry Christmas, one and all.  Even the Eddy's of the world.

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Brunswick, Bowdoin; Race, Gender, Rape, Social Constructs; and Sound and Fury…..signifying nothing.

“Recently a young woman at Dartmouth College, having had sex for the first time with a man, reflected that she had “lost her virginity.” Then she put that thought on hold: “Virginity is just a total social construct,” she told her interviewer. Her story appeared in the college’s student newspaper.”
(You can read the rest of the rather academic treatise from which this is excerpted here: http://www.weeklystandard.com/the-meaning-of-sex/article/928461   You’ll even find Bowdoin College mentioned prominently)


We could say we told you so…but why bother.  It’s way too easy; Brunswick and it’s ruling class are so predictable.



Published reports on the town council meeting this past Monday evening, which we gave you some heads up about, lived up to our expectations.  While food per se’ may not have been involved, the atmospherics approached a food fight for dignity and decorum befitting the proceedings.




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We can only imagine what the audience in council chambers looked like.  And we can’t wait to watch the VOD recording of the meeting.  From what we’ve read so far, council members generally comported themselves in keeping with their established reputations.  Johnny Protocols even stepped up to try out for the role we included in our draft script.

  

Borrowing some literary imagery, we could say that Brunswick is but a stage, and the council just actors, strutting out their parts, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Except for digging holes, that is, fiscal and otherwise.

            

You can find more coverage on the meeting here, written by a Bowdoin grad no less:
http://www.theforecaster.net/brunswick-council-forms-task-force-resolves-to-oppose-bias/

It should be clear by now that our councilors have an expansive view of their own abilities, and more-so, their jurisdiction.  Recall them engaging in “Citizens United” resolution making.  Now they’re moving on to Human Rights.

And we couldn’t even get the weighty issue of economic benefits of the Downeaster brought to the table for discussion.  Why?  Because some of the councilors mentioned prominently in the articles wanted no part of making it an agenda item simply for discussion, let alone a motion.

Nice to see that Chair Brayman, as a ‘reward’ for her no vote on Monday’s motion, appointed Councilor Millet to the Race and Gender Task Force.  Take that, Jane!

Next time, do as you’re told, or you’ll be sent to the hell of a can’t win council Task Force.  Talk about knots.  Should be interesting to see how Jane manages the ‘do something’ imperative against the ‘Brunswick is the perfect place to live’ town branding.  Shorts and more could easily get tangled in a Catch 22.  Wonder if Task Force meetings will be televised?

As for us, we’re expecting we’ll see a budget increase to cover the cost of putting up “Slur Free Zone” and “Slur Watch Neighborhood” signs all over town.  Not to mention the 20 hours of training  on race and gender issues that each grade in “the best schools” will be required to impose annually.

Sooner or later, readers, you’ll figure out why we use “P.C. Poppycock” as our Nom de Side.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Brunswicks’s Polar Bears, Coming Home to Roost??

  

Well, just in time for Christmas, the Brunswick Town Council will tonight take up the issue of establishing a Race and Gender Task Force at the request of Chair Brayman, responding to an all hands meeting on such issues held earlier this month.
          
                


Given what’s going on nationally, and on the local campus, this should come as no surprise.
But there is some irony to be appreciated.  Does anyone deny that Bowdoin, as a member of a small set of elite, small, highly selective liberal arts colleges, cherishes it’s exclusiveness?  Remember “what is Brunswick without Bowdoin  -- nothing!”?  How fitting then that inclusiveness is one of the primary cudgels used to demand something…anything…to show we all care.

As we showed in a recent post….it’s all about muscle, or more succinctly, power.



Anyone with even a modest amount of awareness of the politics in our perfect little town knows that Bowdoin plays a subtle and not so subtle role in our local governance.  From any number of perspectives, including tax exemptions, various benevolent deals, etc.

Well now the student body is about to expand its influence in an anything but subtle way, as they demand appeasement from us all to respond to whatever grievances they can concoct, real or not.  After all, it’s not the facts that matter, it’s the seriousness of the charges.
   


Here the learners on campus are show pleading with now former President Barry Mills on an issue near and dear to them, and which Mills, coming from Wall Street roots as he did, and in consideration of the super high-performing Bowdoin Endowment, pretty much stone-walled.

Now a new man, President Clayton Rose, is barely unpacked, and has to face something far more basic.  If things work out right, the Polar Cubs may demand he do a Polar Bear dip on his way out of office.

On Pages 49 & 50 of the town council packet…http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Agenda-Packet-Dec-21-2015.pdf….you’ll find the material inserted below.

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Seems to us the trap is now set.  Do you really think a group like this will be able to conclude that nothing needs to be done, and that the town is not part of the problem?

Who are we kidding?  If the town, acting through this Race and Gender Task Force, does not take ‘decisive, corrective action,’ it will be derided as a symbol of macro-aggression, paternalism, gender blindness, sexism, and white-privilege.  We’ll be considered clueless and lacking in fundamental human self-awareness. 

Marches should soon follow, led, we suppose, by the more sensitive members of Bowdoin’s faculty.

Eldridge, Rizzo, Brayman and other symbols of Brunswick’s privileged establishment need to watch their words and their six.  Safe spaces need to be allocated to every in-town block, and those mentioned will soon be looking for political safe-space.

The way we see it, a mis-step or two here, and there could be demands for their resignation, if only to show proper respect and fealty, and repentance for their leading roles in historic, systemic oppression and insensitivity.  They’ll have to be the sacrificial lambs acting as symbols of the thousands of the rest of us.

This is going to be such fun to watch.  Squirming, running for cover, political posturing, word-smithing, etc.

Who knows, the council might even call Johnny Protocols back into service; he comes as close as anyone in this town to having the right skills for this job.

                 

He’s a bit of a Houdini when it comes to such things.  Though considering he plans to run for State Senate next year, it may be more of a gamble than he’s willing to take.