Sunday, May 22, 2011

KKKK-6: Let’s review the bidding…

The following are reflections after attending the May 16th budget hearing, at which I said my piece.  I watched a number of others do their thing as well, although I left before the meeting was over.  You already know that if you read the previous posts.

Since the process is drawing to a conclusion, this is a good time to review what has taken place and what the strategies and tactics have been.

If we were to sum it up, the overarching premise forwarded by just about everyone, with a few exceptions (like this reporter) is that unrestrained school spending equates to excellence.  More specifically, spending growth, no matter what the underlying parameters (like enrolment, for example) might be, is the necessary and sufficient indicator of commitment to excellent schools ‘for the children.’  And we should add, the desirability of Brunswick as a place to live.

Or in simple terms, school spending = excellence; nothing else matters.  No measure of school performance, no measure of teacher merit (other than kids and parents saying “we love her”), no attention to responsible stewardship of the school facilities rises to the same level.

This is most curious.  Those speaking from the heart (instead of the brain) on such matters steadfastly avoid any objective measures or analysis of our circumstances. Almost without exception, they are not qualified to make such judgments.  They have no credentials for saying a teacher is excellent.  They only have, as one parent said, ‘anecdotal evidence,’ shaped by a desire to have more and more taxpayer dollars devoted to their children, which is understandable, but irrelevant, all other things being equal.

Unfortunately, all other things are not equal.  Still, public rhetoric focuses on blubbering about ‘severe and degrading budget cuts,’ and professed willingness to pay more in taxes and pay teachers more.

OK; throw a bucket of ice water on my head, so I get back to ‘the bidding.’

Here it is:

The School Department’s early publicity featured a budget in the $36 (or was it $37?) million range, calling for a 12% plus increase, in the face of years of massive growth in per pupil spending, continued enrolment decline, etc.  This is reminiscent of state budget theatrics and the “structural deficit” game. Jack the numbers up really high early on, and then talk about all the suffering unfortunate, seniors, and hungry children when the numbers come back to earth.  In the end, politicians take credit for ‘making hard decisions.’

How dare they start off with such a number, given budget history?  Spending and revenue are different sides of the same discussion.  We now know that the School Department has $3.5 million in reserve accounts to spend in each of the last two years!

Wow!  Looks like they’ve been sand-bagging us, inflating the budgets, and then under-spending to bank the difference forward!  Thanks a lot, ‘pubic servants.’  Many of us would have preferred to pay less in taxes, so that we could ‘bank’ the funds in our own reserve accounts!

So when the School Board finally approved a $33.3 million proposal, exactly the same as last year, it is decried by the usual suspects and dramatis personae as containing ‘excessive cuts,’ driving our school system ‘into decline,’ steering potential residents elsewhere, tanking our property values, and other sober and dispassionate characterizations.  (And let’s not forget the School Board Chair shedding tears in public over the awful, awful, distressing ‘cuts.’)  Oh, please!!

Our guess is that virtually none of the aforementioned suspects knows bupkis about prior year budget levels.  And we’ll bet none of them have ever looked at a teacher’s contract.  If they did, it would cloud their emotions, and possibly connect their hearts to their brains, and that wouldn’t be good, would it?

Instead of facts and logic, we heard lots of talks from Daddies and the real estate broker about how “excellent schools” make for a more desirable town and higher home values (higher prices, more commissions, fewer riff-raff moving in?), and studies that prove it, without citing one piece of data or any facts that demonstrate our teachers and our schools are, in fact, excellent. 

In fact, just the opposite; mourning that an excellent teacher is being lost in the ‘cuts;’ guess why, folks?  And if your answer doesn’t start with the letter “U,” go back to square one.

Maybe the RE lady was thinking ‘tell more old folks to put their houses on the market, so I can get the listings!  Rah rah to the mother that suggested two weeks ago that this would be an appropriate response to concerns about increasing property taxes.  How delightful!

To back off the $36 million/12% increase opening bid, they decided to close a neighborhood school, for a savings of what…..half a million?  And then they decide to ask for a $200K study for renovating that school, and we will bet you donuts to dollars right now that the study says it will cost $10 million or more to make the school useful and fitting for Brunswick, but the best bet is really to tear it down and build a new one, for say, $25 million.

So closing Jordan Acres saves the amount the teachers will get in raises this year.  Community values?  Are you kidding?

Which leaves us with a few questions for the ‘our schools are going in the toilet crowd:’

  • If the schools were excellent when you moved here, say 5 or 6 years ago, spending far less, and far less per student, why aren’t they excellent now, when they are spending far more?
  • How did you know they were excellent then, but know they are not excellent now?
  • How can raising per student spending by 40% or more in recent years be seen as excessive cuts, and decline?
  • How can raising per student taxes by 50% in five years be labeled the same way?

You simply can’t be had and manipulated any better by the School Department, and the town has been had and manipulated just as effectively this year.

One more thing; what about Mrs. Stinson being let go?  “Best teacher ever,” according to two parents, and we have no reason to doubt them.  Here’s a suggestion: why don’t you ask the Union Head, the School Board Chair, and the Superintendent why “the best ever teacher is being dismissed,” instead of one of the slugs or one who ‘phones it in.’

http://youtu.be/M8Rv4bWpfzI

Technorati Tags: ,

3 comments:

  1. THE SHELL GAME CONTINUES WITH THE JORDAN ACRES SCHOOL, AND THE DUNCES ON THE SCHOOL BOARD AND TOWN COUNCIL HAVEN'T ,OR WONT STRAIN THEMSELVES TO FIGURE IT OUT. THE HIGH SCHOOL SHELL GAME SHOULD NOW BE OBVIOUS, GIVE ANY EXCUSE FOR CLOSING THE SCHOOL, THEN "LEASE"IT TO ANOTHER TOWN, THEN CLAIM THE BUILDING HAS DETERIORATED TOO MUCH TO REPAIR IT AND IT IS "CHEAPER" TO BUILD A NEW SCHOOL....HARRIET BEECHER STOWE SCHOOL, ANYONE? WE ARE TO BLAME THOUGH FOR ELECTING PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT "GUTSY" (OOPS!).

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am not especially savvy to the politics involved nor am I a math savant; however, allow me to run these numbers by you; Bangor ME, population 58,000, school budget 41.7 million (down 1.4% from last year); Brunswick ME, population 17,000 (varies 15,000-20,000 depending on source), school budget 34 million (requiring a tax increase).

    So, my question is how does Bangor, who rates extremely high nationally on quality of education manage with more than double our population and only 7 million more dollars in their budget. Or, to rephrase that; why does Brunswick require 34 million dollars to run their school department with only half the population of Bangor?

    ReplyDelete
  3. The generally accepted answer to such cynical and unfair questions is "because we care more."

    ReplyDelete