Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Only 6%? Doesn’t Brunswick care about the children?


(Ed. Note:  Since LT Ben Dover authored the first installment in this series, for continuity purposes we’ve decided to let him probe to get to the bottom of the story.)

Other Side has often amused itself by reading the green tea leaves to discern what’s about to happen in the Town of Perfect, the richest little town in America.  But it doesn’t take more than modest attention to the facts and the news to do so, coupled with the sort of ‘critical thinking’ skills the elites at Bowdoin College claim to specialize in.  If you know us, you know just how critical our thinking can be.

The truth is that we at Other Side would just as soon we were wrong, and that our prognostications were wildly exaggerated.  Sadly, from what we know right now, they aren’t.  It’s time to get out your personal budget worksheet, and make sure you’re ready to escalate your property tax payments generously.

Why?  Read this article for starters.  And then read this recent budget presentation by the School Department.

The Forecaster article can be read as the ‘first shoe dropping.’  How many more shoes will drop before this all plays out?  Let’s see; the school super certainly plans on at least one more giant clippety-clop.  Then we have nine town councilors times two, and nine school board members times two.  That’s at least 37 more.

Without even thinking about the editors (if you can call them that) at The Ostrich, the schoolies, and especially the groupies at Brunswick Community United. Town Councilor Benet Pols deserves special mention, because he often sides with the spend more, spend lots more crowd on his blog.

In our most recent check, all of the above are strangely silent on the budget growth, borrowing, and tax increase issues.  This could cause you to accept that our assessment of their strategy, as described here, is right on the mark.  That’s for you to decide.

As we read the cited article, we took note that

Perzanoski also proposed several reductions to the budget, including moving some costs, like the razing of the defunct Jordan Acres Elementary School and moving the bus garage, to the town's capital improvement budget.

So if nothing else, it looks like tearing down Jordan Acres is now a given.  And it’s clear the school establishment is heading smartly towards tearing down the other existing assets as well.  With the help, of course, of ‘professional advice.’

Other Side has asked, more than once, who was getting fired for letting Jordan Acres collapse under the snow load, and allowing the other schools to deteriorate so badly.  (Or are broken toilets the standard of care in our school system?)

Now Side staff is coming to understand just how misguided these questions have been.  Because in the grander scheme of things, we can see that those responsible were enablers of the grand administration plan.  Rather than get fired, they’ve probably received bonuses.  Their ‘benign neglect,’ or whatever else you wish to call it, has provided the preconditions and the impetus for whipping the public into a ‘tear ‘em down and replace ‘em’ frenzy.  A compelling case was needed, and the public servants in charge of the physical assets willingly provided it.

Still, in keeping with our theory, the article cited completely ignores the renovation iceberg in our path.

The School Superintendent is proposing a budget that is $2.1 million higher than the current school year’s.  In round numbers, it’s $35.6 million, compared to $33.5 million for the year coming to an end.

While we don’t yet have the April ‘13 enrolment figures submitted to the Maine DOE.  But if recent trends continue, it will be in the range of 2,300, compared to 2,414 a year ago, a decline of nearly 5%.  This would escalate the spending per student for the coming year to $15,500, as compared to $14,300 from the figures of a year ago.  That’s an 8% year over year increase, and that does not include any of the renovation plans or other capital expenses.

These figures are well above the statewide average, and Maine’s average is well above national figures.  So whining about how little we spend, and signs demanding that we “Imagine and Invest” might best be viewed as propaganda from the professional and semi-professional demagogues who haunt our civic discourse.

You might notice that the Superintendent is renting his garments over the loss of 18 students to the new Charter School in Harpswell.  While it remains to be seen whether the forces of the teachers union (MEA) can manage to have the place shut down before it ever opens, you’d think the School Board would be doing some soul-searching to ask why these students would prefer to attend that school over Brunswick’s.

No matter, the loss should be viewed as a financial boon to Brunswick.  We’re going to spend more than $15,000 per student year, but we only have to send about $11,000 per student to the new school.  Sounds like a net plus to us for BSD, unless you use school administration math.

Adding to the confusion is a report that only 15 of the projected 18 Harpswell students from Brunswick are currently in our school system; the other 3 are home-schooled.

Now we see a report that the School Board has voted for a budget higher than the Superintendent originally proposed.  You can read about it here.  And when you do, try to keep your head from spinning around as you read the words of the usual suspects, who try to convince us that up is down and black is white.  There go 14 more of those shoes we told you about.  Note the subtle passing around of the black hat, almost always worn by the big guy in the room.  More diversions, just like ignoring the renovation bill.

The Board Chair’s statement is particularly non-sensical, and numbers guy Rich Ellis recited his lines perfectly.  And we trust these people with the keys to our children’s education?

2.1 million budget increase?  Without any consideration for revenue losses, capital projects, etc, that’s a 7% increase in your property taxes right there.  And you thought we were nuts when we mentioned a 25% increase being within our grasp?

And don’t forget the police station!  And the McClellan building!  And College Street!  And let’s see; what else?

Reminds us of an old jingle….’and away go troubles, down the drain.’  Unless the drain is broken, that is.

But look on the bright side;  you know you can count on the Town Council to put on their hard hats and lead from the corner.


So how’s your budget looking now?  You know we’re all being counted on to boost the local economy by opening up our wallets; it’s time for us to spread our “wealth” around. 

The President says so.  Our town leaders say so. 

How can you resist?

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