Saturday, November 7, 2009

Are the Free Money Trees "Evergreen" or Not?

In the last few weeks I've come across these passages in the local press:

The survey asks two questions: First, whether the Brunswick School Department should develop programs for 4-year-old students, given that state government will reimburse the district for each 4-year-old student at the same rate as students in kindergarten through grade 12.

That report appeared on October 27th in the local daily newspaper.

The following appeared in the latest edition of the Forecaster, with the headline "Brunswick School Department braces for state aid curtailment:"

The School Department anticipates it will have (to) slash approximately $664,000 from its budget to cope with an expected state aid curtailment.
Perzanoski said the local cut is 1.4 times last year's curtailment of more than $474,000. He said he is confident Brunswick can absorb another cut by continuing a freeze on nonessential purchases.

Do you see something wrong with this picture????

Does it seem logical that the School Department should consider expanding its programs because of free money from the state at the same time it's bracing for a further reduction in state general purpose aid to education? When there is nothing on the horizon to suggest that state revenues and aid transfers will increase, let alone return to prior levels, or as this scenario implies, even higher amounts?

Do School officials know something about the laws of economics that the rest of us don't?

Consideration of "programs for 4-year-olds" brings back a bad memory for this reporter. In the midst of budget hearings some years back, an earnest young lady rose to speak, and in a tone just short of demanding, said the town should provide day care services, because she was new in the area, and was having trouble finding suitable arrangements.

This was one of those eye-openers for me. Many times before I'd heard our Town Manager and School Super relate that "people are demanding more services," without ever saying who it was and what they wanted. It was more along the lines of those classic budget rationales that can't be refuted, as exemplified by "costs beyond our control," or "it's the state's fault."

I had not heretofore witnessed a resident so confidently asserting that town government (taxpayers, to be more precise) had an obligation to provide whatever services she desired, regardless of the cost or the charter authority to do so.

It was then I realized how we've reached the point of unsustainable growth in government at all levels, with a fiscal death spiral close behind. As I heard someone say a few years back, we've gone from "give me liberty or death" to "give me liberty" to "give me."

This seemingly competent lady was convinced that the rest of the people at the hearing, and the thousands who weren't, should simply fork it over to give her what she wants. I came to see this as the hidden meaning behind the word "community" more often than not.

While the current discussion does not broach "day care", how far behind can it be? More and more, parents want to turn their children over to someone else to worry about, and the education bureaucracy welcomes the opportunity to shape young minds to their wills while justifying more jobs and more funding.

Especially in circumstances like ours. We've known for 4 years or so that base closure would reduce our student population by 20%, aside from other demographic effects. At least according to those high-priced consultants we pay well to discern such things. The numbers I mention were published in several of their works, and in School Department briefings to the council.

Not that long ago, we had half day kindergarten in our system. Now we're going to all day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. And looking at pre-school as a School Department function.

Yippee! I can hear parents around town thinking about how much they'll save on baby-sitters and other child care arrangements, unconcerned about turning over more and more of their child's development in the most formative years to government schools and their largely unknown curriculums.

What a perfect match this is for the dilemma our teachers' union is facing - a precipitous 20% decline in enrollment, and demographics that point to a long term slide in school-age population. One might reasonably have expected a significant staff reduction as a result.

If one was cynical, one might project that there will be no reduction, and might, if you can believe it, be an increase required. If the number of students are declining, why not require that they spend an extra two years or so in the system? That should keep staffing demands robust, right?

Where there's a will, an inattentive citizenry, and a town council fearful of opposing the schoolies, there's always a way.

Hopefully the Governor and the Legislature can make regular fertilizer applications to the Free Money Trees to keep them producing. I know there's plenty of fertilizer in Augusta, but the demand is big and getting bigger by the day.

Gosh; maybe those Class A Bio-solids rejected by our town can find a productive use on the statehouse grounds.

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