Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kurtain Time in Kabuki Korners!

Subscribers who’ve been with Side since our founding, and who have kept their accounts paid up and in good standing, know that last year at this time we published two items regarding the town budget drama that have achieved legendary status.  We’re even considering having them turned into a mural, if we could just find a good place to hang it.  Perhaps as a “1% for art” item in one of the halls of Harriet’s nightmare; do you like it?

If you were wise enough to purchase original signed versions of those essays, you now have valuable collectors items in your possession; we advise you to keep them in a secure storage location.  They may not appreciate a great deal more in monetary value, but your appreciation of them will continue to multiply over and over.

For those who did not ‘invest’ when they were first released, we provide the links necessary to enjoy them in retrospect:

If you’d like to purchase your own signed copies now, we can still arrange that; contact us privately at the numbers provided on our masthead.

Now that we’ve reviewed our glorious past, it’s time to move on to our inglorious present.  As W. C. Fields said, “there comes a time  when you’ve got to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.”

And the situation is this:

  • The School Superintendent has backed the School Board into a corner. Body parts must be sacrificed; it’s just a matter of which ones they want to cut off.  Taxes will still go up.
  • The Teachers’ Union is backing the School Board and the School Superintendent into a corner.  They will get what they want, as soon as they can figure out how much more they’ll need based on the new administration’s plans, plus making up for the deferral in the current year.  Taxes will go up.
  • The School Department is backing the Town Council into a corner.  More of the body parts scenario; which should we cut off?  Complete absence of guidelines or other constraints handed down.  Guess who will be the baddies in any scenario? Taxes will still go up.
  • The Town Council is about to back town residents and taxpayers into a corner.   Don’t you care about the children?  So what if you find yourself less well off than in prior years; even The Ostrich can’t pay their taxes.  So what; the teachers deserve to have their performance rewarded, even though we have no measures of their performance.  You can just hear the Council saying:

“Oh, no! Don’t send in the blubbering kids and the schmaltzy parents!  Please; we’ll do anything to avoid that!  Just tell us where to sign! Quick!” 

“Damned if we’re going to wear the black hats in this one!  So what if we do have the job of approving the school budget and the total budget and setting the property tax rate every year; it doesn’t mean we have to be mean.”

Taxes will still go up.

As usual, taxpayers will be left with a ‘choice:’ shut up and pay the predatory, adjustable rate property tax assessed against your property, or face the long arm of the law.  The budget will be balanced on “the backs of the taxpayers,” to borrow a popular image of our day. 

In other words, the raises granted to the teachers, and the increased costs of their benefits, fall on you.  It’s kind of a “friends of Albert” scenario.  Nothing personal, it’s just business.  So stop your whining.

Nothing new here; it’s the same old story.  Lots of ‘trite’ sayings come to mind - “failure to plan leads to a plan to fail,” etc.  And we certainly don’t want to bore you with proven and well-known elements of effective leadership.  Where would be the value in that?

Which leaves us, then, with a quandary or ten or twenty:

Questions for the School Board & Superintendent:

  • Where is the stepping up and taking responsibility for multi-year planning, including revenue and expense forecasting?
  • Where is the recognition that base closure and loss of Durham students have been known about for years?
  • Where is the admission that loss of Navy dependents is a fiscal blessing, since federal funds paid for only a very small portion of actual costs to educate those students?
  • How much more would the school department demand if 800 new students showed up?  Why don’t we see the giveback when it goes the other way?
  • Where is the laying down of budget guidelines before preparation and negotiations begin, to set a framework and boundary conditions, rather than allowing ‘circumstances beyond our control’ to set the agenda, instead of those responsible for oversight and management of the enterprise?
  • Where is the admission that “for the children” always translates to “for the teachers?”
  • Where is the emphasis on merit and measurable performance?
  • Where is the guarding of taxpayer interests?
  • Where, in so many words, is the recognition of economic and leadership reality?

Questions for the Town Council:

  • Where is the demand for multi-year planning and visibility, including revenue and expense forecasting, with school figures factored in?
  • Where is direction to the School Department/School Board to provide such inputs?
  • Where is the forward look at expenses and revenues that will accrue with Navy departure from the base and it’s control?
  • Where are the guidelines to the School Board on budget submission, months before they begin their preparation process?
  • Where is the admission that since you have responsibility to approve the School Budget total, and the Town Budget total, and to set the tax rate, that you have implicit and explicit responsibility for the School Budget bottom line?
  • Where is the recognition of economic and leadership reality?

Questions for Brunswick Citizens:

  • What are you doing to compel your School Board and Town Council to step up and take responsibility and accountability for their official obligations, and exercise all due diligence in planning and leadership of the Brunswick town enterprise?
  • When will you insist that they behave as if they are driving the town bus, rather than standing in front of it and hoping they don’t get run over?
  • When will you acknowledge, and require elected official recognition of, economic and leadership reality, and their duties to be stewards of the town enterprise and your stake in it?
  • When will you demand that a target be identified before the aiming starts?

That should be enough to keep the ‘interested student’ busy, but in case it’s not, here’s some more to do, including a repeat or two:

So that’s the news from Kabuki Korners.  Better tighten up that obi of yours a couple of notches. 

And while you’re at it, sharpen your front teeth so you can try to gnaw your way through the walls of your korner.  I don’t think it will work, but it’s your only choice, from what we can tell.

No, wait; I simply can’t stop here; I’ve got to run this again, until it is seared in the mind of every reader: 

“When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”  Albert Shanker - President of the United Federation of Teachers [1964-1984] & the American Federation of Teachers [1974-1997]

KKFN!  (That’s ka-ka for now!)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Footnote to “Government schools and budgets…”

We posted this item just yesterday:

It contained this passage:

Those levels of compensation help explain why per-pupil school costs have risen substantially over the past 50 years. In 1960-61, public schools spent $2,769 per student, a figure that now totals over $10,000 in real, inflation-adjusted dollars.

Let me give you a frame of reference for the Brunswick School Department: for the current school year, per student spending is in the $13,000 range, and the budget proposals on the table are heading for $14,000 per student.

I know, I know, Maine is different, and Brunswick is really different.

You got that right, Pilgrim.  And the numbers  prove it.

Just for grins….

The Brunswick School Department has mounted a well organized publicity campaign in support of their budget woes and proposals, utilizing all forms of media: print, TV, and radio.  It’s almost as if they’re paying someone to work the PR gig.

We’ll respond to the print portion of their campaign in a day or two.  As for the broadcast TV and radio content that ran this week, we took a slightly different approach.

We contacted the TV and radio stations to request a chance to provide a fact based counterpoint to the stories they ran.  It’s only been half a day or so since we did, and we haven’t heard back yet.

That’s OK….media news coverage prides itself on not reacting too quickly, so we shouldn’t concern ourselves just yet.

But as the old CW song goes, ‘when the phone don’t ring, I’ll know it’s you.’

Nothing to see here; just Bowdoin being Bowdoin

Move along now, please, folks…

I don’t think anything in the reference I’m about to pass along will come as a surprise to those who are even minimally aware of today’s culture and the part the esteemed Ivory Towers of “higher education” play in it.

Still, it’s good to be reminded from time to time just what it is that takes place right before our very eyes, so we can ponder what the effects have been, and more importantly, what the longer range consequences will be.

The cited material won’t take you long to read, unless you decide to read the comments posted in response, which I heartily recommend you do.

Here’s the gist of the item:

Do Bowdoin alumni know their alma mater offers not one history course in American political, military, diplomatic, constitutional, or intellectual history, and nothing at all on the American Founding or the Constitution; that the one Civil War course is essentially African-American history (it is offered also in Africana Studies); and that there are more courses on gay and lesbian subjects than on American history?

You can read the entire item here: U.S. History as Taught at Bowdoin (Ugh).

Here at Side,  we can only ask in dismay how we can expect our ‘brightest’ to understand and protect the great American experiment and what it has done for us and the world if they have no grounding in it?  How can they have any respect for the founding, those who committed their lives and fortunes to make it happen, and the incredible set of principles embodied in the founding documents?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thoughts from a rainy day…

Ok, cut me some slack here.  Yesterday was a rainy day, and these thoughts were ‘percolatin’ in what is left of my mind.  I had intended to post them last night, but by the time Boo-Boo got up on my lap as I reclined in the Lazy-Boy, it was manana, manana.

So, I’m a day late and five dollars short (adjusted for inflation.)  Send me a day, and send me five dollars, and all will be forgotten.

Never say never; never, ever say never….

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m beginning to get nostalgic for Jim Ashe.

Even when he was at the peak of his demagogic skills, and public adulation of him was at an all time high, I doubt even he would have had the stones and the arrogance to propose a 12% or $3 million budget increase in the face of a 25% decline in student enrollment in the last 5 years; nor would he have proposed closing the 3rd of four established elementary schools as an emotional lever in the budget wars, or proposed ending bus transport for the high school population.

Think about it: a 25% plus budget increase in five years combined with a 25% loss in student population over the same period.  You’ve got to have some brass cajones to step forward with that proposal, and a pliable and obsequious school board backing you up, or even more likely, saying ‘yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.’

I can hear that wispy, avuncular voice of Jim Ashe’s as I type, melting the hearts and minds of the town council and all within earshot as he spewed the “costs beyond our control” and “for the children” rhetoric of his day.  But I just can’t see him taking it this far.  At least at the moment.

But I can imagine his successor drifting into the “it was like this when I got here” story line, and blaming the current budget woes on “the previous administration.”

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a very popular approach these days.

A “Capital” idea….

In retrospect, we are inspired by the recent town council agenda item that read as follows:

Curtis Memorial Library

Suggested motion:
Motion to request from the Library a schedule of anticipated needs for the next five years to be incorporated into the CIP.

A day late, ten dollars short applies again, we suppose.

We have no doubt that the Town Manager had a hand in this ‘suggestion,’ with the tacit approval of his elected overseers.  We also note, with appropriate chagrin, that said same Manager failed to contact us here at Side to ask if we have any needs that should be incorporated in the CIP for the next five years.

It just doesn’t seem fair.  Whatever the hell ‘fair’ means.

So here’s one idea for the next council meeting agenda, just for grins:

Public Works

Suggested motion:

Motion to propose expansion of Public Works facilities to provide for free maintenance of senior citizen transportation vehicles, and to provide operating funds to sustain the operation, with no increase in property tax rate.

Alright, it’s not much, but given more time, we could come up with far more “community minded” proposals that fit into the “common good” category.

If town residents are seen as deserving of support from the public treasury to provide free books, and magazines, and newspapers, and CDs/DVDs, and even computers, why shouldn’t the same residents, especially those in their senior years, be deserving of support from the public treasury to maintain their dignity and independence through well cared for personal means of transportation?

Your correspondent is in “the senior years,” and would not dream of placing the burden for his vehicle maintenance upon the general public.  You can trust us on this; we’re not like the others.

At least any more than those who think placing the burden for their reading material on the public is copacetic.

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Government schools and budgets and how to fix them; and it’s ‘right before our eyes.’

In the context of the massive publicity barrage (print, TV, radio) associated with the pending Brunswick School Budget, I thought it might be refreshing for Side subscribers to read a recent thought piece on the state of our government school system.

The article is entitled “To Surly, With Love: Are Teachers Overpaid?”  You can find it here. 

We’ve commented on this subject in the past, quoting local education gurus.  This particular article is very straightforward in addressing the subject, and it is rich with hyperlink references to the government sources for the argument it forwards.

Emotional schoolies will get the vapors when they read it, and make all sorts of claims about how the article “misses the point,” or “doesn’t ask the right questions,” or “But you don’t understand; Brunswick is different,” or any of the other classic diversions and distractions.  But the same schoolies will have a real challenge refuting the facts presented.  It should be fun to watch.

Here’s a couple of teasers to get you to read the very brief but powerful article:

Those levels of compensation help explain why per-pupil school costs have risen substantially over the past 50 years. In 1960-61, public schools spent $2,769 per student, a figure that now totals over $10,000 in real, inflation-adjusted dollars. Among the things that threefold-plus increase in spending has purchased are more teachers per student. In 1960, the student-teacher ratio in public schools was 25.8; it's now at a historic low of 15.

But wait, it gets better:

It's little wonder that parents with little or no choice report the lowest-levels of satisfaction (about 90 percent of K-12 students attend public schools). Despite all the extra resources devoted to public school teachers and students, student achievement has been absolutely flat over the past 40 years.

As I was driving to and from Portland today, I thought of how fond public officials are of convincing us that aging public structures are “beyond repair,” and that “it would cost far more to fix it than it would to tear it down and start over with a new structure.” 

We’re seeing it happen over and over again locally as the desire for the holy grail - “community pride'” – trumps common sense and fiscal prudence.  The most visible example is the intentional process by which the Old Brunswick High School was allowed to decay and crumble. If you follow the news, you can see glimpses of the same management inattention in our other structures.

And then it hit me: the Old High School is the perfect metaphor for the government education “structure” or “system,” if you prefer.


It is beyond repair, to put it bluntly.  There is only one option that makes sense at this point, to borrow a much beloved principle of our elected “leaders.”


The existing government education “structure'” must be completely torn down, and replaced with a totally new structure.

Who’d have thought that it would come to this – that I would be thanking the schoolies and the education bureaucracy for showing us how to fix the mess we find ourselves in, and that no amount of money can spend us out of.

Perhaps not in the way they might have intended, but it’s brilliant just the same, and we should thank them for educating us.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Soap Police, part deux

Proof, yet again, that you can’t make stuff up this good….

About two years ago, satirist P. J. O’Rourke wrote these words in The Weekly Standard:

The next great government crusade will be against soap. The president will appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission, which will determine that soap releases polluting grime into the ecosystem, leads to aquifer depletion, and contains fatty acids that laboratory studies have shown to be acidic and not fat-free . . .

Fat chance, we suppose everyone said.

Yeah, right.  Several months ago, in The Soap Police, part une, we reported on an article telling you how those who would save us are protecting us from dishwasher detergent that actually works.

Now word comes that similarly minded busy-bodies in government and the environmental non-profit industrial complex are out to protect us from anti-bacterial hand soap.  The active ingredient in these soaps, triclosan, is not hazardous to humans, says the FDA.  So what.

While Reps. Ed Markey and Louise Slaughter are leading the charge against hand soap in Congress, the Natural Resources Defense Council is trying to make an end run in the courts by suing the Food and Drug Administration.

You can read the brief report in it’s entirety here.

The government “helpers” and their nannies are really cleaning up, aren’t they?

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Desperation, Ostrich advertising style

“Turn up cash for Brunswick area residents”

You know things must be getting worse and worse when you see The Ostrich abandoning all sense of propriety in the advertising they put before their shriveling reader base.

In recent months, you may have seen those full page ads for “free” electric heaters (just pay for the cabinet) made by Amish craftsman, with their full beards and straw hats, working away in a barn.  I think they even appeared on the pages of ‘The O,’ as it’s known in the abbreviated language of the trendsetters around town.

Yesterday, The O carried a classic example of huckster advertising that featured all the tell-tale stylistic nuances of the Amish craftsman ad.  It was a full page spread, opposite the op-ed page.

It’s ‘customized’ to the Brunswick area, with the town name spliced in here and there, and a list of 16 qualifying zip codes beginning with 04, one of which is ours – 04011.  We’re told to call a toll free number to reach ‘Dept. ZC1328’ if we qualify, which requires that we be among the first 7,095 (excuse me?) callers to beat the ‘48 hour deadline.’

The 1/3 page photo is a real laugher: it shows 5 uniformed and armed guards rolling around sheets of $2 bills, with an arsenal of some serious weaponry off to the side.  No beards and straw hats, but all the faux authenticity of the Amish ad.

Here’s the deal.  If you ‘beat the deadline,’ you can purchase four, count ‘em, four $2 bills, uncut and never circulated, in a lovely vinyl ‘bankers portfolio,’ with certificate, of course, for $48 plus shipping.  If you’re really qualified, you can get the ‘Vault Stack’ of three portfolios, or a total of twelve $2 dollar bills, for $144 plus shipping.  But wait!!!!  You’ll be allowed to claim as many as 10 Vault Stacks!  Get the smelling salts, Stella!

This ‘rare and limited’ offer is ‘being released’ by “The World Reserve” to Brunswick area residents.  The ad says “it’s impossible to predict how much the bills will be in the future.”  It’s also impossible to find any proof that these bills are US Treasury currency.

In fact, just the opposite seems to be the case, since “The World Reserve Monetary Exchange” disavows affiliation with any bank or government agency.

Which leaves us with these final thoughts:

One could argue that the $144 plus shipping for a Vault Stack seems like a good deal when compared to $130 for a year’s subscription to The Ostrich.

The Ostrich apparently doesn’t much care whether or not elderly folks and others easily impressed by such garbage throw money down the rat hole.  Caveat reader!

The ad placement, opposite the op-ed page, is most cunning; the advertiser recognizes that anyone who gobbles up the opinions offered by Ostrich editors is an easy mark for such hustles.

Instead of getting the usual full page ad rate, maybe the editors should have asked for one of those carts of $2 bills to pay off their property tax bills.  Town officials should be delighted.

On a final note, It shouldn’t be too long before the Page 1, above the fold Ostrich lead is “Charlie Sheen claims to be descendant of aliens.”  Or  “Oprah Winfrey’s love child surfaces to stake claim to fortune; wants it in Vault Stacks of $2 bills.”

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Schools and State Law: the Forrest Gump factor

Do you remember that scene in the movie Forrest Gump where he says “Mama says, life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get?”

Sometimes other things are like that box of chocolates.  For instance, take Maine state law.  We happened to be looking for specifics relevant to Nancy’s comment on the prior post, in which she stated:

Please remember that negotiations are - by law - confidential. Therefore, until the contract has been ratified by both the employer and the employees (union members eligible to vote), the details are typically not made public or discussed publicly. You may disagree with this way of doing business, but it is perfectly legal.

As we did so, we happened to come across this particular statutory language:




§1221. Teaching of virtue and morality

Instructors of youth in public or private institutions shall use their best endeavors to impress on the minds of the children and youth committed to their care and instruction the principles of morality and justice and a sacred regard for truth; love of country, humanity and a universal benevolence; the great principles of humanity as illustrated by kindness to birds and animals and regard for all factors which contribute to the well-being of man; industry and frugality; chastity, moderation and temperance; and all other virtues which ornament human society; and to lead those under their care, as their ages and capacities admit, into a particular understanding of the tendency of such virtues to preserve and perfect a republican constitution, secure the blessings of liberty and to promote their future happiness. [1983, c. 767, §1 (AMD).]

(The emphasis added is ours)

Once again, and we jest not, you could have knocked us over with an ostrich feather.  Shocked does not begin to describe our reaction, given the public discourse on government schools in recent decades.  We find it hard to imagine that School Department authorities are even aware of this language, let alone complying with it. 

Truth be told, we have come to believe they could very well be trying their best to do the exact opposite of what the statute requires, whether individually or collectively.  Uncharitable view, you might say, but we’re trying our best to live up to the low expectations the Board Chair has of us.

We would appreciate hearing from those who currently have children in our schools, or have had them there in recent years, as to your experiences vis-a-vis the above educational mandate.

Since we haven’t had children in school for more than 20 years, and that was elsewhere, we’ll have to do our own follow-up by other means.  And you can count on us to report on what we find.

As to the comment from Nancy on contract negotiations, we discovered that she was not entirely accurate.  Negotiations are not, by law, confidential.  The best reference to the issue we can find is located here in sub-paragraph 6D, which reads as follows:

Discussion of labor contracts and proposals and meetings between a public agency and its negotiators. The parties must be named before the body or agency may go into executive session. Negotiations between the representatives of a public employer and public employees may be open to the public if both parties agree to conduct negotiations in open sessions; [1999, c. 144, §1 (RPR).]

While it may be a subtle distinction, negotiations are not, repeat not required to be confidential.  Either party may choose to keep them confidential.  And since it only takes either the School Department/Board or the teachers’ union to so decide, there is virtually no chance for transparency.

You can try to decide whether one or the other wants to make the negotiations open to the public, but can’t get the other to agree. 

I believe that’s what you call ‘a fools errand.’


Sunday, April 3, 2011

School Board: Mea messa uppa culpa

Regular followers of Side, and even some who don’t willingly visit for our thoughts, know that we have written about lack of responsiveness from School Board leadership, most recently in this post.

In that item, we chided School Board leadership for not responding to repeated messages asking simple questions about contract negotiations and enrolment projections for the new school on McKeen.

We directed our messages, we thought, to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the School Board.  It turns out we made two real bonehead errors in posting those messages.  First, we were mistaken about who the Chair is.  Second, we had an erroneous email address for the Vice Chair.

We’re flummoxed as to how this happened, since we clearly recall pulling the information from the School Department web site; we have no other source for such information.   We will point out, for the record, that the board member wrongly addressed as Chair did not bother to respond to tell us of our errors, which would have been helpful, and perhaps avoided the subsequent misunderstandings. 

No matter, we got the facts wrong, and we apologize to readers and the School Board members for that.

We discovered our transgressions when the actual Board Chair contacted us on 29 March, asking that she not be scolded for not responding, and asking that we issue her an apology.  We corrected our records accordingly.

We explained our frustration over the errors, and the Chair asserted that our explanation did not hold water, because the web page could not have been the problem:

I know this to be a fact because I check the website immediately after taking the Chair position.

She proceeded to take us to task:

And I do take great offense because you seem to pride yourself on looking at the facts, so please take greater care in the future.

P.S. I still would appreciate a public apology on your blog since I have did nothing to deserve your comments.

In a subsequent message, the Chair commented further, regarding the teachers’ contract process:

The 3 person negotiations committee is currently finalizing a time to meet next week with the Superintendent.  At this time I have no idea what direction those negotiations will head, and will not speculate either.  (emphasis ours)

And on enrolment:

As for student enrollment at the new elementary school in September, I do not have the exact number in front of me, but believe it is around 525 students.

And then another stroke of the lash:

As for your apology, some how I am not surprised that you were not willing to admit publically that you were wrong.  You like to express yourself in ways that rarely allow people to challenge your "facts", and now that I have challenged you, I serious doubt you will own up to your error.  (emphasis ours)

We’re puzzled by the comment about rarely allowing people to challenge our facts; we simply can’t fathom what that refers to.  The Chair, and anyone else who visits here, are welcome to post comments, anonymously if they wish.  For that matter, one could submit a guest post if they are so moved, and as long as it was within reasonable bounds, we would gladly publish it.

The Chair wrote one more time in response to a message from us:

As I predicted - you took little or no responsibility for your error.

She then added:

As for your blog, someone told me about it.  Until yesterday I had never been on, nor plan to again in the future.

Oh, the cruel slings and arrows one must suffer in the service of one’s loyal readers.  We’ll get over it, even if permanent scars result.  The sad truth is that the last statement means the Chair will not read of our taking full responsibility for our errors and flaws, even though she demanded we do so.

Which makes our humiliation even more profound, and precludes any possibility of redemption in the eyes of our officials.

We’d like to point out that the Vice Chair, once we corrected his email address, promptly replied with the same info on contract negotiations, and then added that the projected enrolment for Stowe School is 490.

We’ll leave you with these two conclusions, which are open to challenge from those in charge:

1) If you thought the School Board would play a leadership role in protecting our interests in teacher negotiations, and more specifically, to be laying out an opening position on our behalf, it appears you’d be wrong.  Which should come as a surprise to no one.

2) To the best of our memory, the Stowe school concept began with an enrolment plan of 750.  That was reduced to 600, as best we can recall, when the Department of Education was formally challenged on their projections (consultant provided, of course.)

The estimate provided above is less than 2/3 the original plan, and nearly 20% less than the current design scope.

Could you imagine how much larger the school would have been if they had gone with the 750 number?  The mind boggles, and the Colossus trembles.

We are convinced, however, that the excess capacity will soon be found useful for “exciting new plans.”

We can’t wait, and we know you can’t either.

Now, to paraphrase Jimmy Durante, Goodnight, Mrs. Chair, wherever you are.  And remember, if you want to show you are bigger than us in the matters of the moment, our pages are open to you.


Brunswick School Board/Department breaks new ground

(Politically, that is, until such time as they can move on to their next construction project.)

In the process of putzing around on the Brunswick School Department web site, driven by the need to atone for our prior transgressions, we ran across some interesting things.

First, the School Board has established a Political Action and Media Committee.  That’s a title fraught with all sorts of possibilities, especially considering the local “media” outlet.  When it comes to School Department reporting, Ostrich demeanor could best be described as fawning and lap-dog like.

The Committee had its first meeting this past week.  It remains to be seen just where their intentions will lead.  It’s probably too late in this budget cycle to propose hiring a political and media consultant, but it shouldn’t be too long before the need arises.

We also discovered that there is now an Affirmative Action Committee.  Traditionally, we’ve come to expect Affirmative Action policy to justify, and even more, demand unequal treatment under the law in admissions to higher education establishments.

Unless something has changed, we don’t think admissions policy is a relevant topic in Brunswick Schools, though we understand parents can become quite testy when it comes to assigning their children to elementary schools.

Generally speaking, ‘Affirmative Action’ isn’t a high profile issue in Maine overall.  It may be, however, what it will take to infuse some token conservative presence and thinking into the government schools context.

Here’s another thought: perhaps affirmative action is called for to deal with making college bound kids college ready when they graduate from the Brunswick system.  Lack of college readiness is a well established problem across the nation.  In many cases, the first year of college is lost in correcting this shortfall.

Friday’s Ostrich contained this thought from the Chancellor of the University of Maine System:

Looking ahead, Pattenaude cites a need to reduce the number of incoming students needing remediation in order to take college courses.

The foregoing developments provide perfect subject matter for the Political Action and Media Committee to publicize. Surely the taxpaying public should know just what it is these bodies are intended to accomplish.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Making things perfect in the town of Perfect

In keeping with the booming local economy, our increasingly youthful demographics, and the adjustable tax rate protocol under which we subjects live here in Brunswick, town officials have decided to hold a meeting, and a special meeting at that.  They will take up expanding the possibilities for facility expenditures and construction, and apparently, for discarding current facilities that are an embarrassment to those among us with more refined sensibilities. 

We all know that town facilities reflect upon each one of us as individuals, and we must take care to protect our images.  That’s why I never drive by Jordan Acres School, for example.  I simply can’t bare the embarrassment of my association with it.

The possibilities to be discussed are seemingly endless.  Surely we can’t take being second to the hicks across the green bridge when it comes to facility spending for much longer, and we’ve got to show the schoolies they aren’t the only ones who can go off on a construction tear.

The special meeting will be held this Monday the 4th at 6 pm in the temporary meeting facility at Maine Street Station.  You can find the complete details here:

Apparently, no provision for public comment is being made.  This is a ‘sit down and listen’ meeting for us.

The first agenda item shows the scope of the planning being undertaken:

The Town Council will hear a report on municipal facilities’ needs, and will take any appropriate action (Manager)

 Longfellow School – McLellan building
 Police Station
 Former Times Record building
 Shooting range facility at NASB
 Recreation Field House at NASB
 Recreation Facility on Federal Street
 Central Fire Station
 Public Works Facilities
 Curtis Memorial Library
 Parking Facility

You can read the associated suggested motions in each case by going to the link provided.

For now, a few brief observations seem in order.

  • First, Brunswick’s preferred approach is to discard and do something else.  Think Maine Street Town Hall, Old High School, Former Times Record building, Longfellow and Hawthorne Schools.  In the case of the Times Record facility, it looks like we’re just gonna ‘write it off,’ as discussed here.
  • It now appears that the two Federal Street facilities are on the list for superseding and abandonment.
  • From all indications, the current Town Hall, which holds both the Police and Municipal staff, will be replaced by facilities which give the Police about 5 times the area they currently have, and the Municipal staff a similarly generous area in which to expand the size of local government.  (Compare the McClellan building to the current Town Staff offices.)
  • The Library, which I thought was an independent operation, is being solicited to provide requests for municipal capital funding over the next five years.  If you were them, what would you say?  This is equivalent to asking your kids how much they’d like for their allowance. The bookies, I am confident, will declare major deferred maintenance needs, and in all likelihood, the need for an East Brunswick annex, and a multi-story parking building where the current lot now stands. 
  • Public Works facilities are in the mix, though no suggested motion is provided in the agenda.  You’d think that if anyone was going to maintain what they have in good repair, it would be Public Works.  Admittedly, there’s no ‘community’ self-esteem involved here like there is in other more visible facilities.
  • Apparently, a parking facility at Maine Street Station might not cost us anything, to borrow a common theme, because federal grants could be available.  Here’s another idea: how about having the developer pay for it, since he apparently did not take parking into account in his planning.  OK; bad idea.  Taxpayers are always expected to pick up the slack.

Two things seem apparent when taking this all in.

The first is that in a municipal setting, the rule of thumb is to defer maintenance on public facilities (for the most part) so that they decline sufficiently to make new construction seem like the only viable course of action.  A well known advocate for Brunswick addressed such issues in a recent  published item:

Buildings need institutionalized advocates. A historical society is different from a preservation society. Brunswick suffers for want of an established preservation group.

(When it comes to schools, it should be obvious to all that the demands of the teachers’ union will always come before stewardship of public assets.)

The second is that the pernicious nature of the adjustable rate property tax eliminates any obligation for fiscal prudence on the part of town officials.  The concept of ‘living within your means’ is irrelevant, since ‘your means’ can be adjusted at will with a single vote of the council.  And it can happen because as few as a half dozen squeaky wheels complain about the loss of tubas in the school band or finger painting in first grade.

In the home financing domain, such a relationship is called predatory.  In a government setting, addiction seems like a more realistic view.  OPM (other people’s money) is the substance that leads to such behaviors.  It even allows prior claims of “we got the message” to be forgotten virtually overnight.

Funny, O-P-M, rolling off the tongue, sounds vaguely addictive.  So we’re seeing the results we might reasonably expect.

I suppose most will say we should cool our heels until we see what transpires.  As for me, I see all the telltale signs of the ‘we can get all the money we need in the next few years’ approach to fiscal planning.

By the way, have you noticed how shabby BJHS, Coffin, and Jordan Acres are beginning to look?  I wonder why. When are we going to do something about it?