Saturday, May 28, 2011

“Reaching out” to The Ostrich..

As we related some weeks ago, The Ostrich declined to extend us credit on our subscription billing, which we had asked them to do as a quid pro quo for us, the taxpayers, extending them credit on their property tax accounts.

Well, actually, they didn’t ‘decline’ to do so; they just didn’t respond to our request at all, which we went out on a limb on and took as a decline.  We had hoped they would ‘be bigger than us,’ given their frequent pontifications about community, fairness, social justice, etc.

All for naught.  Which gave us a chance to demonstrate what we mean by being the ‘bigger’ party in such affairs.  And so we have.

Since the appearance of one of our columns on their pages would boost circulation, and thus provide revenue that could resolve their tax delinquencies, we reached out in a selfless act of charity.  We recently made a donation, and while delivery has not begun again, they did have the good sense to print our work.  One giant step for Side, one small step for The Ostrich.

We’re well aware that most of you don’t see The Ostrich, so in a further act of charity, we’ll posting our effort here, on pages you can afford to read, and more important, can’t afford not to read.

Testing the ‘chain of argument’ for budgets and school excellence

Published: Friday, May 27, 2011 3:13 PM EDT

School budget theatrics over the past several weeks bring this quote to mind from Carl Sagan: “If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.”

Advocates of the proposed budget seem unfamiliar with such insight, thinking more with their hearts than their minds. Let’s examine their “chain of argument.”

Premise: “School excellence is important to the attractiveness and vitality of a community.” OK.

Asserted conclusion: “A necessary and sufficient gauge of school excellence is how much we spend on them, and how much we increase what we spend.”

Stop! The links to this conclusion don’t ‘work.’ No objective evidence was presented that spending equates to excellence. And there is plenty of evidence that other things, like teachers credentialed in their subjects and merit-based compensation do.

First link: “Brunswick’s schools are widely known as excellent; in fact, it’s one of the main reasons we moved here.”

Stop! This doesn’t work either.  No evidence was presented to support this claim, nor was any offered to prove that our teaching staff is excellent. In fact, a school board member stated that our high school is on the “failing schools list.”  Test scores over the years have been undistinguished. There is no tangible reason to believe Brunswick schools are more excellent than others except say-so and the pleadings of parents who have already placed their children in them, and who would be plagued with guilt and self-doubt if they said otherwise.

Second link: “Brunswick’s schools are ailing and at the brink of ‘utter decline’ because of ‘severe cuts’ in the budget; we’ve got to make it stop, or people won’t think well of us.”

Stop! Per-student spending has grown continually, increasing by more than 60 percent in the last seven years, and per-student property tax support has grown by about 50 percent in the last five years. In the new budget, property tax support of the schools increases by 6.3 percent, even though enrollment continues to decline. For those who moved here because of our excellent schools, when did they stop being excellent, and how could you tell?

Third link: “The best teacher we’ve ever met is being let go because of extreme cuts to the budget.”

Stop! This much-revered teacher is being let go not because of budget cuts, but because we have a union relationship that prizes seniority and high pay, while ignoring teacher competence and performance. We don’t prioritize excellence in our teaching staff on behalf of our children, and we don’t get rid of the deadwood when the time comes. We pay the worst teachers the same as the best. The loss of the “best teacher” is proof positive of a flawed accord that prioritizes union members over students. Enforced mediocrity is the result. ‘For the children?’ I don’t think so.

Fourth link: “Teachers are underpaid, and I would gladly pay them more; and I would gladly pay more in taxes.”

Stop! A year ago, I compared teacher pay to that of the top tier of town officials.  I found that in 2008-2009, 60 teachers (about one third) made more per week than the top five earners for the town: the police chief, the fire chief, the finance director, the town clerk and the public works director/town engineer. Teachers reach those pay levels without any basis in merit or performance; all that matters is years on the job. The teachers will likely get all of the $1 million in new property taxes, if not more. As to paying more in taxes: I can’t imagine any town official who would stop you from writing a check as large as you like to the town.

If you consider every act in this budget season, you begin to realize the School Department put on an elaborate piece of theater that might be called “Lamentations — The Musical,” in which they strummed the minds of the public and used the Town Council as an ensemble chorus.

They began with a 12-percent-plus increase over the current year budget, or more than $3 million higher than now proposed, ensuring that the opening acts would feature high drama, inspire great anguish and gnashing of teeth, and mobilize a sizable contingent of mothers, fathers, and children to plead with great emotion at public hearings. The plainly unreasonable opening total guaranteed everything that followed would be demagogued  as “deep and severe cuts.”

The final budget approved by the School Department made it through unscathed. The public was played to a fare-thee-well, as was the Town Council.  If they don’t realize it, perhaps it’s time to wonder whether any were uncredited script consultants in the stage production.

For these reasons and many more, I will vote “No” on the budget referendum, and I encourage you to make a stand and do the same. It’s time for reason to triumph over unfounded emotions.


Which proves, we suppose, as the schoolies are fond of saying, that ‘you get what you pay for.’

Technorati Tags: ,,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bang head against wall, Part Deux

Bang head against wall; aye, sir.  Three bowls full.

Your humble correspondent (yah, sure!), always convinced that one more tilt at the windmill (the classic literary kind) might do the trick, clip-clopped over to Council Chambers tonight.  There we gave voice to “the impossible dream” yet again, illustrating the very essence of the term ‘quixotic.’ 

You might even think of us as P. C. Poppycock de La Mancha.  (Note to those seeking a diversion – the Sancho Panza billet is currently vacant; please submit your C.V. if you have any interest.)

Herewith we present the text of our statement.  But before we do, we should add that the School Superintendent stated (after we rode away) that the Teachers’ Union has approved the contract for the coming school year.  He cited some figures to suggest that the town made out better than the teachers, and that would be an outcome that defies all the projections we’ve made. 

Rather than endorse that view here and now, we will wait until we see the contract, and then render our analysis.  If our projections turned out to be wrong, we will respond appropriately.

Now on to the text of our statement:

Just a couple of quick points:

Point 1:

If we had increased per student costs for the last 10 years by 5% each year, a generous figure, our budget for the year now ending would be $4.5 million less, which would be a reduction of at least 15% in our property taxes. Funny, that’s the figure we were promised some years back when we approved LD 1; yet, somehow, it never happened.

And the budget for the coming year would be $3.5 million lower. That would be a decrease of about 12% in our property taxes for the coming year.

Pretty soon, we’d be talking real money. We might even be able to spend some of that real money on fixing our roads, many of which are in awful shape.

Sobbing and wailing over so-called ‘budget cuts’ are staged crocodile tears, meant, when you cut to the chase, to convince us to keep increasing compensation for the teachers just because they show up for another year.

Looked at another way, if increasing per student spending by 40% in five years, with nothing to show for it, isn’t enough, just HOW MUCH would be enough??

Oh, and WHY haven’t we been told about the new contract yet???

Point 2:

The “best teacher ever” calamity, whether the parents speaking up for her realize it or not, is a superb illustration of our dysfunctional and one-sided relationship with the teachers union. Still, we deceive ourselves into believing we’re all about ‘excellence.’

Protecting and rewarding teacher mediocrity trumps school excellence and doing the very best ‘for the children.’ The interests of the students, the community, and society be damned.

We celebrate, protect, formalize, and prioritize longevity over excellence. How can excellence even enter the discussion when we have no performance or merit measures?

The “last in first out” policy when reducing staff serves only the interests of entrenched union members, not those of the children and excellent teachers.

If we were committed to excellence, like these parents want us to be, they would demand reform and fix this problem; it is why an excellent teacher gets sacrificed, while less capable ones are retained, and with an increase in pay and benefits

Until those crying excellence demand this reform, all they demonstrate is naiveté and lack of critical thinking. Instead of placing the children first, they play right into the hands of the union. And that includes, I might add, those who suggest seniors sell their houses if they don’t like their taxes going up ‘for the children,’ and for ‘school excellence.’

In the face of the foregoing, the theatrics and rhetoric we have witnessed in recent weeks is just so much agitation and propaganda. It doesn’t take much to see through it, and it would be most inspiring to see some leadership from our elected officials on these very obvious and very detrimental circumstances.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 24th: the betting line on teachers’ contract

The slow roll continues.  After last year’s bending to the budget environment then by deferring a general increase, the prediction from School Department officials was that the two year contract would be re-negotiated by January of this year.  Oops!; that didn’t happen; we wonder why.

Ho-hum.  All Brunswick School Board members who believed it would, and even worse, told local taxpayers to buy into it, have shown how vulnerable they are to teachers’ union tactics. Including the Board Chair, who wept in public over the budget ‘cuts,’ as if there was actually a cut.

The School Board, tough negotiators they are, unanimously (is there any other way?) approved the proposed contract at their meeting in early May.  They then sat in on the joint budget workshop with the Town Council on May 9th, at which not one detail of the contract was revealed, but many tears, figurative or literal, were shed by various parents, board members, and real estate agents.

Fast forward to the Council meeting on May 16th, and you have essentially the same circumstances: not a single detail of the contract disclosed, but testifiers speaking of the devastation of our school system and Brunswick’s desirability as a hometown because we weren’t increasing the budget by $3 million compared to last year.

Recent inquiries to the School Board and School Department administrators about contract status have netted the same results they always do: we have no information; it’s not under our control.  Nothing like the employees running the company, right?  Now that’s leadership!  It’s a damn good thing we have elected officials watching over things for us!

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. The longer the establishment hides the details, the more you can be sure the union will get the entire $1 million in property taxes, or perhaps even more.

And the way things are going, you can also be sure that the details will be withheld not only beyond the budget approval meeting the Council will hold this Thursday, the 26th of May, but in all likelihood, until after the June 7th referendum on the School Budget.

Why subject themselves to public exposure, which might threaten landslide approval of the school budget by one or two votes?  Far better to have the budget win approval, and then allow the local press to cover the new contract as a minor note in mid-section when nearly everyone is gone elsewhere.

‘Let me be clear’ (where have we heard that before?); we are extremely cynical about the way this entire process works, how the public is manipulated, and how officials who ought to know better and be standing up for us are neutralized.

On the bright side, we are coming to believe that there is a national consensus building that our public education system, or as I call them, government schools, are in decline, and that major reform is mandatory if the ‘American dream’ is to survive.

Here’s some casual reading to illuminate this view:

Bloomberg Businessweek

Cato post


The Failure of American Schools

Maybe you’ll ‘learn’ something if you read them.

Technorati Tags: ,,

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.’

Technorati Tags: ,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

KKKK-5: The slight of hand

“so always look for the union label….”

On the school budget and related presentations, that is.

If you saw the School Superintendent’s presentation at the joint budget workshop on May 9th, you know that it was an artful dodge, a slight of hand. 

Woe is me; we’re cutting these positions, we’re backing off on materials and maintenance, we’re closing a school, and our revenue shortfalls are catastrophic.  We’re increasing class size, and packing the new school beyond capacity.  And we expect next year to be even worse.

At least that’s how the script might have read.  But as to the single largest component of the budget, the fastest growing and most unmanageable, it was dismissed briefly as ‘work to be completed.’

Nothing to see here folks; move along please.  No details, no status, no boundaries, no principles.  No indication of how the Administration and School Board are in charge and working on our behalf.  Because they aren’t.

The entire presentation should have been about nothing but the teacher compensation package.  And how it leads to larger classes,  fewer materials and repairs, and all the other woes. It is the undeniable force, the ‘cost beyond our control,’ the elephant that no one dare challenge.

Why do I say this?  Because all the hand-wringing and tough decisions in the presentation were a description of the fiscal torture necessary to make sure the teachers’ union could get another million in compensation, all extracted from the taxpayers by compulsion, with no merit, no performance measures, or any other justification other than another year has passed.

Seen in this light, the entire process, the School Board’s unanimous vote, and the administration’s complicity all amount to nothing more than shilling for the union. If they keep it up, before you know it they may be expected to pay dues!

And teachers want us to be all verklempt because they have to buy pencils and paper?  Back up the truck; they gobble up all the money for themselves, and then complain about supplies?  All while the general populace undergoes suffering far beyond pencil and paper  levels.

Meanwhile,nothing about how our ‘officials’ are making sure that revered teachers like Mrs. Stinson, publicly praised as ‘the best kindergarten teacher ever,’ are retained, while lower performing teachers are let go, regardless of seniority.  No introspection about how painful it is to cut staff, but it’s a chance to improve staff quality overall by “getting rid of the deadwood,” as it was called in my career.

They couldn’t say that, because it would be lies, all lies.  The union has a stranglehold on employment security and pay levels, and the children, who don’t pay union dues, will just have to suck it up and deal with it.  As will the taxpayers, who, by contract, will have to pay more and more regardless of the results, because that’s what ‘fairness for working families’ means.

School excellence?  Are they serious?  Do they really want us to believe this is a model for creating excellence?  If they do, the word excellence doesn’t mean what it used to.  Imagine how good our schools could be if those in charge were motivated by excellence (in the old sense) and nothing else!

This is all taking place in the midst of ‘the great recession,’ as the media now calls it.  Yet those involved in constructing local budgets and negotiating labor contracts seem blissfully unaware of reality.  Understandably so; it can be so constraining.

Indulge me for a moment, if you will, as i review the fiscal context for our current circumstances.

The state derives the vast majority of it’s revenue from the income tax and the sales tax.  These revenues have been in decline for years, and for a very simple reason.  The populace has less of a revenue base from which to pay these taxes.

Income tax revenue is down because citizens and businesses are earning less income; it’s that simple.  Sales tax revenue is down because people are buying less and businesses are selling less, because citizens and businesses have less income to spend.

So while everyone else is forced to do with less, Brunswick property taxpayers are shamed into coughing up an extra million so the teachers can do with more.  Houses are dropping in value, some are being foreclosed on.  But if you’re a teacher, the union was able to hide those realities.

And at the same time, avoid an opportunity to raise the overall excellence of our teaching staff.  Those being terminated are the most junior and lowest paid, no matter how talented and motivated they might be.  Those being retained are the most senior and highest paid, no matter how untalented and unmotivated they might be.  So the average compensation per teacher will go up several more  notches, thank you very much

And they expect us to do it every year, no matter what else is going on.

Next time, Board and Super, don’t come to the town until you know what the increase in teacher compensation packages will be and add up to, and then make your presentation one chart: how much more we need because of the union contract.

In retrospect, nothing else matters.  “Solidarity forever,” Mrs. Stinson, until your job threatens more senior members’ raises.  Then it’s “seniority forever!” 

“Stronger together?”  Funny how that only lasts until you are an impediment.

And pencils and paper be damned.  Let them use the ones “with the union label.”

We looked again on YouTube to find something more contemporary about ‘the union label.’  The item below is the best we could find.  Enjoy.

And good luck and Godspeed Mrs. Stinson, no matter where your excellence may take you.

Closing note: if you think I’m ticked off about things as they’ve rolled out this year, Bingo!  From where we look at things, the greatest impediment to ‘school excellence’ is the teachers’ union, because their highest priority is protecting the worst first, making sure that performance and merit are irrelevant to employment, retention, and compensation; and squeezing as many dollars as they can out of local taxpayers.  Even those who should sell their houses and move so the union can have its tribute.

As always, those who disagree have full access to this outlet, as long as they adhere to our very low standards.

KKKK-4: Brunswick ‘Commitment and Investment’

At the joint Council/School Board workshop last week, on May 9th, many of the comments, as mentioned previously, included gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands over lack of town commitment and investment in ‘excellent schools for the children.’  As a matter of fact, at some point it seemed like the ceiling tiles would start falling.

One new school board member made it clear he didn’t run for the office to manage the school enterprise, but to make sure schools have enough money.  He spoke about ‘serious budget reductions.’ 

From what?  From the more than $3 million increase (or 12% plus in some reports) over last year’s budget?  Did he really think $36 million was reasonable when just 7 years ago, when we had 800 more students than now, we spent $27,600,000?

I’m beginning to think those ‘in charge’ have no sense of budget reality in this town, especially as it relates to the School Department.  So I recently compiled such a history going back to the 99-00 school year, and distributed it to the Town Council, the School Board, and others.  In particular, it shows the per pupil spending over this period, per pupil property tax support, total spending, and system enrollment.  I have posted this summary to scribd, and you can look at the information here:

It also includes a ‘what if’ analysis that postulates a generous 5% a year increase in per student spending over the time period shown, and what such a growth rate would have yielded in budget totals.  You’ll see that the budget for the coming year would have been $27 million for the coming year, instead of $33.3 million, for a savings of over $6 million.  Under the current rule of thumb, that would yield an 18% reduction in our property taxes. 

That’s a lot of money, in our less than humble opinion.

Then there was the fervent concern about what ‘others would think of Brunswick,’ related to the ‘people move to Brunswick because of the schools’ theory discussed in KKKK-1: “Selling Brunswick.”

Heaping shame on those who examine budgets and taxes with their brains instead of their hearts is standard fare from those who believe no amount of taxation is enough, and that the only figure of merit for schools is how much they spend and how much they pay teachers.  You’d think we’d get used to it, and we are.  But we’re no more willing to let it go unchallenged than we ever were.

Correcting The Ostrich ‘Record’

The Ostrich ran a story yesterday on the budget hearing held Monday night, May 16th, by the Town Council.

In it, they reported on your correspondent as follows:

“Crestview Lane resident Pem Schaeffer advocated for reduced school spending and objected to, among other issues, budget discussions taking place before negotiations about the current teachers contract are completed.”

Since I read from a prepared text, it’s easy to go back and prove that none of my words specifically advocated for ‘reduced school spending.’  And if you watched the xtranormal version of my statement, you know that.

Alternately, you can watch the VOD playback of the meeting if you prefer independent corroboration; you can find it here.

As to the comment on negotiations not being completed, as of last week, the School Board had reportedly approved the proposed contract, but the teachers union had not.  I stated as much, and said that the details were being withheld from the public.  The report above is off the mark here as well.

I notified the reporter of the errors, but have yet to receive a reply.  Perhaps The Ostrich will run a correction.  And perhaps they paid their property taxes today.

Now that the school budget escaped without a scratch on Monday night, or even the threat of one, we wouldn’t be a bit surprised to hear that the union wants negotiations re-opened, rendering the earlier vote by the School Board irrelevant.  And why wouldn’t they? 

The Town Council and the School Board are clearly putty in their hands, and by extension, so is every town taxpayer.

At least until you move out of town in self-defense, thank you very much.

Technorati Tags: ,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Could The Ostrich please speak for itself??

Over the years, we’ve often suspected, and alleged, that the editorials published in The Ostrich were provided by partisan interests, and yet presented as if they were the work of the editors.

The examples of this syndrome are far too numerous to mention, but any discerning reader of their offerings over the years knows this is the case.

This week, the editors decided to come clean on their lack of originality.

Two consecutive editorials are admittedly derived from the efforts of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a radical left wing non-profit think tank with offices just steps from the Statehouse in Augusta.

The first had to do with planned cuts to taxpayer funding for MPBN, and ran yesterday.

The second has to do with Governor LePage’s first biennium budget.

Both are full of the demagoguery MECEP and the other entrenched left wing extremists in Maine are known for.  As we might expect from those who have had their way for nearly 40 years, virtually without challenge.

Fair enough, we suppose.  But isn’t it time for the editors at The Ostrich to think for themselves? 

And isn’t it time for The Ostrich to get its property tax accounts paid up, rather than lecturing the rest of us on ‘doing better?’

Technorati Tags: ,

KKKK-??: Responding to questions…

OK, I admit it. I went to the budget hearing last night, Monday, May 16th, to speak my piece, as documented here.

I did so, and after perhaps 30-40 minutes of listening to others, who as you might expect, made emotional pleas, rather than factual statements, I chose to head on home and consult with my two Springers, who are eminently more rational than those pleading for more school spending last night.  Even thought they are both virtually blind.

When I watched the rest of the meeting, I learned that our School Superintendent, Paul Perzanoski, had spoken after I left, and challenged some of my statements, but left others unchallenged.

Specifically, he did not challenge statements I made about the recently approved, but as yet undisclosed new Teachers’ Contract, and my assertion that it would consume the entire $1 million in new property taxes the school budget for next year will require.  Apparently, he agrees with this assessment.

Nor did  he challenge the percentage increases I cited in per student total spending, and per student property tax commitment. 

He did, however, laughingly refer to my reference to 300 military dependent students remaining in the system, saying he had no idea where such a claim would come from.

Actually, it’s very simple.  I just took the public statements at the joint budget workshop on Monday, May 9th. If you go go to time stamp 26:30 on the VOD recording for the joint workshop of May 9th, which you can find here, you will find exactly where I got the data.

When you watch the video, you will note that Superintendent P did not question the 300 figure mentioned by Councilor Favreau, and said that "as of May 31st, most of them will likely be gone," or words to that effect.  Councilor Favreau's use of the term 'last year' is lost in the confusion of school year vs. calendar year, but the clear implication of the Superintendent's comment about most of them being gone by May 31st is that they are in the system now.

OK; a week is a long time.  It’s easy to forget what you said, isn’t it?

Our Superintendent also took issue with my figure of $13,193 per student spending for the coming school year.  He said 'this year the figure is $10,616.'

My methodology is simple: I divide the budget for the year by the number of attending students reported to the state DOE.  I assumed the coming school year would begin with the same number of students attending as reported in April of this year, which is 2,524.  It may well be less; only time will tell.

Divide $33.3 million by 2524, and you get $13,193.  That is the dollars we, the town of Brunswick, will spend per student, in the coming school year, without any further loss of students, which is open to question.

If Mr. Perzanoski wishes to adjust these numbers because of different methods of accounting in the school system, he can come up with his own figures.  He will then have to adjust the prior year figures I gave for comparison, and it is likely the percentage growth I cited, which is the real issue, will change by very little.

As do all readers and members of the town establishment, Mr. P has access to this blog to post a response and/or clarifications.  We will patiently await his reply,and give it all due respect in our publication.

Monday, May 16, 2011

KKKK-?: “Gadfly head-banging extraordinaire…..”

Friends, countrymen, and readers: your correspondent attended the Brunswick budget public hearing tonight, May 16th, and spoke unashamedly on the subject.  Never has it been such a futile exercise, banging one’s head against a very hard wall.

As referred to earlier, those who think with their hearts instead of their brains dominated the event.  Those who examine budget details, and the conclusions they lead to, like we do, were not.  We were not amused.

In so many words, it was a very lonely night for Side.  In keeping with our full disclosure policy, we planned to pass along the content of our testimony.  To derive some small measure of benefit from the otherwise futile effort, we decided to transform the text into another xtranormal ‘movie’ to hone our skill set in the art.

We will be posting more specific comments on the meeting soon, so stay engaged; there will be no extra charge for the content.

Technorati Tags: ,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Teachers Unions Explained: The XTRA Normal version.

I’m publishing this item as a little bonus for the troubles of the last day or two.  I’m not considering it an item in the ‘KKKK-X’ series, although that might be an ‘arbitrary and capricious’ decision.  I love words like that, don’t you?

I’ve had this in the files for a few months and resisted the temptation to publish it.  But now that I’ve been ruminating on the specifics of school budgets for a week or so, resistance is futile.

(Just to be clear, this is not Side’s work; but it is the way we found out about xtranormal.)

KKKK-3: “Unexpected shortfalls”

KKKK-2: Status Update as of Thursday, 12 May

(As you can see, this post was published on Thursday, but was also among the missing once problems began; this is a reposting to restore things.)

In a word, the teachers’ union wins, you lose

Children?  What children?  It’s been too long since we last posted this gem, so let’s refresh our memories:

“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]

You might have had some friends in college, or other acquaintances, who majored in “poly sci,” or political science, although I’m at a loss to understand how anything in politics is scientific.

Based on what we’re seeing in town this year, the major should be renamed “poly psy,” for political psychology.  The School Board, led by the School Superintendent, has conducted a masterful psychological operations campaign this budget season, reflecting their creation of a Political Action and Media Committee.  This is what defense and intelligence agencies refer to as “psy-ops,” and the budget campaign has rolled out with military precision.

This year’s psy-ops built on the success last year, when the teachers’ union convinced the town they wanted to ‘help’ with the budget challenge.  Early word from the School Department was that the contract would be re-negotiated by the first of this year, but somehow, that didn’t happen.  We have written on this more than once.

Coincidence?  I don’t think so; the timing of re-negotiations was clearly calculated to make it through the public airing of the budget without any details being publicized.  In other words, the less we knew, the more pliable we’d be.

Reviewing latest news:

Now, let’s get to recent events, in brief and pithy form:

- Before the School Board meeting on May 4th, that Political Action and Media Committee was very effective: Channel 13 news splash, Tuesday April 12.  Radio spots on the 14th.  Numerous ‘sky is falling’ news reports in local and regional print media.  All outlets not returning calls offering ‘other side’ commentary with supporting facts.  Surprise, surprise. 

- In subsequent public meetings of the Board and Council, exactly as planned, devoted parents stepped right up and put on their black hats and provided air cover for the Super and the Board to raise taxes because “the public is demanding it.”  With several darling and gifted children added in as pawns of the Union grown-ups for good measure.  Getting used at such an early age is so enriching and educational.  Could it have been any more predictable, or executed with any greater precision???

- And so we entered the last 10 days or so with the Union holding the School Board, the Town Council, and town citizens hostage.  Contract settlement was discussed nowhere, and inquiries for information yielded nothing but stonewalls.

- The School Board approved a $33.3 million budget, unanimously of course, on Wednesday, May 4th.  It included a dedicated amount for union contract settlement, but neither the School Board or the Super would say how much that was.

- They presented their budget to the Town Council at a ‘joint workshop’ on Monday, May 9th.  It included the amount for Union contract settlement, but the Super barely touched on the subject.  Rather, the presentation focused on ‘painful’ and tear-provoking cuts to all sorts of distracting areas of the budget, and played up revenue ‘losses’ to great effect.

- The twin elephants in the room that night were wearing dark glasses, so no one saw them.  Your correspondent knew they were there, and could see them at home. The first was ‘teacher contract demands,’ and the second was ‘per student cost growth.’

- The Town Council was submissive and compliant in the hands of the Super and Board, folding like the front section of a small town newspaper that doesn’t pay its property taxes. They approved the budget as presented with nary a whimper.  Comments about “great challenges you had this year,” “unexpected revenue losses,” and other shopworn platitudes abounded.  No request to knock out $100,000 just for show, or threats to cut the number of tubas in the BJHS band.  As a result, the Council successfully inoculated itself against arrogant (“sell your home if you can’t afford the taxes”) parents and charges that they “don’t care about the children.”

- As soon as the meeting was over, you could hear the cheers from the teachers’ union: we won!  We got it all!  Not a dollar in reductions by the Town Council!  How easy was that!  And nobody noticed the elephants!  Wait till next year!

- Now this update as of today:  It is reported that the School Department has approved the contract with the teachers, and why wouldn’t they?  They won big time on Monday.  The safe presumption is that the Board accepted the Union’s position.  Word is details of the contract settlement will not be available for at least a week, because the teachers have not yet voted on it.  This means that the public hearing on the budget, this Monday the 16th, will take place without any knowledge of what the Board has given the Union, and how it effects our taxes.  All we know is the Schools want another $1 million in revenue from the town, which is an increase of 6.3% in their property tax support from residents.  The psy-ops aren’t over yet.

Prediction: The entire $1 million in new property taxes to support the schools will go straight into the pockets of the teachers remaining after those too junior get terminated to benefit those more senior.  The highest paid from this year’s teaching staff will make out best, and the average teacher salary will go up several notches as a result.

Those terminated will get a free lesson in Union principles, those immortalized in such classic mottos as:

“Stronger together.”  “We stick together.”  “Solidarity forever”

How’s that working for you, young teachers? 

And take that, you “for the children” and “smaller class zealots.”

And for those who plan to attend Monday’s upcoming budget hearing, be sure to bring your white flags along.  The council is asking that we do so in a show of solidarity with them.

PS on “You’ll have to read it…..”

(Ditto on this one; posted earlier and then disappeared.)

A few days ago we posted on the crocodile tears over the health insurance legislation under consideration in Maine.  If you missed it, you can read it here.  It included this passage:

During the House debate leading up to the roll-call vote, more than a dozen Democrats registered their opposition to the provisions of the bill as well as to its fast-track progress through the legislative process.

As fate would have it, a nice couple I’ve never met, other than on the opinion pages of The Ostrich, had a recent letter on this very subject. I won’t name them, but if I did, their names would remind you of Prairie Home Companion and Lake Wobegone.

The letter reads, in part:

Nothing is more important than adequate insurance and nothing should be considered more carefully than changes to the insurance safety nets we now have in place.

Yet, LD 1333 — An Act To Modify Rating Practices for Individual and Small Group Health Plans and To Encourage Value-based Purchasing of Health Care Services — was introduced as a four-page bill, grew to 29 pages in one work session and is now 45 pages and has had no public hearing in its present form.

Few legislators have even had time to do a careful reading, put forth questions and get reliable answers.

The haste with which this is being pushed makes us very uncomfortable and fearful of  unintended consequences and  collateral damage.

Now we could be wrong, but I’d bet you a dozen Frosty’s Donuts (if I could ever catch them when they’re open) that this couple hailed the 2000 page plus Obama-care bill as a long-needed and brilliant solution to all our health care ills.  And never for a moment worried about ‘unintended consequences and collateral damage.’  Funny how that works, isn’t it?

And in case you’re worried that the Bondo patching hadn’t even had a chance to dry, as Rep. Sharon Treat claimed, here’s an update:

  • After the first vote in the house, a second ‘reading’ and vote was taken, and the bill passed again.
  • Yesterday, the senate debated the bill, proposed amendments, and passed the bill in amended form.
  • Now the bill goes back to the house in its new form to see if that chamber will go along with the changes.

Hopefully, Sharon and her friends will have had a chance to read it by now.  But you never know; she may not read it until it passes.

Or not even then.

KKKK-1: “Selling” Brunswick

(Note: this is an attempt to get things back on track in the midst of Blogger’s continued struggle.  This post had been published earlier and then disappeared.)

A well known and very successful real estate broker in Brunswick has recently weighed in on school budget discussions in a very public way.  Her premise is that keeping school budgets growing is vital to the overall success of our town, because ‘excellent schools’ are the main reason why people come to Brunswick.

You know real estate sales agents; they’re the folks who never saw a property that wasn’t ‘the fulfillment of all your dreams.’  If you’ve ever read the ads they create, you know they use language like this:

- Great possibilities for the creative do-it-yourselfer…

- Sparkling floors, period trim, light streaming in…

- Floor to ceiling walls, wall to wall floors and ceilings, and plenty of options to expand…

- See through windows, hard to find period details, and rare and unique fixtures…

- Cozy, charming, and awaiting your personal touches…

- Rustic, country style kitchen will bring your family and friends ‘closer together’ and help you rediscover traditional food preparation methods….

- A blank palette for your landscaping artistry…

- Sure to delight…

- Close to everything…

Just imagine if we had had someone like this involved in marketing the old High School for redevelopment as follows:

- One of a kind, historic, and much loved structure…

- Seemingly infinite possibilities for the creative visionary…

- An eclectic mix of architectural paradigms…

- Huge classic windows, high ceilings, spacious hallways, original wood flooring, and other touches of a bygone era…

- Stately anchor of an established in town neighborhood…

- Ample grounds for endless expansion possibilities…

- Small town New England gem of the finest sort….

- Ready to accommodate a theater room beyond your dreams…

- Exercise space you could only dream about…

- Just waiting for you to bring it to its full potential…

- Saving it from extinction will prevent the construction of an architectural nightmare in its place…..

Oh, well; we can dream, can’t we?

At any rate, this broker

said schools are the primary reason families choose Brunswick. She said education "is the key to the economic vitality of this community," and without excellent schools, she believes business development efforts downtown and at Brunswick Landing would suffer.

To begin with, whatever our schools are, they have not led to ‘economic vitality of this community.’  A survey of Cooks Corner, Pleasant Street, and Maine Street properties shows a distressing lack of economic vitality, and that is true of surrounding regions and Maine overall.  Various national rankings show that Maine overall is at a huge disadvantage in this regard, and local schools have little to do with it.

Next, calling Brunswick Schools ‘excellent’ assumes facts not in evidence.  As reported by a school board member on Monday night, Brunswick High ‘is on the failing schools list.’  And publicized testing results show nothing that would cause anyone to rate our schools as certifiably superior to any other community.

The same person recently wrote the following:

For the 36 years that I have been a real estate broker in the Brunswick market area, the No. 1 reason people have cited for moving to Brunswick has been the excellent schools.

Once again, ‘excellent schools’ assumes facts not in evidence.  The School Department scrupulously avoids evaluating and rating the teacher corps.  They similarly argue that ‘standardized testing’ is not a valid way of evaluating staff and the schools.  And then there’s that ‘failing school’ rating of the High School.  And regardless of anything else, whatever testing results have been publicized are, in a word, ‘undistinguished.’

So we must ask how people conclude that Brunswick has ‘excellent schools’ as a discriminator for moving here.  Since there is no objective and standardized data upon which to reach that conclusion, we assume that those who do so base it on ‘word of mouth’, if not real estate ads.

We submit that the likelihood of finding a town resident who will declare they send their children to mediocre or even failing schools is about the same as the likelihood of finding a real estate agent who will say that a listing is a clunker, and that the town has economic problems that are not being confronted with any conviction and foresight.

But that’s just us.  We favor facts over emotion, as unpopular and ‘inconvenient’ as such a perspective might be.

Especially in the town of Perfect.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Test Post: is Blogger back?

As you may have already concluded, Blogger has been ‘under the weather’ for the last 24 hours or so.

This post is a test to see if it is functioning again.

Apparently it is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kabuki Korners and the Koolaid Keggers

Oh the agony; the so-called mind of this “gadfly and blogger extraordinaire” (thank you, Councilor Pols) reels with the opportunities for literary mischief presented by the theatrics of the current Brunswick budget process, and in particular, the Schools component of this spectacle of local governance.

As we’ve said before, you should never mess with the schoolies and the bookies, but the temptation is just too great after reading about and watching the annual Kabuki pageant, which features copious amounts of public Koolaid konsumption.  No GUI citations (Governing under the influence) have been issued that we know of, but citizens are warned to stand clear of those with pitchers of a red liquid, offering free pours, and during sappy hours, Koolaid shooters.

As for us, sleep has been lost, notes have been made, and the task before us has grown to the overwhelming stage.  So we’ve decided on a way to make things manageable.  Rather than write and publish one very lengthy essay, we are going to break things down to manageable segments, and post several shorter works as they come out of the hopper.  We’re thinking about titling these works “KKKK-X,” where X is a chapter number, in a manner of speaking.

The purpose of this particular post, then, is to set the ‘thematic’ stage for what will follow, so let’s begin.  You might think of this as the overture for the melodramatics that follow.

We read this passage recently, and it’s apropos the subject here:

… are masters in getting Americans to think with their hearts instead of their brains.  After all, emotions are easier to manipulate than facts.  And many truths are easier to ignore than acknowledge.  But not acknowledging reality doesn't change the reality.  And we ignore reality at our own peril, as we are now finding out on a daily basis.

Then, this all-time favorite:

“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]

Something a bit more philosophical:

The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia, put forth by Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski suggests that for any given doctrine one wants to believe, there is never a shortage of arguments by which one can support it.

And finally, at least for now, this recent inspirational gem, to remind us of the principles that guide education professionals and their leaders:

It's not about kids, it’s about power  NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin Tells How It REALLY Is during his farewell Speech:


For more interesting follow-up, you can click on the underlined link just above the video and read the comments posted on that site.

That’s it for the moment; stand by for incoming, in more ways than one!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

So what’s going on?

It’s been something like three weeks since we’ve posted.  And we knew when the phone didn’t ring to ask why, that it wasn’t you, to borrow a thought from a great country music song.

Here’s the run-down, and you can judge for yourself how worthy our explanation is.

The week before Easter found us hosting our son and his family, including our two gorgeous grand-daughters, here at Chez Poppycock.  We knew from the start that we would not be paying attention to our obligations here.

Around the same time, our subscription renewal for The Ostrich (aka The Times Record) came due.  You may recall that we had discussed this subject earlier in this post.

The payment was ‘due’ by April 14, and we did not remit it.  The paper continued to arrive in our delivery tube until exactly two weeks later, April 28th.  Delivery then summarily stopped.

So, our excuse for not posting is that we were so verklempt over the loss of our daily dose of mis-information and hoo-hoo news reporting that we simply were unable to think clearly and deliver the clarity you have come to expect.  Rather than lower our standards, to match those of The Ostrich, we elected to take a sabbatical.

We want you to know that we contacted The Ostrich Publisher and subscription office, reminding them how generous the residents of Brunswick have been in continuing to provide vital public services to them even as they have failed to pay their property taxes, for more than a year, according to the public record.

And we asked them, as we said we would, to continue to deliver ‘vital news services’ even though we are in arrears on our account, and we promised to bring our account current, with 5% interest, once they caught up on their property taxes.

Surprise, surprise.  We got no response to our earnest and equitable request; not so much as a reply.  So here we are, weeks later, surviving without our daily delivery.

If you haven’t already done it, we suggest you give it a try.

And now you know ‘the rest of the story.’

You’ll have to read it to find out what’s in it…

How soon they forget…

Don’t know whether you’ve been following the news regarding ‘health care reform’ here in Maine.  A bill has been working its way through the legislative process that would restructure some of the relevant regulations in our state, regulations that have arguably given us amongst the highest, if not THE highest insurance premiums in the country.

Here’s a recent report on the progress of that legislation:

During the House debate leading up to the roll-call vote, more than a dozen Democrats registered their opposition to the provisions of the bill as well as to its fast-track progress through the legislative process.

Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, a member of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee, compared the bill to a used car “rushed off the lot so fast that the Bondo patching wasn’t even dry.”

The complex bill was “rushed out of committee” after an April 29 work session and approved along party lines without an opportunity for lawmakers to read it or have their questions answered, Treat said in her comments before the vote. The final language of the bill was posted online at about 10 p.m. Wednesday, she said, leaving lawmakers little opportunity to review it before voting on Thursday.

Treat urged legislative newcomers to resist the bill’s “hard sell” by GOP leadership and take the time to understand its impact on long-standing consumer protections and on the insurance industry.

As it turns out, this was just the first of many votes on the legislation.  None the less, we can’t help but reminisce about the current circumstances vis-a-vis Obama-care legislation.

We read that the bill currently working it’s way through Maine’s law making process is 26 pages.  That compares to what we recall was a 2600 page document at the federal level, or 100 times longer on paper than the Maine proposal.

We also recall the incredibly arrogant statement by then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that ‘we’ll have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.’

If only we had a good memory of the ‘Dirigo Health Care’ process, we could probably come up with even better examples.

We don’t need to however, to make it clear just how whiny and duplicitous the new minority is, now that their 35 year plus strangle-hold on Maine governance is no more.

Technorati Tags: ,

Bowdoin being Bowdoin, Part II

It’s been some time since the original post in this series, which you can find here.  As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones who find this subject ‘interesting.’  As you can see in what follows.

Diversity, adversity, schmeversity, we say.

(be sure to read the comment string)

A good talk spoiled, cont'd

April 22, 2011 Posted by Scott at 6:18 AM

Claremont Institute chairman Tom Klingenstein happened to play a round of gold with Bowdoin College Presdient Barry Mills last year. In a convocation address that he gave at the start of the school year, Mills told a story about that round of golf in the context of a call for greater intellectual diversity on campus.

Tom responds to Mills's address in the essay "A golf story," in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Tom argued that Mills was not particularly serious about his call for greater intellectual diversity on campus; it is the essential point of Tom's essay. Tom seeks to shame Mills into making good on his commitment to increase intellectual diversity.

Tom's essay was inspired by Mills's blind but unflattering reference to him in the convocation address. Tom's essay revealed Mills to be something of a fabulist. The conservative interlocutor of Mill's speech is depicted none too subtly as a troglodyte and -- what else? -- a racist. As Tom points out, there seems to be some projection going on.

Tom's essay received good coverage on campus in the weekly Bowdoin Orient. The Orient reporters sought out the powers-that-be for a comment on Klingenstein's essay: "Mills told the Orient that he had seen the article, but declined to comment."

Mills left the talking to Scott Hood, the college's vice president for communications, who wrote in an email: "At Convocation in September, President Mills expressed his views on a number of subjects. Mr. Klingenstein has a different view." Yes, that is one way to put it. Hood is of the "when you're in a hole, stop digging" persuasion when it comes to public relations.

The Orient's story on Tom's speech was the most widely read story in last week's Orient. The Orient follows up today with paired op-ed columns, one by Professor Jean Yarbrough supporting Klingenstein and one by students Sean McElroy and Alex Williams criticizing him.

The students focus narrowly on Tom's critique of the Bowdoin curriculum. Professor Yarbrough -- a highly regarded and long-time member of Bowdoin's government department -- provides devastating corroboration of Tom's larger point regarding the lack of true diversity on the faculty:

This fall will mark my 23rd year of teaching political philosophy and American political thought at Bowdoin. I dearly love this college and want to do everything that I can to see Bowdoin be the best that it can be.

But love requires honesty, and Thomas Klingenstein's essay provides us with the opportunity to examine one area where we are notably deficient: intellectual and political diversity.

In his essay, Mr. Klingenstein estimates that the actual number of conservative/Republican faculty is 4 percent. I do not know how he arrived at that number, but using figures from the Bowdoin College profile at the website CollegeData, there are 177 faculty engaged in the full-time teaching of undergraduates, 4 percent of which would equal seven. I have not made a scientific study of this, but that number, small as it is, strikes me as too high.

Having recently served as chair of the government department, I know first-hand the efforts we as a college have made to recruit racial and ethnic minorities, and those efforts are bearing fruit.

It is now time to make a serious effort to foster greater intellectual and political diversity. This is a position that all those who truly care about this college should share, no matter what their political affiliation, because it will make us a far better and more effective institution of higher learning.

Professor Yarbrough asks: "Do our curriculum and our faculty represent a suitably wide range of intelligent views on the great questions of human existence and of how we should live?" She responds: "Alas, the questions answer themselves."

Professor Yarbrough calls on President Mills to follow up on his call for greater political and intellectual diversity on campus. She tactfully omits any mention of the fractured fairy tale that portrayed Tom as a right-wing troglodyte. The fabulation with which President Mills framed his call for greater diversity reflects something important about the mindset that results in the condition that he decried.

The Orient also carries a news story giving faculty reactions, ranging from neutral (Government) to haughty disdain (English), an extremely snotty letter from one Miles Pope. Bowdoin seems to have gone into a defensive crouch on the thesis that there is no such thing as an intelligent conservative.

UPDATE: A Bowdoin correspondent writes to point out this Orient article that provides an amazing contrast between Bowdoin's official concern over "diversity" with its utter indifference to the intellectual and political diversity at issue in Klingenstein's essay.

Tom Klingenstein writes to comment: "You were correct to imply that the criticisms of my essay address a side issue, the history offerings. But even those don't score points. They were all criticisms of what I did NOT say. I stand by, and reaffirm, everything I said."

Technorati Tags: ,