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.’

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