Monday, February 27, 2012

Sometimes, you just don’t know what to say…

But not very often, you might think.

Well, we picked up the most recent copy of the Bowdoin Orient last week, and found this announcement on the back page:


“Gender Essentialism”

Room 107, Kanbar Hall · Monday, February 27, 2012, 4:00pm

University of New Hampshire professor Charlotte Witt will explain her controversial argument that gender is essential to individuals, and not a mere classification.

Controversial argument??

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The last words?

We suspect the comment we just posted on the Forecaster article, which is appended below, will end the jousting between Rich Ellis and this reporter.

After sleeping on the subject, it occurred to us that the whole discussion centered around the fact that the annual school budgets never show actual spending for past years, only the originally budgeted amounts.  You’d think they would be fairly close to each other, but you’d be wrong.

So, as you’ll read below, we reworded the description of the annual per student costs.  We maintain that all other aspects of the column stand as stated.

Separately, the absence of actuals and summary balance sheets as we find in the municipal budget raises its own concerns.  We will do our best to follow up on this aspect of things.

Mr. Ellis:

You’ve certainly cleared things up for me; thanks for that. I trust everyone else who sees your posts is similarly inclined.

In retrospect, I submit that everything in my article stands as written with the exception of this passage:

• Now the worst part: annual per-student costs have grown from $8,230 in 2004-2005 to $13,559 in the current year, an increase of $5,329, or 65 percent. The result is a cumulative cost of $176,000 this year, compared to $123,000 five years ago, and $93,000 10 years ago – an increase of 89 percent.

I made the mistake of assuming that budget figures closely align with spending figures; I should have known better.

That said, rewording the passage as follows corrects the passage:

· Now the worst part: budgeted annual per-student costs have grown from $8,230 in 2004-2005 to $13,559 in the current year, an increase of $5,329, or 65 percent. The result is a cumulative budgeted cost of $176,000 this year, compared to $123,000 five years ago, and $93,000 10 years ago – an increase of 89 percent.

Accordingly, I submit this revision to the readers who come here, though it is not possible to make the correction in print.

I grant you the point above, but hardly see it as undermining my overall premise, nor the fiscal trends in the Department. The majority of your elaboration has been to emphasize the terminology mistake just described .

Tangential excursions into ‘subsidizable pupils’ and similar EPS esoterics are largely irrelevant to the conclusions I draw in the published item, but do serve to expose the underlying budget strategy and how it obscures reality.

Had Superintendents clearly stated in their budget presentations to the Town Council and the citizenry that there is a budgeted set-aside against expected costs, this confusion might have been avoided. On the other hand, it might have emphasized the need for a summary balance sheet.

Late development: I understand that in the various fund balances in the Municipal Budget, for the year ended June 30, 2010, of the $8,082,597 that is restricted, $7,952,876 is restricted for education.  Hence, the lack of total disclosure in the School Budget points to other amounts being tucked away in a less than obvious location. Why aren’t these figures shown in the annual school budgets?

So, summing things up:

- To the extent that I used hasty and unwarranted language in response to your postings, I apologize.

- I take from our discussion that it is the practice of the School Department to submit a budget with something like a 10% cushion to deal with uncertainties. One would think that provides sufficient cushion for a ‘crisis’ year such as the one before us, in which the advertised shortfalls are something like 7% of the current budget. Especially since more sizable reserves apparently have been banked.

- Since there are no balance sheets provided in the School Budgets, it is not possible to reconcile revenues against actual expenditures and various reserve accounts that might or might not exist.

- We have no way of knowing about such accounts. If it is the standard practice going in to apply a 10% cushion to ‘expected’ expenditures, it would be more transparent and forthcoming to state up front a ‘budgeted reserve amount’ of the dollar figure so planned. A “reserved fund balance” of $3,500,000 against budgets of $33,319,985 and $33,301,672 seems too round a number two years in a row to be the difference between budget and actual expenditures. It begs the question of what actual amounts might have resulted from that difference, and where they end up. Since no reconciled balance sheet is provided, we have no way of knowing, do we? Inquiring minds would like to know, and even worse, inquiring minds are prone to speculate in the absence of complete disclosure.

- I have requested actual spending figures per school year, and as soon as I receive them, I will calculate new figures that I will designate as actual spending per student year.

- It would be helpful if you were to provide details of all reserve account balances, whether they show in the budget or not. As compared to the municipal budget, the school budget does not show an assets and liabilities summary, at least that I can find.

- You will note that the Municipal Budget explicitly states various fund balances, and these amounts are accumulated over a number of years. I understand that many of these reserves are essentially required practice. Because of the absence of multi-year balance sheets in the School Budget, it is not possible to know how ‘reserves’ are handled year to year. And I’m not going to review budgets state wide to discern the SOP.

- We were told closing Jordan Acres was an imperative because of structural damage from snow overloading. Is it too much to suggest that could have been prevented by removing heavy snow accumulations before they reached critical stage?

- We must hope, of course, that the other schools, including HBS, which are primarily flat roof structures, are tended to more diligently, lest we have to replace them or invest major renovation dollars if a winter like past years occurs again.

- At the taxpayer level, ‘local appropriation’ is fungible dollars. They go into the revenue stream, and I assume are spent just like all other dollars. Saying they only pay for local students and not tuitioned students from other towns is irrelevant to this discussion.

- I stand by my claims in the article that the revenue shortfalls cited in information from the Department were entirely predictable, if not to the exact dollar.

- Durham tuition loss reflects a decision of several years ago, and a well known one. Presumably the Department knows which students are from Durham, and when they will leave the system and take their dollars with them.

- Stimulus funds were clearly one time money, and their receipt comes with clear presumption that they will not be coming again.

- Loss of federal impact aid is a similar item. Presumably, the Department is aware of the loss of military dependent students, and should not be ‘surprised’ by the loss of related funds.

- Not to mention, of course, that Durham tuition and in particular, the federal impact aid, are well below per student costs, and therefore present a windfall gain against the students they supposedly paid for. You chose not to acknowledge or discuss this.

- GPA, while not up to the levels all would like, has increased on a per student basis, and the effects of student decline are tempered by a sliding 3 year average. While I am not an EPS formula expert, you acknowledge the figures are enrolment dependent. I suspect they are also school plant dependent and employee dependent, but you can elaborate on that if you wish.

- Last year at this time, the early leaks from the Department were that the budget for the coming year was looking like a $36-37 million total. Even though budgets have been flat, more or less, for several years, enrolment has been in steady decline. We’ll see what the actual spending figures show.

- Loss of 90 positions is an unclear claim in my view. I have payroll information reported to the state for the three prior school years, and they raise doubts as to whether 90 persons disappeared from the payroll, or instead, 90 separate pay lines disappeared. I plan to dig further into the details, and compare teacher totals to enrolment to better understand circumstances. Student to teacher ration, etc, will be of interest .

- I assert that the school department is run on the basis that automatic salary and benefit increases for the teachers have priority over everything else, and that teacher compensation has no merit or performance component. The best teachers make the very same as the worst teachers (at the same ed level and year step), and this fundamental truth undermines all the rhetoric about an ‘excellent education system’ and the professed need to spend more to make it better, because you ‘get what you pay for.’

- Perhaps you can calculate the annual teacher compensation totals, and compare the increases to the elimination of sports funding, etc.

- I believe that the school department does not competitively procure its insurance coverage, and that a sizable amount goes to the MEA middleman to be used as a political advocacy fund.

- Looking at the most recent school budget, I note the absence of any reference to actual expenditures as context for budget proposals. Surely by the time a budget proposal is presented to the Town Council in May, expenditure data for a good ¾ of the current school year is known, and could be provided to establish a point of reference.

- As to the budgets provided to the public, they are absent any actual spending figures. In the current budget, there are typically 3 columns: 09/10 budget, 10/11 budget, and 11/12 budget proposal. There is every opportunity to provide actuals in prior years as a baseline for understanding, but from what you have described, that would clearly result in questions.

- Furthermore, if one goes to the municipal budget that summarizes all spending for the town, including the School Department, you will see school figures stated as ‘expenditures’ that come very close to budget amounts, except for the most recent year and the approved budget year.

- As to difficulty estimating enrolment, the current budget estimated a total of 2488 in October 11; that compares to 2,456 reported in October, which means the estimate for this year was pretty close to reality.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Chasing the numbers round and round

In his latest comment on The Forecaster site, Rich Ellis has revised his actual spending figure for FY 11 from $30.556 million to $29.6 million.  That’s against the approved budget of $33.3 million. 

So you can chalk up another 3% or so in property tax overpayment on your FY 11 tax bill, for a total of something like 12%.

Be sure to watch the mail.  When your rebate check doesn’t show up, you’ll know it’s for you.

Don’t spend it all in one place.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One more thing, LT Ben

The more we think about this, the more our eyes cross and our head spins.

Here’s a paragraph just posted by Rich Ellis:

Second, to clarify on my apples and oranges metaphor, you refer to problems with "spending", but then rely on "budget" numbers to calculate your cost per pupil not our School District's actual spending. Budget and Actual Expenditure are two different things all together and there can be a big difference between the two. School districts need to budget certain expenses conservatively, to ensure they can meet their potential obligation to things like unemployment or benefits participation. Administrators then work to hold down costs by containing discretionary spending.

Read it, and then read it again.  Slowly.  Savor each word and phrase and thought.  Particularly the second sentence, which we have highlighted for your convenience.

Feel better now, bunky?

Technorati Tags: ,,

LT Ben, we’re having some fun now!

Mr. Ellis of the School Board has decided to engage in discussion with your correspondent on the Forecaster article page.

Just a little while ago, I posted this addendum the prior response we posted:

Mr. Ellis:

In rereading this paragraph of yours:

"Brunswick has never spent the $13,559 you suggest per pupil. In FY11, the most recently reported year, we spent $29.6 million against a budget of 2,734 subsidizable resident pupils or $10,842 per pupil. If you base it on actual resident pupils that year, 2470.5, you get $11,998 per pupil, but that's not how budgets are planned."

it appears to me that you are trying to befuddle the readers in two ways. First, by using the term 'subsidizable resident pupils,' by which you may very well be referring to the three year sliding average for the prior three budget years: FY 08, FY 09, and FY 10 that would be used in the EPS calculations for FY 11.

If so, I cry foul, and send you to the penalty box. That number is an artificial statutory construct with no relevance to a real school year and real department budget. We are in FY 12, and my per pupil spending figure uses ACTUAL FY 12 enrolment and ACTUAL FY 12 budget figures, just as all my figures use the actual enrolment and actual budget figure for any given year. Your calculation uses no real approved budget figure, and I am left to surmise you have pulled up the EPS figure from the prior budget year; it's the only way I can explain the fact that you ignore the very real School Department budget of $33 million plus both in the current school year and the prior school year. In fact, actual School Department budgets have been at the $33 million plus level since FY 08.

If I am wrong, surely you can explain things here in this very public forum. If, on the other hand, I am correct, you have forfeited all credibility by hiding behind sophistry and bureaucratic deceptions. If you have, you are either shameless in your approach, or you have been brainwashed by the polished experts who have been doing things this way forever. And counted on the help of a complicit media and gullible parents to back them up.

Shame on your, or shame on me. Which is it?

Additionally, Mr. Ellis points out that School Department budgets are not reflective of actual department spending.  He claims that in FY 11 they spent $2.7 million less that the actual budget of $33.1 million.'

That would be nice if it weren’t for the fact that our property tax rate was set based on the actual budget, and is apparently 9% higher than it had to be.  How does that make you feel, bunky?

We can only wonder how long this has been going on.  And add that the discussion with Mr. Ellis is taking us to places unknown and for this observer, too bizarre to comprehend.

Only the enlightened can grasp things; those to whom it has been revealed.

We don’t know about you, but we’d like to get that 9% property tax overcharge refunded post haste.  And likely the same amount for the current budget and tax year.

Lucky those at The Ostrich; they didn’t pay their taxes, so they  have no claim on a rebate, do they?

Technorati Tags: ,,

Postscript 2 to LT Ben!, LT Ben!

Two days ago, we mentioned that The Forecaster had published our submittal on the Brunswick school budget on their web site.  We’re expecting it to appear in the print edition tomorrow.

Yesterday, Rich Ellis, a member of the Brunswick School Board, posted a comment on the web site in response. You may have to register and log in to see the comment, which should appear here.

In case you’re unable to access the comment, we offer excerpts from it just as follows (lengthy discussions of the state EPS issue are omitted):

Dear Mr. Schaeffer:

As you seemed confused as to why people refer to a 55% state share as a mandate, choosing instead to describe it as a promise, let me introduce you to Maine Statute 20-A MRSA §15671, sub-§7-B, Essential Services and programs. It is not just a promise or a target, it is codified into Maine law.

This legislation was put into place after Maine voters passed ballot initiative 1 in 2004, which stated that, "the State shall pay at least 55% of the total costs of public education for kindergarten through grade 12, and 100% of the costs of special education services that are mandated by federal or state law."

You say in your letter that nothing in Brunswick was unpredictable, but I would have to say as someone who has made a living predicting numbers and building multi-year forecasts, you underestimate the complexity of this process and its influencing factors.

Now, in regards to the rest of your letter, there are several errors within your figures and/or assertions. I know the data is challenging to arrive at, and I am not going to go into a detailed response on each error, but basically:

• Brunswick has never spent the $13,559 you suggest per pupil. In FY11, the most recently reported year, we spent $29.6 million against a budget of 2,734 subsidizable resident pupils or $10,842 per pupil. If you base it on actual resident pupils that year, 2470.5, you get $11,998 per pupil, but that's not how budgets are planned.

• Brunswick's actual spending only exceeded State 100% EPS, a measure of adequacy which does not cover all programs, by about $474 per pupil in FY11. The gap has hovered in that range for each of the last six years. If you think the State's EPS calculation calculates a luxury school system, you just might be alone. The fact that we are so close to that figure would indicate that we are far too close to funding a purely "adequate" education in Brunswick.

• You are mixing residential pupil expenses in FY06 (apples) with total budget approved per pupil in FY12 (oranges)

• While you correctly identify enrollment as a driving factor, state property valuation is equally as important because it determines how much a town must pay before the State kicks in a penny. Between FY06 and FY12, Brunswick's town Valuation has increased 49.6% or 5.9% per year. Living in Brunswick, was it your perception that our property value had increased that much during this recession? I know it certainly didn't match my expectations. Anyhow, the result? The state expects the town share per pupil to increase by 70.5%, from $3,744 to $6,532 per pupil. Trying planning for that rate of increase.

Anyhow, while I am pretty sure our philosophies on local education are diametrically opposed, I would encourage you to get better informed and to contribute more productively by helping to find actual solutions instead of just complaining or taking the annual shot across the bow. Hope to see you at the upcoming budget meetings.

Best regards,
Rich Ellis

As we reread his comments again, we realize that perhaps Mr. Ellis is trying to pull the wool over our eyes with the term ‘subsidizable resident pupils.’  This will get wonky really quick, but the difference could be between the three year rolling average enrolment, and actual enrolment in the current year.

Frankly, if that’s what he is doing, it is propaganda and deception of the worst sort.  But we’ll let him answer.  And we should go easy on him; most likely, the masters of numeric manipulation in the School Department have fed him this Kool-Aid.

As you well know, your faithful reporter is not one to shrink from a challenge.  And so we copy here our response to Mr. Ellis’ thoughts; it will not appear in The Forecaster print edition, and you may not have access to it on the web.

Here it is:

Mr. Ellis:

Thanks for your extensive response. As you can imagine, I am quite busy keeping the bank of computers I use to generate false numbers and spurious arguments humming along. But I do wish to offer a timely reply to your efforts, and trust you will consider what follows in that regard.

Let me begin with the following. While you and virtually every other school board member I can think of, not to mention superintendents, are intent on shifting the problem elsewhere, it all begins and ends with spending, and the Brunswick School Department has an unblemished record in that regard. Nothing you say or do can change the recorded history of approved budgets and the enrolment reports to the state. Unless you wish to suggest that some or all have been falsified. Should you provide numbers (with sources) that correct those I have been collecting for more than ten years, I will be happy to consider them against the budgets, Department data, and state records I have relied upon.

That said, thank you for your kind explanation of the legislation in this area. Please note as well that the Maine State Constitution says:

Article VIII. -- Part First.

Section 1. Legislature shall require towns to support public schools; duty of Legislature. A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools; and it shall further be their duty to encourage and suitably endow, from time to time, as the circumstances of the people may authorize, all academies, colleges and seminaries of learning within the State; provided, that no donation, grant or endowment shall at any time be made by the Legislature to any literary institution now established, or which may hereafter be established, unless, at the time of making such endowment, the Legislature of the State shall have the right to grant any further powers to alter, limit or restrain any of the powers vested in any such literary institution, as shall be judged necessary to promote the best interests thereof.

So let’s agree up front that the State’s record of complying with clearly written obligations is less than distinguished.

As to the initiative you cite, what it said on the ballot is a starting point, since legislatures are then free to do what they will with the language.

That little detail aside, I would remind you that the initiative you refer to was passed with promises of 15% property tax reduction statewide; I know; I still have one of the signs. Note as well from your own sources that the education unions provided the majority of funding for the campaign. And I can remember Nick Mavadones, then an official at the MMA, and in recent years, mayor of Portland, in the TV ads urging a yes vote and making the promise. You may also recall that this was the establishment’s offering to fend off the so-called Palesky initiative modeled after California’s proposition 13.

I don’t know about you, but we’ve lived in our current house for nearly 15 years, and not once has our tax bill gone down that I can remember. And it is thousands higher than it was at the beginning.

I took a read through the statutory language, and found more than enough passages to confuse someone with a better mind than I. Some of them suggest that the figure the state is obligated to pay is less than 50%, not to mention any number of complexities associated with baselines, definitions, pension payments, etc.

The fact is, the GPA per student, whether it reaches 55% or not, has increased significantly on a per student basis. My figures show that it has increased from $3432 in FY 06 to $4765 in the current school year, an increase of 39%.

The fact is, the GPA enrolment figures are based on a sliding 3 year average, as shown in the appended statutory language. Given Brunswick’s precipitous enrolment decline, you should at least admit the state is cutting you some major slack here.

The fact is, the state pays for sizable sums for teacher retirement and retired teacher benefits, amounts not shown in local budgets in any form. So one could argue that the state is paying considerably more toward ‘education’ than you suggest.

Here is one relevant passage:

Beginning in fiscal year 2011-12, the annual targets for the state share percentage of the total cost of funding public education from kindergarten to grade 12 including the cost of the components of essential programs and services plus the state contributions to teacher retirement, retired teachers' health insurance and retired teachers' life insurance are as follows.

(1) For fiscal year 2011-12, the target is 49.60%.

(2) For fiscal year 2012-13, the target is 52.50%.

(3) For fiscal year 2013-14 and succeeding years, the target is 55%.

The fact is, per student enrolment costs have grown exactly as I indicated.

The fact is, if per student costs had gone up by 5% a year since FY 05, our budget would now be $29.1 million, or $4,200,000 less than it is. I should think that an annual increase of 5% in “tuition” would be considered a generous growth rate by virtually any standard.

“You are mixing residential pupil expenses in FY06 (apples) with total budget approved per pupil in FY12 (oranges).”

Excuse me? I’m afraid you lost me here. Fruit salad aside, my standard practice is to divide the total budget by total enrolment to arrive at what I call ‘per student spending.’ If you have another way of calculating this, I’d like to see it.

The fact is that negotiations for a new teachers contract will begin soon, if they aren’t already underway; please tell me what you are doing to see that these costs are kept within reason, and that benefit costs are being restructured to be more in keeping with widely based employment norms. And what’s being done to see that the worst teachers don’t get paid the same as the best teachers. I don’t know what field you work in, but unless you consider yourself to be at the bottom of the performance scale, I doubt you would be happy with such an arrangement, or consider it ‘fair.’

Along those lines, please tell us what the Department is doing to see that the millions we send the MEA for insurance don’t include several hundred thousand to be used for political activism. And beyond that, what you’re doing to see that the insurance costs benefit from a competitive process.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of budget increases over the years go to teacher salary increases, warranted or not, and benefits so generous as to make the average Maine taxpayer faint in disbelief. On top of the best job security one could hope for.

The fact is that just a few years ago, we had four schools teaching grades K-5, and we now have one school teaching each. If that hasn’t resulted in major cost savings, I don’t know what would, over and above the enrolment declines. Four school lunch services have been reduced to two; two fewer schools require bus service; classrooms per grade should be significantly lower due both to enrolment decline and efficiencies; support staff and administrative staff should be lower as well. EG, budgets should be lower, yet they have not declined.

I get that you are angry with the state and wish to drive all the attention towards Augusta and away from Brunswick. Perhaps that is why you chose not to address the other realities I mentioned.

As to your comment about ‘predicting numbers’ and the associated difficulty, no one had to ‘predict’ the loss of Durham students and military dependents any more than one has to ‘predict’ the age of their children in coming years. Influencing factors?? My goodness; they were a certainty, givens with entirely known effects on revenue from those sources.

Want to talk about trouble ‘predicting?’ Perhaps you should review the Planning Decisions studies that said Brunswick’s enrolment would rebound just like magic. And the predictions made to justify building the new school.

In particular, I note that you completely ignore the windfall aspects of the loss of military dependents and Durham students. Do you dispute that these students were not bringing ‘fair share’ revenue with them?

And my figures for per year student spending are accurate. For example, in the current year, the approved budget is $33,301,672. If you divide that by 2456, the enrolment reported to the state in October, you get a figure of $13,559.31.

As a member of the school board, I would have expected you to have up to date budget data. If you are unable to get the info you need, please let me know, and I’ll forward the budget files to you.

Readers can find the current year budget here:

I refer you to page two in the document, though you may wish to become familiar with the rest of it as well.

To repeat, while you are intent on shifting the problem elsewhere, it all comes down to spending, and the Brunswick School Department’s are a matter of public record. Nothing you say or do can change the recorded history of approved budgets and the enrolment reports to the state. Unless you wish to suggest that both were falsified.

Anyhow, while I am pretty sure our philosophies on local education funding are diametrically opposed, I would encourage you to get better informed and to contribute more productively by helping to find actual solutions instead of just shooting the messenger or taking the annual swipe across the messenger’s posterior. Hopefully, at the upcoming budget meetings, you’ll have accurate figures in hand.

I have no doubt however, that your ‘actual solutions’ will consist of spending however much more it takes to preserve the status quo, rather than reforming the enterprise to reflect economic, demographic, structural, and performance realities.

If you have the time, though, we’d love to hear what you and the school board have done and are planning on doing to improve student education in Brunswick, aside from giving the teachers annual guaranteed raises regardless of their performance or student outcomes. Suggesting that paying teachers more will yield better education for our kids next year than this year is an insult to the concept of teacher professionalism, and even worse, an affront to taxpayers.

Best regards,

Pem Schaeffer

PS: please tell us where the extra $5,329 we’re spending per student compared to FY 05 has gone.

PSPS: you can find ample commentary on the same issues from last year here:

Feel free to offer your criticisms on the points contained therein; I will do my best to respond.

PSPSPS: Since you have a firm grip on Maine Statute, perhaps you can comment on this passage from §15671:

B. The annual targets for the state share percentage of the statewide adjusted total cost of the components of essential programs and services are as follows.

(1) For fiscal year 2005-06, the target is 52.6%.

(2) For fiscal year 2006-07, the target is 53.86%.

(3) For fiscal year 2007-08, the target is 53.51%.

(4) For fiscal year 2008-09, the target is 52.52%.

(5) For fiscal year 2009-10, the target is 48.93%.

(6) For fiscal year 2010-11, the target is 45.84%.

(7) For fiscal year 2011-12 , the target is 46.18%. [2011, c. 380, Pt. C, §2 (AMD).]

C. Beginning in fiscal year 2011-12, the annual targets for the state share percentage of the total cost of funding public education from kindergarten to grade 12 including the cost of the components of essential programs and services plus the state contributions to teacher retirement, retired teachers' health insurance and retired teachers' life insurance are as follows.

(1) For fiscal year 2011-12, the target is 49.60%.

(2) For fiscal year 2012-13, the target is 52.50%.

(3) For fiscal year 2013-14 and succeeding years, the target is 55%.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Postscript 1 to LT Ben! LT Ben

In this item, we promised we’d be coming back to you with more info and responses to the claims made by the School Department as they soften up the electorate for the forthcoming budget and ensuing public vote.

We will be doing as we promised, though we’re not exactly sure when.  We’re in the process of obtaining more data with which to make our case, or in some situations, finding it difficult to get answers.

As a partial fulfillment of our promise, though, we were able to submit an item to the Forecaster, and we’re told it will run in this week’s edition.  It’s already posted on their web site, and guess what; you don’t have to pay $89.95 a year to access it, like those tax delinquents in Brunswick want to charge you.

You can find the column here:

A sample passage:

Why? Because they’ve suddenly discovered the revenue outlook for the coming fiscal year is fraught with challenges, challenges they want us to believe caught them completely by surprise, and now put the entire school system at intolerable peril.

Regrettably, there isn’t a single change in their revenue stream that wasn’t predictable for a very long time, and should have been planned for years ago. But it’s always much easier to deny reality and then come pleading to a pliant public just before the storm hits.

After you read it, ask a school board member or a member of the administration where that extra $5,329 we’re spending per student since FY 05 is going.  And why, and what we’re getting in return?

You might even try to video their answer with your cell phone.  We promise the answers should be worth archiving and passing along, and we’ll be glad to do that right here on this creaky little media outlet.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kestrel Aircraft, SOB’s, and Senator Stan the Minority Man.

Have we said before that when you look back on things, Alan Klapmeier, the aviation visionary, and his Kestrel Aircraft plans amounted to nothing much more than Jim Horowitz and the Oxford Aviation delusions of bringing jumbo-jets to Brunswick for overhaul work?

Opportunism is the word that ties them together.  Klapmeier wears cooler looking hats, but so what?

When you come right down to it, there’s more than enough venture capital in this country, and investors looking to get in on the ground floor, that if you have a really good idea and business plan, you shouldn’t have to fleece the taxpayers, especially the desperate ones, to get your enterprise up and running.

Klapmeier flirted with the MRRA, our local equivalent of a rich old spinster looking for a last fling at love, but before you know it, moved on to other temptations.

Local reports have described Superior, Wisconsin as the flirt who lured Klapmeier away from Brunswick.  And our very own Senator Stan the Minority Man has posted an essay on the subject.

It includes this passage:

Despite the public statements made by several prominent misinformed individuals about the deal, Kestrel was not chasing public grants around the country to support 100% of their capital needs, which were approximately $100 million. A project of their size requires a combination of private capital and governmental business incentives to be successful. The company had already raised cash and commitments of over $65 million in private equity…..


Far be it from us to question the Senator’s statements; his reputation when it comes to honesty precedes him.  Yet, we can’t remember a single report that stated anything close to commitments of $65 million in private funding.  In fact, just the opposite.  Must be that we and the Senator get our information from different sources.

Adding more confusion to the mix, our trusty research staff has turned up a report that adds more credibility to the theory that Klapmeier and Kestrel have been shopping for lucrative taxpayer funding beyond what we’ve been told.

Ever heard of Dallas-Hiram, Georgia?  Neither had we.  Apparently, they’re in the greater Atlanta area, and Paulding County Northwest Atlanta Airport is in the region. Like many other jurisdictions in the country, they’re looking for economic development.

Klapmeier and Kestrel came a-flirting, just like they did here in Brunswick.  You can read the story here.

The important passage is this one:

Swafford also mentioned the disappointing news that Kestrel Aircraft had made decision not to locate in Paulding and instead will move to Wisconsin. The state is extending Kestrel $108 million in tax credits and $4 million in low-interest loans. Swafford, who said that the operation would involve about 400 employees, added that the decision was not due to any shortcomings with the new airport facility, but rather the inability to match the kinds of tax incentives the company was looking for in choosing a new location.

If memory serves, the number of jobs cited for Kestrel was 300 in the early promos for Brunswick, and then became 600 for Superior.  In Georgia, the number was 400, but who’s counting?

Maybe our man Stan can look into the situation and give us a full report.  And contact his peers in Hiram-Dallas to share a brewski over those missed shots.

And then he can get back to his friends at the MRRA and find out how they missed the Georgia connection.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tangled Webs, etc……

Almost two weeks ago, we posted on this subject in a rather cryptic fashion.

We’re virtually certain you aren’t getting the news from The Ostrich or the ‘main-stream media,’  since they usually maintain a safe distance from icky story lines, especially when it involves their favored entrenched political elites.  Matters only get worse when their investors are, well, well-connected.  Can you say Sussman-Pingree boys and girls?

So it’s time you get up to speed.  Herewith, some reading for you.

Violent Offender Threatens Governor, MaineHousing Fails to Report

It was a gun threat against Maine Governor Paul LePage by an alleged violent offender.

And yet, according to Maine Housing information manager Deborah Turcotte, the Maine State Housing Authority never reported the threat to the police. Neither did MSHA contact the governor’s security detail.

Spending Spree: Gift cards, catering, and travel top list of hundreds of thousands in questionable Maine Housing expenses

Documents obtained by The Maine Wire show the Maine State Housing Authority has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on extraneous expenses – including gift cards, catering, travel, education, and consultants.

UPDATE: Maine Housing Spent Millions on Travel, Training

Travel spending has risen 137% in last five years, training has risen 287%

Data obtained by The Maine Heritage Policy Center as part of a Freedom of Access Act request shows the Maine State Housing Authority spent millions on travel and training expenses over the last 12 years.

If you haven’t already, maybe you should add The MaineWire to your regular reading routine.  You can sign up to get an email when new stories are posted.

The above are examples of breaking, well founded news that’s not fit to print for your established media outlets.  So maybe you should ask yourselves just what purpose they really serve, especially when it comes to their self-identified roles as government watchdogs and guardians of freedom.  Yah, sure.

It’s beginning to look more and more that their number one priority is getting together once a year and lavishing each other with numerous “awards.”  And paying their property taxes on time doesn’t even make their top ten in one well known case.

Now that we think about it, the newspaper awards are getting more and more like the practice in kids soccer; you show up, you get an award.  Everybody gets a trophy. 

What else should we have expected?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

LT Ben! LT Ben!

Have you see the movie Forrest Gump?  If you haven’t, you really should; it’s what a friend called ‘just a great story.’  in the same vein for this reporter as “Waking Ned Devine.”

We love the signature line ‘run, Forrest, run!’

On the other hand, if you’re one of the local elites and/or artistes, you probably consider it completely without redeeming value, and beneath you.  In which case, you should get over yourself.

One of the lead characters in the movie is LT Dan Taylor, played by Gary Sinise.  It may have been his breakthrough role.  In the years following, he formed the “LT Dan Band,” which travels to various destinations to entertain our troops. 

There’s a movie documenting the band’s founding and travels, and it’s worth your time to watch; the troops’ response is a great reminder of what they are enduring and how much they appreciate a taste of home.

Playing off the LT Dan theme, we tonight come to you to talk of LT Ben.  That would be Local Taxpayer Dover, Benjamin.  We’ve recently been reminded of his prominence in local skirmishes.  And his vital role in the outcome.  He represents so many of us, year after year.

We’re talking of the annual campaign of intimidation put on by the Brunswick School Department to soften up the battlefield well before actual budget submission.  With air cover provided by their remotely piloted drones at The Ostrich.

Ed. Note: You can review our reporting on last year’s activity at and

One of our favorites from last year is this item:

In last year’s reporting we told you of the Board of Education’s formation of a “Political Action and Media Committee.”  You couldn’t find better evidence of their commitment to manipulate public opinion than recent press coverage.

As proof, three obsequious front page stories appeared in one week in the ever slavish Ostrich, always a sucker for free content.  Add to that a letter by a clueless local state representative, who predictably believes that more money is always the right answer to any concern.  Our School Department also had a featured spot in the Portland paper.  (Maybe they can get a bailout grant from S. Donald Sussman-Pingree, Maine’s very own SOB Wall Street profiteer!)

Brunswick is rightly well known for the MSMT: the Maine State Music Theater.  But we feel compelled to remind you of Brunswick Schools’ own in house drama program.  It’s lesser known than the MSMT, but no less consequential.

They appear in public as the BTBT: the Brunswick Town Boo-hoo Theater.  This is the seasonal company that produces the annual budget drama starring the School Department, the School Board, and the professionals and amateurs who make up the ensemble and chorus.

The recent articles in the NOTWIUN (our other name for The Ostrich) are the casting call, whether you realized it or not.  The announcements read as follows between the lines:

Now auditioning: the Brunswick Town Boo-hoo Theater is seeking individuals to fill the following roles in an upcoming melodrama:

- The Drama Mamas, who shriek “the children are our future,” and then do everything in their power to see that the children don’t have a desirable future in Maine.

- Professor Plunder P. Klingle, the lying SOB from Bowdoin who is given a free pass by the audience and the press.

- Rosie the Realtor, to sing the show-stopping aria ‘Brunswick will die if we don’t spend more.’

- The Daddies, a doo-wah group crooning the ‘we only moved here because of the schools’ blues.

- Wicked Witch Wendy, reprising the ever-popular ‘if the elderly can’t afford to pay more in taxes, they should move out of town.’  (Ostrich, take note!)

- Daffy the Do-Do, quacking “'I’ll gladly pay more in property taxes,” but somehow never comprehending he’s had the freedom to do that forever.

- The schoolies, who will tap-dance in unison to the ‘our teachers are better than all the rest’ theme song.

- Assorted sympathetic youngsters who will insist that their entire future is about to be compromised because local meanies refuse to turn over their fair share as they see it.  They’ll hand out Kleenex (school issued) to the weeping masses.

- For those of you who were hoping to score the MC role, modeled after Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago, sorry.  That role is already taken.  It’s assigned ‘ex officio,’ and saves the cost of a new top hat, cane, and soft shoes for the big dance number.  (You gotta save the shekels ‘for the children’ wherever you can, right?)

- (Oops….we’d swear we hear the band playing the intro to “Give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle….”)

In the days ahead, when our stomach can handle it, we’ll analyze the articles and letters from our betters line by line, something the ‘government watchdogs’ at The Ostrich are completely incapable of doing.  And not motivated in the least to undertake.  What else would we expect from an outfit that can’t even budget their own operation responsibly enough so they can pay their bills?  Their property tax bills, that is.

Doesn’t matter; they’ll get on their high horse and lecture the rest of us on our lack of caring and devotion.  And counsel us to willingly pay whatever it takes in property tax increases.  Pompous government lapdogs is all they are.  That’s probably what it takes to avoid having the town take legal action to recover delinquent tax amounts, putting them at risk of going under.  Would that make town government a ‘corporate raider?’

They’re pulling out all the stops on the pity pipe organ this year, my friends.  The BTBT and The Ostrich; there’s a ‘pair to draw to.’  Maybe before the curtain goes up at the first budget hearing, the BTBT MC will thank the local paper for their season sponsorship, just like they do before shows at our wonderful summer theater.

Before we forget, we hope someone in the school department can tell us why a K-12 education is costing $176,000 this year, as compared to $123,000 five years ago, and $93,000 ten years ago?  That’s right, the cost of a trip through our school system is up by 90% in the last ten years.

Here’s hoping the carpet in the public meeting chambers are stain proof, because when the band-leader turns on the propaganda machine, Kool-Aid bubbles are going to fill the room, and the schoolies won’t be able to catch them all on their tongues before they hit the rug and burst.

As a special treat, here’s a preview of the primary prop for the upcoming BTBT production, sent to us by an insider:


If you have the guts, make yourself happy by going to this link:

After you do, you should be inspired to add touching the floor from a standing position to your daily workout.  Limber is as limber does.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Frosty’s Update: A real barn-burner!

By all reports from the new owners, Nels and Shelby, the re-opening of Brunswick’s one of a kind donut shop has exceeded all expectations.

On Friday, they were handing out free samples while they lasted.  They opened officially on Saturday, and we understand, were sold out in two hours.  The same thing reportedly happened on Sunday.  A friend waited in line for a considerable time (outside) on Saturday, but got still warm ‘twisties’ for her efforts, and she was aglow.

Side headed over yesterday (Monday) a little after 11 am hoping to have a cup of coffee and a tasty treat to go with it.  The ‘sold-out’ sign was on the front door, but they were still open, so we had a cup of Wicked Joe’s “Frosty’s Blend,” which tasted great.

The place looked fresh and alive, and people continued to stream in looking for the donuts at the end of the rainbow, to no avail.  The new owners looked a bit overwhelmed by the great response they’ve gotten from local aficionados.

This morning we were there a little after 7am, in our sleeper, the one with the attached footies, hoping to get some to bring home.  We scored a quick dozen from the dwindling selection, but people were streaming in, and our guess is the remaining 4-6 dozen in the case were gone in a matter of minutes. 

Back in the kitchen, however, two or three happy busy workers, including John Frost, were working energetically to cook up some more, probably lots more.  Oh, if you were lucky enough to get there at the right time to get them while they’re still warm, you will be addicted, if you weren’t already.

Here’s hoping the owners, after all the hard work of getting ready to open, can adapt well to the demand and the hours.  It will be interesting to watch how the supply is matched to the demand over the long haul.

This reporter’s habit has never been a 7am one.  It’s been just the opposite; head over for a mid-day break when the rush is over, usually around noon or so.  Linger over a donut or two and a second cup, while doing a bit of reading.

The product, we can certify, and this goes for us and many others, is exactly what we’ve all come to love.  Which is to say irresistible.  We expect to see several new varieties over the weeks and months ahead.

We wish Nels and Shelby and their crew fair winds and perfectly heated fryers for the coming spring and summer and fall.  They have a challenge to optimize output vis-a-vis consumer desires, which at best, will vary all over the place.

And we have a challenge to match our preferred routine to the availability of our favorites. 

Good thing their phone number hasn’t changed.  Cause our tastes in such matters haven’t, other than being pent up after nearly a year of withdrawal.

Happy donuts to you!

Technorati Tags: ,,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Maine Wire: Tyranny and the F-Bomb

In layman’s terms, the F-bomb, in all the versions just described, belongs to the class of shut-up words.  It dares political opponents to challenge any statement that deploys it.

“You’re not against fairness, are you?”

“You mean you don’t support fair policies?”  This is a dare.

“How can you oppose expecting the wealthy to pay their fair share?”  This is a double dare.

Then there’s the shut up and sit down version: “it’s only fair,” which amounts to a triple dog dare.


Technorati Tags: ,,,

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Thought for the day

Or maybe the week.

Or the month.

Or even the year.

“Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Only in the fullness of time will the reason for posting this today be revealed.

You’ll just have to be patient, dear readers.  One way or another, we will find out together whether posting this cryptic quote was wrong, or that is was prescient beyond anything we’ve posted in our short and undistinguished history.

Stay tuned, as the saying goes.

Technorati Tags:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Fro’ IS a go!

On Monday, we talked about the possible comeback of Frosty’s Donuts.

We said we’d stop by soon to see what’s going on, and so we have. 

We did it on the way back from Augusta yesterday, and met the new owners. We’re delighted to say they are engaged, enthusiastic, and fully aware of the near-legendary status of the business they have purchased.

They plan to open next Saturday February 11th, and will be open seven days a week.  At least in the near term, Bob and John Frost will be making the donuts, ensuring the product is exactly the same as what we’ve all come to love over the years.

We offered our suggestions for new items, and the good news is that they’re already planning on the Boston Creme item as a regular offering; the ‘long johns,’ or maple and chocolate bars, are also known to them.

But the buttermilk items referred to in the earlier post caught them by surprise.  So we decided to look into the subject in hopes of finding some useful information.

Do you know what ‘taste memory’ is?  Do you think you have it?

We sure do.  We can remember the taste of the gumbo, and the andouille encrusted redfish we had at Emeril’s in ‘Nawlins  something like 15 years ago.  As if it was yesterday.

Our ‘taste memory’ for buttermilk donuts came back immediately when we discovered these photos on the internet; they’re perfect images of the delectable treats we remember. 



Trust us, if you ever get to sample the above, it will be a revelation.  Especially if iced with some nice dark chocolate.  Now all we have to do is get the new Frosty’s to create and offer them.

Sadly, in the midst of the excitement of meeting the new owners, we forgot to offer ours services as official quality assurance taster.

Oh well; sometimes you get the donut, sometime you get the hole. Happy dipping, dunking, and noshing!

Technorati Tags: ,,