Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend Notes: Bowdoin, The Ostrich

Bowdoin: “Gee Officer Krupke, we’re down on our knees, ‘cause no one wants a fella with a social disease”

Keeping up with things at our local elite institution of higher education, we came across this uplifting article:
Upswing in STI cases prompts more students to seek testing
A greater number of students have been getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at the Health Center in recent weeks. The influx of students occurred in the wake of an email sent out by Whitney Hogan, coordinator of health education, on March 7. The email reported an uptick in STIs on campus, including chlamydia, syphilis, herpes, and gonorrhea.
"We want to use educational means such as making posters or creating a Facebook page to continue spreading the message."
We’re particularly amused, of course, by the image of ‘spreading’ in this context. We advise readers and non-readers alike to take appropriate precautions in any campus encounters. And remind all that when you ‘hook up,’ you just might ‘catch’ something.

Then there’s this one:
Faculty salaries increase for 2nd year, ranked 11th of liberal arts colleges
Bowdoin full professors are paid, on average, $130,000 annually. This is up from $127,600 last year. According to the report, the average salaries for associate professors rose from $89,600 last year to $91,900, and assistant professors experienced the largest average increase from $70,600 to $74,000.
We’re not sure where these figures place the good Professors in the income percentile scale here in Maine, but we’re looking into it. We wouldn’t be surprised if many are in the dreaded ‘1%,’ but we’ll know soon. We assure you that top administrators at the college most certainly are.

Which leads us to wonder why the socially conscious student body hasn’t erected an “Occupy Bowdoin” camp, right in the middle of the campus quad, to protest the great economic divide? Have they no self-awareness, no appreciation for social and economic justice?

Hell, they could even have a special STI treatment tent.

Gee, Officer Krupke, what are we to think?

The Ostrich: paying their fair share?

We’ve been reporting on the property tax delinquencies of our local newspaper for some time, dating back well before The Forecaster made it a news item. It was discussed at a Town Council meeting in March, as we recall, and the Town Manager stated that the publisher had promised to report their ‘progress’ on the 15th of each month ‘toward paying their balance in full in June.’

We’ve inquired as to the receipt of those reports, of which two should have been delivered by now.

So far, no response.

Inquiring minds want to know why. We think.

Friday, April 27, 2012

School Department Priorities: in case you haven’t chosen your answer yet, you might want to read this

Just two days ago in this post we asked you a multiple choice question:

What is the highest priority of the Brunswick School establishment, by which we mean the School Board and Department Administration taken as a whole.  Is it

A) The Children?

B)  Department Facilities?

C)  Raises for Teaching Staff?

We followed this with a series of more detailed questions for each choice to help you organize your thoughts.  We don’t know if you reached your answer, since we haven’t heard back from any of you yet.  Brunswick appears to have a heavy population of shrinking violets when it comes down to coming forward. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, unless you’re advocating that we all pay more property taxes to make you happy.  In which case we think you should demonstrate your convictions with a personal commitment.

As fate so often has it, The Forecaster ran an article in today’s edition that dovetails nicely with our prior post. You can find it here.

The article contains these two relevant passages:

School buildings aren't being kept in good condition, the department's director of facilities told the School Board Wednesday night.  (snip)  The total value of the department's facilities is $88 million, Facilities Director Paul Caron said. But the cost to fully repair all of the buildings has risen to $44.4 million, more than 50 percent of their total replacement value.


The board also received two petitions asking it to fully fund educational needs. The first, presented by high school sophomore Izzy Jorgensen, was signed by 240 students.

"We are dismayed by the proposal of cuts to AP and Honors courses that propel students into top colleges," the petition said. "... We keep looking for creativity, but we keep seeing the quality of our education eroded by frayed nerves and frustration."

We confess to being floored by the $44.4 million dollar figure.  If you’ve been following our discussions over past months about budgets and tax increases, it’s hard not to sense a local ‘taxmageddon’ knocking at the door.  $7 million police stations are down in the noise level by comparison.

Various briefings by School Department consultants this year, as we recall, scoped the problem out as in the range of $11 to $17 million, which was bad enough.  These were followed by wringing of hands over how operating budget ‘issues’ were going to put the facilities plan ‘at risk.’

As to the cuts to AP courses, etc, or in so many words, ‘the children,’ our prior thoughts are a matter of record.  We do, however, find the ‘frayed nerves and frustration’ (in lieu of creativity) concept novel and original.


Missing in action is any reference to the remaining possible answer to our original question.  It’s widely accepted that union ‘solidarity’ is a core principle.  Union brothers and sisters stand arm in arm, ’stronger together,’ when budget pressures arise.

Until, that is, when you keeping your job gets in the way of the rest of us getting our raises.  At which point, sorry to see you go, brother or sister, but even solidarity has its limits.  That’s why you won’t see an article, we predict, describing how brothers and sisters are sacrificing their raises to keep their brothers and sisters on the payroll.

You know the old saying: “with brothers and sisters like this, who needs brothers and sisters?”

Others less humble than Side might be tempted to say ‘we told you so,’ but our pride in our humility prevents us from doing so.

You, on the other hand, are free to think what you want about who told you so, with no encouragement from us.  We further suggest that you standby for heavy rolls, to borrow a nautical term.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Let’s have some fun: let’s play the numbers!

Here are some numbers for you:

16.15; 11.50; 23.68; 15.20; 9.95; 17.90; 14.80; xxxx; 13.60; 5.80.

Do they mean anything to you?  Probably not, because such things bore the average observer of the passing scene.   Accordingly, we’ll fill you in; these are municipal property tax rates.  They are expressed as dollars per thousand of assessed value (the ‘mil rate.’)

$16.15 – Topsham

$11.50 – Bowdoin

$23.68 – Brunswick

$15.20 – Freeport

$9.95 – West Bath

$17.90 – Bath

XXXX – Durham (we requested their exact rate, but have not heard back from their municipal staff)

$14.80 – Bowdoinham

$13.60 – Richmond

$5.80 – Harpswell

That’s a decent sample of property tax rates in Brunswick and surrounding communities for the current fiscal year.

You may wonder why the towns that surround us have lower tax rates.  One theory might be that they have really crappy school systems, especially compared to the excellent school system in Brunswick, because we ‘imagine and invest’ more in our schools than they do.  We can only wonder how the residents of the other towns feel about their schools, and how much they value them.  Apparently, by standards of the town of Brunswick, not very much; not much at all.

Fair warning: when you run into residents of these other towns, we suggest you don’t tell them that they don’t care about the children, and that they are sending their kids to substandard schools.  Doing so would not be relationship enhancing.

There’s another possible explanation, and that is one advanced by our friends over at Brunswick Community Divided; you can read about it here.  They suggest that better schools mean higher real estate values, which all other things being equal, would result in a lower tax rate.  Higher home prices, but folks would gladly pay them.

If you and a friend own equivalent homes, you in Brunswick, and your friend in a nearby town, and the property values are significantly higher in your friend’s town than here in Brunswick, then our property tax rate would have to be higher than your friend’s to generate the same revenue.

Gee, if excellent schools mean higher property values, and we have truly excellent schools, shouldn’t we have lower tax rates?  If so, why are we already paying amongst the highest rates in the area?

This finds us on the horns of a dilemma.  We’ve been told over and over that Brunswick schools are widely known for their excellence, and that this drives people to move here. Which, according to the theory on the table, should elevate our property values and lower our tax rate. (Even if in the last year, we’ve lost 4% of our students, which would suggest more families are moving out than moving in.) 

But if nearby towns have lower tax rates, shouldn’t we assume that their property values must be higher, which suggests that their schools must be superior, if you believe the school excellence-property value hypothesis?  Or, on the other hand, that our schools are not nearly as excellent as everyone claims, and hence we have lower property values and higher tax rates?

Quite a conundrum it would seem.  And we confess to not having an answer, except to say that those over at BCD and their fellow higher tax advocates are trying everything under the sun to rationalize spending even more.  If one explanation won’t work, let’s try another.  Still not good?  OK, they’ll come up with another theory in a moment or two.

Or perhaps we are the exception: we have excellent schools, but crummy property values, and hence higher tax rates.

The real question is just how much you have to spend for excellence, and more importantly, how much more you have to spend to maintain it.  And why spending equates to excellence, rather than expectations, policies, performance metrics, and standards.

We wonder just how much higher the BCD gang, the POMWTMI’s, think our taxes have to be raised to prove that we care more than others?

While we have your attention, we’d like to leave you with some other information.

You can find the property tax rates for every town in Maine, as of 2010, here.  At least in some folks minds, this should make it easy for you to tell which towns have the best schools.  Or maybe not.

Here are a few other interesting references.  Keep in mind that the average residential property tax bill in Brunswick is about $3260.

The median property tax in Maine is $1,936.00 per year for a home worth the median value of $177,500.00. Maine counties collect an average of 1.09% of a property's estimated fair market value as property tax.

The median property tax in Cumberland County, Maine is $2,859 per year for a home worth the median value of $244,900. Cumberland County collects, on average, 1.17% of a property's estimated fair market value as property tax.

Cumberland County has one of the highest median property tax rates in the United States, and is ranked 150th of the 3145 counties in order of average property taxes.

The average yearly property tax paid by Cumberland County residents amounts to about 4.13% of their yearly income. Cumberland County is ranked 164th of the 3145 counties for property taxes as a percentage of median income.

Let’s finish with one more high note.  Guess how much property is exempt from taxation by Brunswick?

According to figures we have before us, total taxable value in town is $1.246 billion.  Another $714 million in property valuation is exempt from taxes. of which $641 million is simply exempt property.  You’ve got your Churches, your hospitals, and your government buildings, and probably some others we are not aware of.  We’re going to swag that at $140 million or so total to make things easy.

Which leaves another $500 million in tax exempt property.  And we can only think of one thing that could be.  We’re not going to tell you what we think it is; we’ll just leave you with this hint: Professors Perkinson and Klingle.

And wonder why they haven’t suggested what a ‘new revenue source’ for Brunswick School funding might be.  Right there in the very centroid of education excellence.

That ‘centroid’ charges students something between fifty and sixty thousand dollars a year. Is it any wonder these tenured exemplars of academic freedom think everyone should pay lots more for school excellence?

Have you no shame people?  Have you no self-respect?

How do you know when you’re making a difference?

Well, at least by one measure, when the ‘idiotic’ ratings on your posts begin to set records.

Just today, we noticed idiotic scores of 5, 6 and perhaps more on a number of our recent posts.

And we couldn’t be happier, because we take these new highs as confirmation that we are striking a chord with local residents, even if the chord is a dissonant one.  And reaching a whole new audience, which is always a good thing.  It is, isn’t it?

At the same time, we have to wonder why those who find our posts idiotic don’t have the gumption and commitment to THEIR point of view to use our comment feature.  This is, we remind you, a feature  you won’t find on Brunswick Community Divided and the other sites advocating for ever higher spending and taxes.

BTW, if you aren’t, or haven’t watched the Board Meeting tonight, you’re missing a real fine example of tap-dancing.  And as someone right now is pointing out, we look like we’re planning on turning the schools into an all purpose social agency, complete with meals.

For now, we’ll close by saying that just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all, you’re wrong.  You haven’t.  And you can trust us on this.

The betting line in Perfect: Reprise

You’ve probably long forgotten the brilliant insights we posted some time ago here.  That’s OK, given the delights of spring and other diversions, we forgive you.

But we’re here today to reignite your interest in the issue.  The School Board is meeting tonight to choose from five FY13 budget options presented by the School Superintendent, Mr. Paul Perzanoski.

You can find his presentation to the School Board here: 

Your humble correspondent is a ‘PowerPoint Warrior’ who goes way, way back, and whose collected works easily number in the thousands of charts.  We always drafted our presentations based on the principle that if someone missed the live delivery, the printed version of the pitch should be specific enough to explain the message when read after the fact.  From our perspective, Mr. P is still in the pre-warrior category in such matters.

So let us summarize his presentation for you, before he gives it, as best we can.  He offers five options for the School Board.  For reference, the current year budget is $33.3 million.

Option 1:  Proposed budget of $34.1 million; ~13% property tax increase for schools alone.

Option 2:  Proposed budget of $33.7 million; ~12% property tax increase for schools alone.

Option 3:  Proposed budget of $33.5 million; ~11% property tax increase for schools alone.

Option 4:  Proposed budget of $33.4 million; ~11% property tax increase for schools alone.

Option 5:  Proposed budget of $32.9 million; ~9% property tax increase for schools alone.

You can see for yourself how that 4% enrollment decline in the last year is driving down our total costs.  But the ‘decline’ must be coming to an end, because the Super adds this projection in his presentation: a further increase of 6% in property taxes for FY14 ($1.8 million) and 5% for FY15 ($1.4 million). 

And those are ‘starting points,’ which means before the real estate agents, Board members, and schoolies run around with their hair on fire.  So welcome to a minimum of a 20% property tax increase in the next 30 months, for the School Department alone, and before knowing what the Municipal side has in store. 

Boy, are we gonna have us some excellent schools!  Apparently, 20%  more excellent than they are now, which is akin to ‘more perfect’ or ‘more pregnant.’

Some thoughts.

- The School Board will vote on their choice tonight without a Teachers Contract document in their hands, so their insight into what the consequences of the contract are is zero.  And the Super’s slides don’t give any hint, do they?

- The $10-20 million in lurking capital expenditures will not arise as a discussion item, nor will it’s effect on future tax increases be addressed.

- The School Board will wring their hands, gnash their teeth, and in the end, declare that ‘they can’t in good conscience forward a budget to the Town Council that slashes education spending yet again, shortchanges our children, and sets the town back by a mile.’

- The School Super will tell the media reporters after the meeting that he ‘did his best to provide options that were responsible and kept tax increases in line, but the Board felt we just couldn’t keep undermining the obligations we have to the children, the parents, and everyone in Brunswick.’

- When the Town Council gets the budget, they will wring their hands, gnash their teeth, suggest $100,000 be cut from the highest option, and commit to ‘addressing this crisis in the years ahead.’  And then send a school budget to the voters that raises property taxes by 13%, because they ‘have no real choice.’

You can come up with your predictions and compare them to ours.  We’ll be happy to post them here if you wish.

Or you may have something else to wish for.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

We’ll check the news reports tomorrow to see how closely they adhere to our crystal ball vision from the outer reaches.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A simple, multiple-choice question about School Department priorities

Before posing the question, we confess to struggling with exactly how to phrase it.  In an ideal world, we believe the School Board, as an elected body, would be of independent mind compared to the School Department, which is hired staff that serves at the pleasure of the School Board. 

But we don’t live in ‘an ideal world;’ we live in a town where the School Board exists to ratify the proposals of the hired staff, rather than set priorities, steward the enterprise, and protect the interests of all the taxpayers who elected them.  Unanimous votes, almost as a rule, make the point.

What follows will hopefully clarify things for you.

So here is our question:

What is the highest priority of the Brunswick School establishment, by which we mean the School Board and Department Administration taken as a whole.  Is it

A) The Children?

B)  Department Facilities?

C)  Raises for Teaching Staff?

Rather than pontificate on the question, which we are more than willing to do, we decided it would be more meaningful if you arrived at your answer on your own.  To do so, we are providing more detailed questions to stimulate your thoughts; we hope they help.

Let’s take choice A, “The Children.”  Here are some relevant questions to help you decide if this is the highest priority:

  • Have you ever seen Department officials come before public gatherings and town officials to proclaim that unless taxes are raised, they won’t be able to continue operating schools with the excellence we’re known for?
  • Have you ever seen Department officials make comments in the press that vital programming is at risk unless a ‘solution’ is found for ‘revenue shortfalls?’
  • Have you ever seen Department officials threaten to curtail sports activities, art and music offerings, and Advanced Placement course offerings if ‘alternative revenue sources’ are not found?
  • Have you ever seen young school children come before the School Board or the Town Council pleading that their favorite activities or classes be protected from ‘cuts?’
  • Have you ever seen parents and other schoolies, including real estate agents and others, come before public gatherings to claim that after ‘years of slashed budgets,  we just can’t take any more?’
  • Have you ever seen published letters and commentaries that emphasize that the excellence of our schools are in jeopardy unless we raise taxes?
  • Have you ever seen Department officials and school advocates come before public gatherings to show how much more they are spending per student and per teacher with each passing year?
  • Have you ever seen Department officials, Town Councilors, and school advocates talk about years and years of school budget cuts all while budgets have grown continuously, or at the worst, stayed flat as enrollment sank?

Now let’s consider Choice B, Department Facilities.

  • Have  you ever seen Department officials come before public gatherings to pronounce that unless millions more are provided to remedy deferred maintenance issues, children will be subjected to various parasites, mold spores, and other triggers for asthma, and worse?
  • Have you ever seen Department officials employ consultants to document how much is required in the way of renovations and remediation to correct conditions that put all children at risk, and especially the most vulnerable?
  • Have you ever seen Department officials claim that 10-20 million in facilities improvements have been known about and planned for for years, but current revenue projections and community sentiments  threaten the welfare of all concerned, meaning children AND staff?
  • Have you ever known the Department to monitor facility conditions and publicize their care and feeding as a regular agenda item?
  • Have you ever known the Department to make claims similar to this one that recently emanated from Portland:  “The city's elementary school buildings also need drastic improvement, and in the case of Hall elementary, should be replaced entirely, Morse said. At Hall, Morse said, "there are sprinklers sprinkling, smells smelling, walls wet."”

And finally, consider Choice C, raises for teaching staff.

  • Have you ever seen Department officials come before public meetings worried about having enough revenue to pay for teacher raises?
  • Have you ever seen teachers come before public meetings to plead their salary concerns?
  • Have you ever seen letters or op-eds in the local paper from teachers or Department members In crisis mode over sufficient revenue to pay for raises and benefit increases?
  • Have you ever seen Department officials say they couldn’t approve the new teachers contract until they knew what budget level the Council would approve, and how much they’d increase the tax rate to cover it?
  • Have you ever seen Department officials publicly brief on the contract structure and related performance metrics, given that compensation is the lion’s share of the budget?
  • Have you ever seen Department officials propose the creation of a performance driven, merit pay based teachers compensation system?
  • Do you recall Department officials coming before the public and Council proposing to suspend step increases and general increases in order to avoid cutting student ‘programming’ or to tend to critical deferred maintenance needs?

Hopefully, once you’ve thought through these questions, you’ll have an easier time coming up with your answer to the opening question. 

Care to tell us which choice you picked?  If you had trouble coming up with a pick, fear not.  We’ll tell you what the correct answer is in a subsequent post.

Til then, keep on believing.  As for us, we believe we’ll go finish the chore we began yesterday to take our mind off the mundane details of civic matters.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A thought or two for the Imagineers in Brunswick’s POMWTMI special interest group….

We’ve been reporting on the number of folks in this crowd who’ve stepped up to tell us all how much more they’d like to pay towards our schools.  We’ve asked them to PYMWYMI, all to no avail.

So let’s touch on another aspect of their campaign, that being their petition, which still shows not a single solitary tax increase figure.  Go figure.

We reported earlier today that Brunswick system enrollment now stands at 2,414.  We have no idea how many households these kids represent, but let’s just use an average of two per household, which may actually be high in this era. 

Using that figure, we come up with about 1,200 households,  In the old days, that would mean about 2,400 parents; in this day and age, it’s probably more like 1,800 parents.  Add to that all the adults whose children are grown that vociferously declare their support for more spending and higher taxes, and you’re surely well beyond the 2,400 concerned individuals, right?  Witness this quote on the higher taxes site:

In our conversations with Brunswick residents over the past few weeks, we’ve encountered a great many people who’ve expressed support for education despite the fact that they don’t have children in the schools.

Well, as of yesterday, Brunswick Community Divided claims 370 signers of their on-line petition, of which 19 or more are XXXXX, and 253 signers of their paper petition.  Assuming those who signed both are legion, you end up with 10-20% of the eligible cohort who have publicly declared their desire to pay higher taxes, meaning 80-90% are unwilling to publicly proclaim their checkbooks are open to whatever others would like.

That’s not exactly a rousing mandate for higher taxes, is it?  Especially when you consider that schoolies are amongst the most vocal advocates for ‘gladly paying more.’  Bookies are a distant second.

We are mightily disappointed, as you can well imagine, that so far none have given a hard dollar increase they are volunteering, but we realize there are math challenges in coming up with an answer.

So let’s give them an easier question so they can get in the swing of things.  How about if all those signers and sign-posters get back to us, or post on the BCD site, exactly how much they are already paying in property taxes. 

That will give them a basis from which they can project their increased figures for the coming years.  Even if the town doesn’t raise rates as high as they’d like, since they can always send in more than they are billed, in case they didn’t already know that.

We can’t wait to see how much they are paying, so we can compare it to the town average for residential properties.  Excluding mobile homes, the figures we have show an average of approx. $X,XXX per account.

We’ll take the figures made public and average them to help readers understand just where our friends rank in the taxpaying rolls.  We’re sure they think they are in the upper tier, but we have some reason to believe they are a bit delusional in that regard.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Hmmm….there’s another possible episode of Hypocrisy Now, once we get it on the air.  But we digress.

Brunswick Schools enrollment update….


We just received the Brunswick School Department “April 1 enrollment figure,” which they must report to Maine’s DOE.

The figure is 2,414, or 42 lower than the October 2011 report of 2,456.  So we’ve lost 1.7% of our students in 6 months.

Compared to a year ago, when we reported 2,524, we’ve lost 110 students, for a 4.3% decrease.

We have two immediate thoughts.  First, perhaps Sally Sincere of our local real estate sales contingent could give us an update on the “people move to Brunswick because of the excellence of our schools” theory.  And while she’s at it, tell us why people move out of Brunswick, which they apparently do in larger numbers.

Second, maybe it’s time to spend another hundred thou or two with Planning Decisions Inc to update their enrollment predictions, which we’ve already paid them for twice.  They’re the folks who told us what we wanted to hear: that enrollment would snap right back to pre-base closure levels after a brief dip. 

This is the same trusted profession that predicts 17,000 jobs on the redeveloped base, and 100 shoppers a day when the train starts running.

While we’re at it, you might find something of interest on this new web site we just heard about.  We sure did:

Maine’s reading scores drop despite record spending

Click on that title to read the news clip.

Stella, oh Stella!  See if you can get Jane what’s-her-name on the line, would you?  You know, the one who says people are flocking to our town because of our excellent schools.  And contact Amtrak to find out what size Kool-Aid tank car they plan for the trains coming to town.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Contracts, cuts, community, and correspondence, all in the context of imagination and investment

…..and who knows what else in our current cornucopia of civic concerns. 

Where do we begin?  Rather than argue over the order of conversation,  let’s just take things as we stumble upon them.  But first, let’s set the tone visually.


Starting with Brunswick Community United, home of the Imagine and Invest demographic, which has apparently eliminated us from their ‘email update notification’ list.  So rather than a convenient notice in our inbox that a new item has appeared on their site, we have to trudge over there on our own to see what’s new, and to find out how many pledge signers have publicly proclaimed their dollar commitment in increased property taxes.  For the children, and for the future, as you well know.

We thought it might be a glitch in their system, and we could simply renew our membership, but we couldn’t find any way to sign up anew, like we did before.  Perhaps too many of you who weren’t purity certified had done the same as we, and the site owner felt he needed to purge his community of those who did not meet their high standards.

We therefore suggest that the Professor rename his site “Brunswick Community Divided,” since that is how it operates.  He and his followers are free to comment here, of course, and will be shown the respect they deserve.  Because we are uniters, not dividers.

Now, let’s talk about that new teachers contract.

Rich Ellis to the front!  Price check on year1213, please!

A little more than a week ago, The Ostrich reported on the newly approved teachers contract in an ‘above the fold’ Page 1 article.  The article stated that ‘the Brunswick School Department approved a three year contract for Brunswick teachers.’  Let’s stop right here; as we understand things, the School Board votes on and signs the contracts, not the ‘School Department.’ 

That is, elected officials have that authority, not Department officials; so they have clean white gloves.  Unless we’re wrong, which we could easily be.  The comment window is open to those who wish to correct us.

The article went on to say that ‘after year one,’ employees will receive a raise of 3.57%, ‘after year two,’ a raise of 3.99%, with 85% of health insurance paid for by the School Department (taxpayers), and ‘after year three,’ a 2.9% increase.  We believe this report is faulty, since the way it reads, it would specify pay and benefits for four years, when it is a three year contract. 

Knowing what we do about past and current teachers contracts, we believe the word ‘after’ in the above wording should be changed to ‘in.’  Then this week, The Forecaster published an article describing the new contract in these words:

The School Board unanimously approved a three-year contract that includes pay increases for school employees.

Under the previous two-year contract, the Brunswick Education Association had agreed to a one-year freeze in wages.

All three years of the contract contain regular step increases. In addition, employees will receive salary increases of 1.57 percent in year one, 1.99 percent in year two, and 0.9 percent in year three.

They got the School Board part right, but the next statement is not accurate.  There was no ‘freeze in wages,’ since the annual step increases remained in effect.  If you made $50,000 one  year, and $51,500 the next year, your wages were not ‘frozen;’ you got a 3% raise.

One has to wonder why the percentage increases cited by The Forecaster are so different from those cited by The Ostrich, since you would expect that both got their information from the same source.

Curious about this, we asked the School Department to provide us with the same information that media representatives had been given.  After all, aren’t we a medium too?  (No we aren’t; actually, we’re an XL, or when available, an XXL.)

The response we got to our request was this:

When we have completed the language revisions and new scales I’ll provide you with a copy.

This may not mean much to you if you haven’t seen a teachers contract set of pay scales before.  So we’re posting one for the current fiscal year here.

The most important take-away from the Department response just a few lines above is that the School Board approved the new teachers contract without seeing the ‘language revisions’ and ‘new (pay) scales.’  Which to our way of thinking, means they voted to approve a contract that they had not seen, let alone read. 

This appears to be the ‘new normal’ of accountability, since at the federal level, massive legislation has to be approved before we can find out what’s in it.  Be sure to thank your School Board rep for being so meticulous in representing your interests with the same degree of awareness.

This surely explains why when we showed salary details to a then School Board member some years ago, her eyes glazed over.  She frankly had no idea of what she had voted for, nor did she have a clue about the ‘structural’ nature of teacher contracts.  We were stunned then, but barely surprised now.

Here’s why the petty little details make so much difference.  Familiar with teachers contract templates as we are, we extrapolated the numbers reported in The Ostrich article.  Using the classic structure of such contracts, we calculated that in July of 2014, little more than two years in the future, teachers would be making 20-25% more in salary than they are right now.  Paying another $500 or so a year for their medical coverage seems a small price for pay increases of $10,000 a year or thereabouts.  And while we’re at it, is your employer paying 85% of your health insurance costs?

The figures reported in The Forecaster would yield lower increases, but they sound off, because step increases alone amount to ~ 2.5% to 5% per year, depending on pay level. Since we can’t get definitive clarification from the School Department, we can’t give you the straight skinny.  We can only wonder what School Board members believe the new reality is.  And ask how they could have voted for the new accord without knowing the same details we’d like to know.

Then there’s the remarkably artful interpretation of Professor Perkinson over at BCD, which reads in part as follows:

Brunswick signs contract with school employees

Posted on April 21, 2012 by Brunswick Community United

The previous contract had frozen employee wages for the past year; the new contract will provide an average annual increase of 1.49% in employee salaries over the next three years. As one point of comparison, the recently released Consumer Price Index survey shows that from March of last year to March of this year, unadjusted prices for all items rose an average of 2.7%.

So now inquiring minds, mostly among the schoolies who drink at the Professor’s web-based font of knowledge, have three descriptions of reality from which to choose.

Memo to Professor Perkinson:  Budgets and contracts are not art to be interpreted through one’s ‘world-view’ or ‘experiential filters.’  To begin with, as explained above, THE PREVIOUS CONTRACT HAD NOT FROZEN WAGES!  If you had any interest in the facts and the truth, you’d have done enough independent study to gather the information. 

Unless you aren’t open to facts that undermine your ‘academic freedom’ to revise reality to fit your agenda.  Word of mouth propaganda seems your preferred information source.  What a great recommendation for the quality of education offered at Bowdoin for $60,000 a year or so. 

Stick to your art, Professor, because you have zero aptitude for and credibility with numbers.  If this interpretation of the teachers contract is any indication, you have absolutely no business engaging in any level of discussion on anything to do with budgets, taxes, or anything else featuring numbers larger than 10.  (Or 20, if you want to throw your toes into the mix.)

The 102 Position Cuts:  Just the other day, we reported on our attempts to get the details of the ‘102 position cuts’ made in recent years to lower department costs.

Two days ago, we got the following update from the School Superintendent:

I don’t believe we are required to complete research on your behalf. We thought it was a good idea to compile it and we are doing that when we have time. You’ll have it when we are finished. Thanks, Paul.

If we were a smart ass, we’d say the Super was thinking ‘you’ll get it when we damn well want to give it to you,’ but his better angels convinced him to do otherwise, and we appreciate that.  Too bad our better angels couldn’t convince us to not make this observation.  But given the intentional hyperbole, agitprop, mis-reporting, and blatant misinformation circulating in town to stir up emotions, we aren’t too patient when it comes to such things.

We responded as follows:

Mr. Perzanoski: 

"Required" to complete research on my behalf?  I suppose not.

However, since you choose to use such statistics to drum up support for your proposals by proving how severely you've trimmed employment and staff, you should be expected to back up your claims.

And since I am 'required' by law to pay the costs of your Department's Operation, on time, I might add, I expect you to provide the information.

Perhaps you can ask Rich Ellis for help in compiling the numbers.  He seems to have the expertise, the inclination, the time, and the data resources to do so quickly and efficiently.


Pem Schaeffer

We received no response to this reply, but Rich Ellis, the School Board numerologist, is ‘in the loop,’ and can slap us around as he will, even on this site.

C’mon, Rich. While you’re at it, let’s see that 3 to 5 year plan, including the extra millions we’ll need to pay the salaries in the new contract, make physical plant renovations, and otherwise continue to drive expansive growth in property taxes.

Correspondence: speaking of hyperbole, agitprop, mis-reporting, and blatant misinformation circulating in town to stir up emotions, we think two recent letters in The Forecaster provide the perfect icing for the muli-layered deception cake ready to come out of the oven.

Here are some highlights from the first one:

A number of teachers also live in my neighborhood, teachers who are concerned about doing the best for their students as they struggle with the effects of past budget cuts and the threat of future cuts.

How many more times do we have to say that budgets have not been cut, and that per student and per teacher spending has increased steadily and very generously?  We realize the popular understanding is that if the budget is now $10, and the new proposal is $20, and the final approved level is $15, that the budget has been cut by $5, when in fact it has grown by $5.  Shouldn’t adults who went through our public schools be able to grasp this “subtlety?’

Because of the closure of Jordan Acres school, classrooms are full to overflowing, with little room for teachers’ resources.

You do understand, don’t you, that Jordan Acres was closed because someone forgot to shovel the snow off the roof, and well, we hated those open classrooms foisted upon us by prior education experts; so snow-megeddon was a blessing in disguise.  And that we knowingly shut down Longfellow, a much beloved school.  Is it too much to ask that you try to stay informed of the facts?  Or do you read The Ostrich?

Therefore I ask you to please present a school budget that does not skimp on what we need to sustain or even improve the education for this and future generations.

Ah, another fine example of the belief that the only way to measure the quality of education is by how much we spend.  What else could you think; the School Department works hard to make sure you have no other metrics.  As does the School Board.  Here’s hoping you didn’t attend the UM system; the costs are too low to give you a decent education.

All of us need to take responsibility for the future of our community, even if it means an increase in property taxes.

Alright, ma’am, why don’t you start by telling us how much more you want to throw into the hopper?  And while you’re at it, would you assert that we ALL need to take responsibility for the future of our state and nation, even if it means we ALL have to pay income taxes?

Let’s examine fine example two.

I would much rather see our town spending money on education. These children are our future, and every time there are cuts to education, we are taking opportunities away from them.

Ditto, ditto, ditto, ad nauseum.  And memo to writer: we are spending money on education, far more per student with each passing year, and far more per teacher with each passing year.  How much more would be enough for you?  10%  more, 20% more, maybe even 50% more?   Come on…..stand up and be counted!  Of course, if you can’t tell the difference between a cut and an increase, you aren’t qualified to engage in this discussion in the first place.

Conclusion:  And so we must ask, just what are these letter writers worried about?  The School Board will forward a budget calling for at least a 10% property tax increase to the Town Council, and dare them to demonstrate disdain for our children and teachers by making ANY reductions.  Suitably cornered, Councilors will express grave concerns and misgivings, but do nothing and send the budget to the voters more or less as is.  Except forgive loans, perhaps, which is just another way of POMWTMI.

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

22 April PYMWYMI update: where are the leaders?

Here’s the status a week following our last report:

1) Zero ‘imagine’ signs seen around town augmented with a dollar amount.

2) Zero petition listings that mention a dollar amount the signer will gladly pay above and beyond their current tax bill.

3) Zero messages from supporters received at Other Side offices volunteering a specific tax increase amount.

4) And most shocking, shocking, we say, 19 petition signers who all belong to the family ‘xxxxxxx.’

Nothing like leading by example.  Wait till we hand out the little cardboard paddles at upcoming meetings and ask those in attendance to write the amount they are volunteering and hold it up for all to see.  That should make for some great TV on Other Side’s video channel, currently in the planning stages.

To make things more intuitive for one and all, just below is one of those classic little fund-raising thermometers that shows how well the PYMWYMI fund raising drive is doing among the imagine and invest demographic in town.

(Note: the $2 received so far includes a $1 loan from Other Side accounts to inspire others, plus a $1 pledge from one of our readers.)


Some readers might say this report reads just like last weeks….and they’d be correct.  Those who shout “I’ll gladly pay more taxes” are nothing if not consistent in their lack of follow-through with a public commitment to inspire others.  Perhaps we should conduct a direct phone survey to ask for an amount; that might yield some interesting conversations.

Check out this recent Forecaster article.  Sadly, our new local reporter, Matt H-squared, shows serious lack of judgment in making this statement:

The School Department has had to make deep cuts over recent years, but it is still doing well relative to other districts across the state.

Matt: the first part of that statement is patently false, or at the least, a misuse of plain English.  The budgets have been essentially flat in recent years while enrollment has declined steeply.  “Deep cuts,” besides being an utter falsehood by any measure, plays into the hair on fire mentality of school advocates; shame on you. 

Budget dollars per teacher and budget dollars per student have climbed steadily, without exception.  As to the second part, ‘doing well,’ in what regard, and meaning what?

Note: you can find some useful information here, Matt:

Pardon us for the sidebar, but a public flogging was clearly called for.  The air and the press are rife with hyperbole, hyperventilation, and hyper-deception, and we will call it out as often as we can.

The high point of the article, at least as it relates to this post, is that a few more school advocates have joined the ranks of those begging for whatever tax increase it takes, while avoiding public commitments by amount.

Like we said, nothing if not consistent.  In truth, those who we ask to PYMWYMI are really members of the POMWTMI demographic.  They are close relatives of the same folks who would give a stranger the shirt off your back.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

For the intellectually curious imaginative residents of Brunswick…..

We post this item with all the humility we can muster, which most of you will say is negligible.  None-the-less, we are proud of our humility, and we will continue to remind you of it.

The item we will link you to is a ‘study’ we performed in 2007.  It assesses the circumstances surrounding Brunswick’s plan for building a new school, at the same time a sizable segment of the local population would be exiting the area.  We put substantial effort into the document, both in time and compilation of reference data.  We still look at it as a relevant commentary on local circumstances; we see nothing recently that has rendered it any less relevant than it was when first published.

We were stimulated to post this item for your study because of the public statement we commented on here.  Until proven otherwise, we choose to believe the speaker is responsible enough to want to become as well informed as possible.  We’ll see if that is the case; the least she can do is let us know that she found our effort, and is taking it under advisement. 

She is free to comment here, as opposed to Brunswick Community United, which for some reason does not allow feedback on their web site.  It must be an oversight.

While the document is quite lengthy, we suggest that these passages are the most meaningful in our situation today:

The most vocal activists in Maine are those who are fundamentally anti-growth for one reason or another. Maine has nearly the worst economy and business climate in the nation, and our region will be hit with an economic calamity when BNAS closes. The age group least affected by these factors are retirees, who appear to be the only growing demographic in the state.

Many believe that Brunswick is somehow immune from these facts and trends. A recent commentary in the Times Record contained this quote: “With base redevelopment and the physical attractiveness of this area — proximity to Portland and Boston — the signs are already in place for enormous growth (emphasis mine) that forward-thinking people have already recognized.” I know of no credible evidence or logic for accepting that Brunswick is poised for enormous growth, nor more importantly, of a civic will to welcome such growth. If public discussion of such matters in recent years is any indication, the exact opposite is the case.

“The reality is that the local military population exhibits a virtually non-aging profile, and it is concentrated in the school aged dependent demographic. More important is that regardless of the disposition of the government and private housing vacated on their departure, it is foolhardy to assume that housing will be filled by a civilian population with the same consequences for our school system as the military population.”

You can find the subject document here, and we hope you will give us the honor of giving it your consideration.

Bursting bubbles doesn’t do much to make you popular.  But that’s fine with us; popularity is our least concern.  We’re much more interested in honest discourse and clear understanding of reality.

Even if the majority isn’t.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The undefined budget ‘bleeding’ of 102 cuts….


The other day, as we were comparing notes, Side’s daughter, sarcasm hat firmly in place, said ‘you know what they say, Dad; you can’t put a price on good education.’

It’s beginning to look as well that you can’t put a price on 102 recent position cuts in our school system.

If you’ve been paying attention to school budget theatrics this season, you know that the administration is trumpeting these cuts in recent years.  This is intended, obviously, to pump up public wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, and inspire choruses of ‘make the bleeding stop!’

It fuels the ‘slashing’ imagery we hear so frequently, including just last week in a public statement to the school board, which we responded to yesterday.

As you know, we have compiled a good deal of budget, staffing, and payroll data for Brunswick’s School Department.  Which has left us wondering about many things.  Remember this passage from a post last month:

Here’s the confusion factor.  When you look at a fiscal year payroll summary, you discover that the number of separate entries in the listing is substantially larger than the number of unique individuals on the payroll.  For example, the FY 09 summary contains 638 entries, but 510 unique individuals, with a salary total of $20,531,342.  The FY 10 summary contains 604 entries, but 481 unique individuals, with a total payroll of $21,122,405.  The FY 11 summary has 575 entries, and 478 unique individuals, for a total payroll of $21,398,876.  These figures imply that 32 individuals left the system in two years, while the payroll increased by  $867,534.

We figure that if you’re going to brag about all those positions you’ve cut to keep the budget in line, you ought to be willing to say how much those cuts have saved, especially since payroll costs have still grown in the latest years for which data is available.  So we posted this request to our Superintendent on Thursday, March 15th:

Mr. Superintendent:

The file transmitted in the message below listed the positions eliminated in the 3 most recent years.

Please provide the annual salary for each of the positions eliminated.


Pem Schaeffer

The file referred to listed the 102 ‘positions’ we had been provided earlier.  After four weeks, we had received no reply.  So we added this missive to his inbox on Friday, April 13th:


It's been four weeks since I made this request.  Please let me know when I can expect to receive the requested data.


Pem Schaeffer

So far, no response to it either, but we will keep you posted.  Maybe one of our readers out there who is better thought of than us could intervene on our behalf; even one from the hundreds over there at Brunswick Community United might be enough to pry the info loose.  Rich Ellis, are you there and listening?

Unless, that is, they don’t really want the details to become public.

You’ve probably heard that a new 3 year teachers’ contract has been approved by the School Board, though it seems a bridge too far to get much in the way of details.  Getting a top of the fold splash on page 1 of The Ostrich, though, is a piece of cake.  We can’t wait for their homily on paying ‘whatever it takes’ for the children and our excellent schools. 

It just might be the centerpiece of one of our first reports on the TV series we have in the planning stage, which we’re considering calling “Hypocrisy Now.'”

You can infer what you will from the Superintendent’s recent comment at HBS on April 9th: “salary and insurance increases projection – $1 million.”  Which has to make you even more curious about the effect of those 102 cuts.  Unless you’re not interested in the least, because it would interfere with your preferred scenario and the talking points you’ve been fed.

This $1 million growth is in the traditional ‘costs beyond our control’ category.  This $1 million growth adds to the already advertised $3 million deficit.  But don’t you worry, the increased compensation will be paid for by ‘a combination of department decreases and the town paying more for education’ per the Superintendent.

While there may still be a touch of doubt in your mind as to how this is all going to turn out, the confidence expressed by the Superintendent tells you all you need to know about the School Board’s role in things, and what the Superintendent expects from the Town Council, and you, the voter, if you even dare to come out.

Amuse-bouche, a la commode Brunswick

We’re trying to form the habit of carrying our handy little camera with us as we schlep around town in the family truckster.  Because Brunswick “is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

But we know this.  If you get too much of it, you could get a belly-ache.  Or your belly could ache from laughing so hard.  Or you might just become a public belly-acher, like some other folks in town.

Herewith some recent examples:

1) LEEDS, weeds, and seeds:


As we travelled by our latest monument to civic pride, we came upon some major landscaping renovation on the grounds of Harried Beecher Stowe School.  Best we can figure out, the entire lawn area around the playground is being ‘redone.’

We confess that late last summer and fall, we thought the subject lawn area was, to put it gently, dead.  But we are not wise in the ways of modern-day organic landscaping and LEEDS certification, so we just figured this was a new ‘earth friendly’ strain of permeable surface coverage that contributed to the overall sense of self-esteem associated with the school.  And perhaps at the same time distracted one’s eyes from the architectural dissonance and visual unrest of the structure itself.

We can’t wait to see what is going down on the ground now; could it be astro-turf?  How else will you keep the kids on recess and local school yard players from doing in the new planting before it has a chance to set roots?

We can’t wait as well to find out how this is being paid for, and how much it costs.  Or could it be part of an AP course in landscape design at the High School?  One way or tuther, it will probably surface in budget discussions.

2)  Composition is everything:


Interesting photography depends first and foremost on composition, and interesting composition that occurs ‘naturally’ is the ideal.

Here we note one of our favorite ‘imagine and invest’ signs, sans $ figure, juxtaposed with a road commode.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that the commode tank is sprouting a fire hydrant, which is a nice touch, we think.

We’re not sure if this is the latest in economical rest stops along the highways and byways, or whether a local ‘performance artist’ is preparing for a weekend show.  Or maybe the road ‘artist’ in question was expecting a lost participant or two from the Boston Marathon to need a relief stop.

Perhaps the most ‘imaginative’ explanation, though, is tied to the sign. The commode might be intended as a roadside receptacle for ‘investing’ in our schools. Drivers ‘whizzing’ by could toss from their cars some coins, or if they’re too pooped to do so, pull over and deposit some paper currency.

It would work better, however, if the lid was up.  And we’ll forgive you if you suggest that the commode could provide a tank bank.

Some folks will try anything in the way of corny bathroom humor to get a laugh out of Brunswick’s mirthless residents; good luck with that.

(Note: the spelling ‘error’ above was unintentional, but when we caught it, we decided it was poetic and so let it be.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reeling them in: Wild, imaginative thinking on school budgets

‘Brunswick Citizens United,’ operated by Bowdoin Professor Steve Perkinson, is the web site advocating investment level property tax increases to fund Brunswick School Board budget requests.  Some might try to shift attention to school administration, but the School Board is the elected body charged with overseeing their operation.

A recent post on Perkinson’s web site records the remarks delivered by such an advocate at a meeting of the School Board on April 11th.

We believe the speaker to be a sincere and honorable advocate for Brunswick Schools.  We just as strongly believe that she has fallen prey to the agitprop put forward by school departments for as long as we can remember.

We’ll substantiate our claim by commenting on passages that cry out for challenge.  The speaker’s comments are indented and in red.  Our response follows each item.

…..laying off teachers and eliminating upper level courses is not acceptable. I realize that by putting these cuts on the table, you were expecting parents and community members to come forward with objections, thus engaging them in the conversation, and it worked. Here I am.

Like trout in spring waters, schoolies predictably rise to the right ‘patterns,’ and administration fly-casters have learned from years of practice what it takes to reel them in.

All of these courses are on the cutting block, according to the budget cuts proposed by Mr. Perzanoski.

Oh, that’s for sure; experts come to the spring budget waters with something to get a rise out of everyone, no matter what their preference.

One criterion that businesses use when considering a town for relocating is the quality of the education system.

This is probably a moot point, since I can’t prove they don’t, and she can’t prove they do. But the onus is on her since she makes the claim.  We’ll also remind you of our recent thoughts on how one proves objectively that our schools are high quality; we assert it is virtually impossible, and largely because the school bureaucracy scrupulously avoids anything in the way of objective evaluations.

Further on in the remarks, you’ll even see that the speaker infers our schools can’t be high quality at this point, what with ‘years of slashing.’  Read on.

Both of my kids attended Longfellow School and the Junior High. I never once heard them complain about the facilities during the combined six years that they were at the JH.

Amen, sister!  But where were you during the emotional blitzkrieg that led to the tearing down of the Old High School, so a new school could be built, fueled by cries of ‘equity’ and ‘it’s for the children?’  How come you weren’t making an impassioned statement that we had much higher priorities?

I’m not here to ask you to save Freshman Sports.

Don’t feel bad, ma’am; there are plenty of others who will take the podium to do so if they are threatened.  As you well know, the secret to budget strategy is to threaten cuts that effect every possible constituency.  Except teachers, as it turns out.

In addition to the School Department making cuts or increasing revenue, the town should take on more financial responsibility in the short term to ensure that Brunswick does not lose it’s competitive edge while we wait for increased enrollment. This may entail increased property taxes, increased fees, bonds or some other source of revenue.

Not really sure what you are up to here, ma’am, but let’s make a few things clear.  1) ‘The town’ doesn’t take on financial responsibility, individual taxpayers do, and under the force of law.  You could have strengthened your case by telling everyone how much you are willing to throw into the pot.  2) ‘Competitive edge?’  Says who, and with what evidence, besides the rhetoric of your fellow spending advocates?  3) ‘Wait for increased enrollment?’ Where have you been getting your information?  From the infallible consultants we hire to tell us what we want to hear?  From the ‘Brunswick will continue to grow moon gazers?’ 

Are you aware of Maine demographics, and the Impossibility of replacing a non-aging military population like the one we lost?  Feel free to contact us, and we’ll be happy to provide some very useful reading matter to help you make more informed commentary.

Furthermore, Brunswick must create and implement a long-term plan for our school system. Having this budget crisis every year is not a practical or feasible way to handle this issue.

Great idea, and worthy of anyone who operates a business where nothing is guaranteed. The problem here is that the school department knows it’s possible to guarantee revenue streams with the force of law.  Besides, what school board and administration in their right minds is going to tell you about all the deferred maintenance, capital needs, pre-approved salary increases, and requisite property tax growth looming ahead in the next five years?

Talk about alarming!  It took quite a struggle to get the municipal side to live up to their obligation for a five year capital improvement plan some years back.  No public official, elected or otherwise, wants to openly admit what they know to be true: that if you think this year is bad, wait until you see what’s coming down the road.

You might as well ask your oil dealer or gas station to give you a five year forecast, and  your grocer while you’re at it.

…..instead of slashing the budget every year, weakening the school system, and hurting the children of Brunswick.

Now you’ve gone and proved that you are completely uninformed on budget and enrollment history, and the incredible growth in per student spending in recent years.  And you roll out the ‘slashing’ word.  Shame, shame on you.  Big time, I might add.  No wonder Prof. Perkinson loves posting your testimony on his web site.  He has plausible deniability while letting you shovel out the propaganda.  He has his ‘academic freedom,’ and you have yours, along with your imagination, appearing here for all to see.

By the way, if ‘every year’ we’ve been ‘slashing’ budgets, weakening the schools and hurting the children, how can our schools still be ‘excellent,’ like everyone says they are?  And if they are no longer excellent, can you please tell us exactly what year they slipped below the line?

Let’s not anticipate what the Town Council will agree to – instead let’s bring a budget to them that makes them sit up and say “yes, we believe in a great education for Brunswick students and we are willing to support a plan that gives them just that.”

Here’s our view: the school department has been backing the Town Council into a corner for years; they are masters at it.  The worst you’ve ever seen in resistance from the Council is asking that less than a penny on the dollar be taken out to show good faith, probably as a pre-arranged show. 

Now that the school budget goes before the voters every year, the Council has a perfect escape mechanism.  The only reason they have to put on any sort of a show for the schoolies is to look good on camera and ensure re-election.  Squeaky-wheel budgeting has always been the game.

Idealistic? Maybe. Unattainable? Absolutely not.

Uninformed?  Misguided?  Most assuredly.  Willing to learn; probably not, but we sure hope so.  Going cold turkey to break the kool-aid habit can be really rough.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

15 April PYMWYMI Update

Here’s the status a week following our last report:

1) Zero ‘imagine’ signs seen around town augmented with a dollar amount.

2) Zero petition listings that mention a dollar amount the signer will gladly pay above and beyond their current tax bill.

3) Zero messages from supporters received at Other Side offices volunteering a specific tax increase amount.

4) And most shocking, shocking, we say, 19 petition signers who all belong to the family ‘xxxxxxx.’

Nothing like leading by example.  Wait till we hand out the little cardboard paddles at upcoming meetings and ask those in attendance to write the amount they are volunteering and hold it up for all to see.  That should make for some great TV on Other Side’s video channel, currently in the planning stages.

To make things more intuitive for one and all, just below is one of those classic little fund-raising thermometers that shows how well the PYMWYMI fund raising drive is doing among the imagine and invest demographic in town.

(Note: the $1 received so far is a loan from Other Side accounts to inspire others; our CFO was unwilling to go any further out on this limb.)


A hearty thanks to all of you who have made your pledges so far, and keep up the good work; Brunswick has always been known as a proud, stand up and be counted community of givers!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Memories, academic freedom, imagination, and other excursions on the j-axis

Precious Memories:

The budget kabuki dance this time of year always brings back fond memories that make our spring more ‘interesting.’  We see no reason why you should avoid self-flogging with these memories, so we direct you here to relive moments  ‘among the best’ in Other Side archives.

Inspired by these memories and this year’s budget theme of imagination, we’ve developed a theory that academic freedom and imagination are closely related.

How could we forget Professor Matthew Klingle of Bowdoin, who last year inspired us with an insanely imaginative flight of academic freedom, and then refused to defend his hypotheses.

Academic freedom, imagination, and budgets:

This year, we have Professor Steve Perkinson of Bowdoin, owner of the web site Brunswick Community United, originator of the ‘imagine our future’ and ‘invest in our schools’ tag lines.  These are clearly intended to preempt resistance from local taxpayers to the record-setting tax increases he and his like minded schoolies are demanding. 

So far, not a single one has demonstrated their sincerity by responding to our challenge to PYMWYMI and state how much more per year they are stepping up to pay, either on the web site, their yard signs, or both.  In Texas, they might say ‘big hat, no cattle.’  What are we to say in Brunswick:  ‘big sign, no check?’  There’s still time, though, and we will continue to report on pledges we receive or that are otherwise made public.

Professor Perkinson leans toward academic freedom that cherry picks examples to support his theses.  He reminds us of our own experience raising our children, in which we emphasized that no matter how good our family was doing, there were always going to be those who were doing better.  It’s human nature to focus on those above us, while ignoring those below.

And so we find Professor Perkinson focused on school districts that spend more than Brunswick, and propose larger budget increases.  All while ignoring underlying realities like enrollment declines or increases.  And he’s receiving ample help from Rich Ellis, devoted numerologist on the Brunswick School Board.

You might remember that Mr. Ellis very publicly took this reporter to task some weeks back, asserting that we published misleading results because they were derived not from actual expenditures, but instead, from published budget documents.  He claimed that in doing so, we were rigging the numbers to serve our own purposes.  We had quite a public exchange over the details, and the final words appeared here.

Apparently our affliction was infectious, because it turns out that Rich now prefers to deal in the imaginary world of budgets, rather than actual expenditures.  Witness his published analyses here. 

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we wonder if that’s what our earnest school official had in mind.

Regardless, we give him credit for exercising his own style of academic freedom, which, like Professor Perkinson’s, is to focus up, and to toss aside principles which just a few weeks ago were vital to truth-telling.  Both are picking figures that yield the most persuasive support for their agenda.

Which causes us to ponder the relationship between academic freedom and academic integrity, and to ask whether they are mutually exclusive concepts.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Let’s face it; how can human knowledge advance if unfettered imagination is not in play?

Imagining the present, imagining the future:

The data recently published by Professor Perkinson, provided by Mr. Ellis, puzzles us as it relates to Brunswick.  We can’t speak to the data shown for other districts.

The latest total enrollment information we’ve been able to obtain from the Brunswick School Department is the figure they reported to Maine’s DOE this past October: 2.456.  This compares to a peak of 3,372 seven years ago.  The next report to DOE is due this month, but our request for this number has resulted in a response that the figure is still being compiled.  Any thought of a number for the coming school year would therefore seem out of the question.  Unless you’re an insider like Mr. Ellis.  Or you can imagine the future.

We decided to examine the numbers presented on Perkinson’s web site, and ‘reverse engineer’ them.  Ellis shows a budget of $33,301,672 for the current school year, and a ‘budget per resident pupil’ of $13,035.  This calculates out to 2,555 ‘resident students,’ which leaves us verklempt.  We’re especially confused as to how ‘resident students’ could exceed total enrollment reported to the state.

Forget these nits for the moment.  Ellis hypothesizes an unchanged budget for the coming school year, which as we described in a prior post, would result in a property tax increase of at least 10%.  Assuming this, he shows a ‘budget per resident student’ of $13,602 for the coming year.  This calculates out to 2,449 students, a decrease of 106 compared to his inferred number for this year, or 4%.

We can’t imagine why the numbers he uses for this year do not agree with the numbers we were given by school officials.  And we especially can’t imagine how he came up with numbers for next year, when we can’t even get actual numbers for this month.

But we imagine Rich will quickly correct our misunderstandings and misinterpretations.  All in the spirit of academic freedom.

Someday, perhaps we’ll enjoy the freedom he, Professor Klingle, and Professor Perkinson have to craft their stories.

Imagine what theories we can postulate once we do.  Being constrained by harsh reality can be ever so limiting. 

Aspirational freedom is the antidote; don’t you just love that word?

Set us free, set us free, oh muse of the blogosphere!

(End note: if you don’t know what the j-axis is, as Yogi says, you could look it up.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The glop thickens: Stangali, MRRA, TIF’s, and tiffs

As you know, this amateur correspondent let his ‘imagination’ run free on the TIF/tiff ‘quid-pro-quo’ subject slightly less than a week ago, inspired by a report on ‘the grapevine.’ 

Our friends at The Forecaster have decided to keep an eye out on this subject, and provided an update today entitled “Brunswick leaders in tiff over TIF legislation; 'a trust problem' with state, MRRA.”

A few quick reactions. 

First, we’re amused by their ‘tiff over TIF’ cleverness; we wish we had thought of that juxtaposition.

Second, the article discloses a fact that we failed to ‘imagine:’ George Gervais, Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development, is also a Trustee of the MRRA, which adds to the possible dimensions of intrigue.

Third, language like this always helps to allay suspicions:

Steve Levesque, executive director of MRRA, would offer only a brief statement on Wednesday. "We had no knowledge of it," he said, "and I have no further comment."  (Notice the ‘we.’)

Fourth, we wonder why the new reporter at The Forecaster, Matt H-squared, failed to seek comment from Senator Stangali and other nearby legislators perfectly positioned to play a role in this caper.  Surely the certain Senator from the Brunswick area would have had something telling to say on the subject.

Or if nothing else, told Matt about his newest pair of Tony Lamas, and how good they feel when he’s cruising around on his favorite Harley.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  When you’ve spent decades running a furniture manufacturing business, and decades running a haberdashery chain, you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

And we ‘have no further comment.’

Except to tell you that we are pursuing a new aspect of the ‘let’s raise property taxes for our future’ movement.  We’re not sure how it will play out, but if first impressions are any indication, we could have a situation even more troubling than the ill-fated back-in parking plan at Maine Street Station.

Can you imagine that?

We’ll leave you with this cryptic hint: fairness.

, Stangali

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Truth, justice, and the Brunswick way

(Please accept our apologies, Superperson.)


“The Best Lobster Roll in Maine.”

“Save up to 70%!”

“Prices may never be lower!”

“Among the best schools in the state.”

“Rates may never be this low again.”

You’re probably familiar with these classics; but have you ever paused to examine their premises with a little critical thought?

One of our favorite examples of the genre is the auto insurance business, currently saturating us with TV ads like this: “People who switched to Depressive saved an average of $543 a year.”  An hour later, along comes another ad: “People who switched to 18th Century saved an average of $521 a year.”

We’re pretty lucky here at Other Side; our annual auto insurance bill is under $1,000.  So we’re thinking that if we just switch our carrier twice, our bill will be down to $0 a year!

That is how it works, isn’t it?  Or are we missing something?

Oh, we’re missing something, pilgrim.  The unanswered question is just how much those who didn’t switch saved by staying with their current insurance company!  But you probably don’t think about that when you’re being dazzled by the on-screen theatrics.

This approach to ‘advertising’ has inspired us to pose a few questions to our readers, especially as you watch school budget theatrics here in Perfect.

First, though, let’s test your thinking with these questions:

- Do you have your car serviced at the shop that charges the most for their services?

- Do you grocery shop at the store that charges more than the others?

- Do you believe you manage your finances better than your neighbors and friends if you spend more for groceries and utilities than they do?  Do you brag to them about spending more, or do they brag to you that they spend more?

Now that we’ve got you thinking, try these:

- How can you find out if Brunswick has excellent schools?

- Ask the salesperson who is showing you homes for sale in town.

- Ask the owner of the house you’re thinking of buying.

- Ask a school board member or school administration staff.

- A well known Real Estate agent asserts that people who move to Brunswick moved here “because of our excellent schools.”

- What reason do the people who decided not to move here give?

- What do the people who move out of town, freeing up a place for others to buy, give as their reason?

- If you asked a Real Estate salesperson in Freeport, or Bath, or Topsham whether people move to their towns “because of the excellent schools,” what would they say?

- If you asked any of these sales-people how they know the schools in their town are excellent, how would they answer?

- Would they say because school officials tell them so?

- Would they say that parents who live in town tell them so?

- How many parents do you think would admit they send their kids to less than wonderful schools if you asked?

- How does one know that our schools are excellent?

- Is it because our teachers are so good, even though we scrupulously avoid rating them or monitoring their performance, because we’ve been told any method for doing so is flawed and unfair?  And the teachers unions have copious data to prove it?

- Is it because of teacher influence on student improvement, even though we refuse to measure such things for the same reasons?

- Is it because of student scores on standardized tests, even though we’ve been warned over and over that such tests are unreliable and can’t be trusted, and that they force teachers to ‘teach to the test,’ rather than focus on learning?

- Why is it that when student scores improve on these tests, even if only marginally, it’s cause for great jubilation, but if scores decline or stay flat, they shouldn’t be used to judge the quality of our schools?

- Is there objective evidence for deciding which towns have the best schools and the best teachers?  That is, other than citing spending and the rate at which its increases as objective evidence?

- If your schools are excellent, what rate of increase in spending is required to keep them excellent, and what rate of increase would render them less than excellent?

In case you’d like to see what kind of data does exist for ranking schools in the state, we direct you here:

2011-12 AYP Results and Explanatory Material

Be sure to read the entire page so you understand what “CIPS” and “monitor” and “making AYP” mean.  Once you have that in your grasp, you can go here for ratings for schools in the state:

2011-12 AYP Status by School

When you do, you’ll see data for the current school year and the prior school year.  You may have to find a way to enlarge the view; try right clicking, or whatever works on the application that opens the table for you.

One more thing: remember, we’re being told our schools are excellent in the present tense, just as we were last year, and that unless we provide whatever they demand in the way of increased funding and higher property taxes, they will no longer be excellent.

We’ll leave it to you to detect the crossover points.  And then you can make your public declaration of how much more you are willing to pay next year, and then how much more the year after that, etc. 

Just like those at Brunswick Community United have declined to do with their signs and their petition.  Apparently, they can’t ‘imagine’ how much more they are willing to ‘invest.’

End Note:  For those of you who missed the message in our opening, let us explain:

“The Best Lobster Roll in Maine.”

- Says who, and by what measure?

“Save up to 70%!”

- ‘up to 70%’ includes everything from 0% on up.

“Prices may never be lower!”

- or they may be lower later; who knows?

“Among the best schools in the state.”

- could you define ‘among,’ please?  And who says what ‘best’ is?

“Rates may never be this low again.”

- but given the cyclic nature of things, they very likely will be in the future.  Or, please come in and get this higher rate while we’re plugging it.