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)

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