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.)

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Poppycock,

    Were Diogenes alive and viewing the back and forth on school spending, he would find no honest man in the back and forth except you.

    You embody Paul LePage's famous quote: "If it is to be, it's up to me."

    Now it's up to all of us to be honest with ourselves and others and address our local problems head on.

    No more deceit.

    No more double talk.

    Keep up the good work Mr. Poppycock, and may Diogenes guide to you fellow honest men on your journey.