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.

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