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.

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