Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Quick update on the new Teachers Contract

The new three year teachers contract appeared on the Brunswick School Department web site this morning.  You can find it here.

Based on the salary tables contained in the contract, we have updated our earlier forecast samples that were based on disclosures made to the public, however you might choose to interpret them.

You can find the comparison here.

In the chart, the entries shaded in gray are those that take the contract for the school year just ending and elevate them by the amounts previously announced to the public, adhering to historic contract patterns.

The entries shaded in yellow start from the contract values for the school year just ending, and then apply the figures from the new contract for the three ensuing years.

As you’ll see, for the three cases originally chosen, two make out slightly less better than predicted, while the third makes out better than originally estimated.

Our first look at the contract shows two things.  First, the ‘pattern’ seen in prior years from contract to contract has been broken, so it is not really possible to characterize the increases in summary form.  Second, this fact, coupled with the actual numbers, still makes the summary that was provided to the School Board for a vote, and provided to the public and the council following the vote, erroneous by any measure we can come up with. 

Clearly, step increases are not a flat 2% as was stated.  And we can’t find a way so far to come up with the “3.57%, 3.99%, and 2.9%” figures quoted as well.  Frankly, we can’t make any sense of that pronouncement in comparison to the actual figures.  We just can’t imagine how they came up with it.

Someone else is going to have to explain that to us; we can’t wait to see how they do it so we can improve our understanding of contracts.

Till then, while the specific details have changed a bit, our assertions about false pretenses have not.

Not that it matters.  Unless you like banging your head on the nearest available wall.

Oh, and just so you know, there is a special council meeting at 6pm tomorrow night (Thursday, 31 May) in the usual meeting room.  This is to adopt the budget for the coming year, and will be your last chance to offer comments.  We promise to let you use our soft spot on the wall if you show up.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fiddles, bows, and a culture of well, you can decide….


Knowing you were so delighted by our prior multiple choice question, we decided to present you with another.

Question:  Would you prefer to be governed by officials who:

A) deceive us?

B) or who game the system?

C) or who are clueless?

D) or who are incompetent?

E) or all of the above

Why do we ask?  Because what we are about to tell you brings all these possibilities into play.  We have discovered an act of such conspicuous malfeasance that it raises a number of critical questions, and we will do our best to list them for you.

So let’s get to it.  In a post earlier this month, we explained that the School Board apparently was asked to vote on a teachers contract without seeing the document.  We further explained that the School Superintendent provided an erroneous summary of the contract salary increases to the town council, and as it turns out, to the general public after the vote to approve the contract.

We now know that the School Board vote to approve the new teachers contract, conducted in executive session on April 11th, was based on a written summary that materially and substantively misrepresents and distorts contract realities resulting from ‘negotiated’ salary increase figures.

Some would say that using these erroneous figures is an act of fraud.  Some would say no; other factors may be involved. Hence the multiple choice answers given above.

In the worst case, all are part of what transpired.  This all goes to whether misinformation was willfully provided, or those involved were willfully uninformed.  These are terms handed down to us some years back by the editors at The Ostrich, you may recall, when they accused certain councilors of not behaving diligently regarding the Oxford Aviation proposal.

We responded that The Ostrich has been willfully misinforming and uninforming readers for decades.  It’s one thing to have a newspaper that does so; but what do you do when your government and its elected officials are distributing and acting upon critical information that is shamefully incorrect?

Here’s how things played out to the best of our knowledge.  Negotiations between the school board reps and the teachers union were all but concluded when incoming school board members were sworn in (December, as we recall).

Not a word was made public about the ‘negotiation results’ for months, so all the ‘softening up’ presentations provided by the School Department before serious budget voting was to take place were conducted without knowing what effect the salary demands in the contract would have.  Conversely, agreement between the negotiating parties was reached before a full understanding of budget effects and tax effects were known.

In other words, in keeping with the priorities we asserted in recent posts, the teachers’ raises were negotiated and agreed to long before any other budget particulars. 

Yet the School Board was not asked to vote on the results until April, nearly 3 months after negotiations were largely completed.  Just as inexplicable, the new contract is not yet available, nearly two months after the vote on the 11th of April.

Now the kicker.  We are in possession of the document used to inform the school board at the Executive Session in April as they prepared to vote.   You can see it here.  The document was no longer confidential as soon as the vote was taken; it became a part of the public record.

You can see very clearly that the document includes the deceit that step increases are 2%, which is absolutely false, as we illustrated to you, the town council, and the school board with these documents:

The School Board now looks like a string section with the union and the School Superintendent wielding the bows; and by extension, the public and the town council have picked up their instruments and allowed themselves to be played in the same way.

We’ll give Brunswick Community United an award for most  supportive accompaniment to the establishment, led by a willfully uninformed and mis-informed Associate Professor of Art, of all people.

Is this fraud?  We’re not an attorney, so we can’t say.  But we can say that since the School Department and the teachers union have the current and past contracts in hand, the characterization provided to the School Board for the vote appears to have intentionally distorted the facts to achieve a desired outcome: approval of the new contract.

Now the relevant follow-up questions.

- Who prepared the one pager: was it the teachers union, who then provided it to the Superintendent, or was it prepared by the Superintendent and his staff?  (We suppose it could have been prepared by the Board members who took place in the negotiations, but we doubt it.)

- Was the School Superintendent a part of the negotiations? If so, why, and what role did he play in them? Isn’t this supposed to be between the board and the union?  And why is he in the Executive session when the vote is taken?  Isn’t he supposed to be a neutral party?  (Yah, sure!)

- How long has this been going on?  How long has the 2% deceit been used to mask reality?  Did they use 1.5% in the past?  Have School Board members read and understood the contracts?  Ever?  Given conversations we’ve had with past board members, we’re inclined to think not.

- If so, how could they have stood by and let the Superintendent state that there was a ‘salary freeze’ in the current contract?

- How do we know that the annual dollar costs of the salary increases in the summary are correct?

- Does the School Board really negotiate with the teachers union, or does the latter, together with the Superintendent, decide how it’s going to be, and leave the Board with virtually no say?

- What was the foundational basis for negotiations between the board and the teachers union? What numerics were on the table to inform the discussion? Was this a case of the blind leading the blind, or a one eyed king leading the blind?

- What should happen to a contract that was approved on the basis of a willful misrepresentation of the particulars?

- Who is the main perpetrator of the fraud?  How should they be held accountable?

And then of course, the opening question.  After reading the foregoing, you can ponder whether deception, gaming, cluelessness, or incompetence is at the heart of the issue.  Or all of the above.

We have our own conclusions, but we’ll keep them to ourselves, at least for now.

The real shame (and crime) here is that in all likelihood, there will be no consequences for this abuse of office and trust; no one will be held accountable; no one will take responsibility; and nothing, repeat nothing, will change. This will at best be a footnote in the annals of the Brunswick Hall of Shame, and nothing more.

So who should we blame for allowing such an atmosphere to exist and thrive?  Hint: if you’re about to pass a mirror, look away; you may not like what you see.

Now would somebody wake up our government watchdogs, please?

Why Does My Dog Move So Much When He's Sleeping? thumbnailSleepy Watchdog

Really, we like the one below best; we are dog-lovers, you know.

It best captures the essence of keeping an eye on things in our local government, as practiced by our media outlets.  Especially the ones who don’t pay their property taxes.

Oops….one more question before we sign off; have you ever heard “Who’s zooming who” played on a fiddle?

Brunswick finances and the Iceberg theory of leadership

The Forecaster just ran a rather confused article discussing Brunswick’s budget circumstances, conflating spending increases with tax increases, amid other characterizations that are less than helpful to a clear grasp of reality.  We’ve made a note to contact their reporter and provide a bit of tutelage.

The article, aside from its narrative errors, made clear the nature of our dilemma.  In the face of long term budgetary crises, we find councilors expressing concerns over funding for sidewalks.  Like that’s the biggest problem we’ve got.  What about petunias in the Maine Street dividers; don’t they matter?  And wouldn’t an orchid garden on the town mall be a great community addition?

Given that it’s too late for speaking with the reporter to make any difference, we will do our best to explain things here, knowing full well that our efforts make no difference either.  Such is the nature of head banging.  But it feels better when we click on ‘publish.’

Sidewalks brought to mind deck chairs on a particular ocean liner.  We trust you know which one.  And we recalled the iceberg theory of leadership as a parallel concept, which evolved during the glorious if ill-fated Titanic era.

The theory holds that you can wait for an iceberg to come to you, or you can decide to move cautiously ahead while trying to thread your way through a hole in the iceberg, or you can declare “damn the iceberg, full speed ahead!” 

It also holds that unless you reverse course, you will hit the iceberg; it’s only a question of when, and how hard.  Or, as in the photo, if you thread your way through it, you’ll simply hit something bigger on the other side.

On the subject of leadership; we’ve always loved this quote:

Have you seen my people?  Which way did they go?  I must know; I am their leader!

Let’s talk about leadership in local budget and financial matters. The Town Council, at a minimum, should have called for a mid-year (1 January) forecast on revenue expectations for the rest of this fiscal year and the coming fiscal year. Based on the result, they should have established budget ceilings for municipal government and the School Department, to lead both organizations to live within their means.

They should have issued a directive to the Town Manager that he was not to submit a budget that exceeded a specific amount, or called for a property tax increase larger than X%.  They should also have issued a statement to the School Board that under no circumstances would a budget proposal calling for a tax increase larger than Y% be accepted and approved.

This should have resulted in a directive from the School Board to the School Department making it clear what budget boundaries would be.

Instead, we have the School Department backing the School Board into a corner, and the School Board backing the town into a corner, and the town backing the council into a corner.  And worst of all, the council backing taxpaying residents into a corner

Just what you would expect from leadership, right?  And every one of them says it’s not their problem…..”somebody else did it, and we didn’t see it coming.”

Here are the specifics, from the most recent proposed municipal budget, which you can find here.

Total Budget

Spending increases from a current year budget of $53,463,870 to proposed spending of $54,865,804. This is an increase of $1,401,934, which by itself, would normally call for a property tax increase between four and five percent.  These figures are budgets, not actuals, so the surpluses and reserves included are unknown.

Revenue sources shown, other than property taxes, decline $2.2 million on the school side, and increase $1.5 million on the municipal side, which means the town is dipping into piggy bank reserves big time.

Net result: what looked like a 12% or so property tax increase has been masked to look like a 6% property tax increase by making use of one time funding sources.   No matter; the spending baseline has been raised, and it will come back to haunt us very, very soon.

This is like using money from the kids’ piggy banks or your savings account to pay for groceries.  It’s the same irresponsibility the School Department showed by spending one-time ‘stimulus’ funds to cover current operating expenses, and even expand them.  Either they did it knowingly with a ‘damn the consequences’ attitude, or they simply didn’t know better; either way, we have a problem, Houston.


Municipal expenditures are proposed to grow by $1,216,333, a 6.41% increase.  AOTBE (all other things being equal,) this would normally cause a 4% increase in property taxes.  Municipal revenues are dipping into reserves and using other stratagems to lower demand on property taxes by $257,583. Without getting down in the weeds, this sounds like roughly $1.5 million in piggy bank funds is being tapped for municipal purposes alone.

BTW, the library gets a 10% funding increase.  Never mess with the bookies.  We’re thinking of giving them holy of holy status.  But what about the sidewalks, Councilor Tucker?


Spending is essentially flat, increasing by less that $200,000.  But because of the decline in enrollment driven revenues, the school budget calls for a $2.369 million increase in property tax support, or 14% more than the current year.  This alone would generate a nearly 8% increase in the property tax rate.

So to make a long story short, what would have been a 12% increase in property taxes is coming in at a 6% increase because municipal government is effectively throwing $1.5 million into the school revenue stream.

Bottom Line

Just how long do you think this denial and cover up can last?  How long are you willing to give road repair funds to the teachers in the way of automatic pre-programmed salary increases?  And how long are you willing to ignore reality - that we are on a path to economic failure and chaos that can’t be avoided? 

Potholes?  Potholes are just the town version of deferred school maintenance, which now is in the range of $40 plus million!

Capital Improvement Plan

The budget document itself has $2.5 million in capital spending for vehicle replacement, road paving, and other things, including, apparently, $480,000 for Bike Pedestrian Bridge replacement.  Personally, we have no idea what this is about, but we’re sure it’s a vital component of our community, and that replacing it is a top priority of someone.  By comparison, it makes the $100,000 increase in library support funds look downright frugal.

Future Outlook

The future outlook is grim, dear readers.  Nothing but icebergs ahead.  The five year capital improvement program can be found here.  In it, you’ll see capital spending plans of nearly $20 million in the coming year, and nearly $44 million over the next 5 years.  That includes the new Police Station, a new Fire Station, $9 million in school renovations, and $5.7 million for a fitness center.  We can’t wait to see what that’s going to be.  We’re afraid our heart is almost at its swelling limit for community pride.

If we read the CIP correctly, the tax rate impact in the year after next will be about 10% to cover debt service plus operating expenses for the new projects alone.

Add this to the masking of a 4 to 5% increase this year.  A town baseline for next year that is 4% higher than this year, statements by the School Department that they already know they have a $1.8 million problem next year and a $1.4 million problem the year after (10% property tax increase right there!) and a wish list a mile long for staffing, preschools, summer schools, contract salary increases, mental health care providers, counselors, on premise teacher car wash facilities and the like, and you’ve got more icebergs than you can count looming ahead.

Think we’re pulling your nose?  Go here and look at slides 15 thru 26, and tell us how we can be excellent in our schools if we have all these unfilled and unmet needs?  Huh, huh, huh?  C’mon, Jane, let’s hear it!

You can easily construct a scenario that says we’re heading for a 25-35% property tax rate increase in the next few years.  As a matter of course, we should be demanding that our leaders immediately construct that scenario, so we can decide where best to put our deck chairs for the heavy seas we’re entering.  And doing so would permit them to slam your loyal correspondent and prove him wrong.  We can’t wait for the abuse.

You ‘common good’ and ‘community pride’ devotees should be ecstatic over the outlook, and no doubt our real estate agents can’t wait to show how great Brunswick is by pointing out that taxes are going up by 30% or so.  School excellence, town excellence; are we leaving anything out?

And those imagine and invest advocates are going to get their way, more than they ever dreamed.  And they won’t know what hit them, we’re sure.

Tuck this in your holiday reading stack; it should brighten your summer measurably.

And we haven’t even told you the most interesting news yet.  Your community pride and respect for our leaders is about to reach new (you fill in the blank).

Stay tuned, readers.  We’re about to break an exclusive that will prove that things are far worse than you might have thought, and even far worse than we thought.  We will show that the Brunswick School establishment is ‘meeting or exceeding expectations’ in at least one rating area.

We’ll leave you with this candid photo we took the other day; it shows our local ‘government watchdog’ media outlet on the prowl for the facts, just the facts, ma’am.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

MEA: Excellence in education ‘for the children?’ Or eminence in progressive political advocacy?

“When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Albert Shanker - President of the United Federation of Teachers [1964-1984] & the American Federation of Teachers [1974-1997]

You may have read that the Maine Education Association recently endorsed the same sex marriage referendum that will be on our November ballots again this year.  If you haven’t, you can read about it here.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Education Association voted Sunday to endorse the referendum on the November ballot that would allow same-sex couples in Maine to marry.

We have little doubt that the endorsement comes with a healthy campaign donation, since generating funds for political advocacy is a core competency of the MEA.

Some months ago, a member of the Maine Legislature penned an op-ed about MEA advocacy:

For MEA, education excellence takes a back seat to politics

By Jonathan McKane, Special to the BDN

Not long ago the Maine Education Association — the teachers union — promoted educational excellence in public schools and worked for better pay and benefits for teachers. Certainly, that was the public image the MEA enjoyed.

But times have changed. Today, it has dropped any pretenses and has shown itself to be a well-financed, partisan lobbying group that advocates a progressive ideology.

You can read the rest of it here.

We don’t know if Albert Shanker is still vertical, but if he is and we could find him, we’d ask him to revise his classic quote above to be more current.  Perhaps something like this would work:

“When school teachers can provide us the influence and prestige that politicians give us for our campaign funds, maybe we’ll get back to considering their wishes and the education system.  When school children start paying union dues, maybe we’ll find the time to think about them every now and then.  As for the rest, let them eat cake.”

Hey, Al; if you should see this, feel free to make it yours, as they say.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Volunteer update, etc….

We thought you might enjoy reading about the efforts of the volunteer community at Stowe (HBS) School.

You can read their newsletter here.

Items we find interesting include these:

The SCG Hospitality Committee organizes events showing appreciation for the work of the HBS staff. For the first day of school we had a welcome back to school breakfast buffet, and in November we had a soup luncheon for the HBS staff. We also organize teacher appreciation tokens. For example, in January teachers received a bag of mints with a tag that read “Thank you for your commit-mint to our children’s education.” Also in January, the staff enjoyed a “grab and go treat buffet” on the early release day, and after the February break, the Hospitality Committee dropped off six dozen Frosty’s twist donuts as a
welcome back from vacation surprise for the HBS staff!
Upcoming events include a potluck dinner during April’s parent-teacher conference time, and a teacher appreciation luncheon in May. Our goal is to share with the staff how much we admire and appreciate all they do to educate and nurture our children.

Maybe we’re just confused, but this sounds very much like the public is here to serve the staff, rather than the staff serving the public.  But who knows; we’re probably just misguided. 

Take a look at this:

The Teacher Prep Committee has been very busy this year as well. A number of volunteers have stepped up to assist the teachers with prep work for their classrooms. Volunteers work on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9am-12pm
to complete a wide variety of work, including photocopying, laminating, and any other task that teachers request to assist with their classroom work. The Teacher Prep Committee is always looking for more volunteers; if you are interested, please simply show up on Tuesday or Thursday mornings and check in at the main office. Thank you in advance for any assistance we can get!

Call this what you will, but consistent with our quandary in the post earlier today, it sounds to us like the volunteers are, in so many words, personal staff for the teachers, rather than volunteers who assist in the learning and enrichment process.  Our suspicions grow stronger.

For your edification, here’s another dose of information showing just what is involved in funding our schools these days.

As you can see, HBS has approximately 40 ‘faculty’ on staff, but also has another 40 or more staff in various supporting positions, including two ‘talent development teachers.’  They must be the ones coaching hot prospects for entering the American Idol competition.

All told, 100 plus educational staff, or a ratio of one for every 6 students or so.  Not including custodial and food service staff.

We know we’re old fashioned and completely out of touch with modern day government education standards, but this leaves even us aghast. 

And we don’t ghast all that easily.

Sometimes you’re the fiddle, sometimes you’re the bow..


Well, well, well; it’s been more than a week since we last posted on this deep subject.  Since that post, our most recent efforts have garnered significant ‘idiotic’ ratings, which is a good thing in our view.  It means we’re striking a nerve out there in readership land. 

We only wish those who enter the idiotic ratings had the courage of their convictions, and posted a comment to which we or others could respond.  Drive by ratings aren’t particularly useful in advancing the discussion.

The essence of the prior post is this:

Simply stated, the highest priority of the Brunswick School Department is giving automatic salary increases to the teachers every year, along with paying for 90% or so of the cost increases in their very generous benefit plans, generous beyond anything in the private sector.

We provided cogent substantiation for our view, which is why, we are sure, so many new idiotic ratings were entered.  These readers could not refute our logic, so they acted like little spoiled brats by calling us names.  How adult!

Given all the frothing, fretting, and pontificating about excellence in our school system, about which we’ve written extensively, we’d like someone in the BCU crowd to get back to us with a coherent explanation of how prioritizing teacher salary increases above all else protects and advances school excellence.  Surely the schoolies have thought this through, or they could call upon their Professorial mentor to help them out. 

And then there’s our sincere real estate sales professional, always a reliable source for evaluating the quality of town services for prospective home-buyers.  She’s been getting lots of free exposure on the community TV channel with her regular appearances to plug higher school spending.  Surely SHE can tell us how higher teacher salaries ensure school excellence.

“Oh, yes, isn’t this a lovely garden, and look at the rustic and cozy kitchen; why it’s a perfect blank slate to build your very own dream.  And did you know Brunswick just gave their teachers three more years of 5% average annual salary increases, with no merit ratings involved?  You can’t get any more excellent schools than that!  Now lets put together your offer!”

We also reported here that we apparently have an active volunteer corps at the elementary school level.  On that front, we again call upon our devoted schoolies to chime in with useful specifics.  What we’d really like to know is what percentage of the volunteered hours is spent handling busy work for the teachers, like making, collating, and stapling copies, and what percentage is spent actually helping with instruction in the classrooms? 

Providing office clerk services is nothing to be sneezed at, but it doesn’t say much for drawing upon all the expertise available in this town, does it?  And we’re damn sure no self-respecting Bowdoin prof would lower himself to such drudgery.

We’ve learned as well that there is a Student Activity Fund at one of the elementary schools, at least, managed by a group of community volunteers.  Funds appear to be raised by the usual methods: kids selling things to adults, bottle collections, box top collections and the like.

We would expect such funds to be used to supplement the budgets of our cash starved schools by paying for field trips and other special experiences.  It appears, however, that significant funds are given to teaching staff for undesignated purposes.  In the case of our newest school, this approaches $10,000 per year.

We have two questions: since we’re in the habit of giving the teachers 4% and more in annual salary increases ($2,000 and up), regardless of merit or achievement, is it really necessary and acceptable to have ‘the children’ raise even more funds to give to the teachers?  Secondly, just what are the strings attached to these dollar appropriations?  Is giving the teachers a cash sum really the best way to ensure funds are being used for educational purposes?  How does one know that amounts being raised are helping kids learn better, rather than being used for personal purposes?

We’ll look once again for the schoolies over at BCU to come to our rescue with answers, because inquiring minds want to know.  At least they should want to know, shouldn’t they?

The reason we put so much confidence in the BCU groupies is because they’ve recently shown their concerns for such matters on the BCU Facebook page.  Turns out they’ve been chatting up a storm about the new flat screen TV in the Stowe School lobby. One went so far as to say it made her sick to her stomach.  (She should spend some time talking to us; we’d have her retching her guts inside out in no time at all.)

And there are comments about the movie watching taking place on white boards and in the computer lab. 

Lordy, lordy; we can see the real estate ads now: “buy this lovely home in Brunswick, where your children will see the best movies in our schools, reflecting the personal effort that has always defined excellence in education here in Perfect.”

Pass the rosin please, Rosie.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The answer you’ve been waiting for, right?

A few weeks back, in this post, we presented you with 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?

At the same time, we gave you a number of specific questions for each choice to help you focus your thoughts, and promised that if you didn’t come up with the answer on your own, we would eventually come back to you with the correct choice.

Not a single one of you responded with an answer, so we don’t have to dip in to our petty cash fund to buy gold stars for anyone.  We hope, however, that in a blinding flash of the obvious, the answer jumped off the page and slapped you up side the head.

On the slim chance that didn’t happen, here is the correct answer:  The highest priority of the Brunswick School establishment is C) raises for the teaching staff.  And as we’ll point out later, just about everyone else with a say on the subject.

Simply stated, the highest priority of the Brunswick School Department is giving automatic salary increases to the teachers every year, along with paying for 90% or so of the cost increases in their very generous benefit plans, generous beyond anything in the private sector.

It’s not even debatable. This priority is established by contract, and traditionally has been classified as ‘costs beyond our control.’ The teachers get their increases for doing the same thing year after year, with no merit or performance contingencies. And time after time, the School Board, acting ‘on our behalf,’ grants exactly the same arrangements and generous terms in what is wrongly called negotiations. The teachers union gets generous automatic compensation increases, and the School Board gets little in return. Year after year after year.

This spring a new three year contract was ‘negotiated.’ In all the Superintendent’s charts about cutting this and cutting that, did you see one word about the size of step increases, or holding salaries level for the next two years?  Did you, huh?  Did you see any mention of trading off compensation increases against cuts to AP and other courses?  We don’t think so, Tim.

The school board approved the new contract on April 11, without seeing it; before knowing school budget details; without knowing which budget option they would select for forwarding to the town council; without knowing what the town council would approve; and whether the voters would approve the budget.

No matter; the teachers union got what they wanted first and locked it in with a School Board vote.  Based on the timing and sequence of things alone, it’s clear that the teachers come first, NOT the children. 

They get their 5% or more per year in average annual raises without concern for whether ‘the children’ get their AP teachers and various other accommodations of ‘excellent schools.’  And their health insurance continues to be bought from the union on a no-bid basis to keep the campaign war chest running over for upcoming elections.

No suggestions of lower increases to save teaching ‘positions.’  No mention of the rank and file taking lower raises to save the jobs of union brothers and sisters.  How’s that for ‘solidarity?’  And ‘stronger together?’

Nope; the contract approval on April 11th effectively precluded even a smidgeon of consideration of it’s consequences in budget deliberations and tradeoffs. It was a fait accompli, and in this case, a three year done deal.

Furthering the cause of the union, contract information passed along via media and Department leaders was sketchy and understated, lulling the public and school advocates into a snooze of complacency.

The Ostrich, as usual, totally blew it; The Forecaster came close to blowing it; and the head imagineer over at BCD completely and shamefully botched it.  Even the School Superintendent, as we reported here, botched the facts in response to a question from the Town Council.

Even now, the contract is still not available, nor are the dollar savings computation from the 102 position cuts that were used to soften up taxpayers earlier this spring.

Furthermore, it’s clear this is the highest priority of the Town Manager and the Town Council, since they dipped into municipal reserves to offset what would have been a 7.3% property tax increase just for the schools.  It’s also clear that this is the highest priority of the teachers, higher than ‘the children,’ as we explained earlier, regardless of the effect on cherished AP classes and other slashes and assaults upon the well-being of our children.

Let’s cut to the chase: we all work for the teachers and their union, rather than them working for us.  Yet even with their pre-programmed 5% or so annual increases, they’ll still be complaining about having to buy crayons for their classrooms!  Did it every dawn on anyone that if their raises were, say $500 less per year, there might be enough money to buy all the pencils and paper they want? 

Of course not; it’s much preferred to keep the pay details hidden from public scrutiny and muddled in media reports, while preserving the tried and true mantras of public attitude formation.

More than ever, the same old ‘truer words were never spoken’ quote applies:

“When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Albert Shanker - President of the United Federation of Teachers [1964-1984] & the American Federation of Teachers [1974-1997]


Mrs. Fiddle, meet Mr. Fiddle.  We hope you enjoyed being played in the annual spring concert.

Pass the jug, would you Jethro?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The PYTWYMI Option: a quick update


Our treatise posted yesterday on Putting Your Time Where Your Mouth Is (PYTWYMI) has elicited a response from a member of the School Board.

He tells us that volunteers are already a part of day to day operations at the elementary schools, and we thank him for responding so quickly with this information.  We’re not use to much in the way of interaction with the administration, as we’ve told you more than once.

It seems, therefore, that the ‘infrastructure’ and culture for dealing with volunteers is already in place.  This is good to hear, and we trust that our friends over at BCD will be even more motivated by this news to PYTWYMI.

At least we imagine they will.  It brings a whole new dimension to the concept of ‘academic freedom’ if you stop and think about it.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Happiness Police: is their time really here?

Could this be the official crest of the newest Department of our BFG (Benevolent Federal Government?)


We file this report under the heading of ‘you can’t make this stuff up.’  Upon returning from a trip to the chiropractor today, followed by “coffee and” at a local establishment, we happened upon an article that discusses a Washington Post article reporting on funding of “experts” to define “reliable measures of ‘subjective well-being,’” or as some might put it, happiness.

We don’t want to deprive you of the enlightenment contained in the article; you can find it here.

While far more around us than we wish to admit are not the least bit worried about the overweening presence of government control in our lives, we here at Side are mightily worried.  And we offer this passage from the article as justification:

Think of the opportunities for demagoguing. Some sectors of our society will undoubtedly be determined to have less happiness than other sectors. Let’s call it “happiness inequality.” That will require the government to pass laws and promulgate regulations to close the “happiness gap.” Once we head down that road, the buttinsky possibilities become endless. Think Independent Happiness Advisory Board.

As the song says, ‘don’t worry, be happy.’

And pay your taxes, Bucky.

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The PYTWYMI Option: The new wave of imagining excellence and investing in our future

For those of you carefully following the PYMWYMI fund raising drive, you know that personal commitments have not exactly been gushing forth from the Brunswick Community United demographic.  By whom we mean the petition signers and yard sign displayers.  This is why, in rare moments of clarity, we call them the POMWTMI’s, which stands for Put Our Money Where Their Mouth Is.

We understand that we’re in a tough economy and jobs are scarce, so maybe that’s why we aren’t seeing much in the way of personal sacrifice from our school advocate friends.  If that was the case, though, wouldn’t you expect them to have looked out for everyone else’s financial interests just like they’re watching out for theirs?

Enough pondering the inscrutability of the schoolies; it only aggravates one, and inevitably, leads to more conundrums and cognitive conflicts.

No, we’d rather come to you and the reluctant devotees in our midst with a solution that no one will be able to dismiss.

We call it “The PYTWYMI Plan” for lack of a better term,  which stands for “Put Your Time Where Your Mouth Is.” Clever, huh? We knew it would be a crowd pleaser.


‘Time is money,’ as the old saying goes.  If you can’t wave that $1,000 check around in the next budget meeting, maybe you can wave a ‘40 hour’ card around for all to see.

Here’s the foundation for our new opportunity.  Teacher’s contracts typically call for about 182 workdays per year.  And there are 600 plus petition signers over at BCU.  If just 60% of them volunteered one half day per year in the classroom, that would be the equivalent of one full teacher work year time wise.  If 60% volunteered one half day per school month in the classroom, it would be the equivalent of 9 full time teachers in work time.  And if 60% volunteered one half day per school week in the classroom, it would be the equivalent of 36 full time classroom ‘person-years.’

We recognize that not everyone over at BCD who has signed the petition is as qualified as our paid teaching staff, but we’re willing to bet many are, in as much as many are probably retired and/or former teachers.  Then there are our friends on the Bowdoin faculty.

Surely a well known member of the art faculty over there could spare four classroom hours a week for the children.  And how about an outspoken member of the history and environmental studies faculty; imagine how he could bring the subjects alive for young minds looking to absorb knowledge each and every day?  And he could lecture them on the history of 50 years of education budget cuts.

Even your fearless reporter might consider dusting off the old K&E ‘slip-stick’ that got us through multiple engineering degree programs.  We could show those eager children some real math magic!  Our kids will tell you that we need a little work on our patience, but hey, free coffee and donuts would go a long way in resolving that.  And a little more honesty and bellying up to the bar from the schoolies of all stripes and positions would flood us with warm feelings.

In our younger era, Mrs. Side was a regular classroom volunteer in our children's’ elementary school years; we remember it fondly, as does she.  And it certainly strengthened the linkage of families to schools and their staffs.

You know, when you stop and think about it, Brunswick is probably flush with retired teachers and professors; why aren’t they giving a day a week as classroom assets?  And we have a ton of therapists and various types of social workers in town.  Why aren’t these aptly talented individuals tripping all over each other to volunteer their services in our school system?  Why aren’t they already a vital component of our school excellence?  And contributing their expertise to our future – ‘the children?’

If they already are, we hope somebody can fill us in on the details so we can report on them.

So there you have it; our innovative alternative to PYMWYMI fund-raising.  A more personal, more heartfelt PYTWYMI program!  We’re so proud and excited about this new dimension of town commitment that we’ll be manning our comment banks 24 hours a day. We’ll record the hours volunteered to us here at Side, which we will carefully tabulate and report to school officials.

We can’t wait to see what we get in the way of response; we’ve got goose bumps just thinking about it.  We’ll need two thermometers from now on, of course; one for PYMWYMI, and one for PYTWYMI.  We’ve yet to come up with a volunteer days goal, but we’ll do that soon enough.


We’re also looking forward to press coverage of our new program, since we’re sure school officials and teachers will welcome volunteer presence in the class rooms and the schools, and call reporters in for lively commentary on the idea.

At least we hope so.  Perish the thought that they’d rather just have  more money to spend, and keep the amateurs out of the schools.  Not to mention protecting union jobs no matter what  they’d be giving up in the way of community involvement.

Nah; that couldn’t happen; not here in Brunswick, where all the men are hard working, all the women are kind, and all the children are above average.


In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have. -Lee Iacocca, automobile executive (b. 1924)

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14 PYMWYMI Update

Ho-hum.  Let your hearts be still; there is no new information to report.  No new imaginative investors contacting us about how much more they want to pay in taxes in the coming year (and years beyond that) so our schools can become excellent (or stay excellent, depending on which side of the big E you reside.)

No school board members stepping up to the bar, either.  Oh the shame; where are their leadership instincts?  (Don’t answer that, Bucky.)

So here again to make the point is our stunning graphic portrayal of community support for spending more on our government schools:

May 14 PYMWYMI Update


We were reminded that not everyone recalls what our acronym stands for, so here’s the full unabbreviated version:

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is  (PYMWYMI).

Fear not, however.  Based on the shabby showing for the school spenders so far, we’re going to come up with a new angle on things.  Watch these pages closely; the news should break in the next 36 hours or so.

Here’s a hint to keep you engaged and on your toes: PYTWYMI.

Submit guesses via the comment feature just below.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Residence ‘fluidity:’ du Houx snafu part deux

Well, we haven’t heard back from Rep. Priest or Sen. Stan the minority-man yet on the Alex du Houx residency snafu, so they must still be researching it.

Meanwhile, Alex himself seems to have elevated the question of legitimate residency for legislative purposes to a far more troubling level.

A recent post on his Mother’s web site refers to a BDN item on the recent turmoil in young Alex’s life:

Groening’s article listed the allegations by Rep. Erin Herbig, while Rep. Alexander Cornell du Houx, who is waiting for the hearing scheduled for May 14, 2012, could only give the paper a brief quote denying the accusations and saying he has respect for Herbig.

“We lived together for almost a year and were engaged to be married, and I have the highest respect for Erin. Her statement is completely false. This is a personal matter between Erin and myself over an engagement that sadly did not work. This is just a messy breakup of a loving couple,” said Cornell du Houx.

This sounds to us like it was intended as a permanent change of residence, or for the militarily inclined, a PCS (Permanent Change of Station.)  While we don’t know where they were living together, we’d bet a dozen of Frosty’s finest that it wasn’t Brunswick, which means at least one, if not both, were violating residential integrity for purposes of holding their elected office.

“almost a year” means the duration was well beyond the bounds of legislative sessions as well.

To which we can only say ‘this is a fine how-dya do, du Houx.’  We’d add ‘the people of Brunswick and Belfast expect better’ to that, but frankly, we doubt that they do.

Public servants?  Yah sure, bubby.  We could use a good laugh around here, but this ain’t it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New teacher and Bowdoin graduate pay comparison

Given our curiosity (which puts us in a very small class) about teachers contracts and school budgets, we found this recent news item of interest, and thought you might as well.  It’s from the Bowdoin Orient, the student newspaper at the local college.

Pay for seniors slightly above national average

According to a recent Orient survey, the average starting salary for graduating seniors who have found employment was  $42,339. This figure is slightly above the national average for recent graduates of $41,701, as reported by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

In other words, for the Bowdoin seniors cited, their starting pay will be $814 a week.

A quick look at the contracted pay schedule for Brunswick teachers in the school year now ending shows that a BA holder with 0 years experience would have begun the year with a salary of $32,930, including a $2,000 “beginning teacher adjustment.”  If our figures are correct, teachers beginning their careers in the coming school year will earn $33,447.

Teachers contracts call for 182 or so workdays per school year.  For comparative purposes, we usually equate this to about 39 work weeks compared to year-round 52 week jobs.

$33,447 divided by 39 yields $857 a week in equivalent pay in our view, or 5% more than the Bowdoin seniors cited above.

We’re told repeatedly that ‘teachers are underpaid,’ to which our standard reply is that some are underpaid, and some are overpaid.  This results from union contract structures that homogenize all teachers into a faceless, impersonal group.

At the same time, we know that Bowdoin is crème-de-la-crème in the highly selective, prestigious small college ranks.

Putting the two data points together would appear to call into question the prevailing wisdom about poor teacher pay.  And we doubt that the average Bowdoin senior will take a job with 17 days sick leave and a guaranteed salary advance mechanism regardless of merit or performance.

Now you know part of the story, at least.  And since we have so far been unable to obtain a new contract, it will have to stay that way.

du Houx: a residency conundrum?

Recent events and public disclosures regarding local State Rep Alex du Houx and fellow legislator Erin Herbig suggest their affair is beginning to take on the look of a televised Dr. Phil episode, though we confess that we have never, ever watched an episode, or even part of one.

This item appears today at The Forecaster: Family releases psych evaluation of embattled Brunswick Rep. Cornell du Houx

We do not wish to discuss their personal roles in this unwinding story.

We are, however, troubled by a quote from du Houx’s attorney in the cited article:

Hamm said that "Alex and Erin got together in May of 2011 ... (and) were engaged in December of 2011," before the February breakup. Hamm said that the couple began living together in June 2011.

One would take from this that the two principles had been living together for more than 6 months.

As we see it, this raises an issue of residency as it relates to holding elected office representing a legislative district.  At least it should, shouldn’t it?

We’ll go out on a limb here and hypothesize they were not living together in Brunswick.  If so, shouldn’t this raise serious concerns regarding du Houx’s legitimacy to hold office representing Brunswick?  And what about his qualifications to vote in last fall’s election in Brunswick?

On the same note, what about Herbig’s residency qualifications in her district?

We get that in a culture where terms like ‘gender fluidity’ are uttered without the least bit of irony, ‘residential fluidity’ and ‘statutory fluidity’ will be voiced as distractions without the slightest bit of hesitation.  Especially since we’re talking about ‘public servants,’ who learn quickly how to fend off pesky questions.

We’re hoping that other concerned individuals will follow up on this for us.  Heaven knows we’ve got enough to do around here.  Perhaps Rep. Priest or Senator Stan the Minority Man could provide authoritative comment.  When they do, we’ll post it here for all to see.  Then there’s the crack investigative staff over at The Ostrich.

And perhaps our Town Clerk can comment on the voter registration matter.

Before closing, we can’t help but pass along this fine example of maternal chutzpah in the same article:

Cornell du Houx's mother, Ramona du Houx, said she knows that her son doesn't own a gun.

"He applied for the permit for a deliberate reason, and that's because he wants to put in a law next year to make it harder to get the permits, because he's concerned about how guns are used in our society. He was testing the law," she said.

How a mother can know what a son doesn’t own is beyond me; that’s like saying “I know he doesn’t drink beer at college” for the average mother.  Even better is the theory about “testing the law.”

Perhaps the current episode is simply du Houx and Herbig jointly “testing the laws” on residency, so they can put in a law next year on the subject. 

How’s that for a new shade of lipstick on a pretty public porker?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On ‘E for excellence’ and local expertise

How does this sound when discussing excellence: ‘gradually eroding inaction?’  And this: ‘mediocrity and dumb acceptance?’

Stick with us here, people, and you’ll see where this leads.

Our statement Monday night to the Town Council raised the question of just how we are to know that our schools are ‘excellent.’  We suggested that the term is rapidly becoming overused and meaningless.

It dawned on us that this is exactly what happened with ‘self-esteem,’ especially as applied in our government schools and related activities for our kids.  More and more, schools are choosing not to name Valedictorians.  Seat time promotions are the norm; we dare not ‘hold back’ anyone, nor would we expect parental support if it were suggested.

In sports, especially in the younger years, keeping score is seen as too stressful, and everyone on every team gets a trophy.  In class, if a student holds that 2 + 2 is 5, we’re careful not to call that wrong, but simply an ‘alternative view’ or some such.  We preach ‘value neutrality,’ and emphasize that all cultures, beliefs, and world-views are equally good and correct.

All this has led to ‘self-esteem’ development concepts that have no basis in achievement or expecting you to be the best you can be. Instead, you merit your own esteem and ours simply because you ‘are,’ and in equal amounts to everyone else.  Is it any wonder we have twenty and thirty something's with no discernible goals in life, who expect everything to be given to them, and to have their debts, financial or otherwise, ‘forgiven?’

And so it seems with ‘excellence’ in our schools.  If we believe naming valedictorians is hurtful, surely evaluating our teachers on a similar basis is hurtful.  And by extension, evaluating our schools and our students is hurtful.

We much prefer the non-judgmental view that you as an individual are worthy of our esteem just because you exist, and similarly, that our schools are excellent because others tell us they are good.  Like real estate agents, local college academics, and trusting mothers of young children.  They wouldn’t mislead us, would they?  They have objective facts on this, don’t they?

Besides, school officials tell us over and over how excellent our schools and teachers are, and how devoted they are to maintaining, or even increasing our excellence.  Tenure?  Seat-time raises?  Those are just distractions from the grumps and nay-sayers.  Others may have staff and school quality issues, but here in Perfect, we have long since eliminated any possible weaknesses.

So what if we pay mediocre teachers the same as superior teachers? And scrupulously avoid discussing AYP deficiencies in public. We have more kids on the honor roll than we do who ‘meet or exceed’ learning requirements, but that’s to be expected, they say.

In so many words, ‘school excellence’ has simply become the self-esteem movement writ large at the group (‘community’) level.

Achievement and measurement thereof isn’t required; student goodness and school excellence is unconditional. Saying it makes it so.  You’re good because we say you are; we’re excellent because we say we are.

Just like the real estate agent and parent that spoke the other night….”new buyers ask me about Brunswick Schools….I tell them they’re great!”  Just how does she know this, and what follow-up proof do buyers ask of her?  If they did, what would she give them?  Or does she know because the people selling the house told her it’s so?

OK; we’ve said enough.  Let’s turn to a local expert on the subject for enlightenment and inspiration on school excellence.  We refer to Bob Morrison, of whom we wrote some time ago in this item.

We can’t help but remind you of this passage from that post, which is more relevant than ever:


From published reports, it appears that protecting school employees, no matter how ineffective they might be, is a higher priority than a good education for the students, most of whom need all the help they can get, the unions be damned.

You can read the details here: D.C. Schools  You might not feel like reading the whole thing, so here’s the heart of the story (emphasis ours):

Rhee's approach has forced people to confront choices and made those choices clear. In the education world, hard decisions are too often sidestepped with platitudes about consensus and common goals.

During the most recent contract negotiations, for instance, the teachers union sought to preserve tenure and seniority rules that were clearly not in the best interest of students. Rhee forced the issue, and in the end the rules were changed rather than papered over with half-measures. The result was a landmark contract.

The record on urban education reform makes plain that there is a fundamental choice between harmony among the various adult interests and rapid progress on school improvement.


Ms. Rhee, of course, was summarily booted from her position for standing up to the entrenched education bureaucracy.  Parents and voters weren’t motivated enough to overcome the bureaucracy’s power.

Morrison, in his letter from that time, forcefully argued against any deliberate, objective evaluation of teachers, and connecting their pay to such evaluations.  (Except for pre-scheduled classroom visits that would not be used for any tangible purpose, including compensation.)

Just what you would expect from a career education bureaucrat.  The comfy status quo with a new coat of lipstick.

Now he’s had another letter appear in The Ostrich, and he’s apparently: 1) unsure of our school system excellence;  2) concerned that if we don’t do as he suggests immediately, whatever excellence we have/had will be lost; 3) that as others have asserted, spending growth is the only fair and reliable indicator of excellence.

Herewith, select passages from his letter, followed by our response:

….it was extremely disappointing to watch for and never hear a strong commitment to make education our number one priority in Brunswick.

- what are you looking for in the way of a ‘strong commitment?’  More spending?  How much more?

Take a look at the best schools in the state.  Look at Falmouth and the (sic) Cape Elizabeth….the examples are there for all to see.

- see how, Bob, and with what objective measures and indicators?  By spending and teacher salaries, for example?

I strongly urge our Town Council and School Board to make the improvement of education their number one goal.  They should form a joint committee to establish a townwide committee to achieve that goal.

- a committee to establish a committee; sure, that always does it!

- isn’t this what school boards are for?

- improvement to education?  In what ways, and by what specific measures?  The only tangible metric we see in the way of improvements is salary levels.

- not one presentation in recent years that we can think of has EVER addressed increasing the effectiveness of how we educate our children, with appropriate metrics to make sure we are doing so.

- nor can we recall hearing of sub-standard teachers being let go; surely we’ve had one or two from time to time, haven’t we?

- how about standards and expectation, Bob?  How about consequences when they aren’t met?

- we don’t recall any metrics ever being proposed to enable continuous measurable improvement, nor even discussion of the subject.

- but we do get lots of platitudes, talk of mentors and counselors and other helpers, etc..

It’s time to fish or cut bait or put up with the gradually eroding inaction that leads to mediocrity and dumb acceptance.

- what the hell is ‘gradually eroding inaction’ anyway?

- ‘mediocrity and dumb acceptance’ doesn’t sound like a vote of confidence for our school system excellence, does it?

Maybe it’s just us; we just looked, and yes it is.  But it sounds like Bob is ‘sidestepping hard decisions’ with the intangible ‘platitudes’ of a career education bureaucrat.  We see nothing deterministic, specific, quantifiable, or measurable.

If you want to submit something more concrete and specific, Bob, we’ll provide you ample space here on Other Side.  You won’t have to wait a month like at The Ostrich.

So just send it on over.  We’re here for you, bud.

And here’s a helpful thought in closing.  How about if all those concerned parents, school advocates, and united imaginative investors were to volunteer as classroom aides?  Mrs. Side joined with many other volunteers as our offspring were making it through their elementary days; we remember them fondly.

They’d be there to help, and they’d be seeing education and teachers in action and up close.  Is there a teacher, administrator, or School Board member who wouldn’t gladly welcome such help from our community’s devoted grass roots?


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Budget theatrics update, 8 May 2012

Greetings, budget watchers.  We come to you with a bit of an update on things.

Last night, we addressed the Town Council on School Budget discussions, focusing on the concept of ‘excellence’ as applied here.  We’re beginning to see that term as suffering from the same abuse that ‘self-esteem’ has in recent years, especially at the hands of the education establishment. 

We’ll post our statement at the end of this item, or if you prefer, you can watch the live performance at the front end of this ‘watch live’ clip. 

If you watch the speakers that followed us, after the arts walk item, you’ll see the one-trick schoolies throwing the standard ‘serious budget cuts this year and in recent years’ punches.  Even though budgets have remained flat in the face of severe enrollment declines, and we’re spending thousands more per student ($5,000 more per year in the last 7 years.)

For reasons we can’t explain cogently, we decided we would watch the meeting on May 3rd in which the School Department presented their budget for the coming year to the Town Council.  You can watch it here.  Let us give you a few highlights:

- More emoting over cuts, cuts, cuts, as if they never looked at any facts.

- A question from a Town Councilor, who in the face of a $33 million school spending plan calling for an 8% increase in property taxes, piercingly inquires about a $68,000 item for copiers, wanting to know if it is for rental or purchase.  You can sleep well at night with this sort of rigorous oversight and wire brushing by our betters.

- A prediction by the School Super that we can expect property tax increases amounting to 11% more in the two years beyond the coming year as ‘starting points.’  Not to mention various expansions and conversion into all manner of new ‘services.’

- A thoroughly misleading characterization of the new teachers contract by the School Super.  Which led us to send this message to the Town Council and others.  (You can find both the referenced documents on our scribd site.  Look here and here.)


I just watched most of the May 3rd meeting in which the School Department briefed the Council on their proposed budget for the coming school year.

I take vigorous exception to the way Mr. Perzanoski characterized the new Teachers Contract in response to a question from the Council.

First, though, let me point out that I have been unable to obtain a copy of the new contract to date.  Mr. P told me, after the contract had been approved, that they had yet to construct the salary tables and the language changes, etc.  This means that the School Board voted to approve a contract they had not seen, which is worrisome in its own right.

On the 3rd, Mr. P said that 'steps are about 2%,' which is the untruth that apparently caused the Times Record to erroneously report on the new contract, stating that approved annual increases are 3.57%, 3.99%, and 2.9%.  I can only assume that the Superintendent has not spent much time studying the Contracts in recent years, and has not seen the new one either, or he would know his statement is wrong.

Last night I cited 3 year increases ranging from 13% to more than 18%, and I can back that up.

First, look at the attached file that is this school year's teachers salary schedule.("11-12 teacher salaries.pdf").

You will note that the 'step increase' in this table is $1547 per year.  Please note that in the recent 'salary freeze' year, teachers still received these increases, so salaries were not frozen in any normal sense of that word.

Using straightforward math, these step increases will increase at the rates cited for the new contract: 1.57%; 1.99%, and 0.9% in years 1, 2, and 3.

Hence next year, the step increase will be $1572; the following year it will be $1603; and in the final year it will be $1617.

Characterizing these as "2% on average" grossly misrepresents reality.  For someone in the low salary range, say $33,000, these step increases are 4.7% this year, and 4.8%, 4.9%, and 4.9% in the 3 years of the new contract.  For someone in the higher salary range, say $55,000, these figures are 2.8%, 2.9%, 2.9%, and 2.9% respectively.  So 3.7% or more would be more like it for an 'average,' or nearly twice what Mr. P. stated.

On top of these step increases, each teacher gets what I refer to as the 'general increase' for the contract year, these being the 1.57%, 1.99%, and .9% increments.

If you apply these numbers to the current year table, you get the results I cited last night.  I am attaching a spread sheet that shows my calculations for 3 notional teachers: one currently at BA + 15 step 4; one currently at MA step 8; and one currently at MA + 15 step 15.  The shaded entries show these individual's salary progress through the new contract salary schedules (my calculations, based on FY 12 baseline) and the total % increase for each year.

The three columns on the far right show the total 3 year % increase for that individual, the 3 year total $ increase, and the 3 year weekly $ increase, based on 39 weeks of work.  (The teachers contracts usually call for 182-185 work days per year.)

QED, as they say; this is how I arrived at the figures I stated to you last night.  As soon as I receive a copy of the approved contract, I will verify the numbers and correct them as need be.  So far, I am making no headway in that regard; my last message, more than a week ago, yielded no response.  Others from the School Board can correct my figures if their data shows it is in error.

Given the fiscal and budgetary stress we are under, I believe it is paramount that you have accurate figures and characterization of proposals.  I hope the attached figures make things clearer for you.

I will also update you if and when I receive the savings stemming from the advertised 102 position cuts.

Thank you,

Pem Schaeffer


And now, FWIW, the text of our comments at last night’s meeting:

· I’m mightily perplexed, and here’s why.

· On the one hand, we have comment after comment about how excellent our schools are when it suits the narrative of the moment.

o You know….”we have great schools, and that’s why people move here, and if we don’t fund them fully, whatever that means, they will no longer be excellent and people will stop moving here.

· On the other hand, when it suits a different narrative, we have distraught commentary about how our schools have had their budgets slashed ‘year after year’ and we’ve punished our children in the process,

o Some have claimed we’ve been doing that for five decades. Presumably these slashes and cuts have done chaotic damage, and the only way to reverse that is with an immediate, abundant, and continued increase in spending.

· We have zealous advocates for imagining and investing along these lines, but for some reason, they’re not willing to say how much more they are personally willing to commit to the cause, and even more surprising, they don’t seem to realize the freedom they’ve always had to pay more than they are billed whenever they want.

· So it’s unclear whether our schools are excellent, or their days of excellence are over and it will take resolute spending increases to restore it.

· The one constant in these divergent views is that excellence only results from MORE spending on the schools. We’re even given ‘aspirational’ spending goals from other school districts that apparently are more excellent than ours because they spend more.

· How can we know if our schools really are excellent?

o State and national rankings for K-12 worldwide have been in decline for some time.

o Teachers unions and school officials steadfastly refuse to accept any performance metrics for teachers, and even more, merit pay.

o Various forms of student evaluation and progress are almost always decried as flawed, unfair, and detrimental to teaching.

o Far too many students entering colleges at both the community and four year levels need substantial remediation before beginning serious college work.

o Per state metrics, Brunswick schools have a number of annual yearly progress failures to be resolved.

o We have kindergarten and calls for pre-kindergarten, pre-school, and summer school. Head Start has been around for some time, and now there is Pre-Head Start.

· The answer to the question is this: the only measure of excellence allowed by the bureaucracy is spending; it’s that simple. This is a sad excuse for doing what really needs to be done to get to the root causes and measures of performance and excellence.

o Alright, then let’s ask this: we’re spending roughly $5,000 more per student than we were just 7 years ago. What exactly are we getting for that much more per student?

· And the majority of that spending goes for compensation and unconditional raises for a staff that is not monitored or evaluated for performance or failure.

o While I have been unable to obtain the new contract, my estimate using the announced figures is that it awards raises ranging from 13% to more than 18% over 3 years, with no performance component.

o And in spite of 102 position cuts in recent years, for which I cannot obtain actual dollar savings, total reported payroll has still grown.

· At the same time we defer maintenance and care of our physical assets to the point where the person in charge admits that we have not kept things in good condition, to the point of a staggering need for $44 million in repairs in the coming years.

· I don’t know what else to say, other than excellence is rapidly becoming an overused and meaningless concept in this town, especially in this context.

· If we are to achieve excellence in the truest sense of that word, it’s going to take leadership, accountability, and work. And these are not measured in dollars.

· Thank you.


The train in Maine mainly strains one’s brain

Yeah, we know; cockamamie attempts at rhyming aren’t much of a draw.

So lets get to the point.  Some months ago we posted on the heated, elevated boarding platform being constructed at Maine Street Station.  We reported that the platform is said to be 400 feet in length, or a football field plus end zones.  We’re not sure what it will end up with in the way of roof cover.

We provided this photo at that time; keep in mind the platform and ramp span from the foreground to way off in the distance at the disappearing point.


We are, for once, fairly certain on something else, and that is that the trains coming to Brunswick will pass through Freeport, and be prepared to stop at their station, now under construction.

We’ve been passing it a lot lately, and one day it hit us; why is Freeport’s ramp and platform not 400 feet long, on the same scale as Brunswick’s?  We inquired of workers at the Freeport site what the explanation might be, and they had none.

Here are a few shots of their station; the first one shows a ground/track level boarding area that amounts to a glorified sidewalk.


This next one shows the station covered section, which includes an elevated platform with a ramp; we’d guess this platform to be 40 feet long, tops.


Perhaps you’ve passed the station as well.

We can only wonder why Brunswick needs a 400 foot long heated and elevated boarding platform, while Freeport will get by with one in the range of barely one-tenth that long.

We’re sure someone ‘in the know’ will have a logical explanation for such variations for the same train.

As logical as we can expect, that is, for a $35 million front-end ‘investment’ in a loss-leader train that will, we predict, not come close to meeting expectations for ridership.  Or come anywhere close to the convenience and affordability of the bus options that have existed for years already.

Come to think of it, we wonder when we’ll see ‘Brunswick Train-Buffs United’ posting “Imagine our future –Invest in our trains” signs in yards around town.

Oh, the possibilities before us!  Possibilities for just what is the real question.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

PYMWYMI Update, as if it matters…..

Here’s the update on how much our friends over at the imagine/invest camp have volunteered in the last week:

6 May PYMWYMI Update


Need we comment?

No, we don’t.  But we do feel the need to report on the editorial excellence of The Ostrich, which continues to build on their reputation for accuracy of reportage in local matters.

Recently, they posted this pearl in a lead editorial:

After weeks of public forums on specific cost centers, the School Board last week endorsed a $33,491,029 spending plan that seeks almost $2.4 million in local funding.

Memo to The Ostrich, and to the School Board and School Department officials who are so supportive of their reporting:  that would be $2.4 million in ADDITIONAL local funding, on top of the nearly $17 million already paid by local taxpayers.

We realize that to many, especially those who think that spending levels are irrelevant, that this minor correction is, you know, a distraction.

To which we would reply that the entire campaign for School budgets is based on distractions, and intentionally so.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

Nor anything that stops those so inclined from rolling out their checkbooks and making a very public statement.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Oh the shame! And there’s plenty to go around.

Tracking the comings and goings of the School Budget theater production is taking a toll on us.  So much so that we completely overlooked our obligation to provide you with a weekly PYMWYMI update.

So here we are three days late to provide the facts you need, and ask your indulgence.  You might think that collecting the hard data for this update was the cause for our delay, given the number of folks who appear ready to step up to the plate and swing their checkbooks.  But as you’ll see in the graphic, you would be wrong.

2 May PYMWYMI Update


If your reaction is that the total volunteered by our local school spending advocates is unchanged from ten days ago, you win a kewpie doll.

On another front, you may have heard that the School Board selected Option 4 from the menu offered by the Superintendent.  This choice raises the budget ever so slightly above the current year baseline, and will be presented to the Town Council tomorrow night, where there will be ample opportunity for ham and egging it, and we suspect much emoting on both sides of the podium.  Whether the show will be ‘staged’ we cannot say, but we have our suspicions.  Kabuki theater is not an unknown locally.

Tearing down more town structures, building new Police Stations, and $44 million in projected school repair costs should provide dramatic back-drops for this next act in the unfolding drama.

So we won’t bore you with figures, since much is yet to play out before we know how much more will be compelled from us all, while the POMWTMI crowd continues to keep their personal commitments to themselves, as shown in the graphic.  You might say their individual, specific support for increased taxes and spending has been quiet, unclear, and invisible.

We do find the reaction over at Brunswick Community Divided to be illustrative of the circumstances, however.  Let us elaborate.

It will now be up to the Town Council to determine whether or not this is a budget they can support, and where they will find the money to pay for it.

In other words, how do you like your new monkey friend, Councilors?  And how about the concept of ‘finding money,’ as if in an Easter egg hunt?  Here’s a clue to all involved: they (government) only ‘find money’ in one place: taxpayer’s pockets.

If the Council does approve the budget, the funding will likely involve some combination of an increase in property taxes, freeing up town money for the schools by identifying state aid that could fund other portions of the town’s budget (for instance, by using newly obtained state financing to pay for roadwork and shifting the money saved to the schools, or by other adjustments to the town’s other spending priorities.

So as you can see, while the POMWTMIs are averse to any sort of scaling back in school budgets (oh, the horror!), they are perfectly fine with dipping into public works funding and snatching (‘freeing up’) funds from other town budget lines.  How resourceful of them. 

You’d think they’d have the public courage to state how much of their own personal budgets they are ‘shifting’ to the schools, and how they are adjusting their other personal priorities to free up the necessary funds.  Who knows; maybe they’re expecting their college loans to be forgiven to make things easier.

….it’s clear that without the visible, vocal and town-wide support from so many residents – parents, retirees, and business owners alike – we could have seen much deeper cuts.

Well, there they go again.  “Cuts'” is the emotional hook, even though the budget proposal is an increase from last year, whilst we have 4% fewer students.  As history shows, Brunswick has ‘cut’ its School Budgets from less than $15 million in the late 80’s, to less than $22 million in the late 90’s, and then ‘cut’ them to $33 million plus in the late 00’s, enrollment declines of more than 25% in recent years  notwithstanding. Salary ‘cuts’ in teachers contracts have been just as severe.

Come to think of it, if we’re going to call budget growth year after year ‘cuts,’ shouldn’t we call the declining enrollment ‘student body growth?’  Is consistency too much to expect in budget bizarro world?

We have some creative thoughts for the spending increase advocates over at BCD.  We know ‘pay  per student’ always draws howls of unfairness, even though as we’ve described in the past, paying for what you use always seems to be above reproach when brought up in a politically correct context.

So what; it looks to us like if half the students in our system came with a $2,000 check per year pinned to their shirts, the cash flow problem would be gone in a Brunswick minute.  Failing that, how about if those hundreds of petition signers and sign posters loan the school department $5,000 each or more per year? 

Think of it as giving your personal credit card to the town.  And then in a few years, forgive the loans in keeping with the contemporary penchant for bail-outs.

You can see that if advocates just use a little imagination, there are all sorts of creative financing options for investing in the future.  Let the bidding begin!

We’ll close with some relevant info we picked up recently that demonstrates how spending relates to school excellence.  We understand that on average, we in Maine spend app. $15,000 per student in K-12, while the national average is app. $10,000.  At the same time, we have the smallest average class size in the U.S.

What do we get for this imaginative investing?  We’re told that 50% of the students entering our community college system need some form of remediation, and 25% of those entering our four year colleges do.

We’re beginning to believe that there is relative ‘excellence,’ and there is absolute ‘excellence.’

You can guess which one prevails in Brunswick and the region.  You’ll have no option other than guessing, because there’s no hard data coming out of the school systems themselves.  So parents who want more spending, real estate sales people, and similar credible sources are your ‘go-to’ experts.

Good luck.