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.


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