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.

1 comment:

  1. My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with facts.