Friday, August 24, 2012

‘Public Servant’ Paul Perzanoski’s Public Political Pronouncements….


You may have already heard about the kerfuffle stirred up by Brunswick School Superintendent Paul Perzanoski’s recent letter to
Department Staff.  It’s been publicized on radio, in the newspapers, and on a variety of web sites.

But in case you haven’t, we want to make sure you have the item of interest at your fingertips.  You can find it here.  Note that it is an official document, written in the Superintendent’s official capacity.  This is what makes the content so startling, and what raises serious questions about the propriety of his behavior as an appointed public official and head of the School Department.

(You can read coverage on the item in the Portland paper here.  Included are the reactions of a number of School Board members.)

The first passage to note in the letter is this one, in which Mr. P shows a talent for sarcasm; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say.

“Our illustrious governor has been in the news again, singing the praises of public education.  The legislators passed new laws on bullying this spring but they failed to include the Blaine House.  Remediation is on the Governor’s mind and I agree, he needs remediation in civility, public speaking, telling the truth, diplomacy, and following the law.  I think we should challenge him to take the SAT and them make the results public.”

Ever helpful as we are, we decided to respond to Mr. P’s challenge on SAT scores with a challenge of our own:

Mr. Perzanoski:

'Congratulations' on your 'pithy' letter of 17 August to School Department Staff. It has now received coverage for the department on WGAN news broadcasts, which probably means it will be highlighted on the network evening news casts.

As long as you are challenging others on SAT scores, I thought I'd play “I'll show you mine, now you show me yours” with you.
I have before me the post card with my scores on the GRE, which I took in 1966. On the aptitude section, I scored 79th percentile (580) in verbal, and 99th percentile (800) in quantitative. I took the advanced test in engineering, and scored 93rd percentile (690).

I did not find my post card for the SATs, which I took in the 58-59 school year, but I distinctly recall that I scored 800 on the math portion, and about 600 on the verbal.

I look forward to getting your scores and publicizing them along with mine now that you've turned such things into a matter of public discourse.

We can also compare college performance, if you wish. My undergraduate days as an engineering major were, shall we say, undistinguished, in-as-much as I was discovering the pleasures of fraternity and campus life in the innocent days before the political activism of the 60's invaded colleges everywhere. I believe my GPA was about 2.5.

I made up for it in graduate school, earning a 3.8 and 3.9 respectively for a Masters in EE, and a second Masters in Computer Science.

Not than any of this matters in the grand scheme of things. I don't expect my scores and GPAs to appear on my gravestone, or in my obituary.

But I'll wait patiently to get your scores and GPAs. Perhaps you can include them in the memo that includes the data you promised to provide on how much has been saved by the 102 position cuts you advertised to any and all in the budget season.
Perhaps you forgot your commitment to provide them; if you need proof, I'll be happy to send you the message in which you did so.

In this day and age, keeping your word and protecting the integrity of the department are important aspects of keeping the public trust. At least as I see it; I hope you agree.

The response I received was: “Thanks for your comments. Paul.”  Apparently he doesn’t want to ‘make his results public.’  That pretty much says it all, don’t you think?  So much for transparency.  We could pull a ‘Harry Reid’ and mention a call we received from ‘Bill’ that said the Super’s scores were an embarrassment, and demand that he prove the caller wrong by releasing them.  But we’re not going to sink to Harry’s level; that’s for high ranking ‘public servants’ like the good senator, not us.

Side wonders whether Mr. P’s contract prohibits partisan political posturing in his official capacity as School Department head.  If it doesn’t, it should; we intend to find out either way.

The letter goes on to bemoan “public school bashing” as a “favorite political sport.”

“The main goal of this 29 year attack is not to improve public education but to demean it enough so public dollars pay for private and religious schools.  Through the years this movement has morphed into vouchers and charter schools supported by the same people with the same political agenda.  It may be time to stop fighting and give them what they want under the following conditions……”

Are we to believe Mr. P and his ilk, and his associates in the teachers unions, are without ‘political agenda’ on school related matters?  That aside, we’d like to comment on the ‘following conditions’ identified in the letter:

‘Every school must hire certified, highly qualified teachers;’  Highly qualified?  We’d like the Department to prove to us that it ONLY hires and continues to employ highly qualified teachers.  We are aware of no performance monitoring, measurement, or reward system that would encourage and incentivize highly qualified teachers and superior performance.  The worst teachers get paid the same as the best and vice versa.  Every teacher in a given grade teaches to the same approved curriculum.  Getting rid of underperforming or ‘dead wood’ teachers is virtually unheard of.  You can thank the teachers union for homogenizing the teaching corps into faceless members instead of unique individuals with unique capabilities.  Our guess is that private school teachers are not protected by the same counter-intuitive pay and employment strictures.  And we bet student performance figures into teacher evaluation, which it doesn’t in the government school system.

‘Every school must accept all students who register:’  Fine; and as part of that, we assume Mr. P wants to ensure that the teachers in each system are paid the same, and that public funding per student is the same.  At the same time, he can provide access to the professionals who are always ready to declare students as special needs to invoke more public funding.  Brunswick students are now funded at more than $13,000 each, and we expect that the private/charter schools would be delighted to receive that much per student.  Meanwhile, to level things out and save funds, we would expect the government school teachers to have their pay and benefits adjusted to equity with private school teachers.  Fair is fair, after all.  The funds saved could be used to keep schools in good repair, a concept largely ignored by government schools in order to prioritize homage to the teachers unions.

‘Every student must be part of the statewide assessment;’  We’d be shocked if there was a private school that wouldn’t be happy to have it’s performance measured in return for equivalent funding and a level ‘playing field.’  Or even without.

‘Every school must follow state and federal mandates;’  Once again, equalized funding and equalized salaries and benefits should make this quite practical.  We also suspect that the vast majority of state mandates here in Maine derive from the near total monopoly liberal Democrats have had in State Government for 40 years, and we suspect these would be the politicians most dearly beloved by Mr. P and the teachers unions.  The current landscape in Augusta has not been in place for even two years yet, and is the rarest of the rare since the 70’s.  We suspect that federal mandates for the most part have been enacted by similarly inclined and affiliated leadership.

All in all, we think Mr. P would do well to remember that leveling the playing field is a two-way process before he issues such challenges, or he could get his comeuppance.

You’ll also note in the letter that the School Department is started on the road to what will likely be a $20 million or more school renovation plan, and they want to “engage the department and the community” in the process.  This is a rallying call to the schoolies, the ‘imagine and invest’ crowd who will ‘engage’ in public fits of weeping and moaning to see that all the money they want for their darlings and education heroes and saints is forthcoming from taxpayers, no matter the effect on the latter and their budgets, or the state of Brunswick’s economy.

We’re also quite astonished by this passage:

“..the recipe for professional security and strength lies in our ability to articulate support, kindness, civility, tolerance, and patience with each other.”

This is especially notable given the author’s attack upon the Governor, which exemplifies exactly the opposite.  And besides, the professional security and strength for the majority of department staff derives from their union contracts, we think.  They pretty much take the subtleties of personal relationships out of the mix; if you don’t believe us, just read a few of the contracts.

Then there’s this:  “We endure enough pathology just by making the choice to work in public service.”  Pathology is a pretty strong word, and suggests that the author is not happy in his circumstances.  Perhaps he should retreat to his Peaks Island domicile and rethink his career choices.  Given that compensation and benefits of just about everyone in the School Department exceeds that in the private sector, you would expect a bit less in the way of animosity.  But then “public service” has long since become a misnomer of epic proportion.

Now for the heartfelt closing: “Wishing you a profitable and satisfying year.”

Not a successful year or one filled with accomplishment.

Perhaps Mr. P would revise the monetary implications of his closing were he to do it over again, but given the long term record, we suspect not.  You can be the judge.


  1. I submitted a letter echoing some your concerns and received a reply from scholl board James Corey that said he 1) agreed with many of my points and, 2) I should worry about things in Bangor, and he (we'll) worry about things down here in Brunswick. Superintendent P also acknowledged my letter with a thank you. My concern is primarily for the education of our children, that politics is kept out of the classrooms and administration, especially in light of the fact that not everyone would necessarily agree with their superior's political agenda thereby potentially putting their job at risk of bias should Mr. P find out, and the disgrace Mr. P brings upon the community by demeaning Maine's elected governor in the way he did. It is shameful how some people nowadays have lost a sense of courtesy, manners and mutual respect.

  2. Does anyone ever come to the conclusion that we would have none of these problems if "free" government education was ever invented and foisted upon everyone reagrdless if we want to pay for educating our children or not?