Monday, January 21, 2013

Brunswick’s Pied Pipers: The blind lead the blind on the road paved with good intentions

‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.’

We open with this chestnut because it may well characterize the situation in Brunswick.  Here in Perfect, known to the little people as Brunswick, we have a sizable number of the figuratively blind. 

Their blindness, we are told, is caused by good intentions, that all-purpose explanation for any number of civic blunders and pathologies.  We, as you know, are obliged to accept the often flawed visions of these anointed because of their noble intent.  And compelled to pay for whatever they dream up as they dance and sing along the j-axis.

The blindness kicks into high gear whenever it encourages and confirms their dearly desired scenarios, no matter how foolish or unfounded in reality they may be.  And if you throw a practiced piper or two into the mix, you end up with a parade to celebrate the blindness.

Who are they, these blind?  And these pipers?  Here are some examples.

1) Those who wrote to The Ostrich following the announcement that Brunswick Naval Air Station would close, asserting that Brunswick ‘would continue to grow,’ even though Brunswick had not grown for years.

2) Sally Sellit, the Queen of local real estate agents, who repeatedly insists that people move to Brunswick ‘because of our excellent schools,’ while ignoring why families seem to move out of Brunswick at a higher rate.

3) Those who asserted that the ‘revitalization’ of low-cost former Naval  housing in the McKeen Street project would drive enrolment increases in our school system.

4) Brunswick Community United: the Imagine and Invest crowd, who are convinced that if you pay teachers more next year, they’ll do a better job teaching the children than they are doing this year.  You know, like John Arbuckle and Yuban, ‘you get what you pay for.’  (Note: they’re right; if you pay teachers more, you get higher paid teachers.)

5) Planning Decisions, Inc: all purpose Faustian consultants, who make their living rationalizing the fantasies of various dreamers, imaginers, and gullible clueless in our midst.  In the process, they scarf up taxpayer funds while providing air cover for whatever ill conceived proposals are in need of professional impetus and sanction. 

6) And last, but not least, PDT Architects, who regardless of reality, create narratives urgently calling for vast civic investments in community assets, which they will, oh so incidentally, rake in a share of.  They should rename themselves Conflicted Interest Architects, given their modus operandi.  Like Dillinger, they know where the money is, and how to pry it loose, or more properly, get their ‘clients’ to do so.

We say the following with sincere regret but no apologies: all of the above are boneheads of one species or another.  But they are accomplished and effective boneheads, because they hold sway over the elected officials responsible for overseeing the town enterprise: the Town Council and the School Board, and related professional staff.  Many of them earn their living by such means, and are rewarded handsomely for their ability to schmooze and charm ruling class boneheads.

Given this backdrop, let’s give you some cheery news we’re confident you won’t read about anywhere else.  The Brunswick School Department enrolment reported to Maine’s Department of Education for October 2012 is 2,345, a decline of 69 from the April 2012 report.  Or nearly 3% in 6 months.

This continues a non-stop decline in enrolment since the high point of 3,372 in the 04/05 school year.  Ergo, claiming this is some sort of aberration or anomaly is bogus.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that in polite community discourse.

Let’s look at this no doubt ‘unexpected’ down turn vis-a-vis the prophesies from the sages mentioned above; we’ll do so by the numbers.

1) The Ostrich itself may be the trademark dispenser of delusional propaganda here in Perfect.  Or, if you prefer, poppycock, or for the more imaginative, balderdash. They willingly give voice and column space to the loonies who between slugs of Kool-Aid tell us that up is down and left is right, and that the laws of physics and economics are, you know, so yesterday.

2) It’s been said real estate sales is for those who couldn’t make it selling used cars.  Or is it the other way around?  You know the type: adept at describing a total wreck as ‘a rustic blank canvas waiting for you to express your originality.’ 

Much like our Federal masters, who ignore those dropping out of the work force and new applications for unemployment insurance, while trumpeting ‘new jobs created,’ Sally sees only those transactions that confirm her sales pitch to unsuspecting clients.  Right up there with ‘Brunswick has the best schools’ is the claim that we are a great winter getaway for those who want to warm up in a tropical atmosphere.  It doesn’t hurt that the word gullible is not in the dictionary.

3) Let’s hand it to Mr. Schott and his efforts to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse on McKeen Street.  He’s had some success at repopulating this in-town neighborhood that should be driving school enrolment through the roof, if you believe the nimrods who inform our local discourse.  We can only wonder how much lower enrolment would be if he hadn’t worked his magic on McKeen Street, in housing oh so affordable and close to the crown jewel of our school system. 

All conveniently forget that the prior military population was essentially frozen in time, providing a constant supply of students, while non-military residents do no such thing.

4) As to Brunswick Community United, how do you reason with schoolies who are rounded up and organized by the academics at our local Ivory Tower?  (Remember Professor Klingle, the genius of previous budget cycles?  See this to refresh your memory, and more.  Re-reading his thoughts, we’re concerned that he’s been coaching Johnny Protocols.)   

If you believe that paying teachers more next year means they’ll teach better next year, then you have to believe that a Bowdoin degree awarded next year is worth more than one awarded last year, because the faculty is making more.  In a related story, did you know that if you say the word ‘gullible’ very slowly, it sounds just like ‘oranges?’

5) Planning Decisions must have worked on the 2010 census, or at least be students of census techniques. 3000 plus military personnel and their family members left Brunswick and surrounding communities when the base closed, yet our population was reported to be essentially unchanged since 2000! 

PDI has conducted two enrolment studies for the school department.  The first was issued in 2004, before base closure was announced.  We’re trying to find out how much these studies cost us, but haven’t succeeded yet; when we do, we’ll let you know.

The 2004 report, when forecasting enrolment in the current (2012-2013) school year, without Durham high school students, projected 2,779 students as ‘best fit,’ with a low range estimate of 2,544, and a high range estimate of 3,004.  This included military dependents living in Brunswick, but as you’ll see in a moment, that amounts to a ‘so what.’  The ‘best fit number’ is over reality by 434 students, an 18% mistake.

The 2007 revision to the PDI report took base closure into account.  We can’t know for sure, but we’ve always wondered if this effort was driven by our civil suit challenging the State’s decision to fund a new school in Brunswick, because that decision was made before BNAS closure was announced.  It put forth three estimates: a best fit model; a base closing Scenario 1; and a base closing Scenario 2.  Strangely, almost beyond belief, all three ended up with school enrolment of 2,927 four years from now. 

For the current school year, the best fit model projected 2,963; base closing Scenario 1 projected 2,896; and base closing Scenario 2 projected 2,727.  So wouldn’t you know; with base closing thrown into the mix, PDI upped the ‘best fit’ projection for the current year by almost 200.  Scenario 1 came in 350 higher than the low range estimate in 2004, and Scenario 2 came in almost equal to the 2004 ‘best fit’ figure.  All three projections exceed reality by nearly 400 or much, much more.

Interestingly, the 2927 figure for Best Fit in 2016-17 is the low point.  In base closing Scenario 1, the low point is 2,687 in 2009-10, while in Scenario 2, the low point is 2,704 in 2010-11.  In the latter two cases, enrolment increases steadily after the low points.  Yah, schurr.

In fact, if PDI was even close to correct, we’d be looking for taxpayers to fund ANOTHER new school to hold the 600 students beyond current reality!  It’s a damn good thing we closed Longfellow and Jordan Acres, wouldn’t you say?  All the more work for PDT Architects to do laying out a $50 million plus plan for Brunswick Schools.

6) We have no words to express our disdain for PDT, which seems to be thee Pied Piper for Brunswick projects.  How can you question a professional architect when he emphasizes ‘for the children’ priorities?  And presents his recommendations to elected officials who sought their offices to make things better ‘for the children,’ even if they can’t think of any other way than spending more to do so?  When we already have ‘the best schools?’

What really fries our shorts about all of this is the now predictable routine of paying so called professional consultants excessively higher labor rates than called for to tell us that we have to spend more taxpayer money no matter what else has to be done. 

Or not done.  But that is not in the realm of possibilities.  Do you really think you can find a ‘consultant’ who will tell you that you are way over equipped, or spending way too much, to deliver a quality service?  Are you kidding me? 

Take a look at the schools they design and the reports they generate, and it’s not hard to envision them taking out archived offerings from past ‘successes,’ and putting on a new coat of lipstick to serve them up for us.

Do you think there’s a professional anywhere who would dare suggest that Jordan Acres could have become the new police station, or even been preserved as a useful school asset?

As they say in the movies, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.  Or mix up a new pitcher of Kool-Aid if that be your preference.  As you enjoy your mellow mood, thank your lucky charms that we now have J.P. Richardson on the town council, anxious to pander to and patronize the schoolies and their accomplices.  While not knowing squat about the budget history of our schools and the runaway growth in per-student costs.  Not to mention the plan presented last May to add more than 35 personnel to department staff.

Come to think of it, J.P. may be the leading candidate to play the king role in the opening chestnut of this post.

Somehow “Always Look At the Bright Side of Your Life” comes to mind.  If that means nothing to you, here’s a visual embodying the same sentiment.

1 comment:

  1. Just one correction. If you check the U.S. Census Beureau before 2010 you will find a town called Brunswick Station and the U.S. Postal Service as Bruncwick NAS. These denote what is now Brunswick Landing. The census numbers for Brunswick prior to 2010 did not include the population of the BNAS.

    A second clarification if you will. Mr. George Schott has gotten a sweetheart deal from the town as regards property taxes in that the Town and its assessor have broken the law and not considered fari market value of the housing for tax purposes as required by law.