Monday, April 8, 2013

“For the Children…..”


(Ed. Note:  LT Ben Dover has been begging for another chance at reporting on the local situation, so we’ve graciously decided to let him have his way with this post.)



Mum’s the word for the Moms??

Hi, everybody.  And thanks to Mr. Poppycock for giving me another shot at building my reporting skills.

I’d like to review the school budget/planning scenario unfolding before our eyes.  Especially in light of this “school renovation” information posted just about a month ago:

Curiously, things have been kind of silent since these numbers were presented to the public.  Town Councilor Benet Pols, who has his own blog, has been completely mute on upcoming budget expectations, and in particular, the possibility of a $40-50 million proposal for school ‘renovations.’

Brunswick Community United, the gathering place for ‘schoolies,’ under the tutelage of a Bowdoin faculty member, has been similarly silent on the subject.  You remember them; they’re the ‘Imagine and Invest’ group, featuring Sally Sellit and others. 

In their own way, they’re school ‘bullies.’  They intimidate the school board, the town council, and cowering town taxpayers into paying for whatever it is they want on behalf of the teachers and staff; oops, I’m sorry, “for the children.”  Funny how being an emotional bully is perfectly acceptable in some cases, but not others.

Then there’s the School Department web page, which is also uncharacteristically AWOL on the major foreign object floating in the town punch bowl.  Other than for this mind-numbing and largely uninformative presentation on High School budget details.

When the School Department, Pols, and the BCU are silent on the iceberg ahead, I can only think of two possibilities.  The first is that public reaction to the huge numbers posted above has been so negative that those involved are distancing themselves from the numbers as fast as they can.

The second is that they’re all colluding in a higher level strategy to spend the huge sums shown above with the minimum possible public resistance.  The first step in that strategy is to completely ignore the subject as the annual operating budget moves through the standard Kabuki Theater act over the next two months or so.

I’m not a gambler, but I’ll put my discretionary pocket change on the second possibility.

I’m also not near the reporter that the owner and publisher of Other Side is, so I’m not going to go on and on and on trying to tie this all into some sort of integrated story line.  Instead, so I can make the deadline he’s imposed on me, I’m going to resort to listing the various factors that play into this scenario.

  • There’s never enough money to keep the physical plant assets you have in good repair, as public stewards should, but there’s always enough money to tear them down and build new ones.
  • Similarly, there’s never enough money to tend to facility problems, but there’s always enough money to pay teachers more.  Broken toilets anyone?
  • What position will John “Johnny Protocols” Richardson stake out as he plays the schoolie crowd to forward his political ambitions, gubernatorial or otherwise?  See
  • Similarly, what position will Jacquie “J.P.” Sartoris adopt as she pursues her political goals? 
  • Wow; isn’t it interesting that we now have ‘space problems,’ after shutting down three schools: Longfellow, Hawthorne, and Jordan Acres.
  • Come to think of it, who paid the price for allowing Jordan Acres to crumble under snow load on the roof?  It’s not like snow is a new thing around here, is it?  What about the architects?  Did they screw up the design so it couldn’t handle the load?  Was it PDT?  Didn’t the school come with a user’s manual that said “don’t allow snow to build up on the roof?”
  • Do you suppose the Architects happened to see the public statements made last year by the School Dept facility manager?  You know, this one:  “School buildings aren't being kept in good condition, the department's director of facilities told the School Board Wednesday night.  (snip)  The total value of the department's facilities is $88 million, Facilities Director Paul Caron said. But the cost to fully repair all of the buildings has risen to $44.4 million, more than 50 percent of their total replacement value.”  From:
  • The above sounds like an open invitation, almost a plea, to submit an estimate at least in the $40 million plus range!  Talk about easy marks.  It’s almost like taxpayers walking around town with cash hanging from every pocket.                        
  • Now that you mention it, I wonder how the repair estimate from Caron was composed before engaging the ‘right’ architects?
  • Furthermore, who (and there should be more than one) is losing their jobs for allowing the few schools left to fall into such a state of disrepair?  To the point where our kids are in danger?  And broken toilets are not getting repaired?
  • Apparently such concerns are secondary to continuous raises fro the teaching corps.
  • You’ll also note PDT is proposing a $17 million upgrade to Freeport High School.  Not bad; didn’t the new Brunswick High School cost around $18 million some time ago?  But as PC has said, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth, and will probably need a major investment sooner rather than later.
  • Once we sign up for the $40 million plus renovation plan, and make no doubt about it, we will, some other problems creep up.  Unless the $40 million in work can be done during a couple of summer months, we’ll need someplace else to conduct classes for displaced students while the work is done.
  • The renovations, if we cheap out as a community (cue the schoolies, cue Sally), will take at least 18 months, right?
  • Oh…..maybe no one has thought about the need for ‘bridge’ facilities.  Guess we’ll have to build something new to house them, even if we’re only going to put some band-aids on the not very well-built facilities we’re currently using.

Look at the summary table above; it’s not hard to see a $50 million plus bill coming our way.  How much will that add to your property tax bill?  Figures we’ve seen for the now discredited $21 million figure would have added 6% or so to your property tax bill by themselves, not including Police building debt service, fixes to the McClellan building, ordinary year over year budget increases, and anything else in the CIP. 

Now that we’re staring at a $50 million bill for the schools, you can figure more like 15% just for the school borrowing alone.  With all the ‘other vital needs’ facing us, a 25% property tax increase is not beyond our grasp.  We just need to find leaders willing to ‘go for the gold.’  (I have some candidates in mind, thank you.)

I need to remind you that last May, the Super proposed adding at least 36 heads to school staff, including 16 for a ‘clinical day treatment program.’  Well, on top of meals, why don’t we start providing housing as well?

Don’t forget the McClellan redo; last time we heard, it grew from $300,000 to $800,000.  Now that Johnny Protocols is on the council, we assume the plans will be expanded to include a grand, elevated Chairman’s Podium, to bring the dignity of the House Chamber to Brunswick’s ruling class.

I encourage you to think of the majority of the school debt service as going to fund teacher salary increases.  Why?  Because to begin with, these dollars are fungible.  And as our editor has described a number of times, School Department priorities have always put teachers compensation increases first, with facilities and other burdens secondary. 

So in a manner of speaking, all this ‘deferred maintenance,’ which has now reached ‘crisis’ stage, stems largely from a conscious decision to let the buildings go while keeping salaries ever increasing, and per student costs growing at rates that are simply unjustifiable.


So how will they pull this off?  I believe it will happen in the shadows.

Judging from the silence  on the School Department web site, the BCU site, and even the Pols blog, I predict that ‘mum’s the word is the agreed upon strategy during the next ten weeks or so of the standard budget run-up, hearings, passage, and public vote on the School proposal.  This will cleverly avoid a catastrophic and chaotic discussion, and coverage, of a $40-50 million school construction plan while the bright lights are shining.

Imagine and Invest signs may well be kept in storage this spring, just to avoid creating attention and scrutiny.

Better to wait until the budgets are approved, the school budget vote is over, and the dog days of summer set in.  People go to camp, and engage in all the usual things that turn summer into a time when little attention is paid to civic matters, especially since budgets for the coming year were just passed, like it or not.

This is when the School Department will come before the Town Council, in a very unheralded way, and propose that the plan for $40-50 million in school spending be placed before the voters in November.  Unless a miracle occurs, the Town Council should don hard-hats and put up signs saying “danger – heavy equipment in the area,” because they will get steam-rollered by the School Department and their groupies - the schoolies of the BCU. 

All while taxpayers and residents are tending the tomato plants, swatting mosquitoes, and scarfing up Danny’s Dogs and Cote’s Ice Cream.

The council will acquiesce with a few brief comments of concern from the usual suspects, concluding they don’t see a way out, and that ‘it’s up to voters to make the decision.’

The question will go before the voters as the only item on the November ballot in a completely un-noticed non-election.  Two thirds of the population won’t even know there is an election, let alone one proposing to raise property taxes by the biggest margin ever seen in town.  Voter turnout will be in the range of 1,000 to 1,200 total at best, of which at least 80% will be BCU schoolies and those they drive to the polls, or otherwise coerce to get out and vote yes.

Does the term slam-dunk mean anything to you?  If not, it will soon enough.

To summarize, they will postpone the bond issue beyond the budget gaze…..and ask voters to say yea or nea, outside the scrutiny of budget impact and any chance to stop it at the budget level.  And then next spring, in classic fashion, the approved borrowing will show up as ‘costs beyond our control.’  It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

Console yourself with the knowledge that you live in Brunswick, a town seemingly gone wild. Wait - that’s unfair; we’re just the richest little town in America.

As an added bonus, you’re about to find out what bull riding is like, in more ways than one.  As the editor has said before, “sometimes you’ve got to grab the bull by the tail and face the situation.”

If you wish to do do further study, or remind yourself of how we got here, you might review these items.


If nothing else, you need to work on your toe-touches.  Assume the position, Brunswick!

No comments:

Post a Comment