Friday, May 10, 2013

Brunswick Clueless United (and others): Living Up to Our Low Expectations.

We’re joined today by a 500 pound gorilla.  The gorilla doesn’t want to have his face shown, but he’s given us permission to describe him this way:

It’s about the spending, Silly!”

We begin with some quotes to set the stage for what follows.                   

Mental floss prevents truth decay. Ben Franklin observed, "One of the tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts."

As scarce as truth is, the supply always seems to exceed the demand. Winston Churchill complained, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."


We don’t know if you’re paying attention, but if you are, you’ve got to be astonished by what you’re seeing, although angry makes a lot more sense.  It’s becoming very hard for us to remain civil, and be the sweetheart you expect us to be, in the face of pure cockamamie balderdash, especially in public meetings.  And worse – blatant and unashamed attempts to distract, deceive, and misinform the taxpaying public.  Using the word “Silly” should tell you we’ve got a grip on our decorum; there were at least five other words we would rather have used.

We’ve mused before about renaming the one time Brunswick Community United to Brunswick Community Unionists, because their reap purpose is to serve as a front for teachers union interests.  (See this.)  This characterization stems from the occupations of the husband wife team behind it, Sarah Singer and John Kosinski.

After what’s gone on in the last week or so, we’re struggling over whether to rename it yet again….to Brunswick Clueless United, or perhaps Brunswick Distracters United.

Why?  Because the primary phenomena on display in school budget discussions are cluelessness and distraction.  Same old, same old. We can explain.

First, flash backward to this past Monday night.  We posted our testimony here.  We were the first to speak during the budget hearing part of the meeting.

It’s about the spending, Silly!”

Damn that gorilla! 


Sarah Singer, the community organizer, union activist, and BCU principle followed not long thereafter, speaking for her organization.  She came before the council, she said, “heavy hearted.”  She said we have “behavioral issues in kindergarten and first grade” that need to be addressed.  She complained about “tax relief for the wealthy,'” the standard clap-trap of big government groupies.


What she failed to say was that tax relief, miniscule as it may be, went to those who pay the taxes, which seems kind of logical to us.  She’d like tax relief to go to those who pay no taxes.  Clueless is as clueless does.

Singer then proceeded to blame things on the state, demanding that Augusta needs to “level the playing field” in education funding.  Talk to the gorilla, Sarah, because this reporter isn’t listening.  And when you’re done, check the Maine State Constitution, which says the following, in Article VIII, Part First:

Section 1.  Legislature shall require towns to support public schools; duty of Legislature.  A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools;

Then she took issue with our assertion that equating education spending to education excellence is, well, bleep-bleep.  She asserted that as her husband argues in the official MEA response (see here), “the wealth of the community correlates with the grade” received by the schools, and that’s why “Cape Elizabeth has higher grades.”

Nice going, Silly.  Socio-economic status (wealth of the community) and spending on schools are two completely different things. Check your husband’s thesis to prove the point.  You do realize that it was about household socio-economic factors, right?  Couldn’t you at least try to pay attention to our discussion, instead of just knee-jerking in response?  Couldn’t you at least try to understand your husband’s official distraction on behalf of the union? 

We had clearly pointed out that per student spending for the coming year is proposed at $1,100 more than the current year, at $15,400, compared to $6,500 at the start of this century.  And how if cost increases per student had been held to 5% a year, we’d have a budget proposal $5 million less than the one before us.

Couldn’t you at least try to deal in facts, rather than emotion?


If you don’t want to face the facts, Ms. Singer, please come back to an upcoming budget session and explain to Brunswick families how they’ll have to double their household incomes and live in bigger and better houses if they want their children to do better in school.  And then be prepared to explain how they can make that happen.  And they can sign your petition to change the town’s name to Cape Brunswick.

Along those same lines, do you believe that if your home budget is out of whack, and your credit card balances are at the max, that your employer has an obligation to pay you more?


It’s about the spending, Silly!”

There he is again; we apologize.


Next, let’s review the comments of Bowdoin Professor Vladimir Douhovnikoff, who seemed to be channeling his colleague Matthew Klingle.  Here are some highlights:

- “after years of cutting”

- “we need a sober budget”

- “bleeding needs to be stopped”

- “we need new sources of revenue”

He was quoted in the BDN this way:

“he told councilors they have “a moral responsibility [to support the schools] and the institutions that define who we are as a town.”

We seem to recall that last phrase from the past….was it Professor Klingle, the earnest liar, or perhaps Rich Ellis?  Either way, are you saying, Professor, that a 6.3% annual increase in per student spending is immoral?  And that letting existing schools fall into disrepair and crumble defines who we are as a town?

Funny; that’s exactly what we were thinking.

Tell you what, Professor.  Why don’t you look at the passage above from the Maine State Constitution, and our post about spending growth.  And then talk to the gorilla.  Growth in per student spending is growth in per student spending, completely independent of revenue sources.  And the more you spend, the more revenue you need overall; the less you spend, the less you need.  It shouldn’t be that hard for you to separate the two sides of the ledger.  And to conclude that spending drives everything else.

Between this Professor’s and Professor Klingle’s fast and loose treatment of facts, especially as it relates to ‘years of cutting,’ we’re beginning to embrace a completely new understanding of what academic freedom means.  Up until recent years, we hadn’t thought it encompassed bald-faced lying.

And you’re convinced global warming theory espoused by academics is inarguable?


Other speakers included Sally Sellit and various BCU cheerleaders.  One suggested the town should shift funds targeted for McClellan Building adaptation to the School Department.  Apparently, she’s as clueless as the rest of the group, and in complete denial over the realities of spending increases.

A pediatrician rose to speak, citing numerous problems in our schools, including “disruptive behavior on a daily basis.”  She said we have “amazing educators;” can you tell us how you know Dr. Goodwin?  She said that funding for education is “under attack,” and that we need a “thoughtful budget, not slashing.”  Children are entering our schools “inadequately prepared for kindergarten,” she said, and pressed the need for home visitation, interventions, head start, etc.  She worried that many kids would have “unstructured summers.”  She said past commitment has made Brunswick “an exceptional district,” to which we again offer our standard reply: how do you know, and by what measures?

She was cited this way in a Forecaster article:

In a letter supporting the school budget, another constituent said she "was struck that this was the first year in several where the focus was on education, not slashing budgets."

"This is the time to act to ensure we continue to support our children and educators," Alyssa Goodwin wrote, "in a way that allows them to provide the quality education Brunswick parents and residents expect."

So in the good Doctor’s mind, in the last “several” years, we’ve been “slashing budgets.”  How about some proof, Doctor?  And that second statement…couldn’t you try to use some specifics, instead of nothing but emotional trigger words like ensure, support, our children, quality, and expect?

Shouldn’t a Doctor, particularly, be expected to know what she’s talking about, and avoid using rhetoric in place of facts.

None-the-less, what she had to say reinforces that we have a very large and growing problem in our schools, and she confirmed that they are becoming social service agencies, with her full support and encouragement.

We can only guess at the root causes, as we’re sure you can.  But we can also say with certainty that this cannot continue; it’s simply unsustainable, and will continue to further erode achieving the core mission of education. 

‘Behavioral intervention’ in kindergarten?  Either something is poisoning our children’s behavior, or adults are becoming totally inept at dealing with childhood.  Or both.  Either way, if things are as these folks describe, it’s time to call ‘all stop,’ and get to the bottom of this.  Rather than think that just throwing money at it will make it go away.  The survival of desirable communities demands it.

When pediatricians talk about kindergarten aged kids having “unstructured summers” as a problem, and something that government needs to fix, you get a glimpse of just how far gone things have become.

We don’t want to end this discussion without bringing up Brunswick’s own Prince of Distraction (and other things), ‘Johnny Protocols’ Richardson, who currently serves as a Town Councilor in Waiting.

You know him; he’s the one who responded as a legislator to an op-ed of ours by saying that “nobody was responsible” when Gov. Baldacci’s first biennium budget started off at $1.2 Billion more than the prior budget.  And then was quick to cite his role in resolving the gap.

He’s the one who as Commissioner of Maine’s DECD told the town council that he “was in discussions with” at least a dozen “Fortune 500 Companies” about coming to Brunswick.

He’s the one who told us that Maine’s budget problems were caused by a decrease in federal funding, when federal funding to the state demonstrably grew by leaps and bounds during those years.  You know, he said, in so many words, it’s not the spending, it’s that others aren’t shipping us enough ‘revenue’ to pay for it.

Take a look at this passage, again from a Forecaster article:

Councilor John Richardson asked Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski if there is any way his department could publish a document that shows the different kinds of revenue the town has lost over time.

The Superintendent thanks you for serving up that distracting puffball, Johnny.  And for reinforcing the argument that spending has nothing to do with things.  And for not knowing that he has done that over and over, councilor.

Cue the gorilla.

It’s about the spending, Silly!”

No matter; Perzanoski was ready to return the lobbed serve:

"It's significant to know this is not just the reduction in state aid for Brunswick," Perzanoski responded. 

(Ed: but let’s not mention the loss of 1,000 students)

"This is the removal of impact aid of the base closing; this is the loss of approximately a million dollars in tuition that we used to get each year from Durham due to consolidation. 

(Ed: the impact aid was around 25% of our per student costs, so we were losing money hand over fist on the military kids; and the Durham kids weren’t bringing their full cost with them either.)

So if you put all those three things together, like you said in the past, this is the perfect financial storm."

(Ed: if you put all these things together, and look at the truth, you realize we should be coming out ahead.  But thanks for letting us turn it into a perfect rhetorical storm, Johnny.)

Now, if we could only get Johnny to probe why spending has grown to $4,000 more per student than the national average.  And why per student costs grow by more than 6% a year.  That would be a ‘perfect cross examination storm.’


If after reading this, your heart is bleeding, swallow three of these and call your doctor in the morning.


A few quotes to close with:

As T.S. Eliot said, more than fifty years ago: "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm -- but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

"A third danger is timidity. Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.”  - Robert F. Kennedy

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