Sunday, May 5, 2013

Budgets: Is Side Discouraged? Not a chance!


But we have decided it’s time to unfurl and hoist the GBL flag. 

And to apply for a name change for the Town of Perfect, which many of you know as Brunswick.

Why?  Bear with us.

We post today to report on two recent budget meetings held by the town council.  Last Thursday, April 25th, the School Department briefed the council on their $35.7 million budget proposal for the coming school year (FY 14).  On Thursday May 2nd, the council held a ‘workshop’ to discuss amongst themselves where they stand on the school budget proposal.

These are preliminaries to the first public hearing on the budget, which will occur this Monday, May 6th, at 7pm.

We don’t know if you attended either of these meetings, or watched them on Cable 3.  You should be able to watch them after the fact by going here: mms://, and here: mms://

We’ve been unable to watch recorded meetings ‘on demand’ for reasons we have not yet determined.  Hopefully you won’t have any problems.

Reactions to the meetings have been mixed.  Rich Ellis, the School Board’s master numerologist, and a major celebrity to Brunswick Community Unionist (BCU) membership, was ‘very disheartened’ by what he saw.  Conversely, another BCU member was ‘thrilled to see the SB (School Board?) put forward a budget that reflects the needs of the schools.’

To which we reply just how he knows what the ‘needs’ of the schools are.  Especially in contrast to ‘wants.’  Or more to the point, what about the ‘needs’ of taxpayers who fund the schools?

But we digress.  Back to the opening thought: were we discouraged by what we saw?  Absolutely not.

Or disheartened, like Rich Ellis?  That’s a negatory, Ghost Rider.

Appalled is more like it.  Incredulous is in the running too.  Speechless could apply, but there’s not much that can render us mute.

The atmosphere at both meetings was, to put it mildly, a love-fest for school spending.  At the first one, things were all chummy palsy-walsy and on a first name basis.

“Paul, what about the $300 for new basketballs?”

“Thanks for asking, John.  We saved $75 last year by reusing the balls we had, but now the coaches tell me their balls need to be replaced.”

“Jim, what was the school board vote on the budget?”

“Thanks for asking, Suzy.  It was unanimous. Wait; check that; it wasn’t.”

“Thanks for making that clear, Jim.”

“We’ve been dealt cards that place the burden on local taxpayers,” said the Super.  Thanks for clearing that up, Paul.  We weren’t sure whether the tooth fairy was still a player in this.  Where we come from, ALL of the burden is ALWAYS on taxpayers.

All in all, it was quite a show of the manipulative skills of the school establishment, and another fine chance for councilors to show just how obsequious they can be when in their presence.

Johnny ‘Protocols’ Richardson was his usual eloquent self in distracting from the reality that it’s all about the spending, an art he mastered during his years in Augusta.  And which he will likely emphasize in his upcoming campaign for higher office.  He’s apparently had quite an effect on other councilors as well, who now look to him as their Pied Piper.

At the second meeting, more classic council phraseology was rolled out.

“This takes a lot of guts.”

“These are tough times.”

“We’re stepping up.”

All in all, we’d ask councilors and readers both to envision a similar situation around their kitchen table to deal with the family budget.  Are the former acting with the same ‘guts’ and ‘stepping up’ that such circumstances would require?  We don’t think so.  Unless, that is, they could go to their employers and confiscate additional compensation to cover their increased family expenses. 

You know, almost like legalized, morally justified embezzlement.

What we have is a council (and a public) that has fallen for the conceit that money equals excellence. 

Because any attempt to measure anything else is demonized as a politically motivated hatchet job.

Since the council has nothing else to go by, the only way they can PROVE to the public that they are DEVOTED to excellence is to spend more, just like the schools have to spend more to prove it.

Unless you count the recently issued DOE grades.  Which depending on how you look at it, are either the spawn of evil political devils, or concrete proof that we aren’t spending near enough.

No one in a position of authority, or the schoolies, or Brunswick Community Unionists can articulate clearly what adequacy, excellence, or performance means.  And they don’t shower us with studies proving that spending equates to excellence.

Even worse, they will tolerate no attempt to establish standards for excellence, measure it, or progress towards it.  No objective data is offered in any way.

Our schools are the best?  How do you know?  How does anyone know?

- The school establishment repeatedly and rigorously dismisses all standardized testing methods as flawed, snapshots only, distortional, unrepresentative, etc.  See the Superintendent’s reaction to the DOE grading system as discussed just a few days ago in this post.

-  The teachers unions, and their ardent protectors in the school establishment, steadfastly oppose any system of performance monitoring and merit for the teaching corps.  We’re reminded of a letter from Bob Morrison some years ago, that you can refresh yourself on by going here.

What are they afraid of?  Shouldn’t they be anxious to prove how excellent they are?

When you won’t measure anything, all that’s left are dollars and GBL. 

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. We have three lawyers on the council, and there is no objective measure of attorney ‘excellence,’ other than how much per hour they charge.  So this fits perfectly with their world view.

But couldn’t somebody please ask for an explanation of this item from the DOE evaluation for our High School:

30% of (BHS) students who enrolled in 2012 in the UM system or the Maine Community College system were required to take remedial courses in reading and/or math.

Of course not; doing so would be politically motivated and unfair.  That doesn’t stop us from wondering how you can graduate from High School with a deficiency in reading, of all things.  Is there anything more fundamental to learning than reading?

Do you know how the Japanese auto industry managed to overcome a reputation for designing and building junk, and trounced the American auto makers?  They did it by use of “total quality management,” which is based largely on metrics as a measure of performance and improvement.  The saying goes that if you can measure it, you can improve it.  If you can’t, or won’t, measure it, you’re not going to get very far.

They were taught these techniques by an American.

Turns out there is good precedent for avoiding performance measures in our school system, and it derives from the top.  We copy here the recently adopted school board goals, and we don’t see a single item with measurement specifics included.  Some of the items leave us breathless: ‘doing one’s job’ is not a ‘goal.’ 

It’s an obligation.

Brunswick School Board Goals

(approved 2012)

I. The Board will focus on improving academic achievement for all students.

  • The Board will support administration and staff initiatives to improve academic performance using data driven decision making to strengthen curriculum and instruction.
  • The Board will promote a physically and emotionally safe learning environment in all schools.
  • The Board will work with administration and staff to ensure a successful transition to two K-2 elementary schools and one 3-5 elementary school.

II. The Board will provide oversight of the school district’s fiscal management.

  • The Board will develop and pass a school budget that makes effective and thoughtful use of resources allocated to the school district.
  • The Board will successfully renegotiate the teachers’ contract.
  • The Board will develop a strategy to address population fluctuations and potential revenue loss.

III. The Board will support effective short and long term planning.

  • The Board will work with the Brunswick community to develop a long-term strategic plan for the School Department.
  • The Board will review, revise and finalize the Capital Improvement Plan.
  • The Board will develop plans for the renovation of Coffin and Jordan Acres Elementary Schools and and Brunswick Junior High School.

IV. The Board will foster community engagement and communication.

  • The Board will build effective relationships with parents, community stakeholders, the media and local and state legislators to encourage their awareness, active participation and support of educational programs and activities in the Brunswick schools.


We can’t take any more asserted but undocumented ‘excellence’ around here; what we really need is the ability to recognize reality.  Someone(s) to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.

All right, we’re drawing to a close.  But we don’t want to leave you wondering what “GBL” stands for.  It derives from our career days when various individuals would take to fawning praise of various government ‘leaders.’  Someone came up with a little card with those letters that they would hold up at such moments.  Turns out they stood for ‘gratuitous boot licking.’  That little beauty became a staple of periodic large program reviews.

As to renaming Perfect?  We’ll give you two options: Cape Perfect, or Cape Brunswick.  Both, we think, capture the sense of community pride we see all around us, at least the pride that derives from spending more and more on shrinking schools, with no measurable return or accountability.

Let us know which you prefer.

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