Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cony High Students: Learnin’? We don’t need no stinkin’ learnin’!

You’ll recall, of course, that reactions statewide to DOE’s issuance of grades a few months ago for Maine’s public schools elicited all sorts of reactions.  Most notably, shrieks of horror, a near epidemic of the vapors, gnashing of teeth, and wringing of hands.

Followed by the usual suspects seeing to it that the story had no legs, so that our famously short public memories would come into play, and we’d get back to having the very best schools, at least here in Cape Brunswick, where everything is above average, which is why people move here.

(We need not remind you that virtually no one ever tells us why people leave our fair town, which is what creates the market supply for those true believers to move here.)

Here and there across the state, though, some folks took the bull by the tail and faced the situation.  A case in point is the student body of Cony High School in Augusta, which decided to grade their school themselves.  You can read the story here.

The article makes an important point:

In general, the state's letter grades for high schools were based on standardized test scores, proficiency and growth, as measured by the Maine High School Assessments, as well as graduation rates.

That is, the DOE used measurements of academic achievement and progress in that regard.  The students, on the other hand, given no real alternative, decided to grade their school on everything but academics.

Which raises the important question of to what purpose do we fund government schools with our taxes.  The report we linked you to the other day talks about the need to “treat student achievement as an unrivaled priority.”

We have written till we’re blue in the face about how everyone has an advocate except for the children, and how we never ever hear the school department discuss student achievement as a priority.

In a similar vein, the report ends with this compelling paragraph (emphasis ours):

Improved student achievement and the best interests of “the children” are always the nominal goals but the results speak for themselves. Pay, benefits, and facilities go up—but not test scores. School board elections are mostly focused on what education’s internal stakeholders want, not what the public wants for the next generation. The net effect is continuing cultural, social, political, and economic decline facilitated by educational surrender.

We write to forward you a commentary responding to the Cony High Student effort.  It was written by Rep. Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst), and appears on the MaineWire at this link:

It is a frank and compelling response to the feel-good distractions forwarded by the Cony students and their ‘advisors.’  We especially enjoy this passage:

These kids are in for a rude awakening. After graduation, they will find that grading yourself isn’t an option in the job market, or in higher education. And your employer won’t much care about the wonderful relationship you had with the staff at Cony, or the great sports programs, or how good you feel about tolerance and diversity. Your bubbly self-esteem won’t trump your lack of basic skills when you emerge from the cocoon at Cony. Even if you have tons of musical talent, nobody will be impressed with your crooning of the Sam Cooke R&B classic:

Don’t know much about history

Don’t know much biology

Don’t know much about a science book

Don’t know much about the French I took

But I do know that I love you

And I know that if you love me too

What a wonderful world this would be

Predictably, and sadly, Augusta area legislators, from Rep. Lockman’s own party, no less, were quick to label his column “intimidating, mean-spirited and inappropriate.”

With this kind of apologetics from our elected betters, who clearly don’t want to face reality because it may ruffle some feathers, the prosecution rests, having provided evidence of where official priorities lie.  And the primary thesis of the Education Consumers Foundation report is confirmed yet again.

Is it any wonder we can’t get anywhere in turning things around?  Why is it no one in authority cares about ‘the children?’  We mean really cares, not just mouths the words.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Maine Wire: Immutable laws of municipal governance

Here’s an item that popped up on The Maine Wire today:

A passage or two:

Those advocating ever higher spending like to remind us that “you get what you pay for.”  You’re damn straight; if you increase teacher pay, you get higher paid teachers.  Further, if you increase school spending, you get a more expensive school system.


Government is the only form of human enterprise that has no competition, never goes out of business, or terminates employees for incompetence.  And no human enterprise more needs these influences and consequences for ineptness.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bending Over – The Referendum Version


We don’t know how long you can hold the touching your toes position.  But don’t feel bad; we’re pretty sure we can’t even ‘assume the position,’ let along ‘hold the position.’

Personal considerations aside, we’re here to tell you that the almost certain outcome of tomorrow’s School Budget Referendum will have the effect of requiring you to “hold'” the pose for three years.

That’s because our elected betters, at the same time they enacted legislation calling for taxpayers to approve school budgets, thoughtfully added language that would allow voters to choose not to vote on the budget for the coming 3 years.  How’s that for a schizophrenic voter engagement policy?

Here’s the relevant statutory language.  Emphasis is ours.




Subchapter 4: FINANCING

§1486. Budget validation referendum

After January 31, 2008, the procedure for approval of the annual budget of a regional school unit must be in accordance with this section and section 1485. [2007, c. 240, Pt. XXXX, §13 (NEW).]

1. Budget validation.  Following development of the annual regional school unit budget and approval at a regional school unit budget meeting as provided in section 1485, a referendum must be held in the regional school unit as provided in this section to allow the voters to validate or reject the total budget adopted at the regional school unit budget meeting.

Every 3 years, the voters in a regional school unit shall consider continued use of the budget validation referendum process. The warrant at the budget validation referendum in the 3rd year following adoption or continuation of the referendum process must include an article by which the voters of the school administrative unit may indicate whether they wish to continue the process for another 3 years. The warrant for the referendum to validate the fiscal year 2010-11 budget is deemed the 3rd-year warrant. A vote to continue retains the process for 3 additional years. A vote to discontinue the process ends its use beginning with the following budget year and prohibits its reconsideration for at least 3 years.

An article to consider reinstatement of the budget validation referendum process may be placed on a warrant for a referendum vote by either a majority vote of the regional school unit board or a written petition filed with the regional school unit board by at least 10% of the number of voters voting in the last gubernatorial election in the municipalities in the school administrative unit. The regional school unit board shall place the article on the next scheduled warrant or an earlier one if determined appropriate by the regional school unit board. If adopted by the voters, the budget validation referendum process takes effect beginning in the next budget year or the following budget year if the adoption occurs less than 90 days before the start of the next budget year. Once approved by the voters, the budget validation referendum process may not be changed for 3 years.

Note this phraseology: '”prohibits its reconsideration for at least 3 years.”  We’re not the least bit clear on what THAT means, which was probably the intent of those who enacted it.  At the minimum, you probably have to be a lawyer, or worse, to understand it.  So here’s a shout out to Johnny Protocols: how about explaining this language in terms little people can understand, repulsive as the concept may be?

Not withstanding Councilor Richardson’s response, which we are sure will arrive post haste, we can shed some light on things.

As you should be well aware, our school establishment (and we mean that in the worst possible way) is trying to figure out how best to advance a $50 million or so school capital construction program, while, if you believe Board Member Rich Ellis, trying to ‘minimize’ the effect on property taxes.

That’s like deciding to replace two or three family vehicles with new ones, at the same time you’re totally redoing your kitchen and bathrooms, and hoping you can ‘minimize’ the effect on your family budget.

Now here’s the kidney punch.  If we had to approve the school budget each and every year, at the very least, voters would have to approve the budgets that include the capital project costs.  That’s not much consolation, since historically, voters turn out for these referenda at roughly the same rate they voluntarily show up for half-price root canals.

But if our prediction for tomorrow holds, future budgets including the capital project costs WILL NOT go to the voters for approval in the next three budget cycles.

You know what the big government types like to say: “this is what democracy looks like.”


Even if you’re looking at it upside down in between your legs.

If there’s anything you can count on in this position, it’s that you are about to meet some folks who would like nothing better than to have their way with you, leaving their footprints on your back.

And take the ball away.

“Hut, hut; whiskey tango foxtrot two fiver seven.  Hut!”

An item for the ‘interested student”……


“FIrst, we need to recapture our school boards”

That’s the intriguing “hook line” in an item just passed along to us by a loyal reader.  He sent this article, which is rather brief.  But the last line provides a link to a 23 page report; the hook line shows up on the cover:

A tempting passage (emphasis ours):

Cutting Through the Fog of Misleading Data

The greatest barrier to a factual understanding of local school performance is the widely held perception that all is well. Surveys have repeatedly shown that most people understand that there are problems with public education but they believe that their local school or district is the fortunate exception.

And another (again, emphasis ours):

School Boards: Agent or Double-Agent?

The heart of the challenge faced by schools is unfocused local leadership. School superintendents and supervisors have neglected the educational plight of economically disadvantaged children by failing to insist that teachers in the earliest grades adopt practices that are equal to the challenge—particularly in the area of reading instruction. Instead, they have accepted the excuse that poverty, dysfunctional families, community apathy, inadequate funding, and other factors outside of the school thwart effective teaching—all despite evidence that effective schooling can substantially mitigate these factors.

We haven’t yet read the entire report, but we have read the two Appendices from which these passages are lifted (pages 16-23).

All we can say is that the narratives there-in are a near perfect match to what we’ve observed in more than 15 years of Brunswick School Department ‘watching.’  Right down to the establishment of a School Board Political Action and Media Committee, as reported in this post over two years ago.

There’s even mention of “the Lake Woebegone effect,” in which the achievement score averages of every state were above the national average.  Which should be no surprise here in Cape Brunswick, where all the teachers and all the students are above average.

And while Brunswick Clueless United (or Community Unionists) isn’t mentioned by name, you’ll surely recognize them from their profile.

“Standing” or sitting, you’ll know who they are.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

This Week’s Howler

It’s tough coming up with something more ‘laughable’ then Rich Ellis’ statements of concern about how to mitigate the effect of major property tax increases on behalf of the school department.

So we’ve had to search far and wide for something in the same class.  The best we could come up with is this item, which, as the Fickle Finger of Fate would have it, was posted by Ms. Ellis on the Brunswick Clueless United Facebook page.  Our focus in this post is on the latter portion, which we emphasize:

Watching TC meeting. Interesting to note about this year's town School Budget vote in June - there will be two questions on the ballot. One is (not exact wording) "Do you approve the school budget approved by the TC on 5/23?". The other is "Do you want to continue to approve the school budget with a town vote for another 3 years?" Approving the budget with a town-wide vote is not required and not something we used to do, they said. So if folks vote no to question 2, then there won't need to be a town wide vote on budgets going forward. There is a cost to the taxpayers to have the public vote - the town clerk estimated about $6-7000 to hold the vote (especially on a year like this one where the budget is the only thing folks will be voting on as opposed to a primary year). Additional non-monetary costs include disruption of schools to move teacher parking, have buses go to other areas, etc, while folks vote a BJHS. Some TC expressed their opinion that folks should vote no on question 2 so we can stop the public vote and eliminate the cost of it.

You know the BCU; those lovable and irascible folks who think no amount of public spending on our ‘best schools’ is too much, and who firmly believe that constantly increasing spending is sustainable, with no consequences in other regards.  For example, increasing spending by about $2 million in the coming year.

Ever heard of the phrase ‘penny wise, pound foolish?’  It’s filed under “Old fashioned wisdom and common sense.”

A perfect example of the concept is working hard to increase spending by millions, while expressing deep concern over ‘$6-7000’ for a referendum election on the proposed budget. 

“Oh my, Mable!  Get the smelling salts, would you please dear?  We’re about to spend almost one half of what we spend on each and every student per year to conduct an election so taxpayers can have a say on the school budget!  Have you ever heard of something that dumb?”

We’re reminded of the old saw ‘this is what Democracy looks like,’ but we know it only applies to those special circumstances where enlightened big spenders want to overwhelm those who favor careful stewardship of public funds.

So as we often do, we have a constructive suggestion to offer.  Since the School Department will gain millions in funding, and nearly all of their employees will see substantial increases in their compensation, why don’t they fund the election cost out of their budget?

That figure currently runs about $35 million.  Spending $7,000 to get voter buy in on a $2 million increase seems like a pretty small ‘invest and imagine’ price to pay.

Unless you compare it to nothing, nada, zilch, which is what it would cost to get the same increase without the election.  Because we live in roll-over country…Cape Brunswick.

Either way, the outcome is guaranteed.

Just like spending more on our schools is guaranteed to maintain their excellence.  Unless you hold to the view that they’ve lost their excellence, and need the increased funding to have any hope of regaining it.

Wait a minute; we just read what we just wrote.  Can someone please explain why this has to be so difficult?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Letters, we send letters….

The following letter of ours was apparently printed in today’s edition of the Times Record:

The referendum to approve Brunswick’s School Budget next Tuesday epitomizes two axioms of municipal governance. The first is “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as they spend their own.”

Per student costs have increased by 6.3% annually in the last 12 years; had the increase been 5%, the proposed $35 million budget would be $5 million lower. Spending increases on the subjective conviction that school ‘excellence’ is measured by how much we spend, and no one in authority, let alone taxpayers, question such unsustainable cost growth. This is like defining your excellence as a cook by how much you spend on groceries.

The second axiom is “What belongs to you, you tend to take care of; what belongs to no one or everyone tends to fall into disrepair.” If you can compel money from others to replace something, you don’t worry too much about taking care of it, and may even be motivated to do the opposite.

Jordan Acres School became unusable because of uncleared snow buildup on the roof. Now two other schools need replacement because they were not adequately maintained and kept in good repair. Broken toilets and other dreadful examples of poor stewardship abound.

As they say, “you can govern or you can spend.” In Brunswick, the latter always triumphs over the former. It’s clear that serious introspection, and disciplined analysis of budget trajectories and asset stewardship is long overdue.

Defeating the proposed budget is a good way to make that point.

Let us emphasize, dear readers, that if you don’t vote, you can’t make the point.  So you can either vote early at the Town Hall, tomorrow (Thursday), or you’ll have to head to the poll at BJHS on Tuesday.  Not doing so is rolling over to regular, unsustainable property tax increases.

Do you want that on your conscience?

Technorati Tags: ,

Hi; we’re from the IRS, and we’re here to make you healthy…

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the beloved Internal Revenue Service is front and center in the national news, at least on some media outlets.  In all too many others, it’s a non-story.

It’s important that you keep in mind as the story unfolds that the IRS has a major role in implementing and enforcing Obamacare.  We can hear your shouts of joy.  Imagine having a colonoscopy at the same time you’re filling out your Income Tax form, and you’ll have some idea of how thrilling the prospects are.  The thought of an IRS Audit takes on a whole new level of excitement.

To help you comprehend the wonder of it all, we’re passing along an article we just read in The Weekly Standard.  It’s appropriately titled “A Toxic Combination.”

Herewith a few passages to peak your curiosity:

Price, a doctor, sensibly writes, “When it comes to . . . health care decisions, no American should be required to answer to the IRS—an agency that just forfeited its claim to a reputation of impartiality.”


To quote from the Treasury audit:

Section 9007 [of Obama­care] requires charitable hospitals to conduct a community health needs assessment at least once every three years and adopt an implementation strategy to meet the community needs identified through the assessment. The IRS is responsible for reviewing, at least once every three years, the community benefit activities of each hospital affected by this provision.

So the judge of whether hospitals are meeting community needs will be the IRS. What could possibly go wrong?

We could be wrong, but we take the term “charitable hospitals” above to mean those designated “non-profit,” which we believe  both of ours in Brunswick are.  So they can expect "help” from the IRS soon; we hope they enjoy it.  We trust it will make our future health care experiences all that much more delightful.

And another passage:

Moreover, Obamacare will require Americans to update the IRS regularly on what’s going on in their lives. Marriages, divorces, job changes, moves, pay raises, even changes in numbers of hours worked—these are all things on which the IRS will expect to be kept well informed. During congressional testimony last summer, Rep. Tim Walberg (R.-Mich.) asked IRS official Nina Olson, “Do you believe that most Americans are going to update the IRS or state exchanges when they change jobs, get married, move states, whatever?” “I think it’s going to be a very great learning curve,” Olson replied. “I think it will be a surprise to taxpayers if they don’t update their information.

You’ll have to admit, this sheds a whole new light on the concept of “playing doctor.”  One thing is for sure, loyal readers.

Child’s play this ain’t.  Be afraid; be very afraid.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stossel On Infrastructure

We’ve recently come across two reporting ‘segments’ from John Stossel, the well known challenger of ‘myths’ willingly swallowed by the general public.  Each of the items we pass along here have to do with the folly of ‘government help’ as it relates to infrastructure.

Particularly in the form of Amtrak expansion and subsidies, which is especially applicable to our town.  If you think about it, Cape Brunswick seems to be increasingly defining itself as a node on the great federal network of non-self-supporting rail routes.

Maine Street Station is seen as the crown jewel of our identity.  The danger, of course, is finding ourselves a one trick pony, just about the time that pony rides are no longer a favored federal enterprise, because windmills and hot air balloons have become the favored cuts of pork.

You know the old saying: live by the subsidy, die by the subsidy.  While we weren’t here for the events that led to it, we assume that the failure of the prior ‘Maine Street Station’ stems from a similar fickle transition in favored charitable community developments.

Unfortunately, we’re having trouble posting YouTube clips in the usual fashion, for reasons we can’t explain.  So we ask for your indulgence in clicking on the links we provide, and otherwise following our instructions.

Here’s the first one, which all of a sudden is working as we would like:

Here’s the second one; you’ll have to move the time marker to 30.15 minutes to start at the point we want you to see:

After you watch both, let us know what you think. 

And be sure to clean up after your pony.  There’s nothing less welcoming than stepping off a train and stepping on a pony-pie.