Friday, October 25, 2013

School Board Incumbent/Candidate Rich Ellis checks in

And then there were three…..

Rich Ellis, the incumbent District 1 School Board member, who is also running for re-election in a contest against Byron Watson, has submitted his answers.  So he gets an


And we thank him for his interest and the effort he put in to his response.

Rich sent us a seven page document, which even by our loose standards, is a bit long for posting here on the ‘front page.’  So we’re going to post his document on scribd, while tempting you with his answer to question 1 and 2 here.

The Other Side of Town Candidate Forum: Rich Ellis
1. Do you think the Brunswick School Department exercises responsible stewardship of our physical building assets?

Since joining the School Board in January 2011, I have had frequent opportunity to interact with the Director of Facilities, Paul Caron. During this time, his abilities have been well demonstrated in our work with contractors on the Harriet Beecher Stowe project, with architectural and engineering firms on the Facilities Master Plan Study, within our budget workshops and in the day to day work related to various items such as the implementation of security systems and energy efficiency throughout our system.

The primary gap that we have with our facilities is one that has been created by a historical tendency for Brunswick not to invest, or adequately plan for, large and required periodic maintenance projects related to our facilities. One quick example that comes to mind is the boiler system at Jordan Acres.

This system was installed at Jordan Acres the year the facility opened in 1972 and was still in operation some 40 years later up until the school was closed in 2012. The problem is not that the School Department stretched its lifespan well beyond a reasonable expectation; it is that in the 40 years that that boiler was in a Brunswick School, there was no firm commitment to a planned replacement cycle for any of our boilers at our schools.

The same can be said for other systems within the School System, such as roofs and sprinkler systems. This experience is common to almost every school district in the State and, as funding sources have tightened, the competition between short-term operations needs and long term structural investments has increased.

The current funding gap for Brunswick, on an annual funding basis, is between $500k per year to $3MM per year depending upon how quickly you address the backlog of projects that have been deferred over the years. In the end, the result of delaying these investments over the last four to decades, is a backlog of projects and an environment, as described by Mr. Caron in a 2012 Budget meeting, that has us, “so busy chasing repairs” that we never to do proactive maintenance projects.

Speaking to specific facilities, we are obviously in a good place with the newest of our schools, Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary. The same can largely be said for our now 20-year old Brunswick High School, although it is facing some of those pending periodic maintenance projects, including work with the boiler system, flooring and some needed security upgrades. If you have not been in this facility, I would recommend doing a walkthrough as it is in very solid shape.

The situation with the Brunswick Junior High School is a bit more difficult. Beyond the physical age of the facility, now a 54-year old building, there are problems related to engineering (roofing and sinking floors), meeting modern code requirements and deferred maintenance. Also, while there is generally adequate space for our core junior high classrooms, there is a need for improved space for other programs such as music, art and special services.

While the Brunswick Junior High School’s needs are extensive, it is not the district’s most urgent need. That distinction belongs to our PK-2 facilities, where we find ourselves now overcrowded at both Coffin and Harriet Beecher Stowe due to the unexpected closure of Jordan Acres.

When I first joined the Board in 2011, the plan was to provide for our PK-2 servicing by renovating both the 58 year old Coffin and the 40 year old Jordan Acres. In early 2011, however, there was a beam that cracked at Jordan Acres as the result of heavy snow on the roof. This incident, and the subsequent closure of the building, led to a thorough evaluation of the roofing system.


The findings concluded that the original architectural underpinnings of the roofing system had been flawed since the building was opened. To address this engineering issue, the replacement of many major and original systems and the remediation of external mold issues would have meant many millions of dollars spent before you even got to revitalize the facility. As such, putting more money into this facility was deemed to be a poor choice as a long term investment.

From there, the Board moved to plan to renovate just Coffin school and to expand it from 350 to 660 students, so it could handle the full PK-2 capacity. While we spent much time evaluating this option, the requirement to move the bus garage, to replace space being provided by 40 year old “temporary” mobile units along new space, and to remediate other needed code renovations, resulted in a price tag that made it a less favorable option in the long term compared to a new building, which would have a longer expected life span than the renovation project.

So we are now studying a new PK-2 facility, to be sited at the Jordan Acres property, with the expectation of bringing these plans forward for public review in the coming months.

Additionally, in recognition that the total cost to remediate the PK-2 situation and to renovate the BJH is too much for the town to manage at once, we have voted to focus on this one project and to continue general maintenance on the BJH until such time as the funding situation improves.

So, now that I have provided you with a long answer to your original question, as well as the answer to a few other questions you didn’t ask, but were possibly interested in, let me reward you with the short answer.

Yes, I think our current facilities and administrative team has demonstrated responsible stewardship of our physical building assets, but they need more financial support, each and every year, for the routine maintenance of our buildings. As an side, you can find more information about the facilities master plan study here:

2. Do you think the School Department should institute a merit based pay system for the teaching corps, or retain the current automatic increase, one size fits all pay scale system?

I do not believe in the traditional merit-based pay model, as it has historically relied on flawed single point in time test results. I do see value, however, in a differentiated pay system that is based on a comprehensive evaluation of the teacher, including their methodologies employed, demonstrated leadership and skills and their extent of effort. I could support it, so long as the differentiation is not based solely on single point in time test results, is developed in collaboration with teachers and staff, includes resourcing for remediation, peer assistance
and review.

I fundamentally believe that we should be rewarding our best teachers and providing financial incentives to drive improvements when they are failing to meet the performance expectations of their administrators. The devil however is in the details.

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