Friday, November 14, 2014

Brunswick School Department: grabbing the bull by the tail


Sometime ago, we had a poster that hung on the back door of our office, so we only saw it when we arrived in the morning and hung up our jacket.  Or when we shut the door for a private meeting with associates or customers or both.  It showed W.C. Fields in a classic pose, with the caption “There comes a time in the affairs of man when he has to grab the bull by the tail and face the situation.”

That image is seared in our mind, and we’re pretty sure we’ve referred to it before here on Side.  It seems especially appropriate to an article appearing in this week’s Forecaster.  We don’t know if you saw it, and to be Frank, you’d probably be happier if you haven’t, though less informed.

We’re not going to dwell at length on it; we’re just going to highlight a few passages we believe corroborate positions we’ve expressed over the years, and exemplify the systemic in- competencies in our school system governance.  Which means ever increasing budgets and taxes, and ever decreasing performance and accountability.

We’ll start here:

The five-point plan, proposed by district officials last month, calls for an annual investment in repairs to existing buildings,…..

Board members Joy Prescott, Corinne Perreault and Janet Connors did not attend the meeting.

(Board Member Rich Ellis) acknowledged that the department needs to take immediate action on several maintenance and repair issues in the town's aging schools…

A repair plan proposed by Facilities Director Paul Caron last month called for a $2.5 million annual investment in school buildings.

Caron said that $500,000 should be reserved to maintain Brunswick High School and Harriot Beecher Stowe Elementary School, the newest buildings, while $1 million should be directed to fix issues at Brunswick Junior High School and Coffin Elementary School. Another $1 million would be set aside in reserve to help pay for future projects.

The plan approved Tuesday calls for staff to develop a long-term financial plan to fund the repairs. According to estimates provided by the department's architects from Portland Design Team, basic repairs for the BJHS and Coffin could cost about $5 million.

Damn; that’s nearly half the article!  We’ve asserted for years that stewardship of Department facilities has been largely non-existent; that the SOP for school departments nationwide is to let facilities fall apart, on the assumption that the taxpaying public is easy prey for replacing ‘worn and crumbling facilities’ with new ones, rather than prizing diligent care of existing ones.

The time frame involved, nominally 40 years, is beyond the cognizance/interest range of the average resident and citizen, so it’s very easy to characterize things as ‘sneaking up on us.’

As we see it, the statements cited above more than confirm our suspicions.  They as much as say that facility maintenance has been, for all intents and purposes, ignored in favor of other spending priorities.  We might add that the same malady infects other areas of our local governance, like buildings, roads, etc.

We should try to give you a laugh at this point, so here are some humorous lines from the article:

"I don't think we want to do short-term facilities planning without some vision of where we're going to be 40 years from now, 20 years from now," McCarthy said. "We've got to do that work, and that work isn't done."

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said adopting the plan is a necessary step in formulating a longer-term facilities plan.

"There's no way you can do this correctly without doing that," he said.

To which we say, who woke you all up?

Next, let’s consider the capacity issue:

It seemed earlier this year that the board was aiming to construct a new elementary school to help ease the threat of overcrowding.

Overcrowding?  Need we remind you that this very same school board, and Department staff, are the ones that shut down Longfellow School, Hawthorne School, and Jordan Acres School as functioning assets that were much beloved by those whose children attended them? 

The first two are still functioning as useful assets; the last is a perfect example of how benign neglect (not shoveling snow off the roof) can force a community to cough up $25 million or so to replace a facility that had been working just fine a year before.  Unless you didn’t like the design, which adhered to the advice of recognized professional experts of the era in which that building was constructed.

Now for the punch line:

The plan approved Tuesday calls for staff to develop a long-term financial plan to fund the repairs.

Here’s the only possible plan: they spend, we pay.  And the ‘plan’ they devise will not reduce spending anywhere.  It will only add to spending.

They shut down three old schools and replaced them with one new hyper-cost effective one.  How much did spending go down because of that?  Enrolment declined by 1,000 when the base closed; how much did staffing contract, or spending decline because of that shrinkage in the ‘customer base?’

The only solution that lies ahead is symbolized by our long forgotten assistant:


We might be a bit grumpier than usual tonight, but holding the toe-touch position for extended periods has a way of doing that to us.


  1. The sooner we get back to the one room schoolhouse (the home) the better off we will al be, including the kids. They can get the same start when taught by their parents and the tools (internet and library) they have available.

  2. What's doubly troubling is the complacency of a large majority of the taxpaying citizens in this town, who seem to go along with any proposal no matter how absurd and outlandish it is.....