Saturday, July 11, 2015

It’s YOUR fault, damn it….


Following last fall’s election, and the ascension of Billy Thompson to the office of Chair of the Brunswick School Board, we expressed our hope that it might signal the arrival of a new era of stewardship of the Brunswick School Department.  We told you we knew Billy and respect him, and hoped that his turn in the leadership seat would make a noticeable difference in things moving forward.

Think of it as a brief moment where we questioned our identity as P.C. Poppycock, and tried out the identity of P.C. Pollyanna.  From what we can tell, that brief fling with a different and more hopeful view of things was completely unwarranted.  We’re sad to admit that, but at least we get another “Sucker of the Month” certificate to hang on the wall of our offices.  If we can just find room.

We don’t know whether the absence of noticeable change reflects on Billy’s disinclination to rock the boat, or an inability to overcome the inherent power of the ‘good old girls’ faction of the establishment wing of the school bureaucracy.

But it really doesn’t matter, does it?  Results are where the rubber meets the road, and we don’t detect a single change in the results around here.

As evidence, check this recent article, in which a $9 million looming school repair bill, with the help of an “oh by the way” nudge, grows to $12 million.

Notice how our good friend Lyndon Keck, the Brunswick specialist at PDT, was there to make sure things stayed objective and balanced with respect to the scope of the overall plan.  His comment that it would ‘result in no visible changes’ is sure to incite a local stampede to boost the scope to twice the current estimate.  It’s for the children, you know.

Hot-heads that we are here at Other Side, we found one particular passage in the article particularly annoying and inflammatory:
"We just need to move on and get this done," board member Corinne Perreault said. "This is what happens where you don't have a community that invests in its buildings decade after decade after decade."  (emphasis ours)
Ms. Perreault and I have had disagreements in the past, and they’ve been publicly aired here on Side.  At least by us.  This latest proclamation by a senior member of the good old girls club on the school board, however, is perhaps the worst affront we can remember.  And we suggest that each and every one of our readers take it personally, because that is the nature of her sentiment. 

She simply couldn’t resist laying the blame for the school department’s gross negligence in matters of physical asset stewardship at the feet of those who pay whatever bills are submitted, rather than those ‘professionals’ who we pay to be stewards.  And the elected officials who oversee them.

It’s widely known that standard operating procedure for all but a selected few school departments is to allow, either intentionally or through benign neglect, the state of repair of existing physical assets to steadily decline.  It’s the quickest way to build public demand to replace them with shiny new facilities, no matter the cost.  We even have evidence attributed to former employees that this is accepted, and often directed behavior.

However, we want to challenge the sometimes teary-eyed Ms. Perreaut on more detailed specifics.  Specifically:
  • Is it the community that didn’t invest for “decade after decade after decade” when the school budget increased from $27 million to $36 million in the last ten years?
  • Is it the community that didn’t invest for “decade after decade after decade” when the cost per student per year grew from $8,000 per year to nearly $15,000 per year over the same time frame?
  • Who was it that saw to it that snow wasn’t shoveled off the roof at JA some years back to stop the structure from collapsing?
  • Who was it that allowed toilet facilities to go unrepaired at Coffin and BJHS in recent years, and floors to sink, and various other maladies?
  • Who was it that consolidated maintenance protocols when the number of schools dropped by three, and a single new “highly efficient” LEEDS certified building was added?
  • Who is it that allowed the tax rate over this period to grow from less than $22 to more than $28?
  • Who is it that made sure that teachers got consistent raises averaging 4% or more a year over the same period, even though student achievement has been flat or worse?
  • Who is it that made sure no one lost their jobs over the JA debacle and the state of sanitary facilities at Coffin and BJHS?
  • In other words, who is responsible for the state of our government school assets?  Seems like you think it couldn’t possible be you and the school board, or the school department administration.

In so many words, the next time you're wondering how our schools got into their current condition, look in the mirror, Ms. Perreault.  We're providing $9 million more than we did 10 years ago, and we have fewer buildings in use, and far, far fewer students.  And make some room for the rest of your associates to fit in the picture as well.  But our teachers are paid far, far more than they were 10 years ago, aren't they?

You’ve got to have a lot of ….wait….you couldn’t have those….to make such a comment in public.  Something to do with the difference between Kings and Queens.

So there must be some other explanation for your bravado.  Feel free to send your explanation to  us; we’d be happy to run it here.  Because you see, our property tax bill has increased steadily over the decades, causing us to “invest” thousands more per year in Brunswick.

We’re pretty sure the majority of that has gone to the school department, so we’d like you to stop pointing the finger at us out here for YOUR inability to effectively manage the school enterprise.

Got it?

We have no choice in the matter, because the long arm of the law will come down on us if we don’t pay our tax bill.   Your role as an elected decision maker in school governance is just the opposite.  And it’s been so for “decade after decade after decade.”


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