Monday, May 30, 2016

School Board members throw temper tantrums; meanwhile, Council Members are shocked, shocked, we tell you…..

Graphically speaking, here are hints about today’s subject:

It’s not often you hit the daily double in any form.  So we’re delighted to report that as a ‘community,’ we have done just that, and in the context of our most recent post, which was not all that ‘recent.’ (

Even more amusing is that this winning combo comes to us compliments of Brunswick’s elected town ‘leaders,’ who are expected to provide our cues on how to behave civilly in matters of important civic policy, otherwise known as governance.  They’re supposed to be the adults in the room, demonstrating wisdom and maturity, especially when the circumstances would seem to suggest otherwise.

Regular followers of local theatrics can probably guess who the leading leaders are in this springtime tradition; betting on the favorites may not be exciting, but it is less risky.

All the proof we need to make our case is here in one Forecaster article:

In cases such as this, where the source events and behaviors are so rich with material crying out for attention, we’re going to revert to a method we’ve used before: cite a source passage, and comment as we see fit.  This is much easier than composing an overarching essay on the subject, which we feel confident wev’e done in past posts.  Sparing you should be appreciated, we hope.

So let’s begin, with these related pix of “Numbers” Ellis and “Teardrops” Perreault.


BRUNSWICK — The School Board Wednesday night rejected the Town Council’s mandate for additional cuts to the fiscal year 2017 budget. Two board members went even farther, promising to publicly oppose passage of next month’s school budget referendum unless the council restores the most recent reduction of $85,000.

“I will advocate publicly to reject the school budget and send it back to (the council) again,” board member Rich Ellis said after the meeting. “I couldn’t agree more,” board member Corinne Perreault said. “I refuse any additional reduction.”



  • We’ve come to understand that “for the children” is the standard approach to getting your way in the budget negotiation process; what we didn’t realize until now is that school board members are so inclined to throw the kind of juvenile tantrums we used to associate with toddlers ‘making a scene’ in public.  This is the first time we feel moved to describe them as spoiled brats, but in retrospect, we realize we’ve been biting our editorial tongue for far too long.  Hence, “for the children” takes on a whole new meaning – placating the board members – instead of ensuring a quality education for town youth.

This is a good time to remind you that the larger context of this budget cycle is shown in our post of last week:


This is Mr. Manager’s briefing to the public hearing on the budget less than two weeks ago.

16-17 budget a

The above screen snip may be a bit difficult to read, but we call your attention to the “Education” lines.  Note that the amount actually spent by the school department in FY15 (2014-15) was $33.391 million.  The approved budget for the following year (FY16) was $36.526 million, and until figures roll in some time from now, this is the best available.  Actuals won’t be publicized in time to have any real effect on our knowledge base. 

No matter; the difference was $3.135 million, or an increase of well over $1300 per student, of which there were roughly 1000 less than the peak enrollment in FY05.

So FY16 budget/available is up by 9.4% over FY15 actual expenditures.  Compare this to the tentatively approved budget for the coming school year – FY17 – of $37.7 million.   This is $4.3 million more than actual spending two years earlier, for an increase of 3.3% over the present year, and 13% over actuals two years ago.  Since enrollment continues to decline, these increases should be, we say SHOULD BE, especially troubling.



And now this passage:

The council originally asked the school board trim about $410,000 from its nearly $38 million budget. The board complied with that request, cutting money slated for reserves and carrying over current-year revenues.



But some councilors thought those cuts did not go far enough. Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said she was “shocked” by how easily the board cut its budget; Councilor Kathy Wilson said she felt “hoodwinked.”


Councilor Jane Millett spearheaded the move May 16 to cut the additional $85,000, earmarked for a proposed paving project at Brunswick High School. Millet said the pavement “is not nearly in as poor shape as some roads leading to the high school,” and that the town and school should uphold equal “community standards.”

  • Do these councilors really expect you (and yours truly) to believe they just realized they’ve been gamed by the School Department, with the full agreement of both the School Board and Department staff?  Gimme a friggin’ break, will you?  As we’ve ‘hinted’ and written about more times than we care to regurgitate, this is SOP in the annual Kabuki budget drama.  Brayman and the others acting as if they just realized this is beyond the pale, or whatever the right term for it is.  Frank Lee, they should be ashamed, and embarrassed, for acting so naively.  How are we supposed to respect town officials who don’t ‘get’ the standard approach to pulling the hood over the winking eyes of our elected representatives?

Now let’s look at these words from another School Board member:

Trying to take a step back from the feud, board member Sarah Singer said the real blame lies with the state and years of declining school subsidies. “We are in an austerity climate … and we are trying to keep our schools intact,” she said. With less money coming in from the state, she argued, the town has to raise property taxes to maintain services.  “(It’s) shifting the costs to poorer residents,” she said. “It drives me bonkers.”

  • Ah…there we go; it’s never the consequence of the SPENDING LEVELS the board sets locally, it’s always the fault of other higher levels of government for not sending enough free money to the lower levels.  The towns blame the state, and the states blame Washington.
  • We remember writing about Ms. Singer some years back.  If we recall, she was a lead organizer in Brunswick Community United, pushing for more and more school spending, no matter the realities.  Her professional background in union organizing prepared her well for this role, and her husband’s role as ‘government affairs’ manager for the Maine Teachers Union didn’t hurt either.
  • But the least she could do is realize that if you look at total budget numbers, total enrollment, and state GPA funding, you’d find a picture far different than the one she portrays.  And, we might ask, if towns double per student spending over ten years or so as Brunswick has, does she think the state should double their contribution as well?  If state funding must follow town increases, why not up the budget at even faster rates?

On a final note, we do understand that the Town Council does not have ‘line item’ authority over the School budget, but they clearly have authority over the top line of that budget, since they have to approve the amount before it can move forward for a public vote.

In view of this, we suggest the following.  If $85,000 for repaving the High School driveway sticks in the craw of a council member or two, as it does in ours, just tell the Board to reduce spending overall by another $200,000 or so.  This, as we said earlier, is chump change on a $38 million budget that is increased big time over prior years.

Let the spoiled brats on the Board fight it out between themselves to decide how the new upper limit will be achieved.  This should allow Ellis, Perreault, Singer, and the rest to get their pictures and their comments in the paper as much as they’d like if they play it right.


And allow the cited councilors ample additional opportunity for expressions of shock.

When you come right down to it, haven’t we all had enough of these silly charades and gamesmanship?  Your correspondent has, but judging from the behavior of voters and the lack of pushback from the general citizenry, such behavior is applauded in one sense or another.

And we deserve the consequences, even if we can’t ‘afford’ it.  We can tell you this; we’re getting to where we’ve had about all we can take.

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