Thursday, January 19, 2017

School Construction Bonding Public Hearing

Last week, we told you of a public hearing scheduled by the Brunswick Town Council for this past Tuesday, January 17th, as described in this agenda item:


Yours truly was in attendance as were numerous others, including the usual schoolies pleading for any and all spending associated with schools.  We’d guess the ratio of supporters to opponents was in the range of 8 to 1 or thereabouts.


You can watch the replay of the meeting here:

As is our habit, we worked diligently to draft a coherent statement that could be delivered in the more or less traditional 5 minute allotment per speaker.  However, the Chair observed the size of the crowd and decided to cut that to 3 minutes per speaker.  So your correspondent was forced to trim his words on the spot, rendering the brilliant obervations and linear logic of our work largely null and void.

None-the-less, we bravely said our piece once the lengthy preamble by the School Department, the architect, and the town Finance Director were complete.

For you, however, we provide the complete original text we had intended to deliver:


Statement to Town Council: School Construction Bonding

17 January 2017

  • Hi. I'm Mr. Schaeffer from Crestview Lane.

  • To begin, the words 'oversee' and 'overlook' sound very similar to each other at first blush.

  • The School Board, as I see it, is charged with overseeing the Brunswick School System. The Town Council is charged with overseeing Brunswick's Municipal enterprise. In each case, this includes budgetary, taxation, and capital investment decision making, in addition to other obligations. I consider each a Board of Directors, responsible for the governance of their respective operating entities.

  • Sadly, twenty years of following council and school board behavior convinces me that overlooking dominates overseeing.

  • It's astonishing that the issues before us have not elicited a show of shame and embarrassment from either elected body. Let's review some reasons they should:

    • BHS running track decay from students running? What about regular maintenance?

    • Coffin & BJHS falling into decay, perhaps with guided neglect?

    • Collapse of JA due to dereliction of duty?

    • Tolerance of fake news reporting, leveraging a pliant and disinterested press; consider these examples:

      • “We're always cutting school spending”

      • “Increases in enrollment are pushing Coffin to the limits of its capacity.”

      • “Geothermal heating not as effective as we expected” (translation: not as effective as was promised)

      • Loss of federal impact funds a major problem; WRONG!

      • All of the above are certifiable propaganda

    • How about failure to track, examine, and regularly report on relevant indicators, like....

      • Budget levels, enrollment, per student spending, student teacher ratio, teacher pay....

      • Average class size, staff levels....

      • And performance metrics

    • And then failure of School Board and Town Council to demand regular reporting on facility conditions, both schools and otherwise

  • Let me suggest why this is:

    • First, the School establishment follows two primary rules

      • teachers contracts are sacred, and nothing else comes close in priority; they continually grant raises of $2,500-$3,000 annually just for showing up

      • when building condition declines, defer maintenance, and lay plans for backing the council and taxpayers into a corner

    • Second, the Town Council is afraid to exercise leadership that risks alienating the school bureaucracy and a very vocal minority.

  • So why are we here? Because we're being herded into a corner of the School Department's making, compelling us to spend another $34 million on school construction. Odd, since it wasn't that long ago we spent $27 million on a new school.

    • A School Board member has the chutzpah to suggest doing so will yield 'the community' a valuable facility no longer acceptable for school use, but fine for department administrators, while returning Hawthorne to us! Cue the bulldozers! Let's bring it down and create a public safe space!

  • Since no officials will burden themselves with embarrassment for these shame worthy circumstances, others here tonight will shoulder it on your behalf. Not only fiscally, but socially and philosophically. Too bad the town doesn't have a Taxpayer Rights Task Force to look out for us. Oh well; social justice has its limits: Taxpayers have no human rights.

  • Let me close with a math exercise. Before us is a proposed referendum to bond $34 million, presumably to be paid off over 15 years.

    • At the current rate of teacher salary increases, how much do you think the cumulative costs of those raises will amount to during that period? Would it surprise you to learn those INCREASES will cost taxpayers more than $60 million in the same 15 years? If you'd like proof, just ask; it's really easy to show.

  • So consider this: maybe the School Department should be directed to pay for new school construction out of operating funds, and town taxpayers should be asked in a referendum whether they want to borrow $60 million or more to pay for salary increases in the next 15 years.

  • What an interesting test that would be; does anyone here have the courage to propose it?

  • (If there's time): Oh, and one more thing. The School Department recently hired a local firm to help them come up with a Department Strategy for the future. How about this for a strategy:

    • Prioritize the care and maintenance of the physical assets the taxpayers entrust you with, or be terminated for dereliction of duty.

    • Emphasize teaching students how to read, write, and do arithmetic.

    • Promote continuous measurable improvement, and create meaningful metrics to do so.

  • I appreciate the time to speak.


We plan on submitting a supplemental to the Council refuting the shopworn balderdash we heard from officials and citizenry alike, and we’ll publish it to you once it’scomplete.

All in all, it was an experience much like all our previous statements before the Town Council, especially those associated with school budgets.  Sort of like wetting your pants in a dark suit: it gives you a warm feeling, but nobody notices.

When we arrived back home and told Mrs. Side of the experience, she repeated her usual question:  “why do you do this to yourself?”


To which we have no really sensible answer, other than ‘it’s in our nature.’

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