Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Some historical context….

This is an exciting few weeks.  All the turmoil and sturm und drang of the municipal and school budgets, and a referendum asking us to spend $40 million or so on a new school to replace one that was allowed to fall into disrepair, and build it on the site of one that was allowed to ‘structurally fail.’

Most of the same old themes and the same protagonists are apparent in recent events.  The latter includes Rich “its never enough” Ellis, former School Board member, and master number massager.

We realize your study time is limited, but nonetheless, we think you might find some useful information and history in some of our posts in years past.

So we’re passing along links to that information in case you’d like to study up.

The first link is this:


The bulk of the history covered here has to do with the School Department’s purchase of its health insurance coverage for staff from the Maine State Teachers Union, and how that transaction provides hundreds of thousands in funds for them to pay for lobbying in Augusta.

The second link is this:


It has to do with our prior exchanges and experiences with Mr. Ellis during his years on the School Board.

Some of the text may appear in difficult to read format because we modified the basic blog format a few years ago, and when the background colors changed, the text colors did not.  If you have this problem, simply ‘select’ the problem text via normal keyboard or cursor actions, and the text will become instantly readable when you do….it will be shown on a white background.

Stay tuned for new materials to appear shortly.

Postscript 2 to LT Ben!, LT Ben!

(Note: This post was originally published in February 2012, and is republished here to provide some background on our prior exchanges with Rich Ellis, about which a new post will soon appear.)

Two days ago, we mentioned that The Forecaster had published our submittal on the Brunswick school budget on their web site.  We’re expecting it to appear in the print edition tomorrow.

Yesterday, Rich Ellis, a member of the Brunswick School Board, posted a comment on the web site in response. You may have to register and log in to see the comment, which should appear here.

In case you’re unable to access the comment, we offer excerpts from it just as follows (lengthy discussions of the state EPS issue are omitted):

Dear Mr. Schaeffer:

As you seemed confused as to why people refer to a 55% state share as a mandate, choosing instead to describe it as a promise, let me introduce you to Maine Statute 20-A MRSA §15671, sub-§7-B, Essential Services and programs. It is not just a promise or a target, it is codified into Maine law.

This legislation was put into place after Maine voters passed ballot initiative 1 in 2004, which stated that, "the State shall pay at least 55% of the total costs of public education for kindergarten through grade 12, and 100% of the costs of special education services that are mandated by federal or state law."

You say in your letter that nothing in Brunswick was unpredictable, but I would have to say as someone who has made a living predicting numbers and building multi-year forecasts, you underestimate the complexity of this process and its influencing factors.

Now, in regards to the rest of your letter, there are several errors within your figures and/or assertions. I know the data is challenging to arrive at, and I am not going to go into a detailed response on each error, but basically:

• Brunswick has never spent the $13,559 you suggest per pupil. In FY11, the most recently reported year, we spent $29.6 million against a budget of 2,734 subsidizable resident pupils or $10,842 per pupil. If you base it on actual resident pupils that year, 2470.5, you get $11,998 per pupil, but that's not how budgets are planned.

• Brunswick's actual spending only exceeded State 100% EPS, a measure of adequacy which does not cover all programs, by about $474 per pupil in FY11. The gap has hovered in that range for each of the last six years. If you think the State's EPS calculation calculates a luxury school system, you just might be alone. The fact that we are so close to that figure would indicate that we are far too close to funding a purely "adequate" education in Brunswick.

• You are mixing residential pupil expenses in FY06 (apples) with total budget approved per pupil in FY12 (oranges)

• While you correctly identify enrollment as a driving factor, state property valuation is equally as important because it determines how much a town must pay before the State kicks in a penny. Between FY06 and FY12, Brunswick's town Valuation has increased 49.6% or 5.9% per year. Living in Brunswick, was it your perception that our property value had increased that much during this recession? I know it certainly didn't match my expectations. Anyhow, the result? The state expects the town share per pupil to increase by 70.5%, from $3,744 to $6,532 per pupil. Trying planning for that rate of increase.

Anyhow, while I am pretty sure our philosophies on local education are diametrically opposed, I would encourage you to get better informed and to contribute more productively by helping to find actual solutions instead of just complaining or taking the annual shot across the bow. Hope to see you at the upcoming budget meetings.

Best regards,
Rich Ellis

As we reread his comments again, we realize that perhaps Mr. Ellis is trying to pull the wool over our eyes with the term ‘subsidizable resident pupils.’  This will get wonky really quick, but the difference could be between the three year rolling average enrolment, and actual enrolment in the current year.

Frankly, if that’s what he is doing, it is propaganda and deception of the worst sort.  But we’ll let him answer.  And we should go easy on him; most likely, the masters of numeric manipulation in the School Department have fed him this Kool-Aid.

As you well know, your faithful reporter is not one to shrink from a challenge.  And so we copy here our response to Mr. Ellis’ thoughts; it will not appear in The Forecaster print edition, and you may not have access to it on the web.

Here it is:

Mr. Ellis:

Thanks for your extensive response. As you can imagine, I am quite busy keeping the bank of computers I use to generate false numbers and spurious arguments humming along. But I do wish to offer a timely reply to your efforts, and trust you will consider what follows in that regard.

Let me begin with the following. While you and virtually every other school board member I can think of, not to mention superintendents, are intent on shifting the problem elsewhere, it all begins and ends with spending, and the Brunswick School Department has an unblemished record in that regard. Nothing you say or do can change the recorded history of approved budgets and the enrolment reports to the state. Unless you wish to suggest that some or all have been falsified. Should you provide numbers (with sources) that correct those I have been collecting for more than ten years, I will be happy to consider them against the budgets, Department data, and state records I have relied upon.

That said, thank you for your kind explanation of the legislation in this area. Please note as well that the Maine State Constitution says:

Article VIII. -- Part First.

Section 1. Legislature shall require towns to support public schools; duty of Legislature. A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools; and it shall further be their duty to encourage and suitably endow, from time to time, as the circumstances of the people may authorize, all academies, colleges and seminaries of learning within the State; provided, that no donation, grant or endowment shall at any time be made by the Legislature to any literary institution now established, or which may hereafter be established, unless, at the time of making such endowment, the Legislature of the State shall have the right to grant any further powers to alter, limit or restrain any of the powers vested in any such literary institution, as shall be judged necessary to promote the best interests thereof.


So let’s agree up front that the State’s record of complying with clearly written obligations is less than distinguished.

As to the initiative you cite, what it said on the ballot is a starting point, since legislatures are then free to do what they will with the language.

That little detail aside, I would remind you that the initiative you refer to was passed with promises of 15% property tax reduction statewide; I know; I still have one of the signs. Note as well from your own sources that the education unions provided the majority of funding for the campaign. And I can remember Nick Mavadones, then an official at the MMA, and in recent years, mayor of Portland, in the TV ads urging a yes vote and making the promise. You may also recall that this was the establishment’s offering to fend off the so-called Palesky initiative modeled after California’s proposition 13.

I don’t know about you, but we’ve lived in our current house for nearly 15 years, and not once has our tax bill gone down that I can remember. And it is thousands higher than it was at the beginning.

I took a read through the statutory language, and found more than enough passages to confuse someone with a better mind than I. Some of them suggest that the figure the state is obligated to pay is less than 50%, not to mention any number of complexities associated with baselines, definitions, pension payments, etc.

The fact is, the GPA per student, whether it reaches 55% or not, has increased significantly on a per student basis. My figures show that it has increased from $3432 in FY 06 to $4765 in the current school year, an increase of 39%.

The fact is, the GPA enrolment figures are based on a sliding 3 year average, as shown in the appended statutory language. Given Brunswick’s precipitous enrolment decline, you should at least admit the state is cutting you some major slack here.

The fact is, the state pays for sizable sums for teacher retirement and retired teacher benefits, amounts not shown in local budgets in any form. So one could argue that the state is paying considerably more toward ‘education’ than you suggest.

Here is one relevant passage:

Beginning in fiscal year 2011-12, the annual targets for the state share percentage of the total cost of funding public education from kindergarten to grade 12 including the cost of the components of essential programs and services plus the state contributions to teacher retirement, retired teachers' health insurance and retired teachers' life insurance are as follows.

(1) For fiscal year 2011-12, the target is 49.60%.

(2) For fiscal year 2012-13, the target is 52.50%.

(3) For fiscal year 2013-14 and succeeding years, the target is 55%.

The fact is, per student enrolment costs have grown exactly as I indicated.

The fact is, if per student costs had gone up by 5% a year since FY 05, our budget would now be $29.1 million, or $4,200,000 less than it is. I should think that an annual increase of 5% in “tuition” would be considered a generous growth rate by virtually any standard.

“You are mixing residential pupil expenses in FY06 (apples) with total budget approved per pupil in FY12 (oranges).”

Excuse me? I’m afraid you lost me here. Fruit salad aside, my standard practice is to divide the total budget by total enrolment to arrive at what I call ‘per student spending.’ If you have another way of calculating this, I’d like to see it.

The fact is that negotiations for a new teachers contract will begin soon, if they aren’t already underway; please tell me what you are doing to see that these costs are kept within reason, and that benefit costs are being restructured to be more in keeping with widely based employment norms. And what’s being done to see that the worst teachers don’t get paid the same as the best teachers. I don’t know what field you work in, but unless you consider yourself to be at the bottom of the performance scale, I doubt you would be happy with such an arrangement, or consider it ‘fair.’

Along those lines, please tell us what the Department is doing to see that the millions we send the MEA for insurance don’t include several hundred thousand to be used for political activism. And beyond that, what you’re doing to see that the insurance costs benefit from a competitive process.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of budget increases over the years go to teacher salary increases, warranted or not, and benefits so generous as to make the average Maine taxpayer faint in disbelief. On top of the best job security one could hope for.

The fact is that just a few years ago, we had four schools teaching grades K-5, and we now have one school teaching each. If that hasn’t resulted in major cost savings, I don’t know what would, over and above the enrolment declines. Four school lunch services have been reduced to two; two fewer schools require bus service; classrooms per grade should be significantly lower due both to enrolment decline and efficiencies; support staff and administrative staff should be lower as well. EG, budgets should be lower, yet they have not declined.

I get that you are angry with the state and wish to drive all the attention towards Augusta and away from Brunswick. Perhaps that is why you chose not to address the other realities I mentioned.

As to your comment about ‘predicting numbers’ and the associated difficulty, no one had to ‘predict’ the loss of Durham students and military dependents any more than one has to ‘predict’ the age of their children in coming years. Influencing factors?? My goodness; they were a certainty, givens with entirely known effects on revenue from those sources.

Want to talk about trouble ‘predicting?’ Perhaps you should review the Planning Decisions studies that said Brunswick’s enrolment would rebound just like magic. And the predictions made to justify building the new school.

In particular, I note that you completely ignore the windfall aspects of the loss of military dependents and Durham students. Do you dispute that these students were not bringing ‘fair share’ revenue with them?

And my figures for per year student spending are accurate. For example, in the current year, the approved budget is $33,301,672. If you divide that by 2456, the enrolment reported to the state in October, you get a figure of $13,559.31.

As a member of the school board, I would have expected you to have up to date budget data. If you are unable to get the info you need, please let me know, and I’ll forward the budget files to you.

Readers can find the current year budget here: http://www.brunswick.k12.me.us/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Approved-School-Budget-11-12.pdf

I refer you to page two in the document, though you may wish to become familiar with the rest of it as well.

To repeat, while you are intent on shifting the problem elsewhere, it all comes down to spending, and the Brunswick School Department’s are a matter of public record. Nothing you say or do can change the recorded history of approved budgets and the enrolment reports to the state. Unless you wish to suggest that both were falsified.

Anyhow, while I am pretty sure our philosophies on local education funding are diametrically opposed, I would encourage you to get better informed and to contribute more productively by helping to find actual solutions instead of just shooting the messenger or taking the annual swipe across the messenger’s posterior. Hopefully, at the upcoming budget meetings, you’ll have accurate figures in hand.

I have no doubt however, that your ‘actual solutions’ will consist of spending however much more it takes to preserve the status quo, rather than reforming the enterprise to reflect economic, demographic, structural, and performance realities.

If you have the time, though, we’d love to hear what you and the school board have done and are planning on doing to improve student education in Brunswick, aside from giving the teachers annual guaranteed raises regardless of their performance or student outcomes. Suggesting that paying teachers more will yield better education for our kids next year than this year is an insult to the concept of teacher professionalism, and even worse, an affront to taxpayers.

Best regards,

Pem Schaeffer

PS: please tell us where the extra $5,329 we’re spending per student compared to FY 05 has gone.

PSPS: you can find ample commentary on the same issues from last year here:


Feel free to offer your criticisms on the points contained therein; I will do my best to respond.

PSPSPS: Since you have a firm grip on Maine Statute, perhaps you can comment on this passage from §15671:

B. The annual targets for the state share percentage of the statewide adjusted total cost of the components of essential programs and services are as follows.

(1) For fiscal year 2005-06, the target is 52.6%.

(2) For fiscal year 2006-07, the target is 53.86%.

(3) For fiscal year 2007-08, the target is 53.51%.

(4) For fiscal year 2008-09, the target is 52.52%.

(5) For fiscal year 2009-10, the target is 48.93%.

(6) For fiscal year 2010-11, the target is 45.84%.

(7) For fiscal year 2011-12 , the target is 46.18%. [2011, c. 380, Pt. C, §2 (AMD).]

C. Beginning in fiscal year 2011-12, the annual targets for the state share percentage of the total cost of funding public education from kindergarten to grade 12 including the cost of the components of essential programs and services plus the state contributions to teacher retirement, retired teachers' health insurance and retired teachers' life insurance are as follows.

(1) For fiscal year 2011-12, the target is 49.60%.

(2) For fiscal year 2012-13, the target is 52.50%.

(3) For fiscal year 2013-14 and succeeding years, the target is 55%.

Jousting with the Moon-Beem

Once or twice in the past we’ve posted on a self-absorbed opinion writer in one of our local free newspapers.  We’ve generally referred to him as Mr. Moon-Beem, or at times Eddie.


Those who pick up such free media probably know who we’re referring to.

We frequently comment on his offerings on the associated web site for two primary reasons. 

First, we take issue with his assertions, his rationale, and his obvious deep animosity towards those who think differently than he.  He practices what in writings by others is called cultural marxism, and one of its associated principles, “liberating tolerance,” which has been described as “the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements” on the Right, and the aggressively partisan promotion of speech, groups, and progressive movements on the Left.”

Second, we amuse ourselves by tweaking him and watching him float like a rock and sting like a marshmallow when he attempts to dance around the issues raised.  Not to mention that on numerous occasions he has vowed never ever to respond to anything we post in the future.  But he just can’t make himself stop.  So it’s great fun to snipe at him over and over.

He has absolutely no respect for us, even when we present facts on the public record to challenge his position and his conclusions.  In fact he typically makes some snide comment about us being a “know-it-all” who knows nothing, while deftly skirting the issue at hand

In his most recent offering, he lectures readers on Brunswick School Budgets, claiming to be an expert on the history, though he’s only lived in Brunswick “for several years.”  He moved here from Yarmouth, in his mind the finest town in America (until it lost hime), even though we are no match for it.  We’re convinced it was because the Downeaster passed close by his back yard there, and the increase in daily trips would be too hard on his domestic tranquility.

At any rate, we decided to make a lengthy comment on that most recent article, knowing it wouldn’t be credibly replied to by the author, but because we want to make sure that those who see the article on the internet have illuminating data provided by the school department itself to counter the author’s slanted offering.

Here it is in case you can’t bring yourself to chase after the article; if nothing else, it will refresh you on a number of facts and figures relating to our School Department as its gone through a major transition in the last 10 years.

(Dear Mr. Moon-Beem is implied)

I know we've been over this before, and now others are pointing it out as well, but you seem unable to absorb it because it doesn't align with your alternative grasp of reality. We know you are a pioneer of the post-modern, but some of us still hold out for objective truth in matters like budgets and school administration. You've often suggested I have no idea what I'm talking about, but never offer substantiation for that view; just gnashing of teeth and furious hand waving.

So. Here are the facts as I have them in archived data provided by the school department.

1) The federal subsidy for military dependents peaked in FY 08 at $1,446,926. That was the year enrollment began to decline from it's previous levels in the 3,300 plus range. Still, if we had 660 military dependents in our schools, which was the usual published number, that would work out to the Navy paying just under $2,200 per student to our school system. Actual expenditures per student that year were $9,898 per student, not including state contributions to employee pension plans of $3,022,000, raising per student spending to $10,842. So in actuality, the Navy students were an overwhelming fiscal drag on the system, and their moving away was in essence a windfall for the budget, since the feds paid less than 25% of the actual cost.

2) Similarly, tuition paid by other districts peaked at $1,414,409 in the same year. If that paid for 200 students, the payments per child were slightly less than $7,100, or roughly $2,800 less than per student expenditures, and $3,800 less than "all in" per student figures. So once again, Durham students were in fact loss leaders, since they did not come with sufficient funding to cover their total costs.

3) As to the 100 employees laid off (I believe the advertised figure was 102), I inquired of the school Super to get the details of which positions were eliminated.

Here's the response I got:

"I don’t believe we are required to complete research on your behalf. We
thought it was a good idea to compile it and we are doing that when we
have time. You’ll have it when we are finished. Thanks, Paul."

Wouldn't you just know it; the compilation effort apparently fell through one of the numerous cracks in the system. The data was never provided.

But department data shows this: in FY 09, with 3,101 students, the Department reported they had 212 classroom teachers and a total head count of 510. That works out to 14.6 students per teacher. Two years later, with 2,564 students, they reported 211 classroom teachers and a total head count of 478. According to data published for the upcoming year, 240.4 classroom teacher are in the plan, for a student body in the 2,350 range. Which amounts to less than 10 students per teacher.

So one could easily speculate why that list of 102 positions that were "cut" never made it onto the table, so to speak.

Keep in mind that not that long ago we had four elementary schools, creating obvious inefficiencies in staffing, and especially classroom teachers. Now that each individual grade is only taught in one school, one might think classroom teacher staffing efficiency would be maximized, wouldn't one?

4) Oh...one more thing; the referendum to raise state support to 55% was sold with a promise that property taxes would decline 15% statewide; I think I still have the sign out in the garage. No-one anywhere saw their property tax bill decline, nor would they see it if state aid doubled. The schools would simply increase spending to consume whatever new money was provided. It's in their nature, and the nature of all bureaucrats and elected employees.

Kudos to Chew, who has posted some straight talk just below.

So the question is, oh wise one, just how much more funding would be enough in your mind, and how much should it increase year by year?

We'll be standing by patiently for your learned and more informed reply to the information provided above.

Friday, May 26, 2017

HRTF, ‘allys’, and other assorted politically correct affronts to common sense, clarifying what Brunswick really is

Listen up, people of Brunswick’s several communities; our betters are hard at work trying to unravel great mysteries.  Even if you didn’t know the mystery existed.


Do YOU know who YOU are?  Are YOU sure?

We shouldn’t be surprised this deeply metaphysical question is a subject for public discourse in a town full of ungrounded academics, snowflakes, social constructionists, and elected employees who’ve decided they know who WE AREN’T and who WE ARE.  The latter have apparently decided WE ARE to model ourselves after them.  Keep in mind that YOU are included in WE.

This is as we should expect in a ‘community’ obsessed with affirmation, validation, confirmation, and other forms of personal introspection, discovery, and declaration.  No matter how fluid they may decree such individual and human characteristics to be; it’s perfectly modern to follow the feelings of the moment, at least in politically correct spheres of our existence.


Enough gobbledy-gook and contemporary psycho-speak; let’s get down to what brings us to this page.  That being an article that recently appeared in The Ostrich.  On May 23rd, on the front page, under the headline “Group binds town together.”  The group, in this case, is Brunswick’s municipal Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), about which we’ve posted in the past.

The article contains a number of noteworthy quotes by various town employees, some elected, some not.   Knowing that almost no-one (of note?) buys or reads the paper anymore, we feel an obligation to bring the highlights to you, together with our thoughts on each.  The format will be official citation indented and italicized, followed by our thoughts, which will be neither.

“Town Councilors Sarah Brayman and Kathy Wilson head a human rights task force and said the catalyst for the creation of the group was a rise in incidents that involved racially charged and sexually demeaning rhetoric.

‘Charged’ and ‘demeaning’ are entirely subjective terms, intended to raise passions whether warranted or not, since we have not seen the words reported in these incidents, which as we recall, are largely anecdotal.  “Inappropriate” is a popular term these days, but would not have stimulated the same sort of urgent town leader response.  Additionally, we believe we’ve read in recent months that reported ‘incidents’ have been virtually nil.  No matter; the town has dug this hole, and there is no socially and politically legitimate way to fill it in and move on.  The HRTF is now a permanent fixture of our governance, needed or not

“The group discusses issues of importance to all communities in Brunswick — including classicism, sexism, ageism and racism, and the power dynamics involved.”

Notice that instead of Brunswick being one community, we are now implicitly divided into several.  How many “all” amounts to is unknown, but we would suggest that identity group politics, which is what this amounts to, will not help resolve any perceived “rights” issues; it will instead heighten the sense of differences and victimization claims that consume discourse these days, especially on college campuses.  For example, take “classicism;” who knew there is pent up prejudice and animosity towards the classics?  Or does this mean classic architecture, of which there are many examples in “all communities” in Brunswick?  What about classic cars?

Ageism?  Hell; we’re in our dotage.  What’s Brunswick going to do for US?  How about forgiving half of our property taxes?  Instead of constantly raising them?

“Brayman and Wilson said they…..want people to feel as though they are listened to. “It binds the community in a way,” Wilson said.

Listened to?  Are they kidding?  Like the night Harris shut me off mid-remarks?  “Listening” only matters in those cases where someone tells them what they want to hear.  We’ve spoken innumerable times in front of the town council, as have many others, and we can say with certainty that the last thing you feel when you do so is “listened to.”  Unless you’re coming before them to affirm their already decided/known positions. 

Binding?  In bondage to spending and increasing taxes would be a more accurate description.

“I am an ally, and also as a citizen, I want people to feel safe and welcomed here,” said Town Council Chairwoman Alison Harris

No doubt Harris received applause for using the PC language of the day (ally; allyship).  This counts as a microreach-out, microaffirmation, and microvalidation.  She is now a full-fledged member of the campus community….just ONE of the numerous communities in Brunswick.

Too bad Harris and the other elected employees don’t want us older folks to feel like we have an ally when it comes to controlling town spending and taxes.  And in avoiding silliness like back-in parking, raised crosswalks, town acquatic centers, and such.  We know; each “community” should get what it wants, even if other “communities” have to pay for it.

“A panel discussion is slated for the fall where community groups, citizens and town officials will be talking about the possibility of town identifying as a sanctuary city.”

So….we want to be a “sanctuary city?”  We want to publicly declare that we are a city of laws, but only in those cases where we like the laws?  And want to officially pronounce and proclaim that we will ignore those laws we find politically unacceptable?  How about we declare ourselves a speeding city, where speed limits are no longer in force?  It’s already clear that we are not “a nation of laws.”  It will be refreshing to have the town come straight with us and tell us we are not “a community of laws.”


So now we see what the HRTF has become.  A useful tool for various identity and advocacy groups to manipulate town government into giving them their way.  We’re so glad this idea is coming into its own.  But what will they do for the “just leave us alone” community?

“Wilson said President Donald Trump has given permission for the expression of hatred toward people considered outsiders.”

It’s become abundantly clear that councilor Wilson sees herself as the social and political justice warrior on the council.

But before The Ostrich runs such inflammatory quotes from Wilson, shouldn’t editors ask to see a citation proving the President has “given permission?”

Since the editors will not do so, being ideological soulmates of Wilson, we will.  Councilor Wilson, please send us the citation that substantiates your assertion about President Trump.  When you do, we will publish it here.

“Pender Makin, assistant superintendent of Brunswick schools, said it says so much about Brunswick that it has a human rights task force.”

Talk about speaking in the abstract, indefinite, and ambiguous.  We think it says “so much” as well, but it’s obvious we don’t agree on the specifics.

““It is a good place in a darkening exterior world,” she said, adding it should be celebrated how open, loving and caring the community is. She said she often hears stories of great kindness and generosity in town.”

Funny; we thought the HRTF came into existence because Brunswick is not good, open, loving, and caring.  Nor one community.  Telling stories, good or bad, is the stuff of shaping poltical opinions, in the hope of driving policy (sanctuary city, anyone?).

“She said the district has conducted school climate surveys and have set goals to meet.”

That’s a story for another day; you probably haven’t seen the survey, or the results.  We  have, and it’s an example of how “experts” and “consultants” lead the public schools into becoming social and cultural thought shaping institutions instead of focusing on the basic skills and traits required to be a responsible, self-supporting adult.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


“The Human Rights Task Force will meet again next month.”

We encourage you to attend; one of these days the HRTF will make a formal declaration of who WE ARE, and in the process, you will find out who YOU ARE, whether you want to or not.

We can’t wait for the enlightenment.

Monday, May 15, 2017

School Department salary “justice;” how much longer must our public servants suffer?

First, we begin with a post-script to yesterday’s post on New School Kool-Aid.  In FY 05, when school enrollment was at a high of 3,372 students, with four elementary schools in operation, the school budget was $27.7 million.  Here we are, staring at a proposed budget of $38 million, with one thousand less students, and only two elementary schools in operation, one of which is a LEEDS certified big money saver.  That’s right: over $10 million more in operating cost for 1,000 fewer students!

And “Great Schools Brunswick” has the temerity and unmitigated gall to whine about “limited resources” and “desperate budget shortfalls?”  And in the face of the maintenance policies cited, and this increase in funding, to cite ‘worn out buildings that have been identified as “a catastrophe waiting to happen.?”’ If they are so, guess who is responsible?

Are we as stupid as they think we are?  Or are they even more stupid than those who pay for these derelictions of duty?  Either way, their rhetoric is insulting at every level.

Moving On

Now on to today’s subject.  That friend of ours who has been diligently researching School Department data, and seeking answers to some obvious questions, has forwarded more data provided to her by the Business Manager at Department offices.

Here they are for your edification.  This first item is pretty obvious in it’s content.


Note that while some salary increases are modest, no one goes without a raise.  The HBS principal, we should note, is a more junior replacement for a senior level employee that moved on.  The Business Manager gets a 7% increase; the Curriculum Coordinator gets a 9% increase; the Assistant Superintendent gets a 17% increase; and the Technology Director gets a 7% increase.  This is without considering increases in their benefit costs where applicable; as you can see we pay more than $20,000 a year for health coverage for most.

You might compare these figures to your circumstances and annual salary increases.

The item just below shows that employees pay at most 15% of their health care coverage.  Again, compare that with your circumstances and those you know who work in the private sector.  (personal memory flogger: before becoming Medicare eligible, we paid $972 monthly for staying on the health plan of the employer from whom we retired after 35 years.  I suppose it would have been twice that by now.)


Just below is the salary chart for the coming year out of the Teachers Contract.  Be sure to note the cash payments at the bottom of the chart that add considerably to the “junior” salaries.


Now here’s the distribution of the teaching corps across those salary entries in the table above.


We think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of teachers are in the $60,000 to $75,000 salary range (plus benefits of $20,000 plus), keeping in mind that this is for a 182.5 day work year.  It’s also fair to say that the MINIMUM salary for a 5 day work week is $1,000, not including benefits.  In most settings, that would be considered a pretty good salary fresh out of college.  Especially when you see that automatic annual increases (both merit and longevity) in the range of 5% are included in the contract!

Which brings us to the conclusion of this little narrative.  Some of you may remember the much loved Jim Ashe, who preceded the current superintendent.  He was fond of saying that the regular budget increases were “due to costs beyond our control.”  I frequently took him to task for this deception by pointing out that the only “costs beyond our control” were those related to weather for the most part, and the occasional facilities based maintenance surprise.

All the other increased costs were not “beyond our control,” but in fact had been previously agreed to in various contracts approved by the administration and the School Board.  So he could try to sell crazy elsewhere, because we’ve got our fill here.

Along these very lines, I recently came across some documents that reinforce our point.  It turns out that the Teachers Contracts on their create enough budgetary increase pressure.  But if you look at these items:



you’ll see that numerous other positions in the department are directly tied to the Teachers Contract with multiplying factors.  So when the innocent Board Members, Union Leaders, and Superintendent go off to negotiate the new Teachers Contract, they are doing much more than that.

Here’s a sample from the first one:


You really must read the entire document….it’s only 3 pages….to see the other little pot sweeteners thrown in.

And now the same data from the second one; again, read the whole document, in which you’ll see work weeks are 42 and 44 weeks.


So what are the takeaways from this little narrative?  We can think of two:

1) You probably now know more about School Department compensation realities than most School Board members, all town council members, and all but the teenie-weeniest percentage of town taxpayers.

2) The next time some bloviator tells you how long-suffering and underpaid teachers and administrators are, tell them to go sell the idea somewhere else.

As scarce as truth is, the supply always seems to exceed the demand.  Winston Churchill famously said, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

New School Kool-Aid Kegger! Join the party!


Just as you might expect, the big push has begun to drive school spending ever higher.  And truth and facts be damned; new schools are far more important than either.

Here’s a precious excerpt taken from the promotional web site under the heading FAQ,  We’ll parse the ‘answer’ into segments, and respond to them point by point.

“FAQ: The Town and has been screwing up new schools for decades. Isn’t this more of the same irresponsible oversight?”

“School oversight and planning has been contentious in Brunswick for a long time.  Matters have been made worse by surprises, such as drastic cuts in state funding and the sudden structural failure of Jordan Acres.” 

Side response:

Drastic cuts in state funding?  To begin with, state funding (GPA) is, among other things, a function of enrollment.  The high water mark was in the FY07 and FY 08 time frame when enrollment was over 3,000.  State support was in the range of $4,600 per student, and total spending per student was about $10,500.  Since then, enrollment has dropped by 30% from it’s high point, to just over 2,300.  Spending per student is now over $16.000.  State support is in the range of $4,700 per student, the same as before.  Drastic cuts in state funding are not the problem; drastic increases in system spending are the problem.

Sudden structural failure of Jordan Acres?  At the time, we were told that the ‘failure’ was due to snow loading on the roof.  This was not a sudden structural failure; it was a direct and predictable consequence of maintenance ignored.

“However some claims about how the schools could be run are simply untrue.  First, the information provided elsewhere in this FAQ demonstrates that Brunswick School Department staff been diligent with maintenance of buildings, albeit in the face of limited resources and worn out buildings that have been identified as “a catastrophe waiting to happen.” 

Lyndon Keck, the architect used by BSD, recently stated that fire alarm systems were not working properly.  Last time we went through this exercise, we heard about broken toilets.  Any school board that knows about these problems and ignores them is unworthy of the public trust and the trust of the students.  Any school department staff that is aware of these problems and does not raise them to red alert status should be severely disciplined.  Any school department staff that is unaware of these problems on their watch should be summarily fired.

In other words, claims of “diligent maintenance” are certifiably false.

On a related note, at the end of this post is a passage from the applications submitted by the BSD to the state in 2004 to secure state funding for new construction and/or major renovation funding.  It talks to regular inspections of safety systems, maintenance contracts, including inspections, for roof and HVAC systems, and other provisions you would normally expect from those who know what they are doing.  As you read those provisions, however, and consider them in the light of failed maintenance realities, it quickly becomes apparent that while the BSD can hire consultants to talk the talk in their applications, they don’t attend organizationally to walking the walk.  That is, let things go, and then press for replacement.  You read it, and then decide for yourself how good a job the School Department has been doing over the years, and how attentive the School Board has been to seeing the hired staff does things right.

Second, it is not true that the district could have renovated Jordan Acres and/or Hawthorne School (built in 1893), Union Street School (1859) or Longfellow School (1924) to re-open as schools.  Aside from compliance issues, the neighborhood schools configuration became unaffordable ever since a desperate budget shortfall during the coincidental recession, closure of the Naval Air Station, and reorganization of Durham schools.  By operating fewer, larger schools Brunswick saves millions of dollars each year.

This passage is the height of fib telling and distraction.  Be sure not to let the Kool-Aid drip on your clothes; the red stains can be boogers to get out.

A “desperate budget shortfall during the conincident recession?”  The town and the school department are entirely immune to budget shortfalls and recessions.  They set the tax rate each year to provide whatever revenue they want to spend, and anyone who pays attention knows that.  As to closure of the Naval Air Station and loss of Durham students, both were, in effect, financial windfalls for the school department.  Enrollment declined by 30%, or roughly 1,000 students, in just a few years.  The Navy came nowhere close to paying the cost of their military dependents, paying no more than $1,500 per student.  Durham was getting a great deal as well,  paying less in tuition than the department was spending per student.

In other words, go cry us a river.  Taking a look at budget totals as the base closed and Durham sent their students elsewhere reveals nary a blink as it happened.  You’d never guess from  looking at the figures that we lost 1,000 students, and reduced the schools in operation by two.  Saves millions of dollars each year?  Sure; our budget would be $15 million higher if not for the student decline!

Currently, the Brunswick School Dept does have a long-term master plan (see Strategic Framework 2016-2021) that will meet the needs of all students.  In 2018 we’ll know whether the State DOE will fund the new BJHS.  If that is approved, the Department will be able to return its attention to establishing a more stable approach to long-term funding for maintenance expenses (see last section of this presentation).

“Long term master plan that will meet the needs of all students?”  File this one under the category of you can trust us this time; we’ll do what we said we were going to do, even though history clearly shows that we’ve made the same promises before, and completely ignored them after the words on paper had served their purpose.

So in conclusion, we don’t trust a thing the new school advocates, the school department, and the school board tell us on these issues.  Their record of truth telling and effective operation of the assets with which they are entrusted does not hold up to the facts on the record.


The sad part is that those rolling out this poppycock for public consumption and funding gobble it up like so much Kool-Aid.  No one dares hold the School Department accountable.  And no one dares hold the School Board accountable for not holding the School Department to account.

And the worst part?  No one holds the Town Council accountable for not holding the entire school establishment accountable.

Why bother?  “For the children” is the proven, all purpose remedy for anything that ails the bureaucracy.


Herewith the excerpts from the application to the state referenced above.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Too bad it’s only words…meaningless words.





Saturday, May 6, 2017

Teacher Pay & Contracts: Side “debates” the Governor


This past week, Maine’s Governor Paul LePage had an op-ed item published on The Maine Wire.  The column was ostensibly written in support of proposed legislation for instituting a statewide teachers contract.  At the moment, it’s not looking like that legislation has much of a chance of becoming law.

You can read the Governor’s entire item here: http://www.themainewire.com/2017/05/teachers-paid-worth/

The Governor has publicly asserted that “teachers are underpaid” for some time.  Side takes a much more ‘nuanced’ view, as you might expect.  This stems from the nuance training required to acquire an engineering degree, and we have several; not many can match our ham-fisted mastery of the concept.


We decided to submit a column challenging the Governor’s view, and it was accepted and published on The Maine Wire as well, though the editors chose to delete two paragraphs in the interest of staying within their ‘preferred’ word count.  Word length limits on web journals are a puzzlement to us, but as a minimum, it makes the editors of a kind with Brunswick’s town council chair, who just this week cut your correpondent off at the knees as we delivered a refined and nuanced statement on town budget priorities (http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2017/05/some-of-us-just-never-learn-and-we.html).

Posted just below is the entirety of our submission, with the two paragraphs excised on the web version italicized.  (The web version is here.)


Maine Wire: Teacher Pay? It's Time to Reform the Underlying Structure and Driving Factors

I agree with Governor LePage. Teachers should be paid what they are worth. More broadly, everyone should be paid what they are worth, including the Governor. He makes less than teachers at the top of the scale in my town, and I'm pretty sure his work schedule is well beyond the 182.5 workdays per year their salaries are based on. Not to mention that his 'classroom environment' is far more unruly and undisciplined than theirs, and his 'students' far more incorrigible.

The title assertion of his recent column is wide open to interpretation, however, and mine differs significantly from his. For those unfamiliar with teachers contracts, I strongly recommend you look one up and read it; your eyes will be opened. If you don't have access to one, this link will take you to the current contract for Brunswick teachers: http://www.brunswick.k12.me.us/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Teacher-Contract-Sept-1-16-Aug-31-19.pdf Be sure to read all the way through to the salary scales. (As a side note, the absence of a specific identifier for the bill the Governor alludes to makes it difficult to comment on that proposal.)

Given the structure of teachers contracts with which I'm familiar, comparisons with other states is not relevant without taking average age into account. And one could argue that teachers don't "settle," they enjoy extremely high job security, cadillac benefits with minimal personal cost, and guaranteed in advance, preprogrammed salary increases per contract. Not many, in fact very few, can say the same thing, and that's without considering the hours and weeks worked.

Teachers are treated as semi-deities by the vast majority of the public, especially at budget time, and are never called to account for school and student achievement. Union protection, political influence, and lobbying dollars are as powerful as it gets in Augusta. Teacher jobs come with a teflon suit, at least as far as public policy is concerned.

Of highest concern in my view is that the worst are paid the same as the best; union contracts homogenizes teachers into faceless 'members' of a certain age and education level. This is unfair to the worst; unfair to the best; unfair to students; and unfair to taxpayers. Those who accept these conditions, and union governance, stretch the meaning of "professionals" to its limits.

A more critical view is that some teachers are overpaid (or should be gone!); some are underpaid; and most are paid appropriately. The question of a statewide contract is a separate matter, but until coherent performance measures and a merit salary component are adopted, the existing compensation structure is a poor foundation from which to move forward.

If I take the Governor's characterization at face value, he believes that all teachers are underpaid, and that giving them a substantial increase will improve their performance in the classrooms, and thereby the education of their students. This ignores the fact, at least in my town, that teachers annually get salary increases in the 5% range, and taxpayers cover 85% of the cost of their health coverage. Even worse, it suggests that teachers' dedication, effort, and effectiveness are proportional to their pay. Such a premise should be an embarrassment to anyone who wants to be considered a professional, and I would expect a truly dedicated teacher to be insulted by the very thought!

Would the Governor be a better State Executive if we raised his salary by 25%? I'm old fashioned enough to believe that he is doing the very best he can at his job because he takes it very seriously, though I have no problem thinking he should be paid significantly more for his efforts.

My greatest concern, however, is this. If the Union is somehow convinced to come to the table for a statewide contract, you can bet they will have their way with the Governor's administration - "lifting all boats" whether seaworthy or not.

The end result will be the aggregated sum of all teacher/union perks from contracts in the individual school administrative units, the highest salaries cherry-picked from those same contracts, and the elimination of those elements that the unions have fought unsuccessfully. The union will come to the game with a pile of chips that dwarfs the Governor's. And they will run the table. They may not even need all the aces up their sleeves.

Union political influence, and funds available from state and national offices for massive PR campaigns, are a matter of record. Sympathetic masses, led by the mommy mafia, toddlers in hand, will rally to support the unions and teachers, carrying signs that it's all “For The Children.” Any who oppose the union position will be demonized. “Why do you hate our schools and teachers?” And “what do you have against my children?” will be the dominant themes.

Those with experience in how this usually works locally should be familiar with these tactics.

In conclusion, while the Governor's intentions are no doubt sincere, his proposal as stated is vulnerable to an outcome that is worse, not better. I wish he would reconsider it before pressing forward into a very large trap.


Our post of yesterday (here) dovetails nicely with our on-line ‘debate’, since it shows that for the coming year, Brunswick’s teachers will average $61,448 in salary, and $82,259 in total compensation when benefits are included.  These figures, we should point out, don’t include such perks as sabbaticals, etc.  This is why you would be well served to read their contract.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Brunswick School Department Teacher Compensation

A friend who is working hard to follow town budget activities this time around, and is bird-dogging the School Department in particular, passed along this data, which was provided by the School Administration office.


Interestingly, total teacher salary expense is up by ~10%, while total teacher benefit expense is up by ~39% in the same time frame. This seems a bit odd.

The relatively small growth in teacher salary expense could be explained by a reduction in teaching staff, or replacing retiring teachers at the top of the pay scale with younger teachers in the lower half of the pay scale, or a combination of both.  Frankly, we don’t think the Department is prone to staff reductions, nor any other reductions for that matter.  So until we find out otherwise, we’ll assume its because of replacing retiring teachers with new ones who are paid considerably less.

The sizable increase in benefit expense supports this view, since the cost of benefits (except for retirement) are independent of salary level, and the taxpayers continue to pay the vast majority of these costs, including 85% of medical coverage.  In this day and age, that is a cadillac benefit.

We took the FY 18 Proposed Budget Book prepared by the department, which you can find here:


and came up with a total of 240.4 teachers in the system for the upcoming year, including those listed as ‘Special Ed’ and ‘Student Supports’.

This infers that for the upcoming school year, for which the proposed teacher salary expense is $14,772,310, that the average teacher salary is $61,448, and that the average teacher benefit cost is $21,111.  Or, total compensation per teacher for these two items is $82,559 on average.

If the number of teachers was the same in FY 16, those figures would be $57,248 for salary and $17,012 for benefits, for a total of $74,260 in compensation.

Average salary will have increased by $4,200 per year, and total compensation by $8,300 in two years.  Incomes may be flat for most of America, but you’ll have a hard time arguing that for the teaching corps in Brunswick.

Good luck in trying to navigate your way through this morass, and in dealing with the $45 million or so in new school spending that has yet to hit the budget, though we notice that signs to support the new school plan are popping up all over town.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

In case you didn’t know……School Department Schedule

Silly us; we decided to go looking for some data on the Brunswick School Department web site, and stumbled across this bit of data



So if your children are asked to wear saffron robes to school, or you see teachers garbed in same driving to school, you’ll know why.

Look on the bright side; it’s better than telling the kids they have to dress as Freedom of Speech activists these days.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Some of us just never learn; and we aren’t very good at teaching either

We suppose it’s ironic that after something like 10 weeks of absence from our duties here at Other Side, we come to you with a classic retelling of the woes of a head-banger.  For reasons we can’t explain, and no-one else can either, we decided to speak before the town council at their regular meeting tonight (Monday, 1 May 2017).

The results, as we should have expected, were decidely Einsteinian.  Yes, that famous line of his about insanity.  On the other hand, we console ourselves at the moment with another of his best:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Long story short, we showed up at a pretty sparsely attended meeting, with virtually no controversial items (e.g.: bugets) on the agenda.  Accordingly, we hoped that we would not be cut short in our statement, but you guessed it; Einstein’s principle won out.

We showed up with a statement of virtually the same length as every one we’ve given in the past, but with what we believed was a totally different point of view.  No matter; Chair Harris cut us short, even though there was no cue of others looking to waste councilor’s time as we were.

So, pompous ass that we are, with a very flat forehead, we post for you here the entirety of our planned statement, annotated to indicate where we were summarily dismissed because of time limits.

Statement to Town Council May 1, 2017

  • Good evening; I'm Mr. Schaeffer from Crestview Lane. Known as “Mister Grumpy” by some, you might know that I've been publishing a blog for years, though I haven't been very prolific lately.

  • Once I decided to speak tonight, I considered announcing my plans on the blog, but in today's social warfare climate, I decided against it. Who knows how many masked, unruly anarchists might show up to shout me down in the name of free speech? So here I am, unannounced, confident that Brunswick's finest can ably protect us, even while public authorities shrink from their duties elsewhere.

  • My main point tonight is that staff and the council are irresponsibly proposing to spend excessive amounts on road paving, trash collection, and other activities that do nothing to enhance the reputation of Brunswick. What we really need is more visionary central planning; no-one moves to Brunswick because of our streets, our dump, or our police.

  • While there are potholes here and there, none have reached sink-hole status capable of swallowing a vehicle, though Smart Cars should be cautious.

  • Police staffing? Hell, there's no crime in Brunswick, is there?

  • A new dump? We don't need a new dump. If cities and states can defy federal law to make themselves sanctuaries, we can defy it to keep using the same dump. Just rename it 'The Graham Road Garbage Sanctuary.'

  • No; clearly our top priorities must be starry-eyed commitment to idealistic undertakings that elevate our stature among the richest and best little towns in America. Instead of paving roads, we need to pave our path to a glorious future with collective good intentions.

  • Municipal aquatic centers, municipal ice rinks, and multiple new schools are barely a start to a prideful future. By the way, if you believe the aquatic center and ice rink won't cost taxpayers a penny, you probably believe the Downeaster is a break even enterprise. No matter; let's embrace 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' as our new motto.

  • There are other ways we can more visibly spend town resources, or OPM, on becoming the best we can be. Here are some ideas:

    • How about an East Brunswick Library Branch; the vacant Bookland slot in Cook's Corner would be a poetic choice, and $3 million or so ought to be enough to open the doors.

    • The wide open spaces at Brunswick Landing cry out for a grand Community Center featuring indoor and outdoor running tracks; card rooms; workout areas; dog socialization activities; classrooms for cooking and sewing instruction; 24/7 town funded babysitting; and anything else “residents demand,” to borrow an oft heard term during budget season. I'd love a town funded car wash to be part of the mix; imagine how impressed visitors would be as they enter a town full of squeaky clean vehicles, emblematic of community pride. Safe spaces for one and all, including Mr. Grumpy, should be mandatory. Everyone needs to take refuge from time to time, and I see no reason the town shouldn't provide it.

    • A Human Rights Center for advanced research in town-gown relations seems apropos. It's time that we admit that Brunswick is a feature of the Bowdoin Campus, rather than the other way around. This center would affirm our belief that no aspect of our daily lives is immune from government involvement, and ease our realignment to emerging social and cultural standards issuing from academia.

    • Brunswick is noticeably short of museums; a new Task Force could be appointed to suggest one that might raise property values even higher, and increase our attraction to home shoppers.

    • As would a motocross track on the old base property to provide additional recreational opportunities, and a drag-racing facility to make good use of the runways.

    • We could be a leader in social trends by creating a Municipal Medicinal Marijuana Growing area, designed to keep our population mellow and well. Dude!; imagine what we could do with that new revenue stream!

Approximate point at which the Chair declared I had 15 seconds of allocated speech time left.  At which point I counted backwards from 15 to 0 and departed council chambers.

  • There's one more really exciting opportunity for our town to invest in. I've heard that some young entrepreneurs, having noticed how Brunswick residents have cultivated a taste for baloney, are planning to create a new company called Baloney Hogwash. They'll be crafting artisan small batch Baloney in a wide variety of flavors, inspired by local tastes. They're banking on a forgivable loan of $1 million from town coffers to get them started on their can't miss plan.

    • Early flavor ideas include “Brunswick has the best schools;” “back-in parking;” and “Downeaster economic benefits.”

  • You get the idea; instead of dealing with the same-old, same-old spending lines, like roads, trash, and public safety, it's time to think outside the McLellan box. Go for the brass rings, councilors! You know it's what you and the school board really want to do. The hell with tough choices; denial provides no satisfaction!  So stop torturing yourselves. (last sentence added post facto.)

  • Speaking of baloney, have you ever noticed that almost no-one argues that spending more on schools makes them better? Instead they argue increased spending drives up property values.

  • It occurs to me that high property values only accrue when you sell your property and leave town. To those thinking they might want to move here, elevated property values can be a barrier to entry, especially when accompanied by elevated property taxes.

  • Recently I read that Topsham's proposed budget could up their property tax mil rate to $18.49. A home valued at $200,000 would see it's taxes increase to about $3,700. Brunswick's rate at the moment is $29.35, nearly 60% higher.

  • If you believe that property values in Brunswick are higher because we have better schools, and other distinguishing factors, that same house in Brunswick should be worth $250,000, or even more. At our current mil rate, before this year's budget increase, that would yield a tax bill of almost $7,400, or virtually twice the taxes levied by our next door neighbor.

  • In this example, the $50,000 gain in property value would be consumed by higher property taxes in 14 years; please explain how that benefits a local homeowner.

  • And why, if we're paying twice the effective property taxes as the town across the bridge, we still have roads that are an embarrassment, and a school department never held accountable for letting its physical assets fall apart year by year to force eventual replacement.

  • Don't use differential in valuation ratios as the explanation, and how we're fixing that. Sorry: the name of the game is the dollars owed on the tax bill, not the tax rate.

Thanks for allotting me this time.

As you might guess, we never got to voice that expression of gratitude to our betters.