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.





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