Pro-school campaign urges rejection of Brunswick school budget

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BRUNSWICK — In a decision that intensified friction with the School Board, the Town Council voted 8-0 on May 25 to send a $37.4 million 2018 school budget to voters on June 13.

The budget reflects a 0.5 percent reduction in school spending and would increase taxes by 3 percent.

The action prompted a former two-term School Board member to launch a campaign to reject the budget in protest to the cuts.

Councilor John Perreault was absent from the vote, where the council also adopted a $62.2 million total budget that will fund new positions in the Public Works and Recreation Departments, and improvements to the town’s roads and facilities management plan.

The proposed school budget was reduced by $1.3 million over this year’s spending, and eliminates nearly a dozen teaching and administrative positions, as well as programs like freshman sports.

The council also created a plan for how to delegate funding if the Legislature restores additional education aid to the district – a plan that many on the School Board felt was unfair.

Several members of the board – including those who supported the previous night’s 5-4 vote to accede the council’s demands for another $250,000 in cuts – said they are unsure if they will vote in favor the budget.

At a May 17 meeting, the board rejected the council’s request for $500,000 in cuts and instead proposed a compromise to save $250,000 by using the town’s reserve balance.

On May 18, the council denied the request, and agreed to allocate the first $400,000 restored from the state to school programs. The next $200,000 would go to offset taxes, and any remaining funds will go to the School Department’s reserve fund, which Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said is already $800,000 “in the hole.”

Board member Corey Perreault said she voted to continue to make cuts for fear that the council would impose its own cuts or withhold greater subsidies if the board didn’t act.

“Though I am not 100 percent committed either way, at this point I am leaning towards voting against (the budget),” she wrote in an email May 26. “I wasn’t in favor of the budget, but felt like we had no other choice.”

Chairwoman Joy Prescott expressed similar sentiment.

“Several councilors made it clear that they wanted to see at least $500,000 reduced (further) from school budget and preferred to direct additional state funding towards lowering the tax increase, rather than restoring funding for our schools,” she wrote in an email May 26. “Given that context, I was very concerned about the risk that the council might make further reductions or restrict our ability to use additional state funding.”

Councilor Steve Walker had tried to amend the warrant article pertaining to the funding delegation during the council’s May 25 discussion, but was told by Town Manager John Eldridge that he couldn’t because the School Board had already signed it the night before.

In what was ultimately a symbolic gesture, the council voted 7-1 against the amendment, with only Walker supporting it.

Ben Tucker agreed with Prescott, and singled out Walker’s motion to suggest that the council’s decision not to restore the full $500,000 of cuts was punishment for the board’s request to compromise.

His analysis echoed board member Elizabeth Sokoloff’s May 17 comments that the council’s was being “punitive.”

When asked if that was the case, Town Councilor Jane Millett said, “I’m not going to characterize the perception of the School Board members,” suggesting that the board shouldn’t have assumed it would receive the entirety of any potential reimbursement.

Residents will vote on the school budget June 13. It has passed every year in recent history by an average two-thirds margin.

Given the small turnout for June elections, Rich Ellis, who stepped down from the School Board in December, said he is actively campaigning for voters to reject the budget in protest.

After the May 25 meeting, he said he thinks he needs to convince approximately 200 voters; he created a Facebook page to publicize the effort, which as of Tuesday had received 75 likes.

At that meeting – during which he publicly announced his opposition and had a heated exchange with Millett – Ellis said he objected to idea that the council reduced the school budget in anticipation of voters also deciding June 13 whether to approve a $28 million bond to build a new elementary school.

He said he still supports passage of the bond, but doesn’t think the board’s plans to build a new school should interfere with operational costs, which pay for teacher salaries and educational programs.

“I think it’s terrible to trade teachers for a building,” he said, noting that had he known the school budget might shrink in response to the board’s request for a new school, he wouldn’t have supported the bond while he was on the School Board.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Brunswick Town Hall

School budget, bond go to voters

BRUNSWICK — Voters on June 13 will decide whether to approve a $37.4 million school budget and a $28 million bond to fund a new elementary school.

Polls will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at Brunswick Junior High School, 65 Columbia Ave.

Absentee ballots are available at Town Hall, 85 Union St., and can also be requested online. Hours and extended drop-off times are posted on the town clerk’s page on the town website.

— Callie Ferguson

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.
  • SaveOurMaine

    When will the residents of Brunswick realize that this not just an expenditure issue, but that is truly more of a revenue issue. Costs will continue to rise each and every year on all fronts, but the base from which we pay for these increases fails to grow.
    It is time to start to look at alternate opportunities for revenue. The last
    state fiscal budget proposal called for non-profits to start paying a reduced
    tax rate if they have over $500k in assets. We have a non-profit with $1.6
    Billion dollars in the bank yet remains exempt from paying property taxes. They
    continue to purchase more and more property which often results in these
    properties coming off the tax books. Bowdoin, and other non-profits, lobbied
    against this part of the last state budget . They want to could keep every last penny in their accounts. The first argument that I will hear is that they are Bowdoin is crucial to our town and
    provides in other ways. They don’t allow the citizens of Brunswick to use their
    facilities. Local schools pay $190 per hour to rent their ice. The
    pool is almost 100% off limits to the children in town unless a special program is organized. The field house isn’t
    open on rainy days for the local kids to go play basketball or run laps. With that
    said, they get the full benefits of the Full time Fire and Police that the town
    provides. Every winter the roads around campus get plowed just like the street
    I live on where everyone pays taxes. I could go on and on. It’s time that the
    academic institution, with more money then they know what to do with, to step
    up to the plate for the Brunswick students of today. These same students,
    with the right tools and resources, could be a future alumni of their college.
    If Bowdoin is truly a member of this community, it is time for them to step up
    and contribute. I say we start with $10 million a year that is directly ear
    marked for the school budget. Before you argue with $10 million, that is approximately 5% of the returns that they are getting on their investments of $1.6 Billion. With that type of contribution we would be
    looking at No positions cuts, increased educational resources, and planning for
    a new elementary and junior high. We need to address the Pink Elephant/Polar
    Bear in the room. This is a revenue issue and it’s time for Bowdoin to help
    make it right.

    • Chew H Bird

      While looking at a billion dollar plus non-profit for relief sounds obvious, the real issue is Brunswick is making decisions based on a larger entity than we are. Corporations fall into this trap when their revenue base shrinks but they try to manage the business the same way as when revenue was growing with the end result being a disaster.

      We spend more per student today than we did back in 2011 when we had over 3000 students. While I am all for looking at the under taxed Bowdoin entity to step up, the real problem is a combination of Brunswick’s management of public properties, the teachers union, and an absolute failure to maintain existing properties. I understand that costs continually rise, and I share the opinion that Bowdoin should pay more, but bullying Bowdoin isn’t the long term solution.

      What we need to remember is that a great education is ultimately the work of good parents, good teachers, and good kids all working together for a common goal. I would rather have a one room schoolhouse and a great teacher than a world class school with mediocre teachers.

      • EdBeem

        It’s not an either/or. Brunswick has great kids, first-class teachers and third-rate facilities. Coffin School needs to be replaced, period.

        • poppypapa

          And you know about the kids and the teachers how?

          • EdBeem

            Okay, so your argument is that Brunswick kids are brats, the teachers are deadwood and hacks, so they don’t deserve a new building, is that it?

          • thedual5s

            Are you seeing things? He didnt say anything like that. He asked you a question. We should be able to have a civilized discussion about this, show our children what they can look forward to when they leave their $28 million dollar school 😉

          • EdBeem

            Apparently you don’t know Mr. Poppycock.

          • thedual5s

            You got me there.

          • EdBeem

            Poppycock never just asks questions. He is Brunswick’s chief crackpot and is apparently quite proud of it. He badmouths everything and everybody in town. He is a great friend of Gov. Buttkiss and I assume he adores our so-called president, a man who is an international embarrassment to decent people everywhere. I go for months without responding to him and every time I do I regret it, because it reminds me that he is not a man of good will with the best interests of the community at heart.

          • poppypapa

            Old Silver-back once again thumps his chest in a display of dominance over all he surveys, including the lesser apes in the jungle.

            Even though you regret not responding to me for months at a time…every time. And while you’re at it, why don’t you remind us of what you mean by the subjective abstraction “the best interests of the community.”

            You love to use such touchy-feely lovey-dovey concepts without translating them into specifics. You instead prefer to use them as brickbats to assert the superiority of your motives…and their unquestionable perfectness.

            So anyway, let it all out, Eddie. Get all the name-calling and hostility out of your system so you can resume your facade of brotherly love and selfless dedication to ‘community.’ Except where it might involve accepting that those to the right of you (nearly everyone) have some value.

            Improving Brunswick schools? Or improving how Brunswick schools are led, managed, and cared for? Virtually everything you come up with for “improving” Brunswick schools can only be demonstrated through more spending. That’s a pretty shallow approach, easily adopted by the masses, since its about all they are shown, and can’t take the trouble to look beneath the dollars.

            Good to know you’ve spent 40 years studying Brunswick students, teachers, and schools. You must be the scary looking guy with a beard often reported as lurking around our schools.

            And here I thought you focused your interests on Yarmouth until just a few years ago. Who knew you were a secret agent infiltrating our local school establishment?

            I’m just thinking that you probably spouted the same accolades for Yarmouth kids (including yours!) and teachers and schools for all those years you lived there, and suddenly, now that you’ve moved here, ours earn your praise. It almost seems like the secret is that wherever you happen to live at the moment is “best” and “great” and in need of more spending.

            Which reminds me of what your hear from real estate agents and local parents and such.

            Oh well. I enjoy our discussions using evidence on the record, or lack thereof, as the case may be. You may recall that when the Governor instituted broad category school rating systems, the establishment and the MEA went ballistic. They similarly decry “standardized testing methods” that you cite, claiming that they distort school priorities and don’t reflect real achievement.

            You can keep grasping at all the straws you want, and keep calling me all the names you want, and insulting my agenda even though you are incapable of discerning that there are other things that are more important than simply spending more.

            And you can remind yourself how the town elected employees worked with appointed staff to ensure that the temporary classrooms at Coffin would have to remain in use. Give away Longfellow; shut down Hawthorne & JA. That is, shrink capacity until there was no other choice.

            And then complain that you got backed into a corner of your own creation.

            Geez….I love honestly facing the facts and accountability and transparency. Too bad we never try it.

            I’ll watch to see if you take this bait, sort of like observing “the hatch.” Depending on your reaction, I’ll adjust my choice of fly accordingly.

            Oh..one more thing. You might want to check in with your psycho-ceramicist yourself. And speak to your gardener. I could barely read your yard sign for all the dandelions surrounding it. I’m sure your neighbors are enjoying your salad garden; that is the idea, right?

          • poppypapa

            How did that worm taste, little fishy? I’m using barbless hooks so you don’t hurt your lip when you remove it.

            Keep up this behavior and I might have to think of you as a piranha and change tackle accordingly.

            I made no argument; I asked you a question. But no matter, you decided to attack me rather than address the inquiry I posted. You make assertions not in evidence, using wild presumptions not supported by my post. All in an attempt to dehumanize me and discredit any legitimate points I might make

            When you lived in Yarmouth, you repeatedly made it clear that there were no better schools (top 100 High School!) and that everything was perfect there.

            When you moved to Brunswick, you said, if I recall, that the schools were not as good as Y-town, but good enough. And you have several times indicated you have not had any of your progeny attend our local schools.

            Accordingly, until you provide evidence otherwise, I have to assume that your evidence is at best anecdotal and inspired by your platitudinous style. But you can prove me wrong.

            Brunswick has about 2300 plus kids in the school system, In any such large group, there will be a distribution of how good the kids are. Until other information is provided, there is no reason to believe that Brunswick’s kids are any better or worse than those in other towns.

            And I’m pretty sure you have no objective data to substantiate your assertion. Matter of fact, the schoolies some years back promoted new school construction to create ‘equity,’ pointing out that we had numerous kids who were socio-economically disadvantaged. You could also review the data on the needs for behavioral counseling starting at the earliest grades, and a growing problem in this area.

            The same is true of the teachers. There are 240 plus. And no objective performance evaluation, metrics, or data. The best are paid the same as the worst, and it is axiomatic that in a group of this size there will be a distribution across the curve.

            Until you provide objective data to prove otherwise.

            If you cite what real estate agents have told you, and parents have told you, you will confirm your lack of objectivity. Do you really think any RE agent would tell you or anyone else anything other than “Brunswick has the best schools and the best teachers?”

            Do you really think any parent would own up to sending their child to a less than the best schools, and say they should have moved elsewhere?

            Do you really think anyone in this environment would say anything except we have the best kids? And if they did, how would they know that, other than by their own personal bias?

            I note you didn’t wax ecstatic over Brunswick residents. But yet they have great kids. Hmmm.

            I suppose if you’re going to continue to act like a piranha, I should dangle raw meat in front of you as bait. But why waste the money? You’ll bite any morsel I put in the water…worms, crickets, grubs, bread balls, etc.

          • EdBeem

            What I know about Brunswick schools is a function of first-hand observation, conversations with staff and parents and local citizens, examination of standardized test results and having lived in the area for close 40 years. I was, however, just making a simple statement that students and teachers deserve better than 50 year old portables. The truth eludes you in this as in just about everything else. Want to make a bet on the outcome of the June 13 vote?

          • Chew H Bird

            I am fairly certain the June 13th vote will result in approving all funds for the education budget and construction. The June 13th vote is not well publicized compared to November elections, the number of people who take the time to vote is small, (a small minority of residents), and the majority of them have a vested interest in passing school budgets because either their paychecks are in some way linked to the educational system, or they have children in our schools and are brainwashed into thinking that spending more money actually improves the quality of education.

  • thedual5s

    2017 we dont need large fancy buildings for our schools anymore. Its proven that big new buildings and thowing more money at schools does not equal smarter and/or better educated kids. We should be spending money on educating smarter not harder. All these teachers and administrators with Masters degrees and Phd should able to dream up a better more efficient way to educate. If they dont then whats the point of all these fancy degrees? I know high-school drop outs that are more innovative and forward looking. Its time to evolve our education system!

  • thedual5s

    My grandmother currently 93 graduated 8th grade from a 1 room schoolhouse. She is smarter then a whip! Enlarge said 1 room school house proportionately to the number of students, throw in an internet connection, wireless router and an appropriate number of chromebooks and u have urself a modern school. Engage and pay local business for shop, woods, chemestry, etc for onsight learning and you have ur self a business frendly, community engaged and cost effective education system! Oh snap! 😉