First Open Hearing 01/17/2017

January 17, 2017

Lobbying by the masses…..First Open Hearing On School Bond Issue

The open hearing on the school bond proposal drew maybe 50-100 residents of whom 30 spoke, according to the newspapers; a process, in this Town Council form of government that is supposed to provide a clear indication of the mood and feelings of the 20,000 plus residents of Brunswick. Proceedings of this type are usually dominated by the powers of the School Board and its supporters. This was a process predestined by the Town Council that told the School Board to “go big”, not affordable or practical, when developing the plan for the new school.

On one side, a unique argument by one resident who had a colleague who is going through a divorce who’s lawyer is using the condition of Coffin School as the foundation for a child custody case. Hopefully the taxpayers of Brunswick won’t be on the hook for alimony payments. On the other side was a resident who’s mother, ironically a retired teacher, is fearful of not being able to stay in town due to the high taxes. My sympathy lies with the retired teacher.

Then there was the usual and understandably biased logic of a choreographed number of speakers with children in the schools that the only reason anyone moves to Brunswick is because of the school system. Lost in that illogic is the fact that for many more people, low property taxes, town services, city water, sewers, affordable housing, proximity to medical care, nearby shopping, superior fire and police and low crime rates are of equal or more importance.

There are 2300 students in the Brunswick school system and maybe 2300 parents of those students. Add in the teachers and administrators that may live in town and you have maybe 5000 individuals directly or indirectly getting those educational services, out of 20,000 or so residents. That is 25% of the population. Not using the School Facilities Chairwoman’s flawed data, from the U.S. census taken in 2010, 7 years ago, the more up-to-date consensus of citizens over 65 in Brunswick is 25-35%. The rest of the population in town, about 40%, is apparently in the “other” classification. They also pay taxes.

Equally lost and seemingly conveniently omitted from the commentary was the current School Budget itself totaling $37,000,000 on top of the $33,000,000 being discussed for the school bond. The school budget is there year after year; it never goes down, it always goes up, including the year the possible new school bond payments kick in with a tax rate increase of 7-10 percent for that year alone. It will continue every year after that, along with bond payments for 20 to 30 years and beyond. The municipal side of the budget won’t go away either. Nor will the “unknowns” like the property re-evaluation, a new fire station, costs of services increases, additional school repairs, municipal employee costs, and on and on.

Our School Facilities Chairwoman, the same person who is apparently ready to give back the Hawthorne School to the town per a recent newspaper article, stated that we spend a lot of time, effort and money on maintenance for the schools. What she forgot to mention was the fact that after $30,000,000 (80%) is sucked out of the school budget for salaries and benefits, $5,000,000 is allocated for facilities maintenance, 13% of the total budget. Maintenance itself is an all-inclusive word that likely doesn’t mean just building repairs.

Rightly or wrongly, for someone who raised two children in a different New England state, I never lobbied any town forum or meeting on school budgets or school improvement. Nor did our parents. I lived in a town 4 times the size of Brunswick with a median income twice as high, and a school system in the top 10% of 200 systems in the state. We never expected more than what the town could afford. If we didn’t like it, we would have moved, or found alternative forms of schooling or supplements to the education we received. Our High School, as mentioned, was built in the late 1800’s; out of the 11 elementary schools, nearly all of them were built between the 1920’s to the 1950’s. They are all still being used as schools. The middle school we attended, which is also still a highly regarded school, was built in the 1930’s.

This town is not being managed adequately enough to the point where they can put this bond proposal to a referendum now, or maybe ever. To also dismiss the possible access to state funding would be nothing more than a continuation of absolute unconscionable mismanagement, which is what got them to this point in the first place. The Brunswick Town Council has inherited the sins of the past. We will shortly see if they plan on committing their own political sins now and going forward. It is now there for all to see.