Farewell, summertime! It was a long, hot one… in more ways than one. And we have a feeling the fall is going to be interesting as well.
It seems that Jack Frost has been delayed at a climate change conference in Davos, Switzerland this year, so the foliage is running a bit behind. But there’s lots of Scarborough news in the meantime… topics in this blog installment include:
• Higgins Beach parking update
• School Board goals, etc.
• Taxes only up 2.6%!
Higgins Beach recusal — Better late than never?
As usual, you got your money’s worth if you attended the Town Council meeting on September 16. (Admission is free, remember.) Councilor Donovan recused himself from the Higgins Beach parking vote as long as his property on Bayview Avenue is for sale. And unless we miss our guess, that sale will close before the next Council meeting on October 7. But that still leaves in question the validity of the initial Council vote on the Higgins matter in which Mr. Donovan did vote.
.After hearing all the pleas and speechifying, here’s our handicapping of the likely Council action on the Bayview Avenue parking spaces at the October 7 meeting:
We reached out to ACME Parking Solutions Co. for their suggestions for a parking meter solution at Higgins Beach. Here’s what they came up with:
Polishing up the crystal ball
As you may recall, we often look to our office cleaning lady, Mrs. Kincaid, when we need down-to-earth advice or commentary. Well, it happens that her sister, Mrs. O’Malley, is visiting from Ireland for a few weeks. And Mrs. O. is one of those very few with the gift of “second sight,” or the ability to see into the future. Not always and not in every case, but often enough to be slightly spooky. In any event, we asked Mrs. O. if she could tell us anything about the future of Higgins Beach… and we hit pay dirt. She kindly relayed the following future newspaper headlines to us:
School Board Goal-setting… the budget process begins HERE
At their September 17 meeting, the School Board did some brainstorming on topics for their November 19 retreat. (Mark it on your calendar now!) Nothing really unexpected came up… mostly some old chestnuts.
Since we at LookOutScarborough.com have never been shy about sharing our thoughts, here are four goals we would like to have the School Board set for the coming year:
1. Produce a comprehensive and understandable budget format for FY 2017. Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth’s budget formats have been suggested as good models. (If this isn’t being worked on now, there’s very little chance that a meaningfully improved budget format will be possible for the coming year. It’s not an easy or quick task. Waiting until mid-November to get the project started will doom it for FY 2017.)
2. Adopt a budget that the citizens of Scarborough will approve at the first validation referendum. (See “Attainable” and “Realistic” in goal-setting graphic above.)
3. Televise and video record all meetings of the School Board Finance Committee since this is where the School Budget really gets shaped. Easy to do and extremely important for the public to understand just how the school budget is prepared.
4. Negotiate a teachers’ contract that is fair to both the teachers and the taxpayers. The teachers’ contract, which will be renegotiated this year, probably accounts for 30% or more of total school costs. While details of the negotiations may be confidential because of State and Federal law, the School Board should fully disclose the total cost impact of the final contract. Not just the cost-of-living adjustment percentage, but the entire additional cost of the new contract, both in dollars and percentage increase.
We would love to see these items on the retreat agenda! (If you would, too, the School Board members may be reached at email@example.com.)
And a few side notes from the September 17 School Board meeting:
(1) The girls’ hockey team has locked up some great ice time in a relatively nearby rink for this season. Apparently the ice shortage that was driving the new hockey arena project at break-neck speed last year has eased substantially.
(2) Those new laptops that were the subject of much controversy in the last budget haven’t arrived yet. “Next week,” probably.
(3) The subject of “revenue generation” – like sponsorships and increased revenues from athletics and activities – which have been discussed for at least two years now will apparently again be on the table. Perhaps the FY 2017 budget would be a good time to take this idea off the table and implement it!
One Guru Fits All?
Speaking of matters educational, there was an interesting article in the September 20 Bangor Daily News entitled “We should not rob our schools of our most creative teachers.” It was written by Kathreen Harrison, a public school teacher in Maine with an interest in school reform. Here are the first couple of paragraphs:
“We are driving excellent teachers out of the profession with our insistence on measurement and standardized systems of accountability. People who became teachers because they were fascinated by the developing human mind, attracted by the chance to help children reach their potential, engaged by the challenge of fashioning learning experiences that would help children grow – these people are leaving the profession in droves.
The Marzano teacher evaluation tool, the Marshall teacher evaluation tool – many of the best teachers don’t respect these cumbersome, awkward tools and they don’t want to live their professional lives bound by them. No one would become a public school teacher in the United States today unless they were naïve enough to believe one guru could know everything (Marzano, Marshall, and the rest of the gang), and liked working in a top-down system where the focus of their job was following directives.”
And guess which guru the Scarborough schools have hooked up with? Yup, Marzano. We can only imagine how those who have been teaching successfully for ten, twenty or more years must feel about having the “Marzano teacher evaluation tool” thrust upon them. And no wonder the new school calendar has so many professional development days replacing instructional days. It can’t be easy retooling the entire teaching staff in the ways of Marzano.
That darned real estate tax bill arrived in the mail recently. Some Council members want us to celebrate that the increase was “only” 2.6%. Never mind that the inflation rate has been stuck near zero for a few years now. And that next year’s Social Security cost-of-living adjustment will be zero.
It’s also worth pointing out – again – that the increase is almost completely due to the increase in school costs. The school portion of your tax bill increased by 3.8%. Here’s a chart that shows how components of the tax rate (or “mil rate”) changed from last year to this year:
In other words, for every 100 bucks your tax bill increased this year, $95 of it went to the schools. And we’ll say it one more time: we are not anti-education. We just want to understand why school costs are increasing at a rate that’s so much greater than almost anything else… and do they need to? Don’t taxpayers deserve answers to those very basic questions?
Until next time, happy trails!