Category: school

Once More to the School Board Budget Breach

On Tuesday evening, our school board budget committee met to continue discussions for next year’s budget. And sure as the night follows day, the comment section in the local online paper went straight for the torches and pitchforks. (I imagine they each have a large glass case with a pitchfork next to their computer, boldly emblazoned in red with “IN CASE OF SCHOOL BUDGET BREAK GLASS.”)

It’s really important each year that we not let the comments section of The Daily Bulldog set the tone for our school budget debate. It’s too easy to shift the footing into areas that stop making sense. The knee-jerk objection this year is to the bottom line increase: $1.35 million.

I get it. That’s a lot of money, especially right now in these uncertain economic times. Granted, it’s only a 3.64% increase compared to last year’s budget, but the standard rate of inflation last year was around 2.2%, which means this does, indeed, raise the bottom line.

However, for those hardy souls willing to read beyond the third paragraph of the article, it’s quickly apparent that there’s more to this budget than the bottom line. (As is always the case.) Since the debate inevitably shifts to “This costs the local people more money,” let’s look at what the proposed budget would do to the actual local expenses.

On the whole, it would increase them by .45% (including Adult Education).

Of course, the way the overall cost is distributed throughout all the towns is dependent on a number of other factors, so the actual impact to each resident of different towns would be different. It’s listed in the article in paragraph form, but I’ll break it out into bullet points for clarity:

  • Chesterville: 2.39% decrease
  • Farmington: 1.46% decrease
  • Industry: 2.64%
  • New Sharon: 2.11%
  • New Vineyard: 3.51%
  • Starks: 6.88%
  • Temple: 0.98%
  • Vienna: 2.13%
  • Weld: 3.42% decrease
  • Wilton: 1.72%

(Note that the article in the Bulldog gets a bit muddled. I’m taking this directly from the school board budget presentation.)

Now, you could certainly debate how the costs are shared out among the different towns. I don’t know how that’s calculated, and I am not an accountant. (I believe it all comes down to overall town valuations and how they each compare to each other, but someone better in the know would have to speak to that.) But the bottom line is that over the past five years, the school budget has increased an average of .55% per year in terms of its cost to locals. (That includes this year.)

What’s more, it’s clear from the article that there are still areas that are up in the air: a $2-$2.5 million surplus from this year due to to the school shutdown, possible additional federal funds of $600,000, and discussion of the Success & Innovation Center’s funding.

But if you look at those comments, the school board might as well have proposed plating the toilets in the high school in solid gold. Most of the increase is being covered by the state. Don’t punish your local school district because you’re upset about state-level requirements and issues. Take that up with the state.

In last year’s vote, New Vineyard and Chesterville were the two towns to vote against the budget. (It passed with 909 yes votes and 445 nos.) Starks, which to my memory always sees the biggest increase year after year, approved it 50 to 5. Why? Because Starks tried to go it alone for a bit, and they realize the value of a solid school system.

These increases are far from egregious. For reference, New Sharon approved a 3.6% increase for its town budget at their annual town meeting this year. Farmington’s proposed increase was 6.2% before the world went into a tailspin. I’m not sure if it was voted through or not. I list those two examples just to show that the people who are going for the pitchforks for the school budget don’t seem to have the same passion about other areas of local taxes. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think they should. I haven’t seen anyone around me lining their pockets at the expense of tax payers. I think we live in a frugal spot of the country and the state. But that’s not what the budget hawks would have the populace believe when it comes to the school.

So when this comes up online or in your social circles, don’t let that $1.35 million increase go unchallenged. Does that mean this budget should go through as-is? No. It’s still being discussed, and it isn’t set in stone yet. If people continue to have concerns about specific line items (increased positions, or decreased positions for that matter), they should email their school board members or the superintendent.

But let’s put the pitchforks down for now.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

School Students Shouldn’t Be a Revenue Stream

I get it. There’s money to be made in high schools and grade schools. Between school pictures, sports pictures, yearbooks, and the like, I understand there are businesses that crop up surrounding our students, and I don’t (for the most part) begrudge them the chance to carry on their business, or at least make it available. But this year, something seems different to me.

It started with the early request to buy athlete pictures for Tomas and DC. No big deal. Seemed like a fine request, so we ordered a package for each of them. Then came the reminder for school pictures. I ignored that one, because Denisa and I decided to get private pictures done this year for all the kids. It was less expensive, and the end result was much better, so it was kind of a no-brainer for us.

I deleted the first reminder. The second reminder. The third reminder. I’ve got three kids, each of them in different schools. I didn’t pay too much attention to which school was reminding me about what. Except the reminders kept coming. And coming.

I just went through my email to check. I’ve received TWELVE reminders since August 25th. That’s four reminders per child. That’s . . . beyond excessive. And then that email search reminded me that I was asked to buy “spring portraits” last March. How many class pictures does one child need? And did I really need to be reminded I could buy those spring portraits nine times? Five of the emails this fall have been from my children’s actual schools. (Seven from the company taking the pictures.) Two of the nine reminders came from the schools in spring.

But it isn’t just pictures. Yesterday Tomas came home with a big packet advertising class rings (the cheapest of which starts at $200). Apparently in the middle of school, they were sat down for an ad pitch from the ring company, in which the company said, “All you’ll need to do is go home and even mention class rings to your parents, and you can watch as they run and get their class ring and start telling you all about it, and that’s when you should ask them for the $75 deposit so you can get yours.”

I never bought a class ring. I think they look gaudy and dated. Tomas has no interest in getting one, but I recognize they’re something that might be desirable to some. I get that my personal distaste for them might not be shared by all. If the company wants to send home a flyer about class rings, fine. If they want to send home a half-inch thick packer all about it, I might say that’s a wasteful use of resources, but it probably wouldn’t get me to “I need to write a blog post about this” territory.

But taking up my child’s school time (or even a break during school time) to pitch them on sales techniques to get their parents to buy them a $200+ piece of silver or gold? That went beyond the line for me. At that point, I have to assume the school district is getting a kickback on the rings. (They better be, for the sort of access they’re giving to my child.) Even then, I find it objectionable.

I don’t live in a wealthy area. The median household income in Franklin County is around $45,000. (The median for the US is about $59,000.) There are many, many families who can’t afford a $200+ ring. Why is our school district letting companies market directly to our students this way? Yes, I get that budgets are tight. And again, I realize some kids or parents might really want a ring. But still, send a flyer home. Let students opt-in to hear the ad spiel. Anything other than the approach that’s currently being used.

There are times I feel like the district has started seeing me more as a revenue source and less as a parent of a student.

Am I the only one noticing this?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Back to School: 2019 Edition

In many ways, heading back to school can’t come soon enough. After a summer at home, filled with fun activities, there comes a time when everyone just needs to get back into a routine and have a return to normalcy, if for nothing more than a return to peace and quiet at home. In other ways, of course, it’s shocking that this year we’re sending out a Sophomore, 6th grader, and 1st grader, and you wonder how it is they all keep getting older . . .

It was a fun summer. Since the end of school in mid-June, we have done the following:

  • Headed to Washington DC for a week
  • Gone to Lancaster, PA
  • Visited New York City
  • Stayed in Pennsylvania for a week
  • Gone to horse camp
  • Gone to fiddle camp
  • Had swim lessons
  • Taught swim lessons as a first job
  • Started up sports for the first time (cross country)
  • Gone camping with the cross country team
  • Gone on pioneer trek
  • Renovated the front of our house
  • Landscaped the front of our house
  • Renovated our wood shed
  • Stacked 3 cord of wood
  • Prepped for classes for the coming academic year
  • Decluttered most of the house

When you line it all up like that, it’s no wonder it’s felt like a very busy summer. In an ideal world, we’d all be heading into the school year feeling rested, relaxed, and ready to take on anything. In reality, I think we’re feeling harried enough to the point where we’ve actually convinced ourselves that the school year will be a nice break from the summer. Experience reminds me this isn’t the case, of course. But it takes some time to really have this set in.

The first day of school changes as a parent over the years. I still remember going with Tomas to see Kindergarten for the first time. How he got to get on a school bus for his first time, and how excited he was to explore it and be so grown up. I always waited with the kids for that first bus that first day. Today was particularly busy, and Tomas needed a ride to the high school early, so it didn’t happen this year. I missed it, and I think I’ll do my best to not miss it in the future.

I’m sure it’ll be a busy year. DC is at the middle school now, and MC is now taking the morning bus on her own. Tomas’s schedule is all over the place. Keeping track of all of it is almost a full time job in and of itself. But for now, it feels good to get them all back into a routine, and I’m looking forward to not having to worry about wildly different schedules from week to week, with kids leaving for days at a time to go on camps and expeditions.

It definitely helps that this means we’re coming into my favorite stretch of the year. September through the beginning of February is pretty much the Best Thing Ever. Yay for being done with summer!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

School Budget: 2019 Edition

It’s that time again, boys and girls! Time for approving a new school budget. Last year’s voting was blessedly non-confrontational, but on the theory of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I think it’s important to stay out in front of any negative messaging around the budget, especially when it’s as reasonable as this year’s proposal.

The biggest thing voters should focus on is the bottom line increase to local taxes, since that’s where the biggest amount of sound and fury has been generated from budget hawks in the past. For this budget, that increase is .27%. Please note the decimal. This is an increase of a quarter of a percent. In fact, 3 of the towns will actually see a decrease in taxes this year. Per the article in the Daily Bulldog:

Specifically, if the budget passed as proposed, Chesterville would see a $8,723 increase, or .83 percent; Farmington would see a $50,102 increase, or 1.05 percent; Industry would see a $8,695 increase, or .94 percent; New Sharon would see a decrease of $3,201, or a reduction of .31 percent; New Vineyard would see an increase of $21,846, or 2.94 percent; Starks would see an increase of $17,989, or 3.88 percent; Temple would see an increase of $7,347 or 1.73 percent; Vienna would see an increase of $8,559 or 1.19 percent; Weld would see a decrease of $27,352, a reduction of 5.22 percent; and Wilton would see a decrease of $56,657, or a reduction of 2.01 percent.

The budget changes for individual towns from year to year based on town valuation. Basically, the state calculates how much each town can bring in through taxes each year and then portions out how much each town owes for school funding accordingly. So if your town starts bringing in more money than it did in the past, it owes proportionately more for school funding. This makes sense. More taxes coming in means more people living in that area, which means more people able to contribute. If towns do better, they chip in more. If they do worse, they chip in less.

But this potentially opens up the budget to manipulative messaging. For example, you might hear someone say something like “The budget is going up $1.58 million AGAIN! That’s another 4.4%! When will these fat cat school administrators learn that ENOUGH is ENOUGH!??!” But that’s looking at the overall budget, not the local assessment. Overall, the district has 177 more students in it than three years ago. When the district gets bigger, it costs more to teach those students. Lucky for us, the state recognizes that, and so it gives the district more funds from the state level.

Of course, if you point that out to the strawman we’re arguing with, he’s quick to respond, “But local taxes are going up 3.88% in Starks and 2.94% in New Vineyard!” as if that proves you’re wrong, and that local portions are indeed rising.

Just remember: that argument has nothing to do with overall state budgets. That’s based on town valuation. So to respond to that, congratulate Starks and New Vineyard for having growing populations and property tax values. Huzzah!

Anyway.

My hope is this year will be non-contentious again. But the meeting to set the budget is this coming Tuesday (5/28) at 7pm at the high school. Come on out and vote YES to this ultra reasonable .27% increase for local tax payers. And if you hear any naysayers, try to get out in front of the messaging. Sure, the data can be manipulated to seem like it’s another big increase. But if you look at the real figures, there’s no getting around the fact this budget is more than reasonable.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Graduation Day!

Denisa and I had the chance to go to graduation again yesterday. Not for us, mind you. Our graduation days are almost definitely behind us at this point. Last year we went to graduation, but we didn’t march in the procession. The offer was on the table for us to do it, though, and this time we decided to give it a shot.

We enjoyed our time at the ceremony last year, but it was even better being so intrinsically involved in the festivities this time around. For one thing, it was the first time Denisa was able to earn the hood she earned for her Masters in Teaching English in a Second Language. (We were already in Maine when her graduation ceremony was happening.) So in some ways I think it felt for her like a much delayed celebration.

I remember when I was graduating with my Masters in Library Science, I didn’t care to attend the ceremony at all. I was done with graduations, literally and figuratively. (And why would I fly to Tallahassee just to graduate?) But now that I’m a bit longer in years, my thoughts are changing about things like graduation ceremonies. I think it’s increasingly important to celebrate accomplishments. To take some time and recognize you achieved something that involved a lot of hard work and effort. Sure, the reading of names can be long, and some of the speeches might be boring (not on Saturday, though!), but if you’re not celebrating something as momentous as a graduation, what are you celebrating?

And being able to watch it all from the ranks of the faculty was that much sweeter, though there I need to digress for a moment. I am not a faculty member. In the University of Maine system, librarians are staff, despite the fact that in many other systems, they’re considered part of the faculty. But I had asked the provost last year if I could march with the rest of the faculty, in my graduation robes. (An MLS is considered a terminal degree, after all, but I’m not going to go into the weeds too much.) So I was hooded and robed on Saturday, as was Denisa. And all was proceeding swimmingly. I am friends with many faculty members, and I felt very much part of the group. But then all the faculty were asked to rise and be recognized. They took up the front two rows of the seats, and all of the people in those rows stood.

Except for me.

Because while I might not have felt out of place at all, I also know I am not a faculty member, and I did not want to stand up to receive recognition for something I had not earned. Which is fine. You don’t stick out that much when you’re sitting among a group when everyone else is standing. But then I faced a new dilemma.

The faculty sat down, and the staff were asked to rise. And there I was, sitting in middle of the faculty section, robed and hooded, and wouldn’t it just be easier to stay sitting down and not make an idiot of myself?

I stood up. Second row. The only person (that I could see) in the faculty section to be standing. I’m told there were other staff members peppered around the audience standing, but there hasn’t traditionally been a “staff section” at graduation, so it wasn’t like many people were near me. I felt no sense of solidarity, and I felt very much different.

I’m not bringing this up to make a stink about things. (Although as I write it out, I realize that’s sort of what’s happening.) I’m bringing it up to explain why I stood. I was President of the Staff Senate last year. I know very well how staff can feel at UMF. There are times that it feels like Faculty vs. Staff, something which is almost inevitable, I think, when budgets are on the line, and staff are one union and faculty are another.

Last year when we went to graduation, it was the first time I’d gone in the 10+ years I’d been working there. I remember looking around when the staff were asked to stand, and being surprised at how relatively few of us seemed to be there. But why should I have been surprised? I’d never gone before. It had never felt like something I really needed to do. But when I was there, it had such an impact on me that I wanted to do it every year.

I stood up on Saturday not because I like being singled out. (Anyone who really knows me knows how far from reality that is.) Rather, I stood up because I want staff to be recognized. In my ideal world, there would be a staff section at graduation (and I spoke to some about this after the ceremony, and maybe there’s a chance that will come to fruition). I stood up because staff are a huge part of a student’s college experience, and we often get (or at least feel) overlooked. An asterisk compared to the learning that goes on in the classroom.

Again, I don’t mean this as a slight to any faculty or administration. I think some of this has been done the way it’s been done because that’s how it’s always been done. But without someone standing up and speaking out, how it’s been done is how it always will be done. (Also, please note that I’m sure I wasn’t the only staff person to stand up. There were a slew of staff people there, many of them already standing, because they were the ones keeping that ceremony rolling. Huge props to facilities and IT. It’s a ton of work, and if it all goes off right, no one notices it at all.)

Perhaps if staff were invited and encouraged to come, with a section in the audience just for them, more might come. (They’re invited to a breakfast beforehand. Some did come to that, but many more faculty.) Maybe if more staff were there at such a great celebratory opportunity, it would be a chance for some of those us vs. them walls to come down a bit more. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into things.

Any which way, it was a great ceremony, and I’m glad I could go. Always wonderful to see all these students who worked so hard over the years, finally achieving their goal. At BYU, faculty and staff didn’t really feel like part of my life, with one or two significant exceptions. At UMF, the relation is much closer, and I love that. Faculty here all take very immediate roles in their students’ lives. Staff do too. So graduation becomes a very immediate sort of affair.

Anyway. There are my thoughts for the day. Go Beavers!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.



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