Archive for September 2011

School (Building) Bullying in Duxbury

By William F. Zachmann for the Duxbury Clipper

No reasonable person would disagree that bullying in our schools is undesirable and should be actively discouraged. Nor should we, as adults, set bad examples for children by bulling others. Unfortunately, however, at least some over-zealous partisans of new school buildings at whatever the cost appear to have no hesitation about resorting to what amounts to outright bullying of their fellow citizens. Perhaps that is because it is much easier to attack those who do not share their enthusiasm for simply throwing money at buildings rather than addressing the real problems with of the quality of education, not only in Duxbury, but across the USA today.

The most obvious aspect of this is in the very name of the “Duxbury Cares” organization that is conducting a very skillful, professional even, campaign to ensure that Duxbury’s citizens will consent, with minimal deliberation and maximum haste, to huge tax increases to spend nearly $130 million for a brand new combined middle and high school. The obvious implication of “Duxbury Cares” is that anyone who fails immediately to go along with this well-engineered Commonwealth of Massachusetts-wide, construction industry boondoggle at the expense of taxpayers does not care and therefore is a bad person. If that not bullying right from the start, what is then?

Never mind that despite huge increases in per-pupil spending on education, SAT scores in the US continue to decline. Never mind that despite numerous efforts to find a connection, spending on school building repeatedly fails to show any significant correlation with improved educational outcomes. Never mind the volumes of evidence that the single most important factor in the quality of education is the quality of teachers and that seniority- rather than performance-based compensation for teachers is the root of the problem. Never mind that absurdly high compensation for top level school administrators is one of the fastest growing line items in school department budgets.

No! It is so much easier to neglect routine maintenance of school buildings year after year and then pull expensive building projects, like magical rabbits, from the magicians hat and then bully voters into automatically approving them by implying that they are horrible people who do not care about education if they so much as question the amount or the particulars of the plan, let alone dare actually to oppose the project.

In truth, knowingly or not, they work not on behalf of coming generations of school children so much as of the construction industry, the buildings trades unions, and a handful of specially privileged politically connected architectural firms that, by dint of the MSBA’s ‘model schools’ scam (without apology for the strong language because a scam is exactly what it is) that funnels large wads of taxpayer’s money to them in what amount to over-priced, controlled-competition, no-bid contracts.

Duxbury certainly needs to do something about its schools, given how badly they have been maintained and how poorly they have been managed. But Duxbury does not need to be bullied by false assertions that the only alternatives are either to be led like sheep to the shearing with the current $128.5 million proposal or to do nothing. Nor should it be.

Get Ready, Get Set, Spend!

By William F. Zachmann, for the Duxbury Clipper

In an atypically timed, lightly attended, 8:00am morning meeting of the Duxbury Board of Selectman on September 7, 2011, BOS Chairman Shawn Dahlen announced, as though a fait accompli, that there will be a Special Town Meeting held at 9:00am on Saturday, October 29, 2011 in order to “take advantage of the MSBA financing and voting for the new co-located Middle [and High] School”. Dahlen said, too, that a Special Municipal Election will be held on November 5, 2011 for the purpose of approving a Prop 2 1/2 tax override to fund the schools project.

Dahlen also said that while other articles might be proposed, “other articles may be placed on the Special Town Meeting Warrant only if it is determined that the matter cannot wait until the Annual or Special Town Meetings in March [2012].” Dahlen said absolutely nothing, however, as to why a Town Meeting discussion and vote on the biggest capital spending issue to come before Duxbury’s voters in decades (and the whopping increase in real estate taxes it will bring) cannot itself wait until the March 2012 Annual Town Meeting.

This is all the more peculiar since, as of Friday, September 9, 2011, no one has any idea what the actual cost of the proposed school construction project will be! As of this date the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) lists the “Duxbury High School (MSBAID: 201000820505)” project as merely in the “Feasibility Study” phase with a total project budget of $1,550,000 and an MSBA reimbursement rate of 34.58% (versus the 43% reimbursement rate advocates cited as if it were a ‘slam dunk’ certainty at the 2011 ATM last March). MSBA does not even list a project type (e.g. “Repair,” “Renovation,” “Addition,” and/or “New Construction” etc.) yet. The project type is listed as: “N/A”.

A careful search of the information records of the 2011 meetings to date of the MSBA Board of Directors makes it painfully evident that the MSBA has as yet approved nothing, taken no action whatsoever, regarding the proposed Duxbury co-located Middle and High Schools project. And the next meeting of the MSBA Board will not be held until Wednesday, September 28, 2011 – two days after the Monday, September 26, 2011 meeting of the Duxbury Board of Selectmen when, according to Dahlen, the BOS will discuss and approve the Schools article for the October 29, 2011 Special Town Meeting Warrant!

So if anyone tries to tell you that we must incur the extra expense of a Special Town Meeting and a Special Town Election in order to rush approval for the schools project lest we lose MSBA funding, do not hesitate to look him (or her) squarely in the eye and say “You, sir (or madam) are a liar and a fraud! Be gone!” The MSBA Board has not approved any project for Duxbury yet. No one yet knows what the real cost to Duxbury’s taxpayers will be. MSBA approval will come, assuming it does, just barely in time, at best!

So any notion that the vote on the Schools Project itself “cannot wait until the Annual or Special Town Meeting in March [2012]” is utter rubbish. It can, and it should wait. The only reason for this hasty “ready, fire, aim” approach is to try to ram this thing through a Special Town Meeting with minimal deliberation this fall before Duxbury’s taxpayers learn, early in 2012, of the huge tax increases they already must pay, before any schools project hits the tax bills.

That the Duxbury Board of Selectmen is willing to be a party to this shameful maneuver is a disgrace. If they have any genuine sense of responsibility to Duxbury’s citizens and taxpayers, the Selectmen should not allow, let alone perpetrate, such deceptive and irresponsible shenanigans. The Selectmen should refuse to go along with this sham and insist, instead, that the Schools Project be duly, fully, and properly deliberated with all the facts on the table – at the regular Duxbury Annual Town Meeting in March 2012.