An Open Letter to Donn Esmonde

Dear Mr. Esmonde,

With today’s anti-school piece about Clarence’s difficulties with its school taxes, you’ve hit a new low. Frankly, given that you’re usually a reasonably progressive thinker who may have more than a passing interest in education, it’s appalling.

Did you speak with your anti-tax friends how the school tax rate – even with the 9.8% hike would have been significantly less than it was in 2003? 2005? The rate would have risen to $15.52/$1000.  In 2007 it was $15.86.  In 2003 it was $16.85. Did you know that in the last 4 years, Clarence has lost $13 million in state and federal funding?  No, you didn’t. If you did, you ignored it.  

Did you happen to mention to them that the tax rates in other highly-ranked districts like East Aurora, Williamsville, and Orchard Park are in some cases 2x the ~$15/$1000 it is in Clarence?

Did you mention to them that Clarence has the 2nd best district and is ranked 6th most cost-effective in the region by Business First?  Did you know it’s 93rd out of 98 districts in WNY in per-pupil spending?

Did you mention to your tea party friends or your readers how the district cut 60 full-time staffers since 2011? That the proposed budget that failed would have cut another 24? 

Ever heard of the Triborough Amendment or the Taylor Law? Did you know that the union agreed to a lower salary increase in its most recent contract than they would have received under Taylor? Did you mention to anyone that, even if the teachers and administration contributed 25% or 50% towards their health care, it wouldn’t close this year’s budget hole? 

Did you happen to question whether they knew that state pension costs are completely outside of the control of the local district and the teachers (and their union)?  Did the issue of the pension and the recent recession’s affect on it come up at all? Did you know that pension costs take into account the past five years’ worth of investment income, which includes the crash of 2008-2009? Did you happen to mention that the district had basically played Giambra-type games with the budget in past years, leaving us with a green/red budget type situation now?

Did you happen upon the fact that the so-called “Citizens for Sustainable Schools” is a local front group for Americans for Prosperity?

Why are we comparing what an educator makes to what someone at DuPont makes? In what way are they similar, except for the fact that they are “jobs”?

Did you happen to ask your friends what they think an appropriate salary for a tenured teacher with 20 years’ seniority should be?

Did you happen to speak with anyone who supported the tax hike and could have explained why it was deemed necessary? If so, why wasn’t that included in your piece? Why did you simply digest as fact what you were told by opponents?

Welcome to the tea party.

Alan Bedenko


  • Thank you Mr. Bedenko. I trashed Mr. Esmonde’s piece in today’s paper myself in their comments section.
    You did an even better job.

  • Tony Maggiotto Jr


    Your concerns as a parent are relevant. Meanwhile, Donn Esmonde’s overarching points can have merit as well.

    Personally, I don’t think any teacher should be making over $90,000 …. let alone over 100 of them in the district.

    • You ever notice that every time someone complains about how much athletes make, they quickly point to how much better it would be if paid other professions better- like teachers and nurses. But when these professions go on strike, or do anything to demand a decent wage, we quickly trash these people as “overpaid”.

      Who should get a good salary in this country? Because our corporate overlords won’t stop until it is just them.

      • Tony Maggiotto Jr

        The current state of capitalism suggests that those who generate the most revenue for their “employer” be compensated the best. The worst offenders in this country are in the financial industry, not professional athletics.

        Kevin Durant was recently celebrated for donating $1 million to Oklahoma Tornado relief efforts, despite the fact that it is about 6% of his $17/million annual salary, before taxes (for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder).

        The major distinction here is that …….. more people can plug in and teach than can lead the NBA in scoring. To carry that further, I imagine the financial offenders are also more replaceable than is Kevin Durant.

        I could be a teacher by next school year (I have a Master’s and would need a teaching certificate by “x” date) …… but I will never be in the NBA.

        Not saying it is right ….. but this week, ESPN reported massive layoffs …. and they are replacing many of the positions with cheaper, entry-level talent. In the case of education, this would mean young, energetic teachers would enter the school district in the place of expensive, older employees. The new workers also better know technology, which can increase efficiency.

        This controversial issue should speak more to the strategic management of public money more than be a referendum on teachers. I value the role teacher’s play … but it takes a village to raise a child ……. and a full team to win a championship.

        We live in a world where the notion of a 20-30 year career – doing the exact same thing – just doesn’t seem plausible anymore …. (unless you work for a public union like teaching, fire, police, etc.)

        If the median income in Erie County is about $47,000 ….. then I would cap all non-administrative school district employees at a dollar amount not to exceed $75,000, ever. Once you get there, no increases. [We already are well aware of police overtime abuses to boost pensions.]

        • Not my point at all. I have no problem with what athletes make. I am commenting on how it seems like a lot of pro-capitalist folks seem to enjoy complaining about other people’s salaries.

          A strict free market economist would also suggest that artificial wage restraints – such as you support – will de-incentivize people from becoming teachers. It would certainly encourage veterans teachers to mail it in after they reach the salary limit. Just remember that there are consequences to slashing salaries.

          • Tony Maggiotto Jr

            Some people already believe that veteran teachers have mailed it in … and that’s part of the issue with the teacher evaluations tension in Buffalo. [Teaching to tests is ridiculous, I agree.]

            This is not an easy question to answer ….. but how does a “town or city” measure its return on investment for supporting schools?

            “Quality of life, something, something”…. but especially given the context that WNY’s greatest export is people — we are educating the future suburbs of “Charlotte” …. perhaps they should have voted on the tax hike. 🙂

            Money should not be a motivator in public education employment (to the extent that it currently is).

          • It would be great if people were only motivated by helping people. But given the costs of getting a Master’s Degree nowadays, you’re naive if you think that salary isn’t or even shouldn’t be a major motivator.

            I was educated by professional teachers who earned a good salary. I enjoyed extra curricular activities and programs – and I spent a good amount of my time growing up at an inner city school. We owe it to the next generation to give them at least what we took from the system.

          • Tony Maggiotto Jr

            This is my last comment on this ….

            In addition to salary, most teachers receive generous benefits (and summers off) ……. so my point about “capping” compensation remains valid, and is consistent with realities in the private sector. There is an amount at which a teacher, regardless of perceived efficacy, becomes too expensive, as compared to qualified alternatives.

            Secondly, I went to a catholic grammar school and high school ……. so the notion of teacher’s pay falls on non-sympathetic ears. That $90,000 teacher in Clarence would have covered three teachers at my grammar school and about two at my high school.

            I believe education is important and it is a part of my current job …. but today’s discussion started around a community voting “against” the perceived mismanagement of public money. The first issue is political management and transparency ….. the second issue is the state of education.

            I am skeptical of the former and hopeful for the latter.

          • Just because teachers in private school get shafted on pay doesn’t mean a teacher in the public schools should be treated similarly. Setting aside the billions the Catholic Church has at its disposal or the exorbitant tuitions the better secular private schools charge, treating the staff as educated professionals should be treated seems like a no-brainer.

            Clarence is a fiscally efficient and lean organization that produces excellent output. There is really not very much to criticize from a macro perspective, and certainly doesn’t merit a switch from efficiency to austerity.

          • Why are you assuming they are being shafted?

          • Because 30k is less than you can make taking calls at Geico.

          • Are you aware of the sweat shop environment that Geico is? Burnout at Geico is crazy high, hence why Carl Camardo is advertising for hiring all the time, its burn and churn at Geico. Don’t compare what Geico reps do to teachers. Geico reps work much harder than most teachers.

          • Taking calls to save people 15% on car insurance while developing crotch rot at a cubicle is harder than teaching? Or is it that the work conditions are so abhorrent at Geico that people leave in droves? Maybe they should join a union.

            I know that taking windshield claim calls are important, but not as important as, e.g., teaching math or science.

          • By sitting and talking to people on the phone about insurance? How about talking to a teen face to face about why doing homework is better than doing pot, or how the choices they make effect them for a lifetime, or how words have the power to heal or the power to inflict terrible damage, and get them to pick heal instead of wound more times than not? How about trying to get kids whose parents don’t believe in education as the only way out of poverty to believe in themselves, see themselves as leaders in their own lives, and decide that they will leave their family culture behind and not drop out of school to work a minimum wage job like the family wants them to do? You know what… I think Geico is calling me… because then I can pick up the rest of the “benes” that people there get when they have kids… subsidized daycare, tuition assistance, free or at least subsidized healthcare (because, yes, I’m a teacher, and yes, i pay for mine, and no, it’s not a cadillac plan… a root canal cost me $3560 and that was 4 years ago), SNAP, WIC, HEAP, free cell phone, etc… but wait… that raises your taxes, doesn’t it?

          • And the shoveling of the horseshit continues….now the horses at Buffalo Raceway(or Batavia Downs)look at you in awe.

            Geico being a place of churn and burn has nothing to do with this article, except for you to take yet another jab at teachers. And, BTW, the reason why Geico is advertising….they’re expanding their operations in the area.

            Your act was thin the first time you used it. Now it’s irritating.

          • BTW I am not the one that brought up Geico, it was Alan.

          • It was DuPont, Jason. NOT Geico.

            Nice try to rebut, but FAIL.

            Try reading it better next time.

          • Actually I think you are the one that needs some reading lessons, the first time Geico was mentioned in this thread was by Alan, in a reply to Tony Fracaso, on 5/24 at 5:49pm. Not that this silly Geico point really means anything, but Alan was the first one to mention it, not me, and this is indisputable. Period.

          • Doesn’t matter who used it first, The point I made still stands: It’s not germane to the discussion, and you used it to, yet again, slam teachers.

            Let’s drop it before this thing goes round and round.

          • As a shitty job that pays a shittier wage than most public schools.

          • What difference does it make who brought it up?

          • How many charter schools have you taught in? Do you grasp their attrition rate for the same reasons or inner city schools for the outrageous stress levels of young teachers who are daily in fear for their physical safety?

          • But let us say they were paid 40k + family health care at 20,000 a year including pension contributions… They are really being paid 70k+…. You fail to mention the entire compensation for what they do.

          • We should “seek first to understand, and then be understood.” So, to both Tony F and Tony M, please, respond, and I will invite you to come and visit my classroom for a week and to spend a week with me during my “summer off.” You are right that my summer is “unpaid,” but that is when I am taking the 180 hours of continuing education that is required to keep my certification, and meeting with my colleagues, because we don’t get common planning time during the year, or actually combing through the new Common Core Standards and trying to write lessons (all unpaid, but leisurely in my air conditioning, instead of a stuffy classroom) because ALL of the curriculum directors have been cut at a time when a new curriculum is being put in (sounds like a great idea, right?) and when every grade level and subject area needs to have pretests drafted (but there is no one left to write them, because the classroom teachers can’t see them, nor can we grade them). The pendulum has always swung back and forth in education, but lately, it has turned into a gauntlet. So, if you are brave enough, respond! I’ll be happy to have some extra help, especially in some of the remedial settings in which I teach. :0) Maybe we’ll develop a mutual respect for one another instead of falling for the media’s simple trick of getting us to argue over teacher’s salary (teacher top step in Clarence is not even the median income in the town) while Sheldon Silver robs us blind along with the other crooked politicians. It’s amazing that we’ll begrudge hardworking people, but look the other way at corruption. It’s their trick. Really, education is hard pressed right now. We need to work together to solve long term issues. We should be looking for win-win alternatives, not lose-lose.

          • The salaries I referring to are the ones that we see that are start approaching 100k+… Multiplied 1000’s of time at all levels of government. The school systems throughout WNY employee more than just teachers.

          • They are being shafted. Ask them their salary. It’s laughable and as employees they have fewer rights to due process than their students.

          • Tony: Go read Patrick Welsh’s book Tales Out of School. He’s a longtime teacher(who, as it turns out, has WNY ties(he graduated from Notre Dame HS in Batavia)), and-as will be made clear-he has FAR from mailed it in. (FTR, I’m not sure if he’s still teaching.)

          • One teacher who hasn’t mailed it in doesn’t make a trend. As a somewhat recent graduate of Clarence, based on my personal experiences, I would rate greater than 50% of teachers as lacking in both passion AND professionalism. There are some really great teachers no doubt, and out of the 25 or so teachers I had in my career at CHS, I would really only rate 4 as great, and maybe another 5 or so as good. There were at least 5 teachers I had there are totally undeserving of a classroom and should be put out on the streets.

            You might not like what I have to say, but these are my views based on my ACTUAL personal experiences in this district. Not some fairytale, idealized view of what I imagine teachers to be.

          • Jason: I’d think that people like Mr. Welsh are more the rule rather than the exception. Some teachers are lousy, and others are good to great. It all depends on how far dealing with the bureaucracy and other stuff has worn them down.

          • Fine, if you’d like to think that, go ahead. In my experience at Clarence, that was not the case, but I’m sure other schools are different, and maybe your experiences with teachers have been very positive. Mine were mixed, with just as many terrible, irredeemable teachers as great ones, and more uninspired, mediocre teachers than good ones. Also, I’m not some former poor student with sour grapes, I was a reasonably successful student that graduated with a 91% average, top 1/3 of my class, an Advanced Regents diploma, and AP Scholar with Distinction designation. I was also a member of swim team and concert band.

            I believe that the most important factor to academic success is good parenting. In Clarence and Williamsville and other districts like them, I think it is pretty obvious that, overall, successful parents breed successful students. Teachers, while they certainly play a role, are more secondary to a student’s success. For the most part, all you really need is a certified body that knows the curriculum at the front of these classrooms. Bodies of which there are a MASSIVE surplus, especially in the subjects of English and Social Studies, where most districts in this area will receive hundreds of applications for one open position. Buffalo Public Schools teachers, who are largely cut from the same cloth as suburban teachers, taking the same classes from the same colleges, are obviously much less successful with their students. Buffalo Public Schools teachers probably have a similar talent level to (because of the nearly decade long glut of unemployed aspiring and laid off teachers), and I imagine may even work harder than (although I have no basis for either of these claims) than Clarence (cushy suburban) teachers. Getting a teaching job, from my understanding talking to teachers in my family and friends who are aspiring teachers, is largely a crap shoot, with little way to evaluate a teacher’s ability before hiring them. At Clarence, it certainly helps to have connections to get a teaching job. There are several family teaching “dynasties” in Clarence, where both parents and kids teach in the district, and of which one particular family currently has 3 family members teaching at Clarence High School, and that same particular family has had teachers teaching in Clarence schools since the 1940s.

            To end my rant, I guess I will sum up, in my experience, more teachers than not at Clarence just seemed too content, too indifferent, and too unprofessional. But like I said, there were some great ones that most certainly made an impact on me.

            I do agree with you that many teachers are probably needlessly worn down, in part, by the increasingly large education bureaucracy.

          • I know two people who teach in Clarence who got their jobs through connections; both are terrible. I deliberately chose not to move to Clarence because I knew this about the school district – that they hire people based on who they are more than on their qualifications.

        • I had to respond to this statement “The current state of capitalism suggests that those who generate the most revenue for their “employer” be compensated the best.” because it is the biggest lie I have seen in a long time. Go to ANY manufacturing or retail company. The people who produce the most income get paid the LEAST. The people who support those people get paid the next least, and the executives, who produce the least amount of income, get paid the most.

  • The Buffalo News has become a right-wing anti-school tea-party schill as of late. I can’t believe I still give them ad hits.

    • As have the local TV news programs. It is a race to the bottom common denominator and that always means the kind of right wing politics that appeal to tea partiers.

      Read the comments at the end of any Buffalo News or Channel 4 article. They know who their audience are.

      • A better comparison could be made to Channel 2, to be honest. Their “standing up for you” schtick works better for those types of comments, don’t you think?

  • Scumbag Steve, on my Artvoice ? It’s more Likely than you think!

  • Interesting. Choking on a 10% tax increase = anti-school.
    The trouble with liberals is that eventually they run out of other people’s money.

    • By voting to raise his own taxes, Alan more than put his money where his mouth is. But you just go right on posting nothingburger comments of right-wing greatest hit slogans, you special snowflake, you!

      • John (not McCain)

        Sir, you have slandered snowflakes! Snowflakes contribute more beauty and happiness to the world than any bagger ever could.

      • I believe these are Alan’s own words.

        “Our sales tax already ranks among the highest in the nation. People
        have had enough. Our property taxes are 72% higher than the national

        — Quote from Alan Bedenko in 2005

        I understand school tax/town tax are two different items but they are ONE ITEM when it is the cost to live in your home. For the most part all town employees/school employees work for everyone in the town. Well any town.

        Some are not over paid while over in my opinion are over paid when you total up the complete yearly compensation package along with the amount of time off/vacation time and lack of accountability in some cases.

        It could be how money is allocated in general. We are taxed by the state/fed/county/fees/etc… If those were lower then having higher taxes to live in your home wouldn’t be that bad.

        Here is something to think about.

        Will everyone who voted yes voluntarily send in the difference the tax hike would have added to their cost to live in their home?

        • Did you read what I wrote? What about Clarence’s school district or taxes is unreasonable?

          On what planet does it make sense that I pay someone else’s tax for them? That’s just childish stupidity. This is a discussion about facts vs lies; about what this society values.

          • Where did you live when you said this Alan?

            “Our sales tax already ranks among the highest in the nation. People
            have had enough. Our property taxes are 72% higher than the national

            — Quote from Alan Bedenko in 2005″

          • The issue at hand has nothing to do with sales taxes and is a particular subset of one’s property taxes.

            BTW, can you link to that? I’d love to see the context.

    • My God, that’s stupid.

  • I live in Clarence and have two children in the school system – Beautifully said Alan Bedenko!

  • Bonnie Engasser

    I am a life long resident of Clarence. I attended the school, my children attended. We recieved an excellent education. Now I work for the district as a secretary. Mr. Esmonde’s article was OFFENSIVE. Being from a working class family, I was always taught that there are two sides to every story. Thank you for airing the other side.

  • Up here in Niagara Falls, we pay $19.21/$1000, and frankly, our schools suck. (Although I know a lot of the teachers up here, and they really do their best.)

    All you Clarence residents complaining that $15.52/$1000 is such a massive financial burden can suck it. My city and county taxes are higher than yours, my street gets plowed once or twice a week at best in the winter, and traveling anywhere in the neighborhood requires going out of your way to avoid pothole infested streets.

    Out in Clarence you have GREAT schools, good municipal services, and a great area to live in. But that extra $300 a year REALLY is a dealbreaker, right? I pay $400 a year in water and sewer, AND I LIVE BY MYSELF. Hell, I shower at work half the time because I work out there before I start my day once in a while.

    Taking a stand on taxes I’m ok with. Doing it at the expense of kids I’m not. Start being intelligent and making your own decisions based on facts instead of what some talking head or political moron with a self serving agenda tells you you’re SUPPOSED to think.

  • To be fair to Donn, what he wrote today was a column, an opinion piece; he didn’t have to be subjective or show both sides of the story. It’s probably too much to hope that he would present the other side tomorrow.

    On the other hand, what’s wrong with asking teachers and administrators to pay more for their health care or setting up buyouts for veteran teachers? And why shouldn’t they be treated like an employee at a company? It annoys me when people start treating teachers like they should be up on pedestals and given special treatment. Hey, there are just as many bad ones as there are good ones, just as many who are there to collect a paycheck, not because they adore children and are inspired. I’ve taught in quite a few school systems and have seen those who are burned out or the people who went into education because they couldn’t decide what else to do and “wanted summers off.” There are plenty of people in every school system who are a waste of taxpayers’ money. So let’s not rule out the fact that there are things they can do to help the district’s financial woes.

    • That’s all well and good, and it’s all beside the point. Clarence is not a wasteful or spendthrift district.

      They shouldn’t be treated like employees in a private company because there’s no profit motive involved. They have to be especially educated, trained, certified, and re-trained periodically. The task they perform is exquisitely important in our society. Sure, there are bad and lazy teachers, but they are the rare exception.

      • I don’t know about rare…. and I guess I’m looking at it from a different perspective. (I used to be a teacher, I have/had a Master’s degree and various certifications and special training; I have several relatives and friends who are teachers) And I’m not saying Clarence is wasteful or spendthrift, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with some compromise.

    • Thank you. Finally someone else who doesn’t regard ALL teachers as perfect, angelic beings who slavishly pour out their souls to students everyday.

    • What is incomprehensible to me is the fact that we have had such phenomenal results from the investments we have made!!! Our school is second to none. We are not talking about spending $22k a student like the city of Buffalo – with a 40% graduation rate. For a fraction of that amount we have created a platform of excellence that is multidimensional — that has educated generations of students.

      Whether it is Music, Athletics, Mock Trial, Model UN, Theater, AP US, AP Physics, AP Calc — Clarence students routinely take top honors across the region, state and even country. Last year Harvard accepted 4 students from Western NY – -1 from Clarence and none from the private schools.

      * Nearly 60% of students take AP courses — with a natitional passing rate of 3, 4 or 5 at 77%.

      * 80% of students meet the highest level of English proficiency with distinction(!) and 60% are at that distinction level in math.

      * Awarded a gold medal from US News and World Report with a test index score 04 48.8

      *54 highest ranking high school in the state

      *415 in the country

      Generations of Clarence students have won Tony Awards, done cancer research, invented patents, created companies — and have had the next generation of children. Education is our backbone and our legacy. We have been frugal — the 3rd lowest per pupil rate.

      This shortfall was state imposed — and stock market impacted. We frugally have been respectful of all taxpayers by imposing minimal (not even close to cap) increases over the year. Could we save money?? Of course we could. And i could lose weight if i chopped off my left leg. But i want my children – and my neighbors children — to be able to compete in a global economy; and I want to educate a highly intelligent workforce who will strive to solve the many many problems that will impact all of our families over the year to come.

      I do not want to cut off my left leg. I do not want to eat my seed corn. And i do not want to see Clarence’s excellence – that has spanned generations — to cease on my watch.

    • Teachers should get a little extra consideration since they’re kinda trying to make sure the next generation of Americans isn’t stupid. I think that’s reasonable.

      There’s good teachers, and bad. There’s also good government contractors, and bad. I don’t see AFP funding campaigns to root our waste in that category. I wonder why that is…

    • Yes let’s be fair to Donn who uses his column to bludgeon hard working professionals every chance he gets to satisfy his failing newspaper’s wrong headed neo liberal bloodlust for attacking public education and unions. Where exactly Dear Rebecca are all of these teachers being put up on pedestals ? Your straw men are showing, Let’s all get teary eyed warm and fuzzy about the teachers and admins and kids who got shot to death at Sandy Hook and let’s get weak in the knees about the teachers in OK who threw themselves on top of their kids to save them from a tornado and when that minute of silence passes we can find misanthropes like you to come shrieking with your stories about bad teachers and how they’re only there for the check and you know it all cause you flamed out of teaching and that qualifies you to critique the rest of the workforce, Praytell dear Rebecca which half of the dead teachers and admins in Sandy Hook were there for the paycheck ? And which half of the ones in Oklahoma werent’ there for good reasons but so they could have summers off? The best thing you can do for yourself is to STFU before you show everyone how much of a truly bitter beeeeyotch you are with nothing good to day about anyone. I’m sure your cats all love you though.

  • No words Alan said it just to well

  • Michael Ostrowski


    Not surprisingly Alan did not respond to your socialistic, ignorant diatribe. I never understood why people like you, if you truly believe your BS, do not organize and take over those evil businesses and make the profits for yourselves as you are clearly upset about it. After all, the execs. do virtually nothing productive, make most of the money and the work is quite simple. Ergo, become an executive, unless you don’t like money.

    • Nice work keeping your comment in the thread. You made sure she wouldn’t reply. #Galtsgulch

      • Michael Ostrowski

        Alan, I visit your irrelevant ass once in a blue moon. I see your attempts at becoming a king size minnow in a broken down fish bowl (Buffalo) are continuing to fail. I cringe at the thought that Meg might respond. What would I do? Why don’t you answer for her, since you agree with her? Don’t you recall fondly those wonderful days when I thoroughly dispatched you? See you in a year. My vision is that Meg and you will take over all of the evil capitalist industries in Western New York by then. LOL!!

        • I didn’t know you were twelve.

          • Michael Ostrowski

            Well, Alan not surprisingly you won the “argument” again. So, I’ll give it another try next year. You know what? I just know you and Meg will partner up and take over a few of those evil businesses you both despise. Do me a favor? Take over one restaurant and I’ll buy dinner. The best.

          • Michael Ostrowski

            Alan, you keep messin’ with a better writer. So sad to watch.

  • Please talk about dollars per student if you want to make an honest comparison, not just the rate/1000 that you love to spout off. As properties are reassessed at higher levels the taxes still go up even if the rate does not. If you want to compare districts you can’t ignore average property values, but you already knew that, didn’t you counselor.

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