Not Just a Taxpayer

I’m going to apologize for my lack of posts lately and in the next few weeks. I’m a Clarence resident and parent of two school-age kids, and last week’s school budget defeat has led me to become an active parent-taxpayer in the town.

For a decade, I had thought that the schools in Clarence were sacrosanct, and people would be willing to do whatever it took to keep the schools excellent. I was wrong. Losing that vote was like finding out your spouse was cheating on you the whole time – the town didn’t love the schools like that; it’s not the schools, it’s us. 

Indeed, at a meeting last night in a packed high school auditorium, people did what people always do when there’s nickel-and-diming afoot; they begged for mercy. 

Here you have one of the most cost-effective districts in WNY, and the number two school district. Instead of discussing what it would take to get to number one, we were talking about the teachers, staffers, and programs that would be cut. I don’t know how you cut your way to excellence, and I don’t know how eliminating teachers, raising class sizes, and getting rid of several modified sports and all freshman sports, firing three music teachers, a social worker, a guidance counselor, and several ELA, math, and science teachers is going to get Clarence to #1. 

What we’re going to find out is how people and things cost money. We’re going to find out that cutting and austerity lead to poor quality and a stressed system. 

But we also learned that there are some very passionate taxpayer-parents in town, and they are united and determined to prevent something like the past couple of weeks from ever happening again.  Nothing will be taken for granted, and never again will we be caught unaware. 

The budget revote is June 18th, so my posting here may be light as I concentrate on preserving the quality of my kids’ schools, and help to ensure the continued brightness of their future. Tea party austerity be damned. 


  • I retired from the district only last year and I scarcely recognize the place. The architects of this coup with its imported templates for blowing up a school district, delegitimizing teacher unions and administration, and outsourcing to private concerns had better be held accountable for the wreckage. They waged a relentless campaign of partial information regarding everything about this district. They fell back, zombie-like, on Rovian mantras like “It’s just too much” and pitched the glossy message to people living in nursing homes and rental properties. Will they bus them again to vote on this budget? They need to be held accountable for the elimination of freshman sports and summer school, and the vile diminution of the music program. Clarence will rue this day; the students in this district aren’t as naive as people would like to think. This day will breed a resentment and a cynicism within them that so much of what made going to school worthwhile as been taken away. I’m not being melodramatic; I heard this year after year from my students. Superimpose on this mess the forced feeding of state-mandated APPR’s, the implementation of the farcical Common Core Standards, and the unmistakeable trending towards privatization. Even the Tea Party has to be surprised at how quickly the “revolution” occurred and how strange it was to uncover so many allies in their truly heroic fight to defeat the evil teacher’s union.

    • They’re starting to bottom out with their reformy change message in the urban districts and the blowback is starting to be more of a fair fight than these venture philanthropists care to engage in. Time to take the message of school reform to the gullible of the burbs. Bait the hook with faux tax outrage and watch all the dumbasses gut the quality of education.

      • To me that seems like a slightly odd statement, that the blowback is getting too hot in the urban districts. My take on it is that the pushback against standardized testing, Common Core standards, etc., has only really gained steam recently as it started impacting middle-class suburban families. Districts like Buffalo have been dealing with this stuff for years, but lacked the socioeconomic clout among parents to really stand up to it.

        • Look at Chicago as the blueprint but NYC to a lesser extent. I agree the testing uproar was middle class and up. But Philly has had student ptotests as well as parent action. The goal is to spread from the cities outward and Lil John King was in White Plains a few weeks ago trying to scare parents that their kids werent ready for college and wouldnt do well even if they got in.

  • Michael Powers

    A former resident here, and I was discussing the vote over the weekend with my folks who’ve owned a home in Clarence since 1967 and while having not direct horse in the fight, voted for the budget as presented. My dad did the math as engineers are wont to do, and his words, “a pittance.” I understand people get wary of anything with the label tax, but things do cost money. Could there other ways of saving some money in the district and town? Absolutely, but isn’t quality programs and well-rounded kids worth that investment?

    • I’m sorry to say but you’re getting what you ask for. Keep electing Republican Teaparty candidates like Collins who put party matters above the voters and you’ll get what you want. In case you don’t know the push for a no vote came from national Teaparty funds.

      • Actually, Kenny: Republicans tend to put the taxpayers’ interests first, while the DumboCruds tend to put their party’s agenda over the American people’s interests.

        • There we go! DumboCruds! Lloyd’s spittle is starting to fly! And with that, I now file Lloyd into the Bozo Bin.

        • I just fail to see how teaparty money sent from hundreds of miles away are spent blindly to stop what they consider a tax increase. The increase puts a minimum burden on taxpayers yet keeps the rate one of the lowest in the county while providing some of the best education for the money, but they wouldn’t see that from so far away. Anyone who backs the teaparty’s candidates and their narrow minded views I probably shouldn’t try to have an intelligent conversation with, it wouldn’t be fair, because it’s like dueling with an unarmed man.

  • It’s a shocking, slo-mo train wreck: contemporary American capitalism is able to make people hate their own children. It’s not unique to Clarence, of course–it goes back at least to California’s Proposition 13. And the phenomenon isn’t limited to middle- and working-class people. Clearly, contemporary American capitalists have their eyes fixed on next quarter, not the next decade. While John D. Rockefeller wanted all the little Rockfellers and their children to be able to go on exploiting the children of his workers and customers, contemporary capitalists seem to have forgotten about the future completely.

    • This has nothing to do with capitalism, and to say so is just plain stupid. The ugly truth lies in the fact that when you total all of the taxes we pay, government exacts very close to a 50% toll on our wages.

      • Hiya Mike–you’re a charmer, and that’s a fact! But being just plain stupid, I have to ask you to clarify: why do you focus just on “wages” as if that were the only thing that could be or should be taxed? And who is this mysterious “we” you refer to? Looky here: “7,000 Millionaires Paid No Income Tax In 2011.”

        • I wasn’t focusing on wages. My point was that the totality of all taxes paid equal about 50% of wages. That would include income, sales, property, excise, and school taxes.

      • Mike, you may have seen this quote of David Cay Johnston by Chris Smith so forgive me in advance. But it really says it all and should be quoted anytime budget/tax issues are raised.
        “From 1966- when Lyndon Johnson was president- to 2011, 45 years later, the bottom 90% of Americans average income, as reported on tax returns, went up a stunning $59. Almost no change at all. If you measure that $59 increase for the vast majority of Americans as one inch, then on the same scale, the incomes of those in the top 10% went up by 168 ft. The top 1%, 888 ft. The Plutocrats- the Mitt Romney crowd, the top 1% of 1%? Their incomes rose by almost five miles relative to that one inch.”
        So given Jim Holstun’s thread about millionaires paying no taxes, is it any wonder the burden falls to us and we pay 50% of our income to taxes. The question is, is it the governments fault?

        • I was merely commenting on the current state of taxation, without getting into the details of fairness. No doubt, anyone of any political persuasion, will acknowledge the need for major tax reform.

          • Michael you are waffling again. You are an anti government guy and when confronted with the possibility that government is not the problem, we are the problem, you change the subject. Try looking at the other side once in awhile.

    • ” contemporary American capitalism is able to make people hate their own children.”
      An ignorant statement if there ever was one.

      • Lloyd M. Jr.: I can’t tell which one of you is more brainy: you (“an ignorant statement”) or Michael Rebmann (“just plain stupid”). It’s a real pick’um. Where does Western New York find such incisive intellect and such scintillating prose? We are blessed.

        • Such prose and itellect shold be the national standard.

        • Kenny Adamczyk

          They find it in 1%ers tea party members who have the money to go nationwide and spew their rhetoric that no tax is a good tax and people who waste their time trying to convince these Jimmy Jones like followers not to drink the Kool-Ade

  • Unaware? I never saw this much publicity from two sides on any vote in Clarence. I will vote yes on this budget, and would have OK’ed a 6% (5.9%) hike (even with the restored state funding).

    Unfortunately we still have the same number of administrators as when we had 50% more students, lets at least hope their arrogance has been tempered.

    • Detector of Excrement

      Uhhhh… 50% more students? Remind me again when exactly the district had 7300 kids, please. I sure as heck don’t remember that many in my 15 years living in Clarence. Also, specifically, which administrator positions do you consider dead weight? Right now, we have roughly one principal or assistant principal for every 400 kids. What would be an acceptable ratio to you? What district level administrator position do you find redundant? We have no assistant super, the tech and curriculum director positions were eliminated and are being subsumed by existing personnel, and we share a transportation director with Akron. APPR is an enormous time sink for building administrators, taking away time that could be better spent being a presence in their buildings.

      Clarence is remarkably lean administratively. So, Instead of spouting vague anti-administrator polemic filled with bullshit numbers (50%! I wrote it on the Internet, it must be true!), give specifics as to what administrative positions you find objectionable and why.

    • The administration represents 6% of the total budget. I fail to see how that is excessive.

  • The people of Clarence should be praised for telling the powers-that-be that enough is enough.
    Those who champion more and higher taxes fail to realize that we the people cannot afford to support exorbitant administrative salaries, or high-fallutin’ benefits for educational personnel and retired teachers/administrators.
    We the regular folks have to pay about 25% or so of our own health benefits. Why can’t the school administrators, teachers’ unions, etc., be made to face the same realities?
    The people of Wisconsin got the public-sector unions to face that reality; they are a template for all of America(even Clarence) to follow.

    • You, the regular folks with your Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and years’ worth of experience doing the best job in Western New York for years with the second lowest tax rate and the second lowest cost/pupil? You, whose property values are driven up by the quality of your schools? You, whose property taxes have not kept pace with actual cost increases and this year you’re asked to catch up? Cut the crap about Wisconsin. It was all about busting a few select unions, while leaving Walker’s crony unions in place. Why didn’t he dismantle them all? Because his sugar daddies, the Koch Brothers, were bankrolling the process and the Koch Brothers’ propaganda machine brainwashed the people into devouring their own. And now the Koch Brothers have come to Clarence with a fictitious front group with no address and something about sustainable schools and the taxpayer group looking around and saying, “Who, me?” In one fell swoop, they dealt the district a blow so severe program-wise that it will never recover. Look to see what’s been cut over the past two budgets. Better yet, tell the kids why you fell all over yourself to save $120-300 dollars/year. Heads up, St. Joe’s, you’re about to experience a huge spike in enrollment!

      • Hey, Mikey… we hear so much of “doing it ‘for the children,'” starting with Slick Willie and his crowd.
        You know, there are times when endeavors proposed in the name of “the children” have to be rejected. Here’s why:
        1: We can’t afford such endeavors.
        2: Such endeavors might not be in the children’s best interests.
        3: Some of these endeavors carry a secret agenda that may later raise unwanted questions about ethics, propriety, or conflicts of interest; that being the case, it’s often best to say “no” at the beginning, and put those questions to rest.

        • Hey, Lloyd M.,

          Your paranoia about schools being bastions of liberalism is showing in #3. Secret agenda? Please advise.

          I taught, advised, and coached at Clarence for 23 years. Never saw any secret agenda in the 9th grade baseball or basketball programs. Identify for me the new things this budget was implementing to which the response should be to say no at the beginning. Remember the budget before already made heavy cuts on existing programs. What is new?

          Clarence can’t afford freshman sports? Clubs?

    • Scapegoating the teachers and the people efficiently administering a $70 million business entity. Nice try.

  • Austerity, despite the essay-writer’s a-musings, is a good thing.
    In the real world, when households and businesses come across situations where they cannot afford certain activities, they make adjustments. They either cut back on certain things, or cut them out altogether.
    The Clarence Schools can afford to do the same.

    • Austerity, when it comes to government spending, is an awful thing, as economies throughout Europe are discovering. WIshful-thinking and Normal Rockwell metaphors just don’t apply. Governments aren’t families sitting at the dinner table trying to balance a checkbook.

      And the district most certainly CAN afford those things. They just don’t want to.

      • “Governments aren’t families sitting at the dinner table trying to balance a checkbook.”
        Maybe it’s time government started acting like that; we’d all be better for it.

        • No. This is equivalent to saying that a Sherman tank should get the same gas mileage as a Toyota Camry. They are entirely different beasts, and if you equate the two, you’re begging for disaster. Saying that government budgets should operate on the same principles as a family budget isn’t just an absurdity; it’s downright dangerous.

          • Your a-musing about “Sherman tank… gas mileage… Toyota Camry” is just apples vs. oranges, nothing more.

            As a nation, we need things like national defense, highways, airport and harbor security, police, fire, and EMS services. Also: we need things such as trash pickup, and health and safety inspectors.
            Afterwards, all else should be on a voluntary, cash-on-the-barrelhead basis.

            In our homes, we spend on what we need(food, clothing, medicine, utilities, rent or mortgage, car payments/insurance); the frivolities are discretionary things that can be adjusted… or even cut back on or cut out altogether… as needed.

            I don’t see need to continue raising school administrators’ salaries every year, or for the taxpayer to perpetually 100% guarantee school personnel’s benefits. In the real world, we have to pay somewhat into our benefits; it isn’t unfair to ask that those whose salaries we pay live by the same realities of life.

            In closing, contrary to what you might say, for government budgets to operate on the same principles as a family budget isn’t uunfair or absurd at all; it’s actually realistic and beneficial.
            Maybe instead of using our money to have the IRS inject itself into health care, or for our money being used to support elective “treatments” of the vain and vacant, we should demand that our taxes just cover the basics that keep society moving. All else should be cash on the barrelhead. It works for me, and for you as well.

    • Name what should be cut. Give me the specific name(s) of the people and programs that should be eliminated. We’re losing about 55 teachers and staffers. Spending has remained relatively constant at or around 1% yearly increase, well below the CPI and inflation. Administrative costs represent only 6% of the budget.

      It’s exquisitely easy to simply spout off about “austerity” and “cuts”. Be specific.

  • “The budget revote is June 18th.”
    Nowhere else do I see where they get to redo a certain vote or election if the results aren’t to certain ones’ liking; only school-budget votes come with revotes.
    Whatever happened to allowing the outcome of the vote that was done at the appointed time stand as is? In other words: the people of Clarence voted against the budget; wait until the next scheduled(one year from this point) budget vote.

    • You don’t actually understand how any of this works, do you? Three comments, each more ignorant than the last. Maybe you can get the notes on how school budgets work from a classmate.

    • Because that’s what the law says. When a budget fails, the district can choose to re-submit the original budget or any other budget within or outside the cap.

      On June 18th, we’ll be voting on a completely different budget, which hurts kids and teachers even more.

  • As a retired teacher I certainly support good schools such as Clarence. But here is the fact of the matter. We are all subjected to a bunch of taxes,income,sales,property,sales,etc,etc. How many of those do you actually vote on? When was the last time you voted to raise or lower the Federal income tax?? In most cases we elect folks who do this activity and we really like politicians who say they never have and never will vote to increase taxes! And typically Republican candidates say that more than Democrats!

    My point is we have a lot of taxes,for the average person probably close to 35% of all income. School systems like Clarence become the whipping boy because it is the only place where we can go to a voting booth and actually say yes or no to a tax.

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