Wozniak: Transgenders are Yucky and Such As

This week, State Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak took time out from her busy schedule as a do-nothing Republican Assembly backbencher and target of an ethics probe to attend a meeting of the Lancaster Board of Education. Among the topics on the agenda is one that is popping up not uncoincidentally throughout the state – the treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming students in the schools.

It bears mentioning that, since time immemorial, gay kids have gone to public schools and shared locker rooms with kids of the same gender, to whom they may have been attracted. Yet no one bats an eye. Transgender kids have a right to go to school and be free from bullying and discrimination, just like all kids. The measure of a government or society is how it treats its most vulnerable minorities. This is especially true when the issue of gender identity and sexual orientation comes to the fore during a child’s pubescence. Being naked in front of your peers isn’t going to be a comfortable thing for many kids, and certainly introducing transgender students into a locker room setting is going to raise issues that schools simply haven’t previously been equipped for.

By way of caveat, I am by no means an expert on any of this. All of this is new to me, and if my terminology is off, or my examples too simplistic, I apologize. I’m trying to convey an overall sense of, “read the thing before you accuse it of not doing something it does.”

The notion that has many parents and students concerned is that a person who is born a boy might end up using the girl’s locker room (or vice-versa). That’s true. However, in order to get to that point, a lot of things have to happen. The State Education Department has asked every school district in the state to bring up and discuss a policy to deal uniformly with these issues. It reads as follows:

It’s all pretty straightforward. A transgender kid will be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room that conforms to his or her, “consistently expressed gender identity”.  The problem we have here is one of understanding. This isn’t just some kid who wakes up one morning and decides to be a cross-dresser. “Consistently expressed” means the child regularly holds him or herself out as the gender with which he or she identifies. All of this is done in close consultation with the school’s administration, the child, and the child’s parents.

Bathrooms aren’t even an issue. If a child born male but identifying as female wants to use a girls’ room, it’s going to be stalls and no one will see anything. If it’s a child born female but identifying as male, he’s going to use the stall, as well, because parts.

Locker rooms: this one is more awkward, because it’s all awkward already. The policy, however, is clear – ANY student who wants more privacy will be accommodated. That means the transgender student or any of his cisgender peers. No student will be forced to be exposed to anything to which they don’t wish to be exposed. This could be done any one of a number of ways – a curtain in a specific area, staggering the times, etc. As for overnights, the policy gives the district flexibility and discretion to deal with this on a case-by-case basis.

All of this merely re-states current federal and state law. All of this is how a school district would be expected to handle such a situation. It makes sense to codify it as a school policy so there’s no issues or ambiguity.

The policy as drafted merely protects the rights of the transgender student while also protecting the rights of the cisgender student. Most of it has to do with respecting the child’s identity and referring to him using the pronouns he prefers. Frankly, if you read it and understand it, it’s completely non-controversial. Again – the bathroom issue doesn’t exist, and the locker room issue is easily dealt with to protect everyone and anyone who’s uncomfortable.

What this policy does is ensure that, e.g., a child who was born a boy but whose “consistently expressed gender identity” is female, she isn’t forced to use the boy’s locker room or bathroom. Wouldn’t that be more awkward for everyone, anyway? It also ensures that teachers can’t be wiseasses and continue to use the pronoun “he” for someone who attends school consistently as a girl.

The policy passed this week in Hamburg with nary a peep. In Clarence, it’s still up for debate. But in Lancaster, it seems as if you can’t say the sky is blue without inciting a riot. This brings us back to Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak, who appeared in order to get her face in the paper for something unrelated to the ongoing ethics probe, and to grandstand a little. When confronted with a few questions about state and federal law, she was caught wholly unprepared.


That video is astounding. Not just because of the pandering. Not just because of the deer-in-the-headlights look when asked a simple question. Not just because she got the hell out of Dodge when she realized she was being made to look like a clown.

It’s amazing because she fundamentally misrepresents and doesn’t know the substance of the proposed policy. It does protect modesty. No, transgender kids in the locker rooms aren’t necessarily going to be attracted to the cisgender kids in the room with them. This is pandering at its ugliest and most idiotic. This is ignorance.

How is a child s’posed to feel safe and have dignity when they’re having to be forced into a situation where they’re having to be watched when they’re potentially naked in front of someone of the opposite sex who sexually prefers them. This is wrong, and this I think that’s why we have such a strong turnout of parents speaking out against it tonight.

It’s “wrong” because it’s made up.

In the next breath, Channel 2’s Danny Spewak asks Wozniak about the policy and its relationship to the law. She is dumbstruck, and cannot answer a simple question about the thing she came down to speak out against because she didn’t do her homework and has no idea what she’s doing. Coming out in public and facing the cameras is hard work for the unprepared – it’s not like the Assembly, where a Republican can just show up and warm up a seat to collect $80k, plus per diems.

If your school district is evaluating whether to adopt a policy on transgender and gender non-conforming kids, it’s natural for parents (and students) to be wary. All of this may seem like some sort of fad, but before you get around to Caitlyn Jenner, tell that to Renee Richards, nee Richard Raskind, who faced discrimination in 1977.

Title IX specifically deals with transgender and gender non-conforming students. So does New York’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA).

The reality is that this policy is going to affect only a very small number of people, and we need to protect not just the interests of the majority, but also vulnerable minorities who are subject to discrimination and harassment.

At the Clarence meeting last month, a woman got up to basically allege that transgender isn’t really a thing; that it’s all made up. That’s the mindset underlying Wozniak’s ignorant scaremongering. Transgender may be what people are talking about now, but it’s not new. It’s just that, in the past, kids who were born this way had to suffer in pain and silence; in fear and perpetual discomfort. We’re working to change that, and to make sure all kids are treated with dignity and respect.

I don’t think that’s so controversial, and I hope the video above marks the end of Ms. Wozniak’s political career.

One Lancaster

The controversy over Lancaster High School’s anachronistic, racist “Redskins” mascot was resolved by unanimous vote of that district’s school board. There was some outcry and protestation, and two of the most vocal opponents of the change were elected to the school board last week. The students, for their part, are in the process of selecting a new mascot via plebiscite.

It’s sort of how the world is supposed to work – controversy arises, a decision is made, the decision has consequences, the community moves forward, end of story.

One might say, “that’s the way the cookie crumbles”.

Indeed, someone did, in the Lancaster High School’s yearbook, and that page enabled race-baiting radio station, the voice of threatened white Buffalo WBEN to gain just a few precious extra minutes of a controversy that ended long ago.

A yearbook is generally assembled and written by students, who are overseen by faculty advisors. It’s their project, and is intended to, among other things, memorialize big events that happened during the preceding school year. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the mascot flap was a big deal and deserved some sort of mention in the yearbook. As long as a yearbook entry isn’t palpably obscene, profane, or otherwise objectionable, there would be no reason for something the students picked to be omitted.

The page has offended some of the more delicate residents of Lancaster because its heading is, “that’s the way the cookie crumbles”.  This breach of political correctness has Lancaster residents threatening violence.

One caller to WBEN’s Tom Bauerle called it a joke. “If my kid brought that book home, I’d take it up to (that school) and bash it over the adviser’s head. That’s what every parent should do,” says that caller.

Another caller says whoever wrote the headline wanted to divide the community again.

“The taxpayers and the students are owed an explanation, and should get the name of the person responsible for this,” says Debbie. “I don’t know what’s on the backside of the page, but if it’s something owners of the yearbook can live without, take that page, rip and out and leave it in the superintendent’s office.”

I mean, that seems reasonable. You’re so incensed by the abandonment of a racist team mascot that being reminded of it causes you to threaten violence – and the radio station re-publishes your threat on its website.

If you read the text of the offending yearbook page (seriously – re-read that – adults are whining to a radio station about a yearbook page) it’s promoting the Lancaster Educational and Alumni Fund (LEAF) and its efforts to combat the notion that Lancaster is a town divided over a mascot. Hopefully because of how childish and ridululous the preceding sentence sounds. As to the offending “cookie” crumble, one woman commenting on Facebook noted that,

School board had nothing to do with the “One Lancaster” shirt. It was created by a few well-meaning teachers (actually in favor of keeping the Redskins name) in an attempt to preserve the enthusiastic spirit and camaraderie for which their school had always been known. The “cookie crumbling,” while perhaps a poor choice of wording given the emotions surrounding this issue, was part of an overall yearbook “menu” theme. Not well thought out? Perhaps. “Slap in the face” intentions? Very doubtful. A little digging into the back story may have prevented another round of getting people on both sides riled up.

Tom Bauerle said it was a big “f u” to the “taxpayers” of Lancaster. Not so fast, I guess, since “taxpayers” aren’t the intended audience for a yearbook, and because it was simply a tongue-in-cheek continuation of the publication’s “menu” meme.

The bottom line is this. The people in Lancaster who supported keeping the racist mascot name denounced their opponents for being overly sensitive, politically correct, or worse. Yet they have a full-blown local media hissy fit over the use of the phrase, “that’s how the cookie crumbles”? You can’t have it both ways and denounce what you consider to be others’ hypersensitivity while being hypersensitive yourself. But as one of Lancaster’s new school board members says,

Some nominal adults in Lancaster – and at the local “newsradio” station – have some growing up to do.

Suburban School Voters: Vote Smart Today!

IMG_2912 - Windows Photo Viewer 2015-05-19 11.08.04There’s a light at the end of the tunnel as nervous parents, kids, and teachers cross their fingers and hope that school budgets are passed and that good people are elected to school boards throughout western New York’s rural and suburban districts.

Today is Tuesday, and the polls are open.

In my own town of Clarence, a dedicated and selfless group of parents have banded together since the bleakness of 2012 and formed a reasonable well-oiled campaign machine that we hope delivers us victory tonight. I don’t know what it is about Clarence that makes it so susceptible to last-throe gurgles from the tea party, but alas, here we are again. In my town we have four candidates for two open school board seats, and I always harken back to the blissful time before I had to pay attention, and recall that I always voted in favor of the school budget, but seldom knew whom to select for the board. This year, it was even more important because the differences between the pro-school and anti-school candidates is so stark.

Our group endorses and supports Michael Fuchs and Dennis Priore. Michael Fuchs is an incumbent and has served the district and its students and faculty well. He is against unsustainable cuts to educational opportunity for our kids, and wants to restore the district to its former excellence. He has worked for Rich Products for well over a decade, handling the finances of a huge local corporation. He has the skills, education, experience, and integrity to continue serving us well for the next 3 years. Dennis Priore is a longtime resident of Clarence and a former principal and school administrator. As a recent retiree, he has time, knowledge, experience, education, and skills to marshal in order to serve our district. He knows how budgets and union negotiations are made, and he has pledged to balance the needs of the students with the expectations of taxpayers.  They’re also the only candidates running for school board who are homeowners and school taxpayers. With a stake in the district and an investment in the community, they won’t let the students be further harmed by financial shenanigans or disastrous tea party austerity.

We’re hopeful.

But if that wasn’t enough, take a look at one of their opponent’s closing argument. (The other opponent is fundamentally unelectable). It perfectly distills all of the reasons why he is an unacceptable and noxious candidate for a school board. Uneducated, inexperienced, with absolutely no credentials or resume, this person is all bluster and no substance.

Let’s examine. (All [sic]).

Here are your CTA Endorsed Candidates for this election. The teachers union likes to say that they are “supporting our students” or “fighting for the children”. It’s just as absurd to say the Iron Workers fight for steel, the UAW fights for cars and the Operating Engineers fight for heavy equipment. The unions exist solely for the benefit of their members and their own interest. The school board exists to represent the people of this town. The CTA does not need representation on the school board. They have things like the Triborough Amendment in place to stack the deck against students and taxpayers. If you think that the endorsement of these candidates by the CTA shows that these candidates put students and taxpayers first, you are sadly mistaken.

It takes a special brand of malevolent cynicism to conclude that the teachers are full of shit when they say they’re fighting for the children whom they teach. It takes an even more special type of ignorant, noxious attitude to assume that teachers are just in it for greed – the same attitude as the Buffalo News’ editorial page or its union-member, married-to-a-teacher resident hypocrite columnist Donn “throw you under the bus” Esmonde.

Here’s the thing that Joe Lombardo doesn’t understand – mostly because he evidently never so much as received an associate’s degree after high school (his resume is a closely guarded secret he won’t reveal) – teachers didn’t attend 4 years of college and then an additional few years of postgraduate study to obtain their M.S. and teaching certificate in order to get rich.

If they wanted to get rich, they could have gotten an MBA and traded commodities, or become entrepreneurs. Instead, they joined a noble profession for which Joe Lombardo has no respect.


Some 20-something punk kid who lives with mommy and daddy decides he doesn’t like unions or teachers, (or teachers’ unions), so he just accuses them all of being greedy pigs at the public trough, driving around in their Bentleys on their $60,000 median salaries, right? They couldn’t possibly be in it for the love of teaching or the thrill of educating and molding young minds, because that sort of notion is not one that Lombardo has any concept of.

An ironworker may be proud of the work that he or she does – constructing the skeletons of large buildings, and their union helps to ensure that they’re paid a fair wage and receive decent benefits for their labor. A UAW member is proud of the product that he or she helps to manufacture, and wants to make sure that they’re paid a fair wage and receive fair benefits for their labor.

A teacher is proud of the work that he or she does – educating the next generation of Americans. Educating the kids who will heal Joe Lombardo when he’s sick; who will represent him in court; who will manage or create the company he patronizes; who will entertain him on stage or screen; who will score a touchdown or hit a home run. You denigrate teachers, you denigrate the very foundation of our society.

The veracity of unions in our schools is really taking its toll on student opportunities and taxpayer’s wallets.

That is not a sentence that has any reasonable meaning in the English language. Which taxpayer’s wallet? “Veracity” means truthfulness.

It’s such a blatant and rampant problem that even polar opposites such as Governor Cuomo and myself, recognize what’s going on. http://www.nydailynews.com/…/andrew-cuomo-rips-teacher-unio… Don’t be mislead by two candidates and a group of people who have established that they stand with an industry that collects $220 million annually to perpetuate and expand a gluttonous and overly generous contract in the name of education.

Here’s the question they’ll never, ever answer: How much do you think is a fair salary for a teacher? What do you think are fair benefits for a teacher? How would you – as a school board member – make changes to the state laws governing teacher pensions? How would you work around the Triborough Amendment and beat the teachers into submitting to your austerity wage cuts and slashing of benefits?

85% of Clarence teachers are ranked as “highly effective” by the state.  On what insane lunatic planet does someone institute punitive wage and salary cuts against a workforce that regularly exceeds expectations? Shall we have an army of the worst teachers who can’t get a job anywhere else come and educate our kids for $10/hour and no benefits?

It’s been shown time in and time out, that they put themselves ahead of everyone else, while sacrificing opportunities for students.

I’ll say it this way: Joe Lombardo must not have ever talked to a teacher and actually asked them what their job entails. He assumes they show up at 8, leave at 3, take summers off on the Cote d’Azure, and spend the rest of their time making sure their BMWs gleam in the sunlight. I’ll say it this way, too: Joe Lombardo doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

School districts have lost all bargaining power because entrenched politicians are paid off to write laws where the union will always come out the winner.

And as a school board member in a small suburban district, you’ll do what about that, precisely? Start a coup?

As a taxpayer, a resident, a parent or a student, you only have two choices in this election tomorrow.

That’s right. Michael Fuchs and Dennis Priore, if you’re in Clarence. They’re the only two candidates who are campaigning on a platform of stronger schools, rather than demonizing the very teachers who help make our district what it is today; they’re the only candidates who don’t refer to teachers as “gluttonous,” or use the pronoun “they” to describe these educators who repeatedly and consistently go above and beyond for our kids; They’re the only candidates who aren’t pitting “us” against “them”.  Literally – read Joe’s thing again. It’s all resentment, class warfare, and visceral hatred of teachers, and the notion that they be remunerated fairly. They’re the only ones who aren’t afraid to put their resumes out there for the public to review and assess.

I don’t know how much more a ragtag grassroots team of fed-up parents can do to mobilize for a school vote, and we’ve done everything we can think of. We can only hope our district gets out of this unscathed, and that similarly situated districts have equally positive outcomes.

Fingers crossed. Knock on wood.

Who Fears the Mighty PTO?

debateniteAre you now, or have you ever been, a member of a PTO?

Most parents even of schoolkids pay scant attention to their local Parent-Teacher Organizations. They are oftentimes 501c3 non-profits that fundraise to pay for library books, school supplies, and extras that the regular school budget won’t – or can’t – accommodate. They do this through tax-deductible donations earned through dances, activity nights, collection of boxtops and store receipts, and through the sale of books, wreaths, coupon books, gift cards, and other small items. One random local PTO’s mission: “Our organization is committed to improve, enhance, and assist the educational and social processes in our school.”

We’re not talking revolutionary communism here. We’re not talking about Spartacists. These are moms and dads enhancing school life. 

PTOs are run by small groups of selfless and involved parents. As a 501c3, PTOs can engage in issue advocacy, but cannot endorse, support, or fund any individual political or school candidacies. A PTO can ask people to vote yes for a school budget, but cannot recommend votes for particular board candidates. Likewise, a PTO (or any 501c3) can host a candidate forum, so long as all candidates are invited and the process is objectively fair; questions or time are not biased against any one candidate. There is no requirement that the individual PTO members be impartial – merely that the process is fair and that the PTO hasn’t made an express endorsement. We’re not picking a jury here.

A few weeks ago, the Clarence High School PTO copied & pasted – shared – to Facebook something from a local pro-school advocacy group that contained an express endorsement of two candidates. It was a mistake, and it was deleted when brought to their attention. That PTO wasn’t necessarily endorsing the Keep Clarence Schools Great statement – merely sharing it. You know – the whole “RT ≠ Endorsement” thing on Twitter. Nevertheless, it raised the appearance of impartiality in the board races and should likely not have been done.

Next Tuesday, there will be a candidate forum hosted and moderated by members of two different, elementary school PTOs. The High School PTO is not at all involved. The entire program is organized and hosted by the school district, and the program was going to go out of its way to be fair to all four board candidates – two pro-school, two anti-school running for two seats. It bears repeating that neither of the elementary school PTOs posted anything anywhere that could be construed as endorsing any candidate for school board.

One candidate for the board, Joe Lombardo, Jr., pounced. He filed this grievance to the district office:

The PTO has shown that it is a biased group unable to equitably moderate this forum. They have publicly endorsed and opposed candidates on their Facebook page as seen in the attached photo. This creates and unfair and an unreasonable situation for myself and Jacob, especially when the PTO is creating its own questions. In addition, their endorsements and opposition of candidates violates 501c(3) law. I have advised the Erie County District Attorney’s Office of this matter. Based on the above points, I herby file a grievance in order to seek another moderator who can prove to be unbiased. Perhaps we can get a moderating panel from the Erie County Chapter of the League of Woman Voters or a chapter from a surrounding town. I feel their performance in the past has been excellent.


Joe Lombardo

We need to examine this point by point.

The PTO has shown that it is a biased group unable to equitably moderate this forum.

There exist six PTOs in the town district – one for each school. None of them are affiliated with any of the others, except insofar as each is a “PTO”. Two of the elementary PTOs were to moderate the forum. The High School PTO, which Lombardo believes to be “a biased group” was not slated to be involved with the forum in any way. So, although arguably the HS PTO may have shown “bias”, the elementary PTOs hosting the forum did no such thing.

They have publicly endorsed and opposed candidates on their Facebook page as seen in the attached photo.

“They”? Which “They? One PTO re-posted the text from another group, and clearly labeled it as such. It was a mistake, but ultimately harmless. Note Lombardo’s use of the singular number in his first sentence, and switch to plural in the second. Are all local PTOs to be held accountable for the actions of one? Or does he think there’s only one PTO? Questions, questions.

This creates and unfair and an unreasonable situation for myself and [fellow anti-school candidate] Jacob [Kerksiek], especially when the PTO is creating its own questions.

All <sic> by the way. The offending High School PTO was not “creating” any questions. It wasn’t even involved. Again, two different, elementary school PTOs were involved in drafting questions in consultation with the district office. There were safeguards put in place to ensure that the questions were uncontroversial and generic; questions that any board candidate could expect and should be able to answer. But if the High School PTO’s mistake ruined it for the two elementary school PTOs, why not explain how? Note the singular number for “the PTO”, and watch how the next sentence takes a simple matter and turns it up to eleven:

In addition, their endorsements and opposition of candidates violates 501c(3) law. I have advised the Erie County District Attorney’s Office of this matter.

Holy mackerel.

Yes, if a PTO endorsed or opposed a candidate, it would be violative of 501c3. But this instance was, at worst, an accidental re-printing of another group’s endorsement. The offending Facebook post was clearly marked as that of another group. It’s not the end of the world, and it won’t threaten the High School PTO’s 501c3 status.

It especially won’t be threatened because the Erie County DA prosecutes state crimes, not de minimis violations of federal tax statutes. But note the switch back to the plural number – are all PTOs to blame? Just one? Guilt by association by virtue of their shared use of the initials PTO?

And what is to be gained here? The DA isn’t going to arrest or prosecute the PTO. I suppose the IRS could investigate, but what’s it going to do? Revoke the high school’s non-profit status? That might happen if the PTO had raised money for candidates, but it didn’t, so cui bono? If the HS PTO can’t fundraise as easily because donations aren’t tax-deductible, that hurts the students at the high school – no more, no less. We have here the jaw-dropping, extraordinary spectacle of a putative school board member seeking to indirectly do harm to schoolkids.

Based on the above points, I herby file a grievance in order to seek another moderator who can prove to be unbiased.

Who will conduct the voir dire? Seriously, though, as a practical matter the elementary school PTOs did nothing wrong, so the claims of “bias” are ridiculous.

Perhaps we can get a moderating panel from the Erie County Chapter of the League of Woman Voters or a chapter from a surrounding town. I feel their performance in the past has been excellent.

The League of Women Voters (note the spelling) doesn’t have a Clarence chapter anymore, and has stopped moderating candidate forums for school or town elections. Indeed, the last candidate forum was hosted by the same elementary school PTOs as this year, and no one had a peep of a complaint about it. One would expect someone so interested in the schools that he would run to be its trustee to have attended it, and been aware of that. One would also expect a putative trustee to know that there exist more than one PTO, and that the misdeeds of one do not taint the others.

You know what the PTO moderators are there to do? To stop this sort of childish behavior: 

They sat in the front row on candidates night… They had either the Bee ad with our pictures and write ups, or the district budget paper… I think it was the Bee though… They had Joe [DiPasquale] and me crossed out (our pictures that were in the paper with big red x’s)…when we talked especially when I talked Danica would stick out her tongue, Joe made faces… all rolled their eyes and shook their heads whenever we spoke and held up the paper with our pictures crossed out. I should have ignored it but even when I wasn’t speaking they just stared at me and instead of me looking away I stared back and got into a staring contest. Mind you I just had been diagnosed with whooping cough and had a 103 fever. So it was an all out perfect night. The administrators were sitting about 7 rows back and never saw this going on.

The behavior being described is that of Joe Lombardo, Jr., his girlfriend, and his father. That’s right; the guy complaining about the propriety of two PTOs handling a candidate forum because of the behavior of a third PTO, in 2013 himself engaged in fundamentally infantile taunting behavior during a school board candidate forum, cruelly targeting two people whom he didn’t like. The level of hypocritical butthurt is almost as high as the level of obnoxiousness.

You would think that the district would inform this candidate that he has his facts wrong, and invite him to show up or not – whatever. Instead, they are bending to his demands and the questions that the elementary school PTOs had compiled will be thrown out. In their stead, audience members will be submitting their own questions via index card, and will be randomly selected by the same moderators who were originally scheduled to oversee the proceedings.

Here is what Lombardo told the Clarence Bee:

“The PTO has no business putting their hands in it,” he said. “I am still trying to get a commitment from the league to do it, but time is an issue.  For future forums they need to find an unbiased moderator.”

The PTO has no business putting their hands in “it”; “it” being the candidate forum that the PTO hosts and sponsors. If Lombardo can’t take the heat and perceives PTOs to be his adversary, perhaps he shouldn’t be running for school board.

UPDATE: He still doesn’t get it. Two PTOs are sponsoring and running this PTO candidate forum. 

Perhaps if the UN brought in peacekeepers, that would placate this candidate.

Ulterior School Motives


There’s a tea party activist who lives in Clarence, who is leading the pack that’s trying to fail this year’s school budget. She actually used to be on the Clarence Democratic Committee – that is until I heard her distinct Boston accent voicing a radio ad for then-congressional candidate Len Roberto. As it happens, Roberto was running as a tea party Republican against Brian Higgins, a centrist Democrat. It was unseemly for a member of a local Democratic committee to so publicly support a tea party candidate, so she was asked to leave the Democratic committee.

Evidently, she was a supporter of Roberto’s “Primary Challenge” organization, which encouraged people to join local committees in order to control the candidate selection process.  I have no idea why she would have join the microscopic Clarence Democratic Committee rather than the vastly larger local Republican Committee, since I never heard her support a Democrat or utter a word that was in line with anything approaching a left-of-center opinion or philosophy.

And so it is that she went on to help other Republicans—always Republicans—until she decided that she would fail this year’s Clarence school budget—a budget that raises the levy (not the rate) 3.8% versus a tax cap of 4.8%. In 2013 when she and her buddies led the fight to actually fail a proposed budget, they demanded that levy hikes be within the cap. This year’s proposal is well under the cap, yet she’s fighting to fail it.

(I warned you guys that this was going to consume my attention for a few weeks. Sorry).

The campaign is now underway, and she and her group have identified two board candidates to run. Neither one of them is a homeowner in Clarence; neither one of them pays school taxes. Seriously. One lives in his mom and dad’s house and isn’t registered to vote; the other one lives in a house that mom and dad bought for him, and he isn’t registered to vote, and hasn’t even switched over to NY license plates, despite having lived in New York since 2013 – in Clarence only since early 2014, barely squeaking in under the residency requirement to run.

The pro-school contingent is supporting Michael Fuchs, an incumbent and executive at Rich’s who owns his own home, and Dennis Priore, a former Ken-Ton school administrator who also owns his own home. Both of them pay school taxes.

Yesterday, the leader of the anti-school “fail the budget again” campaign posted this to a Facebook page:


The Pro tax group believes we are not concerned about providing our children with a good education, but it is simply not true.

Money does not guarantee a good education. Motivated students, parents who care, and creative teachers do; and here in Clarence, we are fortunate to have just that.

At the same time, we have to consider the taxpayer who is already strapped or on a fixed income. We also have to keep taxes as low as possible to keep resale possible, make it attractive for more people to move here, and keep businesses flourishing.

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support new taxes, if Superintendent Hicks had given the taxpayers a break this year. Instead, he received $21.3 million dollars from the state ( $1.1 million dollars more than last year), and is still looking to increase taxes.

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support new taxes if Superintendent Hicks didn’t choose to restore 11 positions when enrollment is expected to decrease by 120 students in the fall, and 350 students in the next 5 years. Those eleven positions will mean more salaries, more pensions, more step increases, more TAXES.

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support new taxes if we had been notified of the voting date last November for building repairs and artificial turf.

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support new taxes, if solving education issues w/ Albany took priority instead of always depending on increased taxes.

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support new taxes, if the teachers would pay more toward their health benefits instead of only 10%.

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support new taxes if approximately 75% of the budget wasn’t for employee salaries and benefits. None of us are against good salaries for teachers, but is this sustainable?

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support new taxes if the cap wasn’t more than the cost of living increase.

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support new taxes, if the Triborough Amendment didn’t allow raises without new contracts.

Perhaps we’d be more inclined to support to new taxes, if Clarence Schools stuck to basics instead of courses in GOURMET FOODS, CULTURE AND FOODS AROUND THE WORLD, INTERIOR DESIGN ETC,


Such misguided mind-vomit deserves a response.

1. Over the past few years, the Clarence schools tax levy has gone up around 1.4% – less than the rate of inflation.

2. Over the past 15 years, the ranking of our school district has gone from “never below 2nd place” to 3rd two years in a row – starting in 2013. You’ll fail the budget for what – to get us to 4th? “5th or bust”?

3. Superintendent Geoff Hicks gave everyone a break. He gave your lot a break by proposing a levy at 3.8%, vs. the cap of 4.8%. He gave the kids a break by proposing to bring back 11 teachers whom the kids need. But you’ll fail the budget because it’s not enough of a break for you? When do our kids get smaller class sizes? When do kids get librarians back?

4. The voting date for the capital project was delayed due to Snowvember school closures. It was on the Bee’s FB page and lots of other places. In fact, it won overwhelmingly, and turnout was historically high. But you’ll fail a budget because you didn’t pay attention?

5. Your personal individual tax bill today is 33% lower than it was a decade ago. You want to fail the budget because of a 1/3rd drop in your tax burden?

6. The cap is what it is—by state law. You’ll punish the students and fail a budget because you don’t like the law?

7. My overall county, town, and school tax went up a whopping 0.3% last year, per my tax return. Of course, I also get to deduct my school taxes from my income tax, but that’s a whole other matter. 0.3% rise in local taxes, including school tax, is pretty much the definition of “sustainable”.

8. You’re going to punish students because you don’t like the Triborough Amendment—an obscure part of the NYS Taylor Law—a law that’s 47 years old? You’ll fail a budget because you don’t like a state law?

9. I know you resent the students, it’s quite obvious from everything you’ve written and said. I also know that you REALLY resent the teachers for having the gall and nerve to earn a living wage. But I can tell you that they don’t offer courses in “gourmet foods”, “culture and foods around the world” and “interior design” anymore. That’s because your crowd failed the 2013 budget and the entire home & careers department was abolished. Instead, your constant, annual, irrational threats to fail every single budget over matters that the district has no control over, matters you don’t understand, or matters that are irrelevant and beside the point, are leading to decreased enrollment as parents eschew Clarence for more stable districts like OP ($30/$1000) and Williamsville ($20/$1000) instead of Clarence ($14.57/$1000). Fail this budget, and it’s not the gourmet food kids who are going to lose out—they already lost. Fail this budget, and you can kiss goodbye some AP classes, science & technology programs, maybe the business academy.

10. If you had your way, my children’s education would be adversely affected by the acceleration of an already decade-long divestment in public education in Clarence. We’ve gone from 1st and never being below 2nd to two years in 3rd place. THAT’S unsustainable. Parents had to scrounge up $260,000 to make up what kids would have lost in 2013-2014. Did you contribute? Did you do anything at all to mitigate or ameliorate the harm you caused? Of course not. What a joke. You got yours, so what does anyone else matter? Your candidate—the one who voted against the capital project, who has Texas plates who lives in a house mommy and daddy bought for him—he wants to talk about “return on investment” and “total cost of ownership”? How about moving into the top district in WNY, and just by sitting still, I’m in #3?

Incidentally, the average home listing in Clarence right now tops $500,000; the median is $337,000. The average in Williamsville is $287,000, and the median is $214,000. So, when the anti-school people say Clarence homeowners pay more taxes than in Williamsville, they may be right—after all, our homes are larger, more valuable, and more expensive than those in Williamsville. But if you compare a $300,000 home in Williamsville to a $300,000 home in Clarence, the Williamsville home pays more school taxes, because their rate is $20/$1,000 of assessed value while Clarence’s is less than $15/$1,000. Furthermore, the tax rate in Clarence in 2003 was just under $17/$1,000 and went down steadily until 2011.

If we had increased the tax rate by the rate of inflation, using 2003 as the starting point, our tax rate now would be almost equal to Williamsville’s. Spending more on schools doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a better education, but de-funding them isn’t going to give kids a good one, either.

Lancaster at a Crossroads


Who better to expound on whether “Redskins” is offensive to American Indians than two blonde non-Indians?

The Buffalo News reports that Brenda Christopher and Kelly Depczynski are running for the Lancaster school board, and sort-of-possibly-but-maybe-not-but-really-yes advocating for the voters to fail the Lancaster school budget and a capital bond proposal, all to the detriment of the community and her students.

I’ve already written about the imbroglio over “Redskins” here, here, and here.

The school board voted weeks ago to get rid of the patently offensive mascot, and to their credit, students are leading the way to selecting a new mascot. Kids looking forwards, adults looking backwards; how typical. Anyone who suggests that the character of the schools, teams, or town will be degraded by changing the name of a mascot from something offensive to something racially benign, is wrong.

It’s been intimated that Christopher helped to force the board’s hand in the way and time that it did specifically to manufacture this “Redskins” controversy so she could use it as the central platform of her bid to return to the school board. Depczynski has even made her way to Fox News, the news channel for misinformed elderly reactionaries, to try and make this nontroversy a national one.

It behooves these pro-racist-team-name candidates to claim that they’re not racists, and that “Redskins” is not offensive. That’s like saying that it’s not offensive to call Jewish people cheap because being cheap is a virtue. Take any stereotype – Asians are good at math, Germans are humorless, Polish are dumb, Italians are in the mob – and just repeat that it’s “not offensive.” That’s not how this works. The “Redskins” name is offensive, among other reasons, because it emphasizes the racial difference of the racial group being described. Would we tolerate a team called the “Whiteskins,” “Blackskins,” or “Yellowskins”?

But it’s even worse than just that.

Depczynski on March 9th responded positively on Facebook to another person’s Facebook rant,

If this American Indian at Lancaster and his family are so ‘offended’ … maybe the school board can gently refer him to go back to the reservation for his education,” Lin wrote.

Lin also argued that Native Americans in Lancaster, New York who are offended by the school’s mascot shouldn’t have moved there to begin with.

“Maybe if ‘Redskins’ is too offensive they shouldn’t have moved to that district,” Lin wrote.

At the end of Lin’s rant, school board candidate Depczynski responded, “Thank you, Lin! My thoughts exactly!”

Any claims of not being racist or having no anti-Indian animus sort of fly right out the window there. A DC-based Ojibwa tribal attorney writes,

“Ms. Depczynski supports the removal of Native children from public schools to reservations; I wonder if the Native mascot she fights for will suffice as remembrance of actual Native peoples,” [Tara] Houska wrote in an email. “It is deeply disturbing that someone who would deny Native American students access to an education in Lancaster is running for an office responsible for shaping policies that affect young minds.”

Deeply disturbing is an understatement. But that’s not the worst of it. Buffalo-based PhD candidate and Native rights activist Jodi Lynn Maracle, who shamed the West Side’s “Gypsy Parlor” for its “Pocahotties” event a couple of years ago, recounts how Depczynski assaulted and threatened to commit bodily harm on her for the crime of suggesting that the “Redskins” moniker is racist, demanding that Maracle and she “take it outside”. This is the sort of behavior that Lancaster will tolerate of a school board member?

One would hope that the town’s pride and heritage is more than just a patently racial and offensive mascot, and that the decision to remove it would be respected and that people could move on. But this is western New York, where every step forward is quickly followed by two steps back.

Indeed. But because “Redskins” is an obviously racial term, the best argument seems to me to be that it is wholly inappropriate to use in a school setting, particularly when the school’s own code of conduct holds that,

Students are expected to behave, and to treat all students, teachers, school staff and others, with honesty, tolerance, respect, courtesy and dignity as per the LCSD Policy #7552 — Bullying in the Schools. Students should respect their peers, teachers, and school staff. Individual behavior should not interfere with the rights of others. Students are expected to use language that is appropriate in demonstrating respect for self and others. Profanity, vulgar language including, but not limited to, racial comments, and/or obscene gestures toward others will not be tolerated. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

If the school’s own mascot is violative of the school’s own code of conduct, what more do you really need? These are schoolkids, and the very last thing they should be taught is that it’s ok casually to insult an oppressed race of people with a team mascot.

Enough is enough. Follow the kids’ lead and bring about a new Lancaster tradition; one that isn’t a racial slur and one that every citizen of the town can be proud to shout and support. Maybe one that doesn’t co-opt Native culture through the use of an historical epithet.

New York School Districts Left Guessing

School districts throughout New York State are now busily plotting out their budgets for the 2015 – 2016 school year. These budgets must be in final form by mid-April so that school boards can adopt their budgets in time for the public to vote on them by late May.

Every district relies on some amount of state aid for every year’s budget, and the state legislature’s unconscionable and cynical “Gap Elimination Adjustment” has short-changed New York’s public schools in the tens of millions of dollars.  Albany balances its own budget by robbing the state’s students of teachers and programs. Governor Cuomo then turns around and relies on standardized testing to determine which schools and teachers are “failing” or “non-performing” while refusing adequately to fund any of it.

In past years, districts had, by now, been given a close estimate of how much state aid they would receive, so that they could work on the local share of their revenue budgeting in an informed way. This year, however, is different. School districts are completely in the dark about how much state aid they might receive, and it’s making budget planning one big guessing game.

Governor Cuomo has introduced an education reform plan that would add just over $1 billion in public school funding; however, this increase in state aid comes with some big strings attached, and no one knows if it’ll pass – and in what form – by April 1st. We hear a lot about “on-time” budgets, as if it’s a laudable cause for celebration that the state legislature manages to accomplish its one real job in any given year. But what about the right on-time budget? Cuomo has said that no school district will see an increase in state aid over last year if his conditions are not met.

Cuomo wants five things:

1. A five-year probationary period before teachers receive tenure;

2. The ability to appoint receivers to manage the lowest 5% of non-performing schools;

3. A simplified teacher dismissal hearing procedure;

4. 100 more charter school slots statewide; and

5. Changes to the teacher evaluation system that Cuomo already implemented, relying more on testing and outside evaluators.

Republicans in the State Senate, meanwhile, have proposed a $1.1 billion increase in state school aid in an effort to roll back the Gap Elimination Adjustment. It’s estimated that it would take a $1.9 billion increase in state aid this year to restore state funding of schools to 2008 levels.

Cuomo is also proposing to do away with the STAR property tax exemption and replace it with a property tax relief credit that would phase in depending on the value of your home and your income – it disproportionately benefits downstate homeowners whose assessed property values are very high.

So, we have to rely on a dysfunctional Albany system and the three men in a room to negotiate an education reform and funding equation by April 1st, so that school boards across the state might be able adequately to plan their budgets for the next school year. The assault on public education – against students, teachers, and parents – has many fronts. The biggest threat, however, is treachery from within. It defies logic to simultaneously de-fund schools in order to balance the budget and demand that teachers, students, and schools are declared “failing” or “performing” based on a few standardized tests.

This simply isn’t how learning should look.

Go Racist Team Name!


No, really. Go.

Although “political correctness” and “PC” is now hurled as an epithet, within its definition is the radical notion that people should not deliberately be horrible to one another. Sure, Dinesh D’Souza has a right to call the African-American President of the United States a “boy” from the “ghetto“, but you don’t need a sociology degree to realize how that’s offensive on two levels. The President is a “man”, not a “boy”, and “boy” has historically been used to pejoratively refer to African-American adult males. President Obama also isn’t from the ghetto. Not all black people come from the ghetto. Not all behavior you deem beneath you is “ghetto”. People like Dinesh D’Souza make a good living by being horrible to others. He is not politically correct, and that’s a shame because civil society should live up to that adjective.

The Lancaster High School sports program calls itself the “Redskins”. There is a push on now to have the district re-name the team because some American Indians are offended by it. More to the point, however, the team name is objectively racist. After all, we don’t call teams “Whiteskins” or “Blackskins” or “Yellowskins”. The reason why has to do with the blatant and palpable racial overtones. Redskins is no different, no matter what the tradition or intent. Identifying an ethnic group or race based on their physical characteristics – here, a pejorative term for their skin color – is a slur. You’re highlighting how they’re different from you.

Search any dictionary – Merriam Webster, American Heritage, Dictionary.com, Kernerman Webster’s, Collins – they all define “redskin” as offensive, racist, anachronistic slang.

Some Lancaster residents inexplicably reject that.

“It’s a word. It’s a matter of context,” said Everett, president of Performance Advantage. “No one in this community would support the negative element associated with that name. We don’t subscribe to this negative connotation. It means a lot to people – dedication, achievement, commitment to excellence.”

The Lancaster School District has a choice to make here. Unlike the Washington Redskins, an NFL franchise, we’re talking about a school. If you were to go around spewing racial epithets at kids in the hall, you’d be subject to discipline. So, how does that jibe with having a racist team name? If a student referred to an American Indian kid as a “Redskin” or similar, he’d be punished, but we’re meant to believe that it’s ok to use that term if people are doing the important work of throwing balls hither and thither?

I’m not personally offended by the team name “Redskins”, but I see that many American Indians are. That’s enough to me to – again, reverting back to the core definition of “politically correct” – support changing the name so as to not offend our indigenous Americans with a racial epithet.

Proponents of the “Redskins” name say it evokes pride, bravery, tradition, and all of the good stuff with which we associate indigenous Americans. Here’s the logo:

The Lancaster School District’s mission is:

…to provide our students with a comprehensive educational program that will allow them to develop fully the necessary academic and social skills to become responsible and productive members of a democratic society.

Responsible and productive members of a democratic society. Part of being responsible within a democratic society is changing a team name that has a mere 67 year history, and is blatatly racist by every dictionary definition.

It’s so simple for the district’s school board to simply vote away a racist team name. There are literally thousands of alternative team names available to use, none of which are by definition disparaging to any historically oppressed ethnic or racial minority. What’s so hard to comprehend here? By the Lancaster School District’s own code of conduct (doc, emphases added),

Students are expected to behave, and to treat all students, teachers, school staff and others, with honesty, tolerance, respect, courtesy and dignity as per the LCSD Policy #7552 — Bullying in the Schools. Students should respect their peers, teachers, and school staff. Individual behavior should not interfere with the rights of others. Students are expected to use language that is appropriate in demonstrating respect for self and others. Profanity, vulgar language including, but not limited to, racial comments, and/or obscene gestures toward others will not be tolerated. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

How are students expected to abide these basic disciplinary expectations if the district itself failes to do so? The example the district is setting is a poor one. Racist comments are not tolerated between students, but it’s ok for the school’s team and mascot to be a “redskin” American Indian?

The upshot of all of this is, in the big picture, how inconsequential a name change would be. Would Lancaster students, teams, and alumni have less pride in their school or alma mater if the team’s name was changed? Does changing the name of the team and school mascot lessen past glory or affect one’s affinity for the school? Of course not. A racist name chosen almost 70 years ago, before the Civil Rights Act and before Congress and the Courts came around to agreeing that our contemporary American society guaranteed to all citizens, regardless of race or color, the same basic civil rights, is due for a change. Especially when you’re talking about an oppressed people expelled from their homes by colonial invaders.

This isn’t the kind of thing you poll for; you don’t leave it up to majority vote. Just because the name is popular doesn’t make it less racial. Just because 50%-plus-one residents might support it doesn’t make it less violative of the district’s own code of conduct. Just because you’re purporting to use a racist term to highlight what you say are that group’s positive traits doesn’t make it less racist. We would never dream of using “Yellowskins” or some other racist term for a team to describe positive Asian attributes, nor would it be appropriate to use Nazi-era caricatures  to establish that Jewish people are good with money. These are examples of “political correctness”, too.

Appropriately enough for a school district, this is a teaching moment. Will Lancaster show its student body that it’s willing to follow the same code of conduct it expects kids to follow? Will Lancaster’s school district opt to be respectful of all races and ethnicities by changing the school’s mascot and team name to any one of a thousand inoffensive alternatives?

It seems to me that this hardly merits a controversy. High Schools should lead by example and name their teams using terms that aren’t overtly racist.

Paladino Bullies the Wrong Guy

People of New York, be happy today. Be proud and pleased that you so effectively and decidedly dodged the “Carl Paladino for Governor” bullet that was aimed right at your heart back in 2010.

People of Buffalo, be concerned. Concerned not only because Paladino comports himself like a toddler in the throes of a perpetual temper tantrum, but because you have elected him to public office and he speaks for some of you – represents some of you. This isn’t about his general abhorrent demeanor and hateful joie d’ennui, but about bad governance, racial animus, intimidation, and interference.

Forget for a moment the hypocrisy of Paladino’s complaints about another board member forwarding around an email he didn’t like.

Carl Paladino believes that, by dint of his control of a Buffalo School Board majority, he is its dictator and can act in complete disregard of the rules or law. For a guy who enjoys referring to Governor Cuomo as “il Duce”, the hypocrisy is palpable. For someone who purports to be a defender of the Constitution, the hypocrisy is disappointing. For someone who pretends to be acting in the students’ best interests, the whole sordid thing is embarrassing. From the Buffalo News’ reporting, there was a letter that the Buffalo School Board had received from Gary Orfield,

“…a director at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, an independent civil rights research group. In September, the district hired the Civil Rights Project to review the admissions policies of the Buffalo Public Schools’ criteria-based schools, following complaints that the policies were racially biased.”

The letter is reproduced here, along with three emails between Mr. Orfield and Carl Paladino. Cue the “that escalated quickly” meme.

Orfield wrote to the director of the New York Regional Office of the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. In it, he references an exchange of emails he had in late January with Board Member Carl Paladino. He expresses concerns that  Paladino made “a clear effort to control my work and intimidate me.”

The local victims of Paladino’s intimidation and bullying are all to used to and familiar with his hate-filled vitriol, and more importantly the ease with which he gets away with it. But Dr. Orfield is from California and isn’t used to being pushed around.

The Buffalo school district and Office of Civil Rights agreed to carry out a study into the fairness of admission to Buffalo’s so-called “Criterion” schools. Orfield’s Civil Rights Project out of UCLA was hired to undertake an investigation and survey, and to make recommendations to the District and OCR regarding its findings. Its investigation is not yet complete.

When one group came to Orfield for his opinion on a turnaround proposal for a high school facing closure, Orfield said he could not offer any such opinion, and added that no major decisions regarding school space should be undertaken until his group had completed its investigation and made its recommendations, pursuant to their contract. Any decision to rededicate school space to some other use before Orfield’s investigation is complete, “could make solutions less workable or more expensive, possibly undermining the agreement”.

Paladino wrote to Orfield in response to that, and the emails are here and speak for themselves.

Orfield’s takeaway from Paladino’s reaction was this:

Orfield says that in 35 years of doing this,

He goes on to say what few have the courage to say,

Orfield responded to Paladino’s whining by maintaining his professionalism, starting with, “I was very sorry you could not make it to the session where I met with interested board members”. He continues,

It seems to me that hurrying major changes in the midst of a serious civil rights investigation needlessly risks more civil rights complaints because it limits future options and limits the work…it is much better to work things out professionally than to get involved in escalating investigations or possible enforcement or litigation that could risk federal funds and put great stress on the district and its leaders.

To this, Paladino lost what was left of “it”.

“Nonsense” with respect to the Justice Department? The federal government became involved in response to complaints of racial discrimination in the admissions process for Buffalo’s eight criteria-based schools. The team of researchers from UCLA just began its work in December.

Another pressing matter relates to four “failing” or otherwise underperforming schools, and proposals to turn them around. Paladino’s majority submitted a plan recently, which can be found here. It blames the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation for refusing to agree to adjust its work rules, and proposes phase-outs of three schools, setting up four new charter schools, and using “surplus” space in the schools being phased out for new and existing charters. It proposes to use the threat of closure as a negotiating tactic to force the BTF to surrender. Members of the community from each affected school also presented turnaround proposals.

The fact that these schools are labeled as “failing” aside, little if any of what is happening in the Buffalo district smacks of good governance.  Even more tragically, at a time when that district needs strong but responsive – if not compassionate – leadership, it has nothing of the sort.  Devolving instead into political grandstanding and backbiting, the reputation of the district suffers, and the students are used as pawns in a colossal game of chicken.

This is why Dr. Orfield’s accusation against Paladino’s apparent bad faith is so critical here. Without responsible people coming together in good faith to resolve differences, negotiate in the kids’ best interests, and to reach consensus, nothing gets accomplished. Threats and ultimatums don’t generally lead to good results – only resentment and power struggles.

If these people all truly have the kids’ best interests at heart, then it’s imperative that someone lead. Not just by barking orders, but by example.

Pity the poor parents and kids who suffer under this bombastic collection of self-interested amateurs calling themselves a board of education. For all the good progress that Buffalo has enjoyed over the past several years in other venues, the epic dysfunction of the city’s educational system casts a depressing pall over that progress.

Cuomo vs. the Teachers

975130674778966961.jpg (1600×1200) 2015-02-10 06-35-54

Courtesy the Albany Project

The quoted text below is an open letter to Governor Cuomo penned by seven recent New York State “teachers of the year.” It comes in response to the Governor’s astonishing criticism of teachers—not the teachers’ union, but teachers themselves—during his state of the state address in January.

It also comes with the context of something confusingly referred to as the “Gap Elimination Adjustment.” The GEA is Albanyspeak for “starving public schools to help balance the state’s budget.” Some might say that the GEA starves schools of funding to cover Albany’s own profligate overspending, and that underfunding schools will lead to poor results and will help promote the school privatization agenda.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment pulls money out of local districts, placing financial hardship on them and forcing them to raise school taxes in order to adequately fund basic district needs. It should come as no surprise that, when given the opportunity, Albany picks the most harmful and cynical way to “govern.”

Dear Governor Cuomo: We are teachers. We have given our hearts and souls to this noble profession. We have pursued intellectual rigor. We have fed students who were hungry. We have celebrated at student weddings and wept at student funerals. Education is our life. For this, you have made us the enemy. This is personal. Under your leadership, schools have endured the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap, which have caused layoffs and draconian budget cuts across the state. Classes are larger and support services are fewer, particularly for our neediest students.

We have also endured a difficult rollout of the Common Core Standards. A reasonable implementation would have started the new standards in kindergarten and advanced those standards one grade at a time. Instead, the new standards were rushed into all grades at once, without any time to see if they were developmentally appropriate or useful.

Then our students were given new tests — of questionable validity — before they had a chance to develop the skills necessary to be successful. These flawed tests reinforced the false narrative that all public schools — and therefore all teachers — are in drastic need of reform. In our many years of teaching, we’ve never found that denigrating others is a useful strategy for improvement.

Now you are doubling down on test scores as a proxy for teacher effectiveness. The state has focused on test scores for years and this approach has proven to be fraught with peril. Testing scandals erupted. Teachers who questioned the validity of tests were given gag orders. Parents in wealthier districts hired test-prep tutors, which exacerbated the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Beyond those concerns, if the state places this much emphasis on test scores who will want to teach our neediest students? Will you assume that the teachers in wealthier districts are highly effective and the teachers in poorer districts are ineffective, simply based on test scores?

Most of us have failed an exam or two along life’s path. From those results, can we conclude that our teachers were ineffective? We understand the value of collecting data, but it must be interpreted wisely. Using test scores as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation does not meet this criterion.

Your other proposals are also unlikely to succeed. Merit pay, charter schools and increased scrutiny of teachers won’t work because they fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. It’s not that teachers or schools are horrible. Rather, the problem is that students with an achievement gap also have an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a family gap and a safety gap, just to name a few. If we truly want to improve educational outcomes, these are the real issues that must be addressed.

Much is right in public education today. We invite you to visit our classrooms and see for yourself. Most teachers, administrators and school board members are doing quality work. Our students and alumni have accomplished great things. Let’s stop the narrative of systemic failure.

Instead, let’s talk about ways to help the kids who are struggling. Let’s talk about addressing the concentration of poverty in our cities. Let’s talk about creating a culture of family so that our weakest students feel emotionally connected to their schools. Let’s talk about fostering collaboration between teachers, administrators and elected officials. It is by working together, not competing for test scores, that we will advance our cause.

None of these suggestions are easily measured with a No. 2 pencil, but they would work. On behalf of teachers across the state, we say these are our kids, we love them, and this is personal.

Some backstory on the Cuomo war with teachers is found here.

To add insult to injury, the Cuomo administration refuses to release to school districts estimates of how much state aid they’ll receive this year. Instead of helping local taxpayers and districts by maintaining some level of predictability in the process—if not adequately funding by finding other ways to “adjust” the state budget in order to accomplish “gap elimination”—Cuomo’s Albany is keeping them in the dark and making it painful for districts to formulate their own budgets.

Are districts to assume they’re receiving the same state aid as last year, or are they to assume no aid whatsoever and shunt all of the lost funding on local taxpayers? If it’s the latter, districts throughout the state will face outright tax revolt, and the goal of the wealthy privatizers will be closer to reality—as a reminder, here’s the thumbnail equation:

1. De-fund the schools;

2. Cut electives and programs; fire teachers;

3. Break the teachers’ union;

4. Label schools as “low performing”;

5. Create “charter” schools;

6. Segregate better students into charters; exclude troubled, poor, and special education students;

7. Ensure that charters rent space from private landlords;

8. Profit.

1 2