We Don’t Need No Education

The Buffalo News’ editorial board just made a lot of students’ and families’ lives more difficult. In an ill-considered editorial, it assails school boards as whiners, and teachers as greedy pigs at a taxpayer trough. It demands that schools “overhaul” their funding model, but identifies no inherent structural problems, offers no suggestions, and places no responsibility whatsoever on the state for underfunding schools the imposition of unfunded mandates. 

It is a pack of tea party lies, wrapped up in a bow of taxpayer indignation and anti-teacher resentment. 

Suburban districts are in budget construction mode right now. As is true every year, kids’ educations are at stake. To characterize Sunday’s Buffalo News editorial as irresponsible would be an understatement.

It is beyond dispute that school districts in Western New York, and around the state, are struggling to comply with the tax cap. If they weren’t, there would be no need for it.

The tax cap is based on an exceedingly complicated formula that also takes into account a district’s “growth factor” and certain exclusions.

The basic tax cap this year is anticipated to be close to 0.12%, but your district’s may vary. Inflation was flat last year mostly because of the dramatic drop in fuel prices. That’s why the cost of living adjustment for Social Security recipients this year is non-existent.  

But there is a need. Property taxes, led by those supporting school districts, are smothering New Yorkers. The state’s combined tax burden is the nation’s highest. Something had to be done.

In the private sector, when conditions change, businesses respond or collapse. It happened during the Great Recession and, across many industries, has been happening under the influence of new technology (think online shopping). In each case, businesses have had to re-engineer their structures to adapt to change, or face the consequences of that failure.

It’s true that property taxes smother New Yorkers, and that school taxes take the biggest chunk. Does the Buffalo News, however, believe this to be the fault of teachers and school districts? No, this is the fault of Albany.

In other states – let’s say Massachusetts – state funding is more fair and more rational. A house in Newton, MA with the same value as mine pays fully half what I do in property taxes. Massachusetts Districts who want to spend more per pupil can raise a local share of property taxes to finance that, but the difference is that Boston does not dramatically underfund the Commonwealth’s schools, nor does it play cynical games with it. 

New York state government fails adequately to fund schools’ foundation aid and mandates, then passes the taxation buck on to localities. To add insult to injury, the Gap Elimination Adjustment has robbed school districts of even more promised, expected state funding in order to make up state budget deficits. This means that Albany has cynically, harmfully robbed school districts to make up for its own spendthriftiness, and left local school taxpayers to make up the difference. 

tl;dr: when Albany underfunds school districts, your school taxes go up. 

That was the only solution unless Albany’s desire was to see New York’s educational system to drop down to Mississippi or Alabama levels. 

School boards, like the teachers unions, aren’t much interested in adjusting to the influence of outside forces. Mainly, they whine. There may be reasons for that, but the reasons don’t add up to an acceptable response. School districts need to adapt to a changing landscape.

The problem – and one of the reasons for school district resistance – is that the changes in this case were political, and politics can change. Board members, administrators and teachers also know that, unlike a private business that fails to adapt, their school districts will not go out of business.

That gives them the freedom – or, more accurately, the temerity – to resist the changes imposed by the tax cap, rather than to begin the admittedly hard work of re-engineering education in New York.

This preceding passage is jaw-droppingly ignorant. Every year, school boards need to present their budget proposals in a referendum to local voters. No other taxing district has to undergo that level of public micromanagement and scrutiny. Your town board doesn’t subject its budget to plebiscite; ditto your state legislature or county. In a representative democracy, we rely on the good judgment of our elected officials to handle budget matters with input from the public, but absent a direct vote. 

School districts and members of boards of education are elected, and their budgets must withstand direct public scrutiny. No other level of government has as strong a need to respond to the will of the electorate. 

What “changes” are school boards resisting? What “re-engineering” do the Buffalo News’ editors demand? Should districts just blindly stop paying for stuff? What stuff, exactly? 

Another likely reason that school boards respond poorly is that while they are accountable for the successful management of budgets that reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, they don’t always have the business skills for that complex work. To the extent that they don’t, they need to acquire those skills, perhaps by finding expert assistance. Albany, which created the tax cap, should help districts with that task.

Every school budget is put together with the assistance of the district’s business manager, who should be someone who is expert in handling issues surrounding school finances. Asserting that elected school board members are lacking “business skills” is just broadly ignorant. 

But the districts need to stop complaining and get busy. As the latest data from the U.S. Census showed last June, New York remains the national leader in education spending. At a cost of $19,818 per student, New York spends $1,643 more than second-place Alaska and more than other high-spending states, including New Jersey ($17,572), Connecticut ($16,631) and Massachusetts ($14,515).

The fact is that there is plenty of money sloshing around New York’s education complex. Former Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams repeatedly made the point that there were already enough dollars to educate the city’s students.

This editorial casually flips back and forth between the city’s funding model and that of towns. The city of Buffalo school district has an annual budget of $826 million, and city school budgets are not subject to plebiscite, like those of towns. City residents don’t pay a separately levied school tax, either. 

It also lays blame solely on school districts and teachers for a problem that is far more complex and nuanced. One reason why New Yorkers’ taxes are so high is that we have too many taxing districts. Again – that’s on Albany.

But furthermore, by casually using the statewide average for per pupil spending, you’re completely ignoring a very important point. The cost to run the New York City public schools is going to be naturally higher than elsewhere because of the cost of living in that area. How are you going to retain and hire teachers when the cost of living there is astronomical, compared to other places? How can you compare the cost to educate over a million kids in 1,700 New York City public schools with an annual budget of $25 billion? Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have absolutely no comparison when it comes to educating kids in a massive, expensive metropolis of 9 million people. 

Not surprisingly, the cost per pupil is significantly higher in districts where educational support services are most needed. The cost in New York City and Rochester is over $20,000 per pupil. That’s a reaction to a specific need, not just casual overspending, and wild generalizations and false comparisons help no one. 

What is more, state funding for education has gone up every year, despite the cries about the Gap Elimination Adjustment, imposed as the Great Recession opened a hole in Albany’s revenues. According to the Cuomo administration, funding has risen every year for every school district in the state and is at an all-time high.

Yet districts wring their hands and demand even more money instead of undertaking the necessary work of reworking the education paradigm that, at least in New York, costs too much and delivers too little. Teachers unions join the chorus, even though teachers get annual raises through the step formula if not through their contracts.

It’s a con, aimed at pressuring Albany into opening the financial floodgates and pouring even more tax dollars into the schools. Managing the districts under the state tax cap is challenging, to be sure, but that’s what districts – and more importantly, taxpayers – have needed.

State funding has gone up every year but not by nearly enough, resulting in local taxpayers making up the shortfall. So, what “necessary work” does the Buffalo News propose to “rework the education paradigm”? Obviously, the News’ editorial writers believe that teachers are undeserving of their pay and benefits, but where is the “con”? It is seriously irresponsible to couch in the language of crime the idiotic way state government makes taxpayers fund school districts. Again: school districts only have the tools Albany makes available to them. This is an issue of state law, not local malfeasance. 

It has been exceedingly rare – and downright controversial – whenever a school district has tried to go over the tax cap since its inception. In 2013, Clarence (which spends around $15,000 per pupil) tried to make up a massive pension funding shortfall by going over the cap. That was a disaster borne on the shoulders of students and families, not to mention the dozens of teachers and staff who were fired. 

School districts are not empowered to fundamentally remake themselves into something new and different. The choice comes down to – do we serve the students and community as best we can, or do we pick one of them to screw? To “rework” the “paradigm”, look to Albany. 

The cap allows districts to increase growth in their tax levy by no more than 2 percent a year or by the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, with inflation so low, districts are limited to an increase of just 0.12 percent.

The argument that government should be run like a business often falls short, lacking an understanding of the significant differences in their obligations. But it holds true in this case.

What’s businesslike about lumping in well-managed districts with poor? What’s businesslike about comparing New York’s statewide costs and needs with those of tiny New Jersey or Massachusetts? So, what is it that specifically necessitates that school districts act like business? 

As circumstances change, innovation must take hold. If it doesn’t, businesses may fail. Governments may lose the confidence of their constituents and important infrastructure may deteriorate.

In education, that infrastructure is in the classroom, but New Yorkers are paying too much for it. It’s incontestable, and it’s a fact that the tax cap is meant to address.

School boards need to begin doing that.

Nothing. The Buffalo News offers tons of criticisms and denunciations, but has absolutely zero ideas or suggestions as to how every district – town and city – can “rework” its “paradigm” – as if throwing management-speak at a problem might magically repair a fundamental structural problem. 

Some classrooms cost “too much”, but others don’t. But by offering a blanket accusation, even the well-run districts will now suffer from this lazy editorial. Hell, the editors don’t even pretend to identify the reasons why New York schools cost more than that of other states. (Some do, some don’t). 

The blame usually falls on teachers and their salaries. New York pays teachers the most, but the median is only slightly higher than that of Massachusetts, which the News’ editorial praises for its per pupil spending. 

By the way, the top five districts for highest median teacher pay in New York are all in Westchester and Nassau counties. So, the Buffalo News accuses Clarence and Buffalo and Amherst and Tonawanda for the sins of Scarsdale, Bronxville, Jericho, and Mineola. 

If the goal here was simply to identify a problem, the Buffalo News’ editorial board played fast and loose with the facts, issuing a blanket condemnation of school districts good and bad, cheap and expensive. It didn’t so much identify a problem as it accused districts of ignorance and indifference, despite the fact that no other governmental body submits its annual budget to the taxpayers in a referendum.

Direct voter action requires that school boards are especially responsive and sensitive to taxpayer demands; however, they must carefully balance that with the needs of the students, while implementing state mandates. 

By offering thin facts, empty arguments, and casual denunciations, the Buffalo News’ editorial board has just placed millions of kids’ educations at risk because, evidently, inflational pressures do not or cannot affect the running of schools. 

Social Media Attacks Kane’s Accuser

I’ll link to this from this article at the Public, but I think this underscores the horrible outcome of the entire Kane case. All I did to find these was do a search for Kane’s accuser’s name.

Buffalo Connect: WiFi from 1999

BuffaloConnx

In a partnership with UB and M&T Bank, the city of Buffalo unveiled free outdoor WiFi along the Main Street corridor this summer, to much fanfare.

The ribbon-cutting was in mid-July, accompanied by hopeful comments, including this from Mayor Brown:

If downtown Buffalo is going to be a thriving engine of opportunity for all city residents, we must find ways to support the entrepreneurs who are driving technological advances and creating jobs. By providing city residents, members of the business community and visitors with free public Wi-Fi, we will continue to attract more people and business to downtown Main Street, while making targeted investments to improve our city’s wireless infrastructure.  I thank M&T Bank for leading the effort to engineer, purchase and install the system in partnership with the City of Buffalo and the University at Buffalo as we work together to further strengthen our economy.

I would submit that it’s not entrepreurs along Main Street who need broadband, but the poorest of the poor. Some of the region’s fastest publicly accessible internet is found at any branch or location of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, with speeds – up and down – that exceed 20 Mbps. Noting that 58,000 people work downtown every weekday, here’s what M&T’s Robert Wilmers had to say:

Every day it seems, downtown Buffalo is adding new residents, new employers and employees, new visitors, new and redeveloped buildings—and now new public Wi-Fi.  Buffalo Connect will make downtown Buffalo an easier place to stay connected, and that’s good for our City, and for the people who live, work and visit here.

With a major presence on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the University at Buffalo provided fiber assets and expertise in network engineering design and management. University at Buffalo students also helped design the new logo and digital experience for Buffalo Connect.

“This is a great time to be in Buffalo—whether you are working here, studying here, or coming to visit and enjoy all our great city has to offer. UB is excited to partner in the expansion of our region’s Wi-Fi capabilities to better serve the people in our downtown corridor each day. This network will be a terrific asset to our community, and we are proud that we can lend our leadership and expertise—including the involvement of our student engineers and artists—to make this regional fiber network a reality,” said University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi.

That’s a lot of technology and money backing this up.

The network operates through more than 30 “hot spot” access points running along Main Street. The access points, which have a range of approximately 250-feet, are now installed and operating from the Theater District through Canalside and Erie Basin Marina. Additional access points are being installed to extend the network to North Street, on the doorstep of the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

So, how’s it working? City of Light 2.0 decided to test it all out. The results are embarrassing.

Basically, it’s ridiculously slow. Even a tourist with no cellular data would find this to be an utter waste of time, and difficult to connect. In part 2 of its analysis, City of Light underscored that these sorts of speeds are what you’d have expected to get out of wifi in 1999. In fact, it seems as if speeds are capped at 2 Mbps, which is a tiny fraction of what you get from LTE on your cell phone.

…the reliability and strength of the signal from Buffalo Connect drops off quickly once you get off of Main Street.

Drawing from this key, we can see there’s a very fine line of green teal down Main Street, and pretty much everything else is blue. The areas that aren’t on Main Street are generally blocked by large buildings.

While on Main Street, there is a lot of background noise. Yet with all the background noise, it still has a strong signal. If you have potential for decent download/upload, but a lot of noise and/or interference, then you will likely experience slow or “unstable” connectivity that appears to drop. While on the Buffalo Connect network, while going up and down Main Street (the green areas on the map), and throughout Canalside, the connection consistently provided 1Mpbs and there was no drop in coverage.

To make matters worse, it appears that Buffalo Connect’s routers are quite expensive, retailing at about $1,200 each.

…a pretty penny was spent on these brand new routers, all to provide residents, businesses, and visitors to the area with a wireless network that we have trouble finding any practical value for.

On top of routers, there are other aspects to the network that would’ve cost the provider more money, such as the black boxes pictured behind the router, the lines to the router/black boxes also pictured, the lines from UB’s fiber, labor, weather-proofing, setting up firewalls, and basic network administration. While we’d have trouble estimating the total costs of all this, we can safely assume it wasn’t cheap.

To reiterate our thoughts from Part 1, Buffalo Connect is a lackluster network. As one can gauge from our further analysis, it has a lot of potential to be greater than it is. In Part 3, we’re going to investigate UB’s network to see how it influences Buffalo Connect’s performance.

It’s hard, sure, to quibble with the quality of a free service, but why tout the hell out of something that simply doesn’t deliver? And why doesn’t it deliver?

Trumpadino: Reactionary Juvenile Entitlement

trumpbaby

The Buffalo News’ editorial board and Carl Paladino talk about “reform” in Buffalo city schools. It’s important to understand how they define that term, which I’ve put in scarequotes. Their brand of “reform” isn’t about solving the generations-old socio-economic catastrophe among the poorest and least powerful in Buffalo’s inner city. It’s about crushing the teachers’ union and privatization of public education in Buffalo.

Expansion of charter schools (not to mention the introduction of vouchers) would represent an historic divestment from public education in favor of private and quasi-private, selective schools which would result in a new form of segregation. Not necessarily based on race, it would, however, segregate the kids who value (or whose parents value) education from those who don’t. It would also be a handy way to warehouse all the kids with special needs into some sort of rump public institution. The Buffalo school board has been dysfunctional for years, and the district itself is in shambles. It’s not about money, it’s about poverty, race, and class.

Park District voters unsurprisingly elected Carl Paladino to the Buffalo Board of Education in May 2013. Paladino’s candidacy and “reform” platform were all but explicitly endorsed by the pro-privatization Buffalo News editorial board.

The News praised Paladino for raising the profile of the 2013 school board election. Its editorial board didn’t endorse Paladino nor his opponent.

His quote in The News on his reasons for considering a run, “I think it’s time for change …,” is on the mark. But his followup, “I’m going to destroy them,” referring to the board members, “All nine of them,” is, well, 100 percent Paladino.

Having said that, Paladino doesn’t owe anybody anything, and that kind of independence is needed on the School Board.

On election day, the News exhorted its readers to vote, and to “bring a friend”.

Carl is the Buffalo elite’s Frankenstein monster. They unleashed him on the school district. Now, let them gaze upon their creation.

Paladino led the fight to fire former Superintendent Pamela Brown, who was replaced by interim Superintendent Don Ogilvie. Although Paladino practically hand-picked Ogilvie to replace Brown, when Ogilvie wouldn’t blindly do Carl’s bidding, Paladino led a fight to remove him, too. Paladino insisted on the retention of someone local to be Superintendent. Someone who could hit the ground running. Someone who, also, would know Paladino’s reputation and perhaps be more prone to follow orders. Even the Buffalo News’ editors thought that was stupid. Administrators, after all, have been leaving in droves.

It’s not unfair to recall that Pamela Brown was given about a year to try and turn around the massive school bureaucracy. Whether you liked her or not, she was never given a chance.

The Buffalo News’ editorial board has grown somewhat impatient with its creation, as set forth in yet another gently critical op/ed piece written in direct response to this email that Paladino sent around:

It doesn’t need to be pointed out that Paladino’s thoughts and language here are unbecoming an elected schools official. Paladino whines and complains about anyone who disagrees with him on anything – substantive or procedural. His hand-picked board President, James Sampson, is now “treacherous” and a “liberal equivocator”, whom Paladino accuses of being too stupid to tie his own shoes. Paladino’s colleagues on the board are, “incompetent idiots”. Schools Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who has worked in education as a teacher and an administrator longer than Paladino has been an attorney is a “rookie”. Cash was “rammed up [the school board’s] asses” and if Cash doesn’t follow Paladino’s commands and instead “mess[es] with” him, Cash will be “fitted for his career ending casket.”

The time for someone to publicly stand up and simply say, “fuck you” to Carl Paladino is nigh.

Just like the Buffalo News wouldn’t explicitly support Paladino for school board, Paladino never gave anyone a straight answer about whether he would support or oppose the appointment of new schools Superintendent Kriner Cash. One day, he’s praising Cash, the next he’s shopping for Cash’s casket (an appallingly disgusting and objectively offensive threat of violence).

But, on the day that the school board voted to appoint Cash as Superintendent, Paladino was absent; he was “out of the country”. WBFO reported that he was vacationing in Paris. Paris, France.

Put another way, while the Buffalo Board of Education was voting to hire the new Superintendent of its struggling school district – arguably the most important vote of Paladino’s tenure so far – its most vocal and combative member was recreating in gay Paree. Through his absence, Paladino was able to avoid actually taking a position one way or another on the appointment. Talk about a coward’s way out.

(And don’t complain that the trip may have been planned for a long time. So what? This is your job. People ` to do this. You’re a public official and you abdicated your duties when it really counted).

Now? You can’t come back and say Carl voted for Cash if it all ends up being a disaster! By the same token, if Cash is the unlikely savior of the Buffalo public schools, Carl will rush to embrace him, and everyone should remind him that when it really mattered, he was strolling along the Champs-Elysees, browsing the St-Germain, or enjoying the breezy shade of the Tuileries.

The Buffalo News’ editorial board chided Paladino for the content and tone of the email reproduced above. But what did they expect? This juvenile inability to lead, opting instead for a loud string of temper tantrums, has been Paladino’s hallmark for at least the last five years. He believes himself entitled to not only direct the pace, scale, and implementation of “reform” throughout the school district, but to do it without opposition or criticism. When someone stands in his way – even minimally so – Paladino overreacts with insults and threats that would get a schoolkid suspended. The entitlement is palpable. The behavior is inexcusable.

Carl Paladino has time and again proven himself unfit for public service. He is a constant embarrassment to our region. His brand of reactionary toddler-fascism is counterproductive.

But Donald Trump is Carl Paladino writ large. Trump and Paladino are two peas from the same pod. Both New York developers have egos and mouths bigger than the known universe, and the meme now is that they are attractive to a populace that is sick of, among other things, “political correctness”.

At an Iowa press conference, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos asked Trump a question before Trump had called on him. Trump eventually had his security goon forcibly remove Ramos from the room, while the candidate commanded Ramos to “go back to Univision”.  (Trump is suing Univision for pulling out of its deal to broadcast Trump’s “Miss Universe” pageant after Trump basically told all Latinos – and mostly Mexicans – that they’re rapists and criminals who should go back to where they came from).

On WBEN Wednesday morning, a media commentator noted that Ramos was “rude”.  I’ve seen others call what Ramos did, “advocacy journalism”.  OK. Let’s assume that Ramos was (a) rude; and (b) engaging in an act not so much of journalism as political activism. So what? That gives Trump the right to escort Ramos out of the venue?

When the Daily Caller’s Neil Munro interrupted President Obama in the middle of his remarks in the Rose Garden, Obama shut him down,  but didn’t have the secret service remove him by force.

When some forgotten backbencher from South Carolina yelled “you lie” at President Obama in the middle of a September 2009 address to a joint session of Congress, he was not escorted physically from the House chamber.

It bears mentioning that Munro and our South Carolinian backbencher both interrupted President Obama in the middle of remarks about immigration. This is not a coincidence. This is a targeted effort from the right to not only continue to paint Obama as somehow “foreign” and un-American, but also to accuse him of encouraging illegal immigration (the conspiracy goes that all of these undocumented immigrants will somehow magically manage to register to vote, despite not having proper identification, and they will all vote Democrat).

Let’s look at FactCheck.org: Trump says “birthright citizenship” is a huge draw for undocumented immigrants. It isn’t; economic opportunity is. Trump wildly overstates the cost to provide welfare services to undocumented immigrants, as well as the supposed number of crimes they’ve committed. Most visa overstays aren’t coming from Mexico. All of it is based on fear and lies; Die Meksikaner sind unser Unglück.

Trump also renewed his misogynist attacks on Fox host Megyn Kelly, which seems to be a fake, phony, fraud manufactured to bump Fox’s ratings and lead to an inevitable appearance by Trump on Kelly’s show. It’s also unintentionally hilarious because these sorts of assaults on strong, opinionated women comes right out of the right-wing resentment industry’s playbook.

If people like Trump and Paladino are the Republican id brought to life – anti-Obama, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-regulation, anti-tax, anti-welfare, pro-gun, and anti-“political correctness” – what happened to those alleged conservative principles. These aren’t your grandfather’s Republicans – they’re not Eisenhower people, they’re contemporary Birchers.

“…a reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.”

It’s really about who’s boss, and making sure that the man in charge stays boss. Trump is admired for putting women and workers in their place, and it doesn’t matter if he covets his neighbor’s wife or demands trade wars.

 

Insulting the intelligence of your political opponents is akin to forfeiting the argument altogether: you lose. Ordering goons to forcibly remove reporters you don’t like and who aren’t threatening you is fascist cowardice. Trump’s phony war on Megyn Kelly, if it was legitimate, would be the most colossal example of being a sore loser in recent political memory. Like Elsa, let it go.

The politics of tantrum is the culmination of tea party politics – it’s not a traditional ideology, but one based on the emotion of resentment. Their hearts bleed, but only for people who feel put upon by “political correctness” – that radical leftist idea that people should be respectful to one another, and treat others with kindness and dignity.

They have, as it turns out, become a reactionary, emotion-based caricature of what it once meant to be conservative. What was once a mighty intellectual movement led by guys like Goldwater and Buckley is now an angry joke, cloaked in the language of white nationalism led by guys like Trump and Paladino.

People are shouting, “white power” at Trump rallies, and Trump’s campaign reacts by saying they, “want to be proud of being Americans”.

Trump reacts to any criticism by pointing out how well he’s doing in the polls. Bernie Sanders’ rallies boast bigger crowds, and he doesn’t have to stoke the fires of hatred to do it.

You watch this and tell me how this isn’t the equivalent of Mussolini’s blackshirts.

Throwing Shade at the Homeless & Destitute

kemeling

I first saw Carrie Kemeling’s story where you’d sort of expect to find that story – on Facebook, with a link to Channel 7’s story. I thought it was sort of a cute idea, that someone would stand on the street corner handing out resumes seeking a job. But whoa:

“All of America drives by the homeless and says, ‘Why don’t you get a job?’ Their sign is getting read,” explained Kemeling.

According to her resume, she’s looking for a job in sales management and has experience as a sales representative, teller, consultant, design consultant and general store manager. She has a high school diploma.

What!? After reading what Kemeling told the Buffalo News, the idea doesn’t seem so cute anymore.

“If people can give money to somebody who is homeless and not looking for work, they can also help someone who is trying to help themselves,” she said. “I believe this is going to be a success story. People want to see self-motivation. And I’m not giving up on myself and never will.”

Homeless people have it tough enough that they don’t need millenial yuppies throwing shade at them. The poorest of the poor are in desperate need, but not for insults.

Only about 15% of homeless people are chronically so – the rest are temporarily without housing due to some misfortune. 9% of homeless people are veterans. Almost half of all homeless people are actually homeless families. What they need is shelter and food. You could give a homeless person a job today, but that won’t guarantee that they can afford instantly afford habitable housing.

Ms. Kemeling insinuated that, unlike her, homeless people are not “trying to help themselves”, or aren’t “self-motivat[ed]”. I disagree. I’m sure that if Ms. Kemeling had no food or shelter or money, she’d be trying – self-motivated – to help herself whatever way she can. If that means standing by an exit all day begging for spare change, that’s an effort, too.

So, she stands there – in the midst of a pretty poor neighborhood – handing out resumes out of self-motivation and helping herself.

“I’ve gotten lots and lots of positive support,” she said. “I’ve had few people stop and walk over to me to get a résumé. And some people have given me the thumbs up, so I’m feeling the Buffalo love.”

That’s nice. You’d figure she really needed a job, right?

On Friday, before she quit her job, she was at the site, and 20 people took her résumé. On Monday, she handed out 50 more and had a job interview at a temp agency by the afternoon.

Kemeling said she was offered a position but didn’t accept it because the compensation “wasn’t what she wanted.”

So, she’s self-motivated, but, unlike a destitute homeless person, she’s also picky! She had a job, which she quit last Friday.

Kemeling had worked as a sales representative at Brian Michael’s Jewelers in the Town of Tonawanda for almost three years until quitting Saturday.

“Even though I had a job, I’m still looking for better and I know I’m better,” she said. “I’m looking to find a company who is willing to invest in me and I’m investing in them as well. I’m really extremely trainable.”

“I know I’m better” is the special snowflake disease.

She said she’d been “looking to advance myself for the past year. I sent résumés but didn’t get a response. So now I have the time to stand here and actually put myself out there. If I’m going to give my résumé to someone, I want to give it to someone who wants it.”

She said her strengths are in retail sales, marketing and creativity, pointing to her unorthodox job search as an example.

I’ve worked retail before. I don’t remember using a resume to get that sort of job. I remember hustling from place to place and filling out innumerable applications before landing a retail position.

Kemeling has a high school diploma, and before coming to Buffalo, worked as a teller at a credit union in South Carolina.

I think I might know why her resumes for marketing jobs aren’t getting a lot of traction. She told WKBW that she couldn’t afford a degree. She’s a NYS resident. Get thee to Buff State, ECC, UB – you can afford it.

She said she left the jewelers last week because she was overlooked for a promotion.

But, the jeweler says that’s not true.

Brian Levine, owner of the business, said Kemeling wasn’t up for a promotion. An opening for an assistant manager was filled, but Kemeling didn’t have any management experience. He and his staff remain baffled by her abrupt departure from the company, Levine said.

So, she has a HS diploma, worked retail at a jeweler’s, quit abruptly with no notice, tells the papers she was overlooked for a promotion but has no management experience. Her prior experience is as a bank teller.

She doesn’t need a job. She had a job. She wants a career in management or marketing? Then she needs a college degree, or a modicum of self-awareness. She rejected the temp agency because beggars can be choosers.

After four hours on the island, Kemeling had more than a dozen employers offering positions, including the temp agency, a shredding company and an online startup. But Kemeling plans to return to the Thruway exit on Tuesday.

“I want to keep my options open,” she said. “I want to give other candidates a chance. There might be others out there who are interested in hiring me.”

Not good enough, guys! I’m better than you!

Furthermore, Kemeling said she’s looking “for a career, not a job.” Her ideal position?

“Working for Donald Trump as his secretary,” she laughed. “Who knows? Anything is possible.”

HAHAHAHA.

But seriously, go to college. State schools are affordable. Get a bachelor’s and learn about marketing and statistics and all of the other stuff that everyone else with that career has to slog through. Want a career? It’s not just magically going to drop in your lap because you have a diploma and experience doing retail and being a bank teller. Hell, go work for a bank and maybe move up the ranks there and make a career by being a good worker and eager learner. You’re not entitled to your dream job because you think you deserve it, or because you pull a stunt at a highway exit.

Many veterans are homeless due to physical disability. Many others are homeless due to untreated mental illness. Many young people are homeless due to family conflict. I’d sooner employ or buy a meal for one of them than hire someone with scant experience, a HS diploma, and a wildly inflated sense of self-worth who denigrates homeless beggars.

Waiting for someone to drive by and hand you a dream job isn’t hustle; it’s the opposite.

(UPDATE: Channel 4 has posted her resume. It speaks for itself.). 

Paul Cambria on Pat Kane: Don’t Prejudge

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The point of Monday’s piece wasn’t to say that hockey superstar Pat Kane shouldn’t hire an off-duty cop to be his designated driver if he wants; a designated driver is a good thing. Instead, the point was to recommend that people close to the alleged victim, and those aligned with Pat Kane, should all stop talking to the media.

At this time, the jury pool poisoning is continuing apace – of course, no one has yet been charged with a crime, but it’s safe to say that the authorities are investigating whether one happened, and whom they might charge. So, what we see happening as the coverage lurches from Mark Croce’s victim-shaming to anonymous supporters of the alleged victim defending her, to Lieutenant Thomas English, the aforementioned designated driver turning to the News to rebut the alleged victim’s friends’ assertions.

The whole case has devolved into a public relations battle. In this case, Kane has deeper pockets, star power, and more to lose, so it stands to reason that his PR effort would be well-funded and professional, while the alleged victim’s side has been silent, and some friends talked to the News without attribution.

As you might know from Deadspin, WBEN/WGRChicagoist, CBS Chicago, and Time Warner Cable News, Kane’s attorney, Paul Cambria, commented on my personal Facebook page, alleging that I was being irresponsible, and pointing out the witness credibility issue that he believes inures to his client’s benefit.

Cambria was specifically complaining about my insinuation that Kane was “trashed”. Specifically, in Monday’s story, I wrote, “So a police officer who stands by to drive Kane home when he’s too trashed to drive wants you to know that the alleged victim really wanted to go home with Kane, if you know what he means. Is this real life?” The point wasn’t whether or not Kane was “trashed”, although certainly people tend not to leave nightclubs at 3am sober.

The point was to expound on English’s motive to embellish or lie to protect his friend, who also happens to pay him. English wasn’t testifying at a trial; he had the benefit of Buffalo News reporters who took notes and simply printed what he told them. At trial, he’d have been under oath and the truth of his statements would be tested through a withering cross-examination. At trial, he’d have a duty to testify truthfully – no such duty exists when talking to the News.

That’s why the driver shouldn’t have opened his yap. The News prints his words without cross-examination or proper context, and another Kane defender gets to chalk up another point for the subject of a police rape investigation.

Trying this as-yet-non-existent case in the media is stupid and counterproductive. It cheapens the import of what happened here, and the very real accusation of violent crime.

That was, I thought, a fair point.

I don’t think Croce spoke in order to gain some advantage, except to protect a wealthy, popular customer; he also spoke to avoid liability and, ironically, to protect his reputation and that of his bar.

Cambria didn’t have much else to say, except cryptically to recommend that people keep an “open mind”, that he’s “keeping it even”, and that people shouldn’t “prejudge”. It was a lively discussion. If you want to see the rest, here it is as it appeared Tuesday morning with all comments uncollapsed.

Here’s to hoping no one else who thinks they know something and is desperate to get their name in the paper decides to talk to the press about things they saw on the night that Patrick Kane allegedly raped a woman. Everything anyone’s said – on or off the record – has been wholly irrelevant to the underlying key issue of consent.

Ban Ki-Moon Could Have Been A Buffalonian

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Late last week, United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon came to Buffalo to speak to our various elites, and to do a little sightseeing.

Few people know that the UN’s headquarters was almost built on tiny Navy Island, nestled between Grand Island and the Ontario shore.

If you want to second-guess bad decisions from long ago, you can start with the plan from the 1940s that, had it been implemented, would have guaranteed that our region comprised of Southern Ontario and Western New York would have been an economic powerhouse.

Navy Island is an uninhabited green blip on the map. After World War II, as the United Nations was being formulated and ideas for its headquarters were being considered, Navy Island was a top contender.  Because of its location between – and easy access from – two friendly nations, Navy Island would have been a better symbolic choice for the UN than the East Side of Manhattan, and a less expensive, less congested one, as well.  Turning a small island over to a peacekeeping organization with deep pockets, turning it into an international zone employing and attracting tens of thousands of diplomatic, secretarial, and administrative staff to southern Ontario and western New York would have had a billion-dollar impact today.

The ancillary economic impact from all those well-remunerated people engaging in the local economy is unfathomable today, and would have attracted businesses, schools, investors, people, and money.

Instead, the UN is on the East River, on land bought with a donation from the Rockefellers.  Had the UN been located in WNY, I wonder how much different this region would be, how it would look, how it would have evolved.

 

Mascia Goons Visit Franczyk; Hilarity Ensues

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Scroll to the bottom, and you’ll find what I believe so far to be the first publication of the unexpurgated Joe Mascia tape. I think it’s important to hear the words that he says, the way in which he says them, and the context in which they’re spoken. In the meantime, a story.

A few weeks ago, Fillmore District Common Councilman David Franczyk’s staffer, attorney Michael Kuzma, was hosting former Buffalo writer and gadfly Dick Kern in his office in City Hall. Then-Councilmember Michael LoCurto was there, too. It was lunchtime, and Kuzma was going to join the visiting Kern for lunch. Kuzma was then called into Franczyk’s office.

In the office were two of Joseph Mascia’s political operatives – his now-former campaign manager, Cheektowagan Katrinna Martin, and North Tonawandan aggro-blogger Matt Ricchiazzi. The blogger wanted to take pictures in Franczyk’s office, and Kuzma refused, adding that, “you write crap, you get nothing.” Kuzma was specifically referencing myriad anti-Franczyk pieces the blogger had published, some of which may have been defamatory. Kuzma then began walking Mascia’s operatives out of Franczyk’s office. Kuzma says he never touched either of them.

Kuzma has a history with the blogger, who had once run for Mayor of Buffalo. Kuzma and fellow election law attorney Jim Ostrowski had met with him at the time to help him out, but the putative candidate simply didn’t meet the residency requirement. In his only prior interaction with this young man, Kuzma had only ever tried to help him.

At this point, Mascia’s campaign manager began yelling, demanding that Kuzma stop cursing. Kuzma, however, wasn’t cursing and he continued to try to usher the two out of the office. The blogger again attempted to get his camera on, and Kuzma put his hand up to block the lens. The blogger dramatically started shouting, “don’t hurt me! Don’t hit me!” And loudly saying things like, “this is how residents in the Fillmore District are treated.” It was, to hear Kuzma tell it, a surreal scene.

Kuzma withdrew at this point, and the two unwanted visitors left. After he returned from lunch, a Buffalo cop walked into Franczyk’s office to investigate whether, “someone manhandled a couple of constituents,” and that someone in the office was accused of having, “attacked a woman, manhandled another gentleman, and dropped the ‘f’ bomb.” At the time, Kuzma didn’t know that Martin was on Mascia’s payroll, but he knew the blogger had some relationship with him.

The officer called a lieutenant, who came by 2-3 hours later and heard Kuzma’s side of the story. The lieutenant said he was thinking of charging Mascia’s operatives with trespassing. Kuzma said that probably wouldn’t stick, since it was public property.

A few days later, however, a detective came by Franczyk’s office to take photographs of the “crime scene”. The detective left a calling card with a note informing Kuzma that, “we need to talk to you, you manhandled a couple of people.” Kuzma drew up a witness list and had Franczyk and LoCurto recount what they had observed – that Kuzma had acted professionally at all times, and that Mascia’s interlopers had tried to manufacture some sort of fracas. Kuzma, for his part, was flabbergasted that the BPD had the time to spend on this, given the crime issues in the city.

Kuzma was going to go down to B District to give a statement, and asked prominent attorneys Daire Irwin and Peter Reese to accompany him. However, the Detective wasn’t in, and Kuzma was not interviewed at that time. The next day, Kuzma got a call from the detective informing him that the charges were unfounded and the investigation was over. Kuzma suspected that the detective had spoken with the District Attorney, and acknowledged that a trespass charge wouldn’t stick.

Kuzma then suggested to the detective, “what about charging them with filing a false police report?” The hunt is now on to see what, exactly, was contained in the complainants’ police report.

In the meantime, Mascia’s operatives had gone to 311 citizens’ services and made some sort of complaint, which was forwarded to Franczyk’s office for review.

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But what we have is two non-residents of the City of Buffalo who are affiliated with the campaign of a Franczyk rival coming into the councilman’s City Hall office to cause some sort of scene or to set Franczyk or his staff up. Kuzma characterizes it as a “political hit” and that, “without witnesses, this could have turned out very badly” for him.

If a news outlet, political operative, or blogger legitimately attends some meeting or event and is threatened or mistreated, it would be newsworthy and typical for that to become a news story in and of itself. It is a wholly different thing, however, to show up at an elected’s office in an effort to corner or embarrass him, or to manufacture a controversy when one didn’t naturally exist. That’s activism—not journalism. That’s incitement—not reporting.

Mascia began appearing on everyone’s radar last week when he was caught on tape making horrible, hateful racist remarks about local officials such as Mayor Byron Brown, Councilmember Darius Pridgen, and others. He refers to Lou “Fas” Fasolino as a “camel jockey.” He calls the Mayor a “tizzun.” He threatens to wear a “wire” to entrap Joel Giambra.

It would seem that Mr. Mascia’s operatives tried to set up Franczyk and his staff, thus stopping him now from whining about the audio recording being a “set up.” To my knowledge, here’s the only unexpurgated version of the recording that’s been made public. Listen for yourself. 

“Are You a Christian?”

Monday afternoon outside of Old County Hall, after an Eric Schneiderman anti-corruption rally had concluded, a well-dressed, baby-faced man who looked vaguely familiar approached me.

He came up to me and asked, “Are you a Christian?” I replied, “No.” He said, “I didn’t think so.”

Perplexed by this bizarre introductory exchange, I listened as this man began to harangue me over my allegedly unfair, horrible, and “bully[ing]” treatment of “Airborne” Eddy Dobosiewicz. He said I hadn’t been “very nice to Eddy Dobosiewicz” and that I had treated him horribly.

You may remember several weeks ago, I confronted Dobosiewicz about a racist Tweet he posted. That and his subsequent arguing lost Dobosiewicz a few jobs and led to him issuing an unqualified and sincere apology.

At this point, I made an embarrassing mistake. I would have sworn up and down that the man confronting me was Dobosiewicz’s former partner and friend, Marty Biniasz. I took to Twitter and Facebook about it before receiving a call from him informing me that he had been in Hamburg all day. I was shocked—frankly in disbelief—but apologized profusely to him, deleted everything from Facebook and Twitter, and apologized publicly. I would have picked Biniasz out of a line-up; I was 100 percent sure it was him, and told him he had an identical twin running around town who has a lot of concern about Eddy Dobosiewicz. I take this opportunity to apologize to Marty again.

As this mystery man who wasn’t Marty Biniasz continued his intemperate and confrontational defense of Airborne Eddy, I interrupted him and said, “What would my religion have to do with anything? If I was Jewish it would make sense to you that I might be deliberately unfair to ‘Airborne Eddy’?”  He said I threw Eddy under the bus, and I interrupted again and reminded him that Eddy threw himself under the bus, and that all of his wounds were completely self-inflicted. At this point he began to retreat and walk away, but not before calling me a “bully” and otherwise mean and horrific person for having the audacity to be critical of racist speech.

I called after him as he skulked away, saying, “You go around being critical of other people’s religion but I’m the bully?”

Marty Biniasz does indeed have a religious, Eddy-loving doppelganger named Mark Peszko. In the end, I figured out who it was. I sent an email to Peszko to confirm and, naturally, did not hear back. His resemblance to Marty Biniasz is uncanny. 

UPDATE: I spoke with Mr. Peszko this morning, and he acknowledged that it was he and I who had words yesterday. He was contrite and explained that he has a soft spot for the underdog, and when he saw me he confronted me out of a sense that I had been unfair to Dobosiewicz when I posted this piece on May 1st. Although Mr. Peszko’s recollection was that I had posted the piece about Polish riots after Eddy’s apology was released, the timing wasn’t exactly thus: I published my piece at 6:00 am, and the Dobosiewicz apology was released at 1pm. None of that, however, matters except insofar as it informs Mr. Peszko’s decision to confront me.

Mr. Peszko felt that I had been unfair to Eddy and approached me because he feels strongly about defending underdogs, especially when – as he did here – that he thinks that they’re being kicked when they’re down. We had a cordial conversation where we learned a lot about each other’s work, faith, and history, and I harbor no ill will towards him. I am sure he is an excellent attorney who zealously represents people of all races and faiths. 

But no. Whether or not I’m a Christian has no bearing whatsoever on how I deal with racism. Not identifying myself as “Christian” doesn’t explain how I treated Eddy Dobosiewicz,—quite fairly, I thought, as I confronted him directly on Twitter and gave him an opportunity to explain or retract. Were I Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or atheist, it wouldn’t have any bearing on how I deal with anything that I consider to be bad or wrong.

Consider that this person not only has some sort of antipathy towards non-Christians but was upset not by Dobosiewicz’s behavior (for which he profusely apologized) but by the fact that I wrote about it.

Invoking God or Jesus Christ to justify or excuse racism seems to me to perhaps not understand the entire concept of faith or religion. Being accosted on the street by a stranger with such a profoundly absurd message was unsettling.

Manufactured Crises in Suburban Public Schools

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In most of our sleepy suburban communities in western New York, school districts are run without much fuss. Once in a while you get an eruption of controversy, such as what’s been happening in Lancaster with respect to its abandonment of the “Redskins” monicker. In Lancaster, the school superintendent is now receiving death threats and police protection for him and his family. Over a mascot’s name. School is important, but not in that way. This isn’t a 3,000-word screed about the common core or testing, either.  This is about how a community helps pay to educate its kids.

Municipalities and their school boards walk a delicate tightrope between taxpayer expectations and school needs. Among the suburban districts that are typically most highly ranked in Business First’s annual assessment – Williamsville, Orchard Park, Clarence, and East Aurora – they achieve that balance in difference ways. In Williamsville, the school tax rate is about $18 per $1,000 of assessed value. In Orchard Park and East Aurora, the school tax rate exceeds $30 per $1,000 of assessed home value. By contrast, Sloan’s is $57 per $1,000.

It is also typical that budget proposals in high-performing school districts don’t regularly get a lot of pushback from taxpayers. So long as results are good and money is being spent prudently, annual school budget votes proceed without much controversy. Why ruin a good thing? When real estate is bought, the school district oftentimes weighs very heavily in the decision-making. If a home is in a high-performing district, that has a positive effect on the purchase price and home value. Look at any home listing, just about anywhere.

(I hope you’ll excuse the limited geographical scope of this piece. It’s that time of year again when my free time becomes subsumed by thoughts of school budgets and election battles. Although its scope is facially narrow, the underlying points are valid for most upstate suburban and rural school districts, especially in light of Albany’s game-playing with school funding over the last several years.)

In Clarence, however, we have a different scenario altogether. Clarence’s school tax rate is $14.80 per $1,000 of assessed value – less than half that of OP or East Aurora. Clarence is lucky – it has a lot of very expensive pieces of property, so the rate doesn’t need to be as high as in other communities. Nevertheless, a small cabal of anti-school propagandists would have you believe that the district is spendthrift, bloated, and unfair to the taxpayer – that same taxpayer who relies on the schools’ excellence for her home’s resale value.

They say it’s “unsustainable”. Yet today’s $14.80 rate is almost identical to the rate in 2008 – 2009. In 2003, the rate was significantly higher – almost $17. It dropped steadily until 2011, when it slowly began to creep up from a low of $14.13, as state funding dried up and the district had to look to local taxpayers to help bear more of the burden.

What do we get for that money? Is the district spendthrift? Bloated? Not only is the answer a resounding “no”, but the district’s educational output is outstanding. Clarence is ranked 3rd out of 432 WNY districts for excellence but also for cost-effectiveness.  It’s 6th in administrative efficiency, and its per-pupil spending is 2nd lowest in Erie County; it’s 6th lowest in the entire state. The school tax rate is the second lowest in WNY. By all accounts, this is a triumph of cost-effective, excellent results. It’s the sort of thing that anyone – liberal or conservative – would proudly show off as a testament to good, small government. You would think that a school district with those sorts of numbers would have no pushback from angry taxpayers.

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

In 2013, a perfect financial storm came about that required a proposed 9.8% tax hike to maintain then-extant staff and services. The school board took a gamble that the community had the schools’ back and would support it in a tough time. On the contrary, voters overwhelmingly rejected that proposal, sending the message that any increases in the levy should remain at or under the state’s new tax cap. That’s what the board did in the June 2013 re-vote, cutting tons of clubs, extracurriculars, sports, services, curricula, and teachers. It did so again in 2014, and there was no opposition to that at-cap budget. Meanwhile, the Clarence district alone has lost over $16 million in state aid thanks to the state legislature’s astonishingly cynical “gap elimination adjustment”, an accounting gimmick that balanced the state budget on the backs of local school districts.

Here we are in 2015, and the school board hasn’t even presented a final budget proposal, as the district tries to figure out how much state aid it’s going to receive. Yet a certain subset of local activist – as angry as they are misinformed – has pledged to vote down the budget, no matter what it is, just because.

It helps to understand how these districts determine their levy. Sales taxes are set at a fixed rate; school taxes aren’t. The district proposes a budget, which includes amounts to fund all its personnel and essential programs. Each district has different priorities. If the school district finds that it needs more money than it did last year, – even if it’s just to keep up with inflation – it has to ask for an increase in the total tax levy.  That levy is then apportioned to taxpayers based on the value of their real property. So, if the overall levy goes up 2%, but your property value rises by 4%, your tax “rate” will go down. For towns like Clarence, whose property tax cap is higher, in part, due to its “growth factor” of 1.5, if the total property value added in the district via new construction in a given year outpaces the levy increase, your actual tax bill will go down. The district doesn’t raise taxes every year. The levy might go up, but how that translates to your personal tax bill varies. That’s before we get to the passage of the veteran’s exemption, enhanced STAR, agricultural exemptions, and other programs that lower the tax or assessed value for some taxpayers, increasing the burden on others.

This year’s fight began just after the Clarence High School production of Pirates of Penzance closed its three-performance run. Dedicated and talented kids – with the help from their faculty advisers – put on a Broadway-caliber show that was absolutely world class. Everyone from the amazing pit orchestra, to the tech crew, to the cast itself worked hard for months to pull it off. It wasn’t just some accident of talent. It’s how that talent is nurtured, developed, and grown. It starts with the music programs in the elementary schools, to instrument instruction, to singing, and then is further enhanced by the bands, orchestra, chorus, plays, and musicals that are done at the middle school. By the time these kids get to high school, those who are dedicated to drama, music, tech, and singing are well on their way to becoming professionals. It’s simply an amazing progression to watch, and the Clarence High School’s annual musical productions are absolutely incredible; a testament not only to talent, but to teaching.

But the people complaining about paying the second-lowest tax rate for the third-best school district in WNY didn’t see that performance, or any of that value. They don’t know about the successes in the engineering curriculum, or the fact that our system is one of the best in the country for music education, or that our mock trial team won a countywide competition. Despite the fact that the levy has only been rising since 2011, that is “far too long”, and they presented their first argument: restore local control and kick Albany to the curb. But that gap elimination de-funding hamstrung districts – the tax cap ensured that they had no way to even ask local taxpayers to make up that difference. In Clarence’s case, it was made through cuts, dipping into the fund balance, and through modest increases in the local school tax. Since 2011, the district cut 113 full-time positions. 

But these anti-tax warriors are playing people. In their public pronouncements, they say they want to maintain school quality, but when their words aren’t being recorded for posterity, or they’re speaking amongst themselves, they clearly intend to manufacture a crisis that would require the schools to effectively wither and die. Otherwise, they’d attend regular school board meetings and offer ideas. They’d know about the very strongly-worded letter that Superintendent Geoff Hicks sent to Governor Cuomo.   They’d use the district’s legislative advocacy page. They’d show up.

Disapproval of a within-cap levy increase would do to the schools what 2013 did, and force students out of programs, eliminate teachers, close electives, and do palpable and real harm to students and their educations. For what? What is the underlying complaint here? Cui bono?

It doesn’t make any sense. After all, when the tax rate inched up last year, every taxpayer received a rebate check for the exact amount of the increase – mine was $71, and I donated it to the Clarence School Enrichment Foundation. The same thing will happen with this budget, if any increase is at or below the cap. The cap, for the record, is 4.7% because the town continues to grow, and because the district refinanced some existing debt at a lower rate, saving $4 million over the life of the note, and the new payments kick in this year.

So, in the face of all these excellent results and efficient, frugal management, we’re left with one argument: the teachers make too much. They’re greedy. They get summers off. They work short days. They get fat pensions and pay only 10% of their health insurance costs.

We hear a lot from tax opponents about “running government like a business”. Of course, schools don’t exist to make money – they exist to educate children. The output in Clarence is excellent. If you ran a multi-million dollar corporation, and when annual review came along, almost 85% of your key employees were exceeding expectations, you wouldn’t cut their pay and benefits, you’d give them a damn bonus. If you wanted to attract and retain this kind of talent, you need to pay them a living wage. So, are these mostly “highly effective” teachers overpaid?

I had someone argue to me that teachers don’t live in the “real world”. That’s completely wrong. Everyone’s “real world” is a bit different. Most New York teachers, unlike most of us in the “real world”, hold masters degrees. They must be tested, vetted, and authorized – licensed and certified – to teach. They are ad hoc social workers, mandated reporters, emergency caregivers, mediators, peacemakers, peacekeepers, role models, safe havens, and that’s before you get to the actual teaching part. As for teaching, they don’t just have to deal with ever-increasing class sizes, but also with administrators, parents, the state, and bureaucracy. They don’t make as much money as their peers with M.A.s or M.S.s in the private sector, and many of them take pay cuts to work in Clarence, which is by no means the district with the largest salaries in WNY for teaching professionals; Clarence is 13th for teacher pay. Sure, they get better health insurance and retirement than most people in the private sector, but that’s really an indictment not of the teachers, but of the private sector and the way it has stripped workers of pay and benefits over time.

It’s also comparing apples to oranges. Public sector workers go to work to serve the public, oftentimes at wages that would be embarrassing in the private sector. Consider, for instance, why it’s tough to find a CPA to run for comptroller. So, the public sector makes up for that by offering good benefits, usually negotiated through collective bargaining. So, is public service the “real world”? You don’t hear a lot of people whining about Chris Collins’ congressional salary, or that of his staff. Or Mike Ranzenhofer or Jane Corwin – no one bats an eye. No one much cares that the Clarence supervisor gave himself a couple of nice raises over the past few years. What is the “real world”? Why do teachers get this sort of scrutiny, but other public employees don’t? 



If the real world of teaching in New York public schools was the bonanza of wine, song, and riches that some imagine, then everyone would be clamoring to join this profession. But for some reason they don’t.  Maybe some people see the private sector as offering more opportunities for personal enrichment – after all, private sector salaries have no upper limit. Teachers on average make about $50-60k in Clarence, and that’s after at least a decade of service. It’s a nice paycheck, but none of them are getting rich. People complain that their benefits package can’t match what a teacher earns (note that word “earns”), but that’s the real world. Isn’t a good education part of the American dream? Don’t we want properly and adequately to remunerate the professionals upon whom Americans rely to educate our children?

Teachers aren’t paid during the summer. Their workday is not nearly as short as the kids’; it doesn’t begin and end when the bell rings – they have to attend conferences, plan their curriculum, grade papers, draft tests and course materials, and deal with all manner of after-hours parent or student issues. They’re not entitled to retirement benefits until they’ve worked in the district for 10 years. The teachers’ contract is online. An entry-level teacher with a master’s degree earns an annual salary of $41,400 at Step 1. That doesn’t break $50,000 until Step 9. You break $60,000 at Step 13, and $70,000 at Step 16. The max is $93,000 at Step 20. Some teachers receive stipends for extracurricular work, bumping veteran teachers up into the very low 6-figures.

Is $93,000 for a teaching professional with a master’s degree and 20+ years of experience excessive? Or are these wages firmly middle class? Clarence’s median income is $68,000. No one’s getting rich from a $90,000 annual income. No one’s driving a Bentley or smoking Cohibas in West Palm on that salary. Teachers give up the private sector, where financial risk and reward are both higher, in order to educate the next generation, and do so with some modicum of job and retirement security. There are few professions more important or noble, yet we continually demonize them as the root of the problem.

It’s a lot of money, but do they not earn and deserve it? How is their labor not incredibly valuable? I’m not saying their salary and benefits are cheap – they’re just earned. One of the leaders of the current anti-school effort in Clarence has a school tax bill that is, in 2014, a full 32% lower than it was in 2006. In real dollars. But she’s upset about sustainability?

The school board held a budget information session on March 30th. There, Superintendent Hicks outlined a revised proposal that would take into account estimates of increase state aid to raise the levy by 3.9% – significantly lower than the 4.7% tax cap, and restore 4 positions. In the meantime, since the state budget came out, it looks like we may see restoration of as many as 10 positions at that 3.9% figure. It’s a prudent measure designed to placate anti-tax members of the board, and also the parent-taxpayers who are demanding smaller class sizes, restored programs, and easing the burden on remaining teachers. It was a lively meeting, with a good debate. A few students came and spoke. Two teachers spoke. Two. Everyone else was either a parent-taxpayer or an anti-school activist.

The head of this year’s “no” posse sent a note to her listserv about that budget meeting and it was filled with either lies or emotion.

She was moaning about how “defeated” she felt because she was so outnumbered. Her crew was indeed outnumbered, but not by teachers or their union, but instead by concerned taxpayer-parents. We moved to that town because the schools are good and the taxes are lower than, say, Williamsville or Orchard Park. It’s a pretty sweet equation that few other places are able to replicate. But the gutting of teachers and programs in 2013 wasn’t good enough – the school opponents are now out for blood. They’ve moved the goalposts – 4.7% is too high, 3.9% is too high, indeed anything greater than 0% is too high. Their arguments go back and forth like a pinball from “state control” to “teachers are paid too much” to “union contract”. The people demonizing teachers argue that, in addition to making too much, they enjoy tenure and cannot be fired. Tell it to the many Clarence teachers who have been let go since 2011.

According to her email, one of the two school board members the anti-tax crowd perceives as friendly wrote to them, “Don’t give up – that’s what they want. Keep up the good work. You guys showing up last night was important because it balances out the teacher influence. Keep the troops organized and keep coming to the meetings. thank you for what you do – it makes a difference.”

That was written by a school trustee who owes a fiduciary duty to maintain the excellence of the school system in a way that is respectful to all taxpayers. I don’t know what “teacher influence” was extant at that meeting, as only two teachers spoke. The “difference” being made is that the board could choose to raise the levy by 4.7% and restore even more positions, but won’t. Is that refusal to right the wrongs of the past few years in the district’s best interests? Are the students’ needs being met?

What I do know is this: parents will agitate for the levy to go up to the cap, and for the restoration of teachers, social workers, and electives. The “no” crowd doesn’t get to control or monopolize the agenda. What is there to lose? The anti-school people will vote “no”, regardless; they will vote no for 4.7%, and they will vote no for 3.9% and they would vote no if the increase in the levy was 0.01%. The parents, by contrast, are likely open to compromise.

So, it’s only a matter of time before this sort of nonsense happens in every school district. Demonization of teachers, de-funding of schools, privatization, and the further erosion of the middle-class American dream. Not just demanding that teachers be at-will grunts who earn McDonald’s wages, but that parents and students be subjected to substandard public schools, leading to de-funding, vouchers, or straight tuition.

They say that private schools do it better and more efficiently.  My tax bill is about $4,400, and that pays for two kids’ educations. That’s a bargain, and one of the most important taxes I pay, and I pay it gladly. Our future depends on it.

It will continue to be thus when they graduate, because all town kids deserve the same shot that mine got, if not better.

Please get active in your school board. Take an interest in what’s going on – whether you have kids or not, but especially if you do. Apathy is the ally of malevolence, and you can help ensure that the people you elect do the right thing.

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