Why Donn Esmonde Sucks

Every so often, people ask me when/why/for how long I have been maintaining my Gjakmarrja – my Albanian blood feud – against occasional Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde. Rather than repeat myself, let this act as a sort of compendium of why I wish nothing but ill upon him.

Before 2013, I thought him to be a typically self-congratulating small-town columnist. He is best known for having made common cause with Buffalo’s preservationist community, and he had been a strong advocate for public education, especially as it dealt with the district in the city of Buffalo, but he was a big proponent of charter schools, which have come under heavy criticism from people who see them as elitist and unfairly selective.

I had publicly disagreed with Esmonde often in my own writing, but also gave him kudos when I thought it deserved. After all, that’s what I did for most of my blogging years – comment on stuff that was happening in the news, and at the News.

In early 2013, however, everything changed for me.

I live in Clarence and both of my kids attend public schools there. When we moved to WNY, we specifically bought property in Clarence because the taxes were low but the schools were excellent. Both remain true today.

In 2013, the school district found itself in a fiscal dilemma. Some of it was self-inflicted, but a great deal of it was due to inflated pension costs related to the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown. Pension funds had been adversely affected by the drop in stock prices, and this risk was essentially socialized and spread out over a term of years, and the last bad chunk was happening in 2013. Contributions to the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System essentially quadrupled for up to five years to account for the market crash. The problem wasn’t the pensions – it was the unanticipated and practically unprecedented economic emergency. It wasn’t the teachers who were at fault – they did nothing to precipitate the financial disaster.

Without getting too far in the weeds, the only way that the district could maintain its then-extant level of staffing, classes, and services would be to raise the tax levy in excess of the recently implemented tax cap. At the time, the cap was about 5%, and the district wanted to raise the levy by 9.8% for that year only.

The tax levy is not the same thing as a tax rate, it was a one-time emergency measure, and it was a test by the Board of Education to determine whether the community would support going over the cap in order to maintain the schools’ excellence. A couple of groups, very well-funded by a local developer, popped up and flooded people’s mailboxes with flyers accusing the teachers of greed, the district of being spendthrift, and predicting doom and horror. The measure was defeated by a huge margin.

We’re still fighting this same battle every year, even with the budgets back to normal, emergency over, and within cap.

The parents and residents who didn’t want budget issues to be resolved on the backs of their kids’ educations never had a chance. They had a losing message, no funding, a nascent organization, and honestly never saw it coming.

There was a re-vote to keep funding at the cap, which passed in June, but the damage had been done. Here is what Esmonde’s advocacy accomplished:

  • Since 2011, the district had cut 113 full-time positions; 53 of them in 2013 alone.
  • In 2013, the high school lost art, math, English, tech, and business teachers. The entire family & consumer science department was cut, and we lost a guidance counselor.
  • In 2013, the middle school lost an art, English, and science teacher.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 3 K-5 teachers, two librarians, and 12 teacher’s aides.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated four music teachers, the last social worker, and summer school.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 23 high school clubs and extracurricular activities
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 15 middle school clubs and extracurricular activities
  • In 2013, all the elementary school librarians were let go.
  • When these clubs are eliminated, parents must find privately funded alternatives. This hurts the poorest families  – that 8.7% – hardest.
  • In 2013, the revote budget eliminated all HS freshman sports, affecting 90 kids.
  • In 2013, the revote budget eliminated all modified sports in the middle school, affecting 225 kids.

Also these electives:

To call that devastating is an understatement.

Part of the reason why the anti-tax people were able to out-do the pro-school people? These two columns by Donn Esmonde:

Overstuffed with School Tax Excess on May 23, 2013, and Clarence Reformer Has Solution for District’s Failing Formula on June 2, 2013.

I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe either one. Here was a columnist who was well-known for his suburb-bashing columns going out of his way to insert himself into a public school crisis that had real consequences for real kids. I know they’re mostly white, mostly well-off kids, which is why Esmonde likely felt comfortable advocating for the dismantling of their educational opportunities, but (a) not all of them are; and (b) public education should always be strengthened, not weakened.

Clarence, of all places, is not “overstuffed” with excessive taxes. Here is the breakdown over the past several years:

I wrote an open letter to Esmonde on May 24, 2013. You can read it here, and I still can’t believe I had to write it. I sent it to his email address, but typically never heard back. He did lay bare his anti-suburb bias, though, shortly thereafter.

Drew “Wing King” Cerza helped mediate a truce for the Clarence June 2013 re-vote, and Esmonde wrote about here. Here was my response.

It was amazing to me that Esmonde – a member of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild, and whose wife was a member of the Buffalo Teacher’s Federation – would denigrate the salary and benefits of teachers who had been in the profession for over 20 years. If you think they don’t deserve it, ok, but at least explain why.

Here’s what is especially galling about Esmonde’s arms-length trilogy about a subject that directly affected me – for him, caring about education is merely a pretense.

Make no mistake: Come budget-approval time, officials in every school district are masters at pushing parents’ emotional buttons and propping up false choices. It goes like this: Vote for the budget, or you will force us to cut (choose your poison) sports/music/field trips/foreign language.

It wasn’t false at all, though. He wrote glowingly about all the anti-school activists who were working to prevent non-existent runaway spending and runaway taxes, which were also fictional. All the threatened cuts to teachers, programs, sports, classes, and electives took place.

Families had to scramble to raise money to restore some of what we lost. He could have written about the effort to restore some programs that came about via private donations, but that would have meant he’d have to confront the real-world effects of his own advocacy in the area’s sole daily paper.

Within a year after the 2013 election, one of Esmonde’s “reformers” was linked to an effort to ban a laundry list of books from the English curriculum. I wrote to him about it, sarcastically congratulating him. He never responded. He shouldn’t have to confront the real-world effects of his own advocacy in the area’s sole daily paper, after all.

The Buffalo News published a story that Esmonde wrote, detailing the woes of spending a lot of money to rehab a building he bought so that he could add “petty landlord” to his resume. I have no sympathy for him. I wish him nothing but ill – every check he writes is a win.

On Twitter, I wrote that I hope his ultimate tenants are grifters who trash the place and skip out on the rent. Well, this was just too much for a local librarian and the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus!


Donn Esmonde’s advocacy in the sole regional daily paper resulted in the firing of librarians and the elimination of choral programs in the Clarence schools. But if you attack their golden boy, Donn Esmonde, the Buffalo elites pounce.

Fuck Donn Esmonde.


The End of the Clarence GOP’s Hartzell Experiment


In 2011, political newcomer David Hartzell (R) challenged and narrowly defeated the incumbent Clarence Town Supervisor Scott Bylewski – a rare elected Democrat in that Republican citadel. The Conservative fusion party had abandoned Bylewski, most likely because he wouldn’t violate the town’s master plan and push through the zoning changes needed to build a massive Wegmans on the Clarence side of Transit Road. To make sure Bylewski’s political coffin was securely sealed, the town’s right-wing establishment also mounted a campaign of personal destruction against him, which was as heartless as it was comically hypocritical.

In 2011, Clarence Republican Committee chairman Dan Michnik wrote this letter to the Clarence Bee in support of Hartzell’s candidacy:

As chairman of the Clarence Republican Committee, I am very proud that our committee unanimously endorsed David Hartzell for Clarence supervisor. His business experience, coupled with substantial volunteer work in the Clarence community, makes him uniquely qualified to serve the taxpayers and make decisions that will make our community a better place to work, live and raise a family.

His four children all graduated from Clarence High School, and one is now proudly serving our country overseas as a Navy Seal. As a fiscal conservative, he will hold the line on taxes and root out wasteful spending in town government.

As a successful businessman, he not only knows how to lead, but he knows how to listen also. His leadership is based on transparency and respect for others, and I fully expect Dave to continue these policies as Clarence supervisor. His record on the Clarence Industrial Development Agency is a pro-business, pro-growth agenda that seeks to make strategic investments in local businesses, with the ultimate goal of creating jobs. I would urge the taxpayers of Clarence to take a close look at Dave Hartzell’s private sector record and his platform and plan for Clarence. I know he will make a tremendous supervisor, creating jobs, growing local businesses and improving our quality of life.

Dan Michnik

Hartzell won, and the town board enjoyed its reversion to one-party rule.

For a time, anyway.

Along the way, something happened.

Fast forward to May 2015, when the Republicans shunned Hartzell in favor of town board member and local developer Pat Casilio. In July 2015, here’s what Michnik wrote to the Bee:

The Clarence Republican Committee is pleased to announce the slate of candidates chosen by the members at their endorsement meeting held May 19.

They are Patrick Casilio for supervisor, Robert Geiger and Christopher Greene for councilmen, Nancy Metzger for town clerk and Robert Sillars for town justice.

Casilio earned the committee’s endorsement for supervisor because of his integrity, work ethic, history of public service, and his commitment to always put the Town of Clarence first.

Councilman Robert Geiger earned our endorsement for another term because of his sound judgment, his ethics, and his hard work on behalf of all of the town’s residents.

Christopher Greene is a newcomer to the slate for councilman. His youth and enthusiasm to get things done will bring new energy to the board.

Nancy Metzger and Robert Sillars are seeking re-election to their current positions. Their experience, leadership and sound judgment also earns our endorsement.

Our committee believes in selecting candidates that put Clarence’s needs and best interests first. We want the best candidate for the job. We think that all of our endorsed candidates have the experience, integrity and dedication to the town that will guide us in the right direction for our future. We ask for your continuing support to elect the best candidates for the Town of Clarence.

Daniel A. Michnik

The Republicans kicked Hartzell to the curb, but don’t really tell you why or what happened. They don’t address why they so enthusiastically endorsed Hartzell over Bylewski in 2011, only to abandon him at the first possible chance. Put another way, in 2011, Michnik’s club picked Hartzell to oust an excellent, intelligent Supervisor; if Michnik was so drastically, fundamentally wrong in 2011, why should we believe him now? I don’t much know or care about the ins and outs of Clarence Republican politics, but I have to surmise that Hartzell must have really been just awful for them to have rejected him after just one term, no?

Maybe it was the raises that Hartzell gave himself?

Before election day 2011, outgoing Democratic Supervisor Bylewski had actually cut the Supervisor’s rate of pay for 2012 from $77,096 to $76,357.  Hartzell was sworn into office in January 2012, and reckoned that he deserved more. So in 2013, he bumped himself from $76,357 all the way up to $78,648. That’s a $2,300 raise – 3% – for a part-time job! Not satisfied, in 2013, Hartzell gave himself – with the Republican town board’s help – another $500 raise, from $78,648 to $79,148.

Maybe it was the 2014 audit of the town’s vehicle and fuel use? The state found that controls were lax, resulting in waste – not a headline that residents of any party were especially excited to see.

Some of us saw it coming, though. Here’s what I wrote in 2011:

The town race has been exquisitely ugly this year, thanks in no small part to the execrable Joe Weiss and his puppet, Dave Hartzell. Bylewski enjoys bipartisan support from people who truly care about the town and the direction in which it’s going. His opponents have proven themselves to be a dirty, hypocritical collection of fetid assholes whose idea of good government is to lie to town residents when they’re not berating them. Don’t be fooled by the lies and deception – Bylewski is working hard to keep the town on the right track, despite myriad pressures from many sides to go against the town’s land use constitution.

“Dirty, hypocritical collection of fetid assholes” has a nice ring to it, especially when you recall members like Joe Weiss.  In 2010, someone using Hartzell’s phone number (he denied it) sent out a horribly tasteless “Clarence offers to buy the City of Buffalo” April Fools Day prank. Hartzell opposed moving the Williamsville toll east towards Pembroke, inexplicably calling it Transit Road’s “golden goose”. There was also this, this, Hartzell’s comical behavior at the candidate forum, and a ton of picayune nonsense about stolen campaign signs. I even wrote about shady Republican fundraising in 2011 over the Hartzell race.

Now? Michnik writes – again – to the Clarence Bee demanding that Hartzell return contributions his campaign received from Michele Brown’s Family Court campaign committee. Not to be out-done, the 26-year incumbent town clerk – running unopposed yet again – endorses Hartzell’s opponent, Pat Casilio, who would be the eighth (8th) supervisor with whom she’ll have worked. It’s funny because Republicans are usually the very first and loudest to condemn career politicians. Here’s what she has to say:

I have worked with seven supervisors and have never experienced such disconnect from the operation of the town. The town has been running on autopilot for the last three and a half years without a dedicated leader.

Maybe you should have supported Bylewski in ’11. He was a very “dedicated leader”.

I should not have businesspeople tell me the supervisor ripped them off, or that he will only meet with them at a restaurant and they have to pay for lunch. Every applicant that comes before a board should not be solicited for a campaign donation.

Metzger supported Hartzell in 2011. You break it, you bought it.

Who else endorses Casilio? How about soon-to-be-former Councilman Bernie Kolber, whom the Republican committee shunned on the same day as they did Hartzell. Also publicly endorsing Casilio is Peter DiCostanzo, who inexplicably used his power on the board to fight petty battles against dedicated volunteers. The only check on such abuses of power and childish fits of pique is public outcry.  The Republicans have even gone so far as to send out lit (citing my columns) calling Hartzell that most unspeakable of Clarence slurs – a Democrat.

I appreciate the linkage, but the notion that Hartzell – who isn’t seeking or running on the Democratic line, and who ousted a Democratic Supervisor by a very slim margin – is a Democrat is laughable. Clarence Republicans enjoy 100% ownership of the Hartzell fiasco. Indeed, Hartzell’s victory in 2011 effectively put an end to the town’s Democratic committee until 2013.

As the mailer notes, in late July, we revealed how Michele Brown’s campaign – which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pigeon Preetsmas Gang – paid Hartzell over $5,000 for petitioning. What better way to get Republican signatures for Brown on the (R) line than to solicit the help of the embattled Republican incumbent Supervisor? The money was reported as a contribution to Hartzell’s committee, and I got pushback from Brown’s lawyer, Joseph Makowski, on that point.  Makowski claimed that the payments weren’t contributions, but effectively payments made to Hartzell (or his committee) as a vendor.

Here’s how they appeared at the time – listed as expenditures.

It’s still listed that way:

Those are from Brown’s reports. Hartzell’s show the following, and note that the entries were changed in August.

and this:

So, there exists a Board of Elections ruling that dealt with these transfers of funds from Brown’s campaign committee to Hartzell’s campaign committee for, presumably, petitions. But instead of being listed as a straight cash contribution, it’s now listed as a “campaign to campaign transfer”. That seems more appropriate, but Hartzell still lists these sums as contributions to his campaign committee rather than, as Makowski assured me, a payment made to a vendor. If Hartzell was just a vendor selling petitioning services, is his campaign now an LLC or even a DBA? If these sums were paid for services rendered and not a contribution, why is Hartzell listing it as the latter? Why wouldn’t Brown’s campaign just list the individuals who did the petitioning? Even if it was just for convenience’s sake, it remains exceedingly unusual for one campaign to make a contribution or payment to another campaign committee for goods or services.

Who were these individual petitioners that Republican incumbent Supervisor Hartzell retained to perform these services? You can see payments of about $80 – $100 going to individuals for “consulting” services on this page.

The consultants Hartzell paid include Victor Adragna, a Buffalo Democrat, who was paid $88 on June 5th and 13th. Tina Bromund, an unenrolled Cheektowaga voter, was paid $88 on June 5th. Nancy Ferrucci, an Orchard Park Democrat was paid $88 on June 5th. Kimberly LaJudice, a Buffalo Democrat, was paid $72 on June 5th. Ellie Allen, an Amherst Democrat, was paid $88 on June 5th and $94 on June 6th. Joelle Pollak, an East Amherst Democrat, was paid $102 on June 3rd and $66 on June 13th. Also at that same address were Sarah Schultz and Jessica Martin – a Republican and Democrat, respectively, who were paid $77 each on June 13th. Sandra Barile, a Depew Republican, was paid $1,823.72 on June 13th.

The petitions collected for the Hartzell effort were, apparently, all obtained by David Hartzell, Carolyn Hartzell, Ryan Hartzell, and Michael Preggo. No other name appears as a witness to any petition page, except one – you can check them here and here.   Yet, it appears from the July 2015 expense form that myriad people were paid to petition, or – more unlikely – that Hartzell is busy obtaining political consulting services from a gaggle of mostly Democratic 20-somethings living in Buffalo and Amherst. Did Hartzell take the money from Michele Brown’s campaign to hire a bunch of “consultants” to just get her petitions signed, or did he, Carolyn, Ryan, and Michael get them all? What’s going on here? Hartzell personally obtained almost 100 signatures in one day, or did he sign off on the labor of others?

Here’s Hartzell’s mailer, which arrived over this past weekend in Republicans’ mailboxes:

And the other side:

A candidate is generally forbidden from citing an opinion poll in campaign literature. If he does, he has to file its complete results and data with the Board of Elections. Under § 6201.2 of the Election Law,

No candidate, political party or committee shall attempt to promote the success or defeat of a candidate by, directly or indirectly, disclosing or causing to be disclosed, the results of a poll relating to a candidate for such office or position, unless within 48 hours after such disclosure, they provide the following information concerning the poll to the board or officer with whom statements or copies of statements of campaign receipts and expenditures are required to be filed by the candidate to whom such poll relates:

(a) The name of the person, party or organization that contracted for or who commissioned the poll and/or paid for it.

(b) The name and address of the organization that conducted the poll.

(c) The numerical size of the total poll sample, the geographic area covered by the poll and any special characteristics of the population included in the poll sample.

(d) The exact wording of the questions asked in the poll and the sequence of such questions.

(e) The method of polling—whether by personal interview, telephone, mail or other.

(f) The time period during which the poll was conducted.

(g) The number of persons in the poll sample; the number contacted who responded to each specific question; the number of persons contacted who did not so respond.

(h) The results of the poll.

Unless Hartzell made this disclosure to the Board of Elections, he’s broken the law. Again. Also – “unanimous”? Enough is enough with this guy.

As a Democrat in Clarence, my ballot will feature only two races – the Democratic primary for Family Court Judge, and the Democratic primary for town Justice. (Justin Kloss – who is not enrolled in any party and is therefore independent, is the only endorsed Democrat for any office.) Republicans get to pick who gets to run for Supervisor in November against … no one. So, Thursday’s primary election is the whole shebang, and it will only be decided by a small percentage of enrolled members of the town’s Republican Party. There is no primary on the Conservative or Independence lines, so if Hartzell is out Thursday, he’s out.

The local Republicans’ realization that Hartzell was a bad choice came four years too late, and to the detriment of the town and her residents – it was political malpractice. If they would deliberately and viciously remove a perfectly competent incumbent, only to foist upon us someone even they quickly became unable to stand – politically and personally – it calls into serious question their judgment and leadership in all things. Let’s be clear: in 2011, when the Clarence Republican committee conspired with the corrupt minor lines to jettison Bylewski, it wasn’t acting in the best interests of the town.  Instead, it was a simple power grab cloaked in lies and phony moralizing. Out of that came David Hartzell’s tenure, and I contemporaneously warned you that he was a bad choice.

I may be what some call a “liberal jihadist“, but I guess we liberal jihadists can smell malignant BS a mile away. Good to know.

On Thursday November 10th, I urge Clarence voters to vote for Justin Kloss for town justice, and Pat Casilio for town Supervisor.

Let’s Talk About the Eastern Hills Mall

Rendering of the "Amherst Town Centre"

Rendering of the “Amherst Town Centre”

I’ve lived in western New York for almost fifteen years – all of them in the Northtowns. I have visited the Eastern Hills Mall countless times – mostly to pick up something quick that wasn’t worth a trip to another municipality. As land values surrounding that mall have gone up and people have moved into East Amherst, Williamsville, and Clarence, I’ve waited for someone to invest some money into that place and make it at least nice.

New owners a decade or so ago put a new sign up on Transit and brought in a Dave & Busters, an Orvis, and even a Brooks Brothers 346 store. There’s a Gap, a Spencer’s, and a handful of other stuff, but it’s like an appendix – it’s there, but if you lost it you’d never know the difference. Dave & Busters is leaving, Brooks Brothers is gone, and Orvis is your go-to place for overpriced fishing supplies and $100 casual shirts.

I’ve seen some pretty nice re-dos of old malls – the Yorkdale in Toronto comes to mind. But the Eastern Hills Mall is tired and unpleasant. It’s a sad mall surrounded by crumbling surface parking that’s used more often for Transitown’s overflow inventory and teaching motorcycle operation rather than accommodating thousands of putative disappointed shoppers.

The Eastern Hills Mall needs to be demolished, at least in part. In its place, the owners should build the region’s first lifestyle center. That’s what the owners of the Nanuet Mall did in Rockland County a few years ago, and the difference is night & day.

Both the Eastern Hills and Nanuet Malls were built around the same time – ca. 1970. Here’s what Nanuet used to look like:

And here’s what the Eastern Hills Mall looks like today:

And here’s what the Nanuet Mall looks like now, reconstituted as the “Shops at Nanuet”:

In Nanuet, they turned the old anchor stores – Macy’s and Sears, for example, into free-standing department stores, but tore down the mall and transformed it into a little walkable neighborhood. It’s got sidewalks, angle parking, the buildings are built to the curb, and you can walk around just like in the olden days.

I realize it’s not the Elmwood Village or even East Aurora or Main Street in Williamsville. It’s manufactured, it’s fake, and it’s a managed shopping center property. It’s still a mall, albeit one designed like an old-fashioned downtown. As malls have become less popular, many have been reconstituted into “lifestyle centers” – something popular throughout the country, but non-existent in WNY. Benderson, now based in Florida, owns and manages many lifestyle centers down South. It proposed one for Maple in Amherst where the gun range used to be near UB, but the neighborhood killed that, so now it’s just overgrown weeds.

Here are renderings that Benderson commissioned for what was going to be called the “Amherst Town Centre“. It would have boasted not only retail, but a hotel, second-floor office space, and a residential component- a true mixed-use development, and it would have been a first for WNY and introduced our strip-mall obsessed region to something new. One was also proposed for Clarence on Transit at Miles, but both projects died sometime before 2010. Clarence has a strict master plan, and re-zoning can be a difficult maze to navigate.

Aside from being more aesthetically pleasing than an early 70s mall with 80s upgrades, lifestyle centers tend to cater to upscale consumers, and the Eastern Hills Mall is surrounded by some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in WNY. They require less real estate, and generate more revenue per square foot.

So, Glenmont MDC Eastern Hills LLC, if you’re reading this, tear it down and build something that isn’t horribly ugly. Build it closer to Transit, replace some of that disused parking with something – anything (trees? park? ice rink facility?) and drag Transit Road into the 21st century.

Former Clarence Councilman Weiss Issues Threat Outside Elementary School Event

Joe Weiss is a ThugHanding out palmcards outside of a polling place is one of the less controversial things one can do within the context of a campaign. Unless you’re in Clarence.

On several occasions, a pro-school group was given a stern talking-to because people were leaving palmcards around inside the polling place. Well, that’s nice, dear, but that’s not the problem of the people handing out the palm cards – it’s a problem for the people running the vote and they should be on top of that sort of thing.

Handing out palmcards is pretty much standard operating procedure outside of any polling place in any competitive race, and is explicitly permitted by law outside the 100′ exclusion area. It is incumbent on the people receiving the cards to follow the rules inside the polling place, but no one was electioneering inside or within 100′ of the polling place. Perhaps it’s time for the legislature or the Board of Elections to clarify the rule affecting a clearly protected 1st Amendment activity.

But the highlight of my day came as I was passing out palmcards as families were making their way from an elementary school track meet next to the polling place. I was chatting with two 15 year-old student volunteers when a taller man dressed like a fake lumberjack ambled his way right up to me. I asked him if he was on his way in to vote and he said that he wasn’t, and asked me what my name was.

I told him, and he came even closer – his body touching mine, ever so tenderly, and got right in my face. He declared that I had once told him to “go fuck [him]self” in an email a few years ago. I responded, “Did I?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Are you [former Clarence town councilmember] Joe Weiss?”  He replied, “Yeah. and I want to tell you to go fuck yourself”. I thanked him, never backing down from where I stood, and as he skulked away I added, “nice language around the kids.”

He stopped, turned, and said, “You know, I really should kick the shit out of you right now”.

I replied, arms outstretched, “Really? Go for it. Because I can’t wait to own everything you own.” His best reply was, “Yeah, it’s a lot more than you own.” and I replied by calling him a true treasure for the community.

This morning, I went through all of my email accounts. Not only have I never emailed Joe Weiss, I never sent an email about Joe Weiss telling him to “go fuck” himself. I never wrote anything – ever – to or about Joe Weiss suggesting that he “go fuck” himself. Here is a link to the only blog posts naming Joe Weiss that I have ever written. Here’s one more. None of them tell Joe Weiss to do anything to himself. I did call him “sinister” and that he was behaving in one instance like a “wanna-be mafioso”. Sort of like how he comported himself outside the elementary school track meet.

Clarence is lucky to have disinfected itself of this horrifically noxious juvenile – a despicable weasel who believes the rules don’t apply to him.

Pursuant to the Clarence Central School District’s code of conduct,

All persons on school property or attending a school function, including athletic events, shall conduct themselves in a respectful and orderly manner.

No person, either alone or with others, shall:

1. Intentionally injure any person or threaten to do so.

…All visitors are expected to abide by the rules for public conduct on school property contained in this Code of Conduct

It’s amazing that a grown man attending an elementary school event at a high school track would – like some street thug – threaten another adult with physical violence. Joe Weiss once famously said that the “masses are asses”, but I guess he was really just projecting all that time.

Perhaps as a perfect coda, the Clarence Republican Committee voted last night to endorse councilmember Pat Casilio for supervisor over incumbent David Hartzell, whom Weiss helped defeat Supervisor Scott Bylewski in 2011. I mean, that was quick. It also endorsed newcomer Chris Greene over incumbent Bernie Kolber. Evidently this is because Kolber, who had a Kathy Weppner sign in front of his office and has peppered his truck with all manner of anti-Obama bumper stickers (including, but not limited to, “Got a Birth Certificate?”) isn’t Republican enough.

As for Weiss, I will refer the matter to the authorities and the school, in the hope that Weiss is held accountable for his unreasonable and puerile conduct.

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.

Donn Esmonde’s School Vandals

When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal. – Garrison Keillor

Maybe Donn Esmonde is too busy with his new hobby of trying to be a retiree version of Bernice Radle, rehabbing dilapidated investment properties on the West Side of Buffalo, but his opinions and pronouncements on the issue of education have reached the status of self-parody. On Sunday, he published a column praising a proposal to set up a charter boarding school, because some Buffalo kids’ home life is so dysfunctional, the only way they can get a fair shot at advancement is to get out of their neighborhoods and homes.

That is, of course, a horrific indictment of the effects of poverty, fear, and crime that pervades some families and neighborhoods in Buffalo. It is also evidence of how poorly any and every effort by society, faith, government, or community to change that status quo has worked. I don’t know whether it is appropriate for the public school system to spend upwards of $25,000 per boarding school pupil to give them a chance to succeed, but we live in a time of public school privatization and student compartmentalization in districts like Buffalo, and the school board has a majority now that is in favor of privatization and charter expansion.

It’s amazing that Esmonde and his charter proponent allies are so comfortable spending tax money on a quasi-private, selective boarding school, but he spits fire and hatred at the notion of adequately funding suburban districts. To Esmonde’s mind, suburbs = bad and city = good, and those basic equations inform everything he writes.

In Clarence, which spends just over $14,000 per pupil, Esmonde sided with the people who would dismantle public education. After all, suburbs = bad. He wrote two columns – here and here – that could only be characterized as Esmonde’s way of punishing suburban students and teaching them a lesson for the crime of being born to educated or well-to-do parents, and for what he considers to be poor geographics.

In that first article that Esmonde wrote, he praised “reformer” Roger Showalter, who is now a member of the Clarence school board. In fact, Showalter has been a member of the board for almost two years.

Where is his “reform”? What proposal has he put forward to fundamentally change, “the cost structure”?

Currently, an influx of state aid has helped Clarence out. Instead of raising the local levy to the 4.7% cap, the Superintendent proposes a rise of 3.9%, and restoring 11 positions out of the 113 that have been lost through budget cuts and attrition since 2011. Yet “reformer” Showalter is reportedly refusing to consider these 11 positions – 2 ELA and 2 math teachers to meet state mandates and serve students who need intervention, a special ed teacher to meet state mandates and serve elementary students, freeing up the special ed teacher they share with the middle school, 1 Elementary teacher at Harris Hill to address class sizes and rising enrollment, 1 technology and 1 business teacher at the CHS to serve needed electives to prepare students to be competitive in our global economy, 1 districtwide music teacher to alleviate class sizes, and 2 elementary librarians to restore full-time librarians at all elementary schools.

None of that is fluff, excess, or unnecessary – all of these positions are needed.

Esmonde’s “reformer” Showalter argues that it doesn’t matter what the board or administration “want”, or what would be “nice to have”, but, “what is financially viable in the long term.” He adds that he believes that this restoration, “sends us down the same path that got us into budget trouble before and is not fiscally prudent. I won’t support it.” This is a fundamental re-write of history, and his logic is faulty. Furthermore, his position – I can’t in good conscience call it an argument – is an outcrop of the standard argument from the typical Clarence anti-school activists: the teachers are the villains.

Donn Esmonde and Roger Showalter believe that Clarence schools are great because we have involved, concerned parents, and families send good “quality” students (whatever that means) to the district, so the excellence of the schools can be maintained, no matter how much is cut. He believes that we can’t “throw money” at education, because Buffalo spends far more than Clarence and produces far worse results. In 2012, Showalter claimed that cuts wouldn’t affect his kids, and that he was for more cuts to “get rid of the extra fluff” in the curriculum.

Indeed, he brushes off the curriculum as unimportant – only “core” classes that prepare kids to compete in the “global economy” matter. Small class sizes – unimportant, too. He believes that the value comes not from extracurriculars, but from our lower tax rate. Likewise, Mr. Showalter is unconcerned with teacher morale and workload. Specifically, he thinks that teacher morale can be improved by instituting a system that rewards teachers for good performance, and getting rid of teachers who “do not perform”. He claims that the tenure system removes “incentive for good teaching”.


It’s true that Clarence’s socioeconomic reality translates into an easier job for our schools. Because Clarence – as a town – attracts families who are looking for quality, low-tax public schools, our families have an especial interest in the education their kids receive. We have far less poverty in our town, which is one of the wealthiest in Erie County. Despite that, as recently as 2013 it was revealed that 8.7% of students were receiving benefits under a free federal lunch program for families in poverty. In 2007, only 4% of kids were on that program.

No matter what the school board does – it has a duty to do right by those kids who have the least.

Socioeconomics have an affect on our schools – that’s why our cost per pupil is the 2nd lowest in Erie County, and 6th lowest in the entire state. That’s why we’re the third most cost-effective district in the 8 counties of western New York, and 6th in administrative efficiency. Clarence is third in academic rankings in WNY. We have been first before, and we should be first again. Striving for anything less does a disservice to students and taxpayers. Are we teaching kids that third is good enough? Back in 2012, Mr. Showalter told whomever would listen – including Donn Esmonde – that people were playing Chicken Little by claiming that additional cuts would cause the sky to fall. How wrong he was. If he was that wrong then, how can we trust anything he says now?

  • Since 2011, the district has cut 113 full-time positions; 53 of them in 2013 alone.
  • In 2013, the high school lost art, math, English, tech, and business teachers. The entire family & consumer science department was cut, and we lost a guidance counselor.
  • In 2013, the middle school lost an art, English, and science teacher.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 3 K-5 teachers, two librarians, and 12 teacher’s aides.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated four music teachers, the last social worker, and summer school.
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 23 high school clubs and extracurricular activities
  • In 2013, the cuts in the revote budget eliminated 15 middle school clubs and extracurricular activities
  • When these clubs are eliminated, parents must find privately funded alternatives. This hurts the poorest families  – that 8.7% – hardest.
  • In 2013, the revote budget eliminated all HS freshman sports, affecting 90 kids.
  • In 2013, the revote budget eliminated all modified sports in the middle school, affecting 225 kids.

CSEF was able to restore sports and clubs. But that isn’t how this should work.

Weaning the District From State Aid

We can concede that perhaps not all of the 113 lost positions must be restored, but certainly some should. Mr. Showalter wants the district to “wean” itself off of state aid, but that makes no sense. For starters, the district has “weaned” itself off of the $16 million in state aid that Albany owes – but hasn’t paid – thanks to the gap elimination adjustment.

Perhaps Mssrs. Showalter and Esmonde think that it benefits local taxpayers to shoulder a greater town tax burden thanks to state aid stolen from kids to balance the state budget, but most people would disagree. It is, in actuality, a fiscally obnoxious accounting gimmick resulting in schoolkids plugging holes in the state budget. Our school districts are subsets of the state education system, and why shouldn’t taxpayers throughout the state share in the cost of educating children within the state? Where does this limited thinking end? Should Erie County “wean” itself off of funding and maintenance provided by the State DOT and instead demand local funding of local roads?

This parochial “only Clarence money for Clarence kids” mindset is not only unrealistic and shortsighted, but would bring about two completely unacceptable results: shift all of the funding burden on local taxpayers, wildly increasing the tax levy and rate; and/or making permanent the sorts of district-killing cuts that came about in 2013. Neither alternative is acceptable.

Path of Fiscal Imprudence

Mr. Showalter will have you believe that it was the teachers who are to blame for the crisis of 2013. This is false, and while he will accuse this of playing “victim” politics, his characterization doesn’t make it any less untrue. Facts are facts. The global financial economic meltdown brought about an historic stock market crash. Few people recall this:

The teacher’s pension system invests in the stock market, and the state pension fund must continue to pay out benefits regardless of how the market performs. When the stock market crashes and the pension fund loses money, taxpayers have to make up the difference.

In the wake of the 2008 – 2009 crash, analysts at the Manhattan Institute estimated that contributions to the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System would have to quadruple for up to five years to account for the market crash. The problem wasn’t the pensions – it was the unanticipated and practically unprecedented economic emergency. It wasn’t the teachers who were at fault – they did nothing to precipitate the financial disaster.

Before anyone assails the pension system itself, consider that every dollar spent on New York City’s pension benefits results in almost $2.00 in local economic activity, and they’re administered 40% more cheaply than defined contribution plans or 401(k)s. But the “path” that led to the budget crisis of 2012 and 2013 is long gone – the chart reveals that the Dow is now at record highs.

What happened was that the federal government, through President Obama’s stimulus package, provided financial aid to local school districts to alleviate pressures caused on budgets due to the crash. When that money dried up, but the pension issues were still ongoing, the district found itself in dire financial straits. But all that is now behind us. It wasn’t teachers or social workers or guidance counselors or librarians who brought about Clarence’s financial crisis.

Instead, it was matters entirely out of anyone’s control. These are facts, not theories. Restoring 11 positions won’t result in the Dow plummeting back to 8,000 and another five years of taxpayer hurt. Instead, it will help students and the district, and in turn provide taxpayers with a direct benefit. They’re not just wildly spending money, they’re making an investment – an investment in their homes and community, and an investment in the next generation.

Esmonde and his “reformer” ally – whose only reform seems to be voting “no” – continue to blame teacher salaries and benefits.

Extracurriculars and “fluff”

Is music education “fluff”? What about athletics? Art? The business academy? The various clubs and teams? What, precisely, would he comfortably eliminate? We could counter by asking what sort of a world this would be without music, art, and athletics, but let’s keep it to school curricula. Teaching kids how to be musically and artistically creative trains their brains to think creatively in all aspects of their lives. An arts curriculum results in improvement in

…math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.

That doesn’t sound like unnecessary fluff. A music curriculum throughout a kid’s school career has myriad cognitive pay-offs, including enhanced language skills, increased IQ, a more efficient brain, and improved test scores. Time and again, studies have shown the importance of a strong music curriculum on kids’ overall development.

Of course, strengthening our STEM curriculum is important, but if our kids have a solid foundation in the arts, they’ll perform better in those areas that help them compete in the global economy. By the way, the schools’ job is to educate all kids in the system, and frankly, some of them want to become professional artists or musicians, and we owe them a duty to provide them with that opportunity.

Teacher Morale and Performance

Teacher morale is important because a happy teacher means a happy classroom and happy students. Treating teachers like fungible commodities isn’t going to do anyone any favors – not the taxpayer nor the district. Almost 85% of Clarence teachers – in management speak – “exceed expectations”; are “highly effective”. The remaining 15% are “effective” or “meet expectations”.

There are no teachers in our local district who “do not perform”. His central premise is completely manufactured out of thin air. Clarence, of all places, doesn’t need lectures about getting rid of ineffective teachers. Furthermore, he argues that tenure serves as a disincentive for “good teaching”. Tell it to Valerie Acee, who was a tenured music teacher who was fired in the 2013 cuts. Tell it to Michael Vertoske – a prolific composer and caring teacher – whom Clarence fired, and whom Williamsville quickly snapped up to its benefit and Clarence’s detriment. Tell it to the eager, younger teachers who were let go in 2013, completely undermining Mr. Showalter’s point.

But here’s the thing, if he truly thinks that we need a system that rewards teachers for good performance, where is it? He’s been on the board for two years, and I have not seen a single proposal – from him or anyone – to implement a system to reward the 85% of teachers who exceed expectations and are highly effective. By his own logic, an overwhelming majority of Clarence teachers are eligible for his reward system. Where is it?


The emergency is over, and the outlook is good. It is time to rebuild our district, and restore some of what we’ve lost. We’re not saying we need to go back to the 2005 status quo, although it would be great if we could restore the enrichment program. We’re saying that scaremongering over the tax rate is false, and the people who are against restoration (not to mention the outside school “no” opponents) are wrong. Why? Check the data:

We’re not even close to the exorbitant tax rates we had a decade ago. Donn Esmonde is a liar, and his “reformer” Showalter has reformed nothing. He hasn’t even proposed any sort of reform.

Clarence’s school budget vote is coming May 19th, and the final form is still being worked out. Follow along at this link for news and information.

Manufactured Crises in Suburban Public Schools

IMG_1767 (1)

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.

There’s Petty, Then There’s Small Town Petty

clartownhallIn 2013, Ronald Kucinski, Jr. circulated petitions to run as a Republican for the Clarence Town Board. Apparently, his bid didn’t have the support of the town committee. Kucinski’s petitions were challenged, and thrown out. He was understandably upset about it, and sent a letter to the editor of the Clarence Bee, expressing his displeasure.

So you want to run for office and get into the world of politics? You have ideas, you have guts and the determination?

I gave it a shot only to be defeated by my own party. This is what I found out:

The “good-old-boy network” is alive and well in Clarence. We are fortunate to live in a country where anyone can run for public office. However the political machine here in Clarence does not believe in a Democracy where the residents choose their candidates.

Clarence Republican Committee chair Dan Michnik, incidentally, works at the county Board of Elections. He also picks up a small stipend from the town.

But Kucinski’s wasn’t the only letter the Bee published on the matter.  There was also this one, sent in by Beverly Campochiaro.

How self-serving that a small number representing the Republican Party can dictate whom they want to win, whether or not they are doing what’s right for the town.

This is a democracy, and we are entitled to more. The fact that the Republican Party makes that choice for us is unacceptable.

We had a qualified candidate ready, willing and able to serve the residents of Clarence. But the good ol’ boys were not going to let that happen.

Many residents took a stand regarding the school budget. Maybe it’s time to take a stand regarding our local politicians.

Let’s not look at this upcoming election as party versus party. It’s not about that; it’s the first step to make a change. With each election, we need to get involved and tell our local party leaders enough is enough.

Campochiaro’s letter was arguably stronger than Kucinski’s, and there’s a connection here; Campochiaro happens to be Kucinski’s mother-in-law.

Campochiaro is also a longtime member of the volunteer board of the Clarence Youth Bureau. She helped found it, she’s volunteered for 9 years, she’s a former chairwoman and secretary, and heads up a great speaker’s series. By all accounts, she’s a hard worker, well-liked by the kids and her colleagues, and has never had a problem there.

That is, until her son-in-law tried to run for town office.

The Clarence Town Board is 100% Republican and an all-male revue. At a working session last week, it voted 3 – 2 to not recommend Ms. Campochiaro’s re-appointment to the Clarence Youth Bureau.

Word of this vote got out, and members of the Youth Bureau board and other concerned parties undertook a letter-writing and call-in campaign to change the Town Board’s mind.

It should be noted that the town board maintains a liaison with the Clarence Youth Bureau. Most recently, it was Robert Geiger, who was one of the two “no” votes and who respects Campochiaro’s work. The other “no” vote was from Bernie Kolber, who has strong personal feelings against Campochiaro for her “good old boy” cracks, but nevertheless could not allow those feelings to cloud his judgment or direct his vote. The liaison who served prior to Geiger was Peter DiCostanzo, who was instrumental in this attempt to oust Campochiaro from the Youth Board; a board which, incidentally, already has a vacancy the town can’t fill.

I spoke with Campochiaro earlier this week, and she notes that, once the letter-writing campaign started, and the media began digging, the December 29th vote suddenly became “preliminary”. Councilman Pat Casilio, who voted against Campochiaro’s re-appointment on the 29th told me an email that “no final decision has been made yet”. (Supervisor Hartzell and Councilmember DiCostanzo did not reply to an email sent January 5th asking why they voted against reappointment).

For her part, Campochiaro is aghast over this. She loves volunteering for the Youth Bureau and no one has had the decency to explain to her why it is that her reappointment to the Youth Bureau board, (which already has a vacancy), is being called into question. She says it’s like “defamation of character” to have a sort of scarlet letter around her neck – not convicted or even accused of any malfeasance – yet to be singled out as a disposable troublemaker. There’s not even the typical small town excuse – getting rid of one person to make way for a patronage hack.  After all, the position is unpaid.

Campochiaro believes that this is nothing more than blatant political retribution. She relates a story about a board meeting that was held at the Youth Bureau some time ago, which has 7 student members. There was a discussion held about a speaker who was going to talk about drug abuse among middle school students. Mr. DiCostanzo was the Town Board liaison at the time, and he said, “any kid that carries a backpack is using drugs or selling drugs.”

Nothing was said at the time, but that remark was a shocker. Just about every kid in that school district, after all, carries a backpack, so the comment was either stupid, or a bad joke. Campochiaro later corresponded with DiCostanzo, and chided him for his “inappropriate” remark, reminding him that he’s there to show leadership, to be a role model, and to support the kids and town. She told him that if parents heard what he said, they’d be appalled. DiCostanzo responded angrily – Campochiaro says he “ripped [her] apart in an email”, claiming that it was just a joke. No one found it funny.

Campochiaro contacted Supervisor Hartzell to make an appointment to meet with him about this issue. She soon thought better of it, and figured she’d let it go; she cancelled the appointment. However, Hartzell saw this and called her to find out what the problem was. She told him about DiCostanzo’s remark, and complained that he should be replaced as liaison at the next reorganization. According to Campochiaro, Hartzell was appalled by DiCostanzo’s remark, and at the next reorg, Geiger replaced DiCostanzo as liaison.

In the absence of any other rational explanation, Campochiaro accuses DiCostanzo of exacting his revenge for her son-in-law’s run for office, her letter to the editor critical of the town Republican machine, and for having the Supervisor remove DiCostanzo as Youth Bureau liaison. Incidentally, Hartzell was the third December 29th vote to reject Campochiaro’s reappointment. In the Clarence Bee, Steve Jagord writes,

DiCostanzo denied any personal ill will towards Campochiaro and in an email called into question her personalization of the decision.

“It is not a personal or political thing,” DiCostanzo said. “People who really know me know I don’t let petty politics affect my decision making.”

However, no reason was given for not reappointing Campochiaro. Casilio and Hartzell did not respond to requests for comment in time for this week’s edition.

The Bee also published a strong editorial chiding the Town Board for, in effect, discouraging volunteer participation. The whole thing has a chilling effect.

The Town Board met on Wednesday for its 2015 reorganization meeting. Councilman Geiger was reappointed as liaison to the Youth Bureau. Cooler heads prevailed, and Mrs. Campochiaro was reappointed to the Youth Bureau’s board.

During the allotted period of public comment on the town board’s reorganization agenda, Campochiaro thanked the board for reappointing her, adding that the last week had been a very trying one for her and her family. Addressing DiCostanzo, who couldn’t be bothered to lift his head or look her in the eye, Campochiaro responded to comment to the Bee, claiming that this wasn’t about personality. She said, “you know and I know that it is.” She hoped, however, that they could put this entire episode behind them and continue the good work that the Youth Bureau does for the town and its citizens.

To this day, however, not one of the three “no” votes has explained himself. Campochiaro is logically to conclude that they had allowed personal animus to influence their duties as town trustees. The smallest beam of light can work wonders.

1 2 3 4