Ulterior School Motives

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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 OTHER SIDE

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”.

Socioeconomics

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?

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paladino Mistakes Windmill for Giant

paladino2The Paladino descent into self-parody continues apace, as he opens up yet another front in his relentless war on everyone.

Last week, Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor and head of its Civil Rights Project, complained to the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights about Paladino’s efforts to dictate to and intimidate Orfield and his group. Orfield is not Paladino’s employee, but the head of an organization that the Buffalo school board retained to investigate complaints of racial discrimination in criterion school admissions. Orfield had strongly urged the board majority, including Paladino, to holf off on committing to any charter plans for the four “failing” schools until his group could finish its work and issue its recommendations.

Orfield’s complaint to the OCR was made public, and apparently threw Paladino into a rage. His skin is far too thin to tolerate any criticism, however mild. So, he fired off an intemperate, now-irrelevant letter to the OCR blasting Orfield. Most of it is just an ad hominem attack against Orfield.

Witness the reaction of a man whose companies rent space to – and profit from – charter schools:

To: Timothy Blanchard Director New York Regional Office Office of Civil Rights,U.S.Department of Education

From: Carl P. Paladino

Date: August 14, 2015

Cc: Everybody

Re: Gary Orfield

Mr. Blanchard, this is in response to an uninformed Buffalo News editorial and Gary Orfield’s letter to you dated February 10, 2015. I am writing as an individual member of the Buffalo Board of Education, (BOE) and I speak only for myself.

Contrary to Orfield’s letter, I am not the Chairman or leader of the BOE, however, I am a member who is incapable of being cowed by an academic elitist who knows nothing about our BOE’s reform intentions and actually seeks to have you admonish me and delay the implementation of our reform agenda. I intend to do what I was elected to do.

Orfield has an MA and PhD in political science. He appears to be a self-absorbed charlatan. He is not a person conducting a study, but rather an activist anti-charter zealot. He is an advocacy researcher, not an unbiased researcher. He is a paid lobbyist who uses Harvard and UCLA after his name because he admires himself much like Jonathan Gruber the MIT professor who wrote Obamacare.

Orfield purportedly was selected by a Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) committee because he was the cheaper of the two people who responded to the RFP. Actually I suspect a much more sinister process took place. Apparently, as has been past practice, no one from the BPS bothered to Google Orfield or look beyond his self-serving and deceitful response to the RFP to see who he really was. Appearances are he is a plant on a mission commissioned by the BOE minority to delay and frustrate the implementation of the reform agenda.

Orfield holds himself out as a “published anti-charter expert and noted speaker.” He ascribes an astonishing fraction of America’s educational failings to America’s obvious lack of “civil rights” in the public schools. He is known as the “segregation professor.” He has been accused of “breathtaking intellectual dishonesty.” He lobbies for busing and stands and speaks extensively against neighborhood schools and charters claiming they create segregation. See attached. He refers to New York schools as Apartheid schools. He supports “social passing-feels that testing is a means to force children out of schools. He has a predisposition to find segregation everywhere, especially in New York. He lacks any discernible objectivity. When considering the requirements of the RFP, he has fraudulently presented himself. Why would the BOE imagine hiring someone who intends to impose his socialist will on the District?

Buffalo’s only civil rights issue comes in the form of the desperate attitude of the BOE minority which consistently plays the race card for lack of any plausible argument against the reform agenda. They were the majority until this year and on their watch the BPS slid into the abyss of total dysfunction. The people of Buffalo voted overwhelmingly for change and reform installing the new majority. Self -empowerment and the ability to control money and jobs is more important to the minority than ending the urban cycle of poverty and giving 34,000 kids a fair opportunity for education no matter what the vehicle, which ironically is the mission of the BOE majority’s reform agenda.

Orfield lacks any objectivity and when considering the requirements of the RFP, he has fraudulently presented himself. We can expect him to include in any report he prepares language that would exclude any Charter School considerations.

Orfield’s letter to you illustrates that he intends to use the Buffalo Public Schools as his Petri dish for his socialistic social re-engineering. He concludes that obviously the BOE majority could not possibly have good intentions for minority children, an insulting and racist remark that illustrates his lack of objectivity. The majority’s reform plan was being prepared when the misguided complaint of the District Parent Coordinating Council (DPCC) was filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR.) Knowing what they know today about the majority’s intentions, I expect that the DPCC would agree to withdraw their complaint.

The majority’s plan specifically addresses compliance with the “No Child Left Behind” legislation by using an array of vehicles to create seats in performing schools for implementation in 2015. It is shameful for Orfield to suggest that our children must suffer in underperforming schools for another school year so that he can finish his report sometime in the future.

The BOE majority seeks to correct bad policies administered in the past by the BOE minority when they controlled the majority together with an incompetent Superintendent which resulted in the conditions addressed in the complaint. We have 46 out of 57 schools failing. Our overall proficiencies in Math and English are approximately 10%. There are over 27,000 kids in failing schools who need to be relocated to performing schools. The suburbs and Catholics are closing schools for lack of students. High quality charters want to expand. We filled every seat in the performing schools and we now seek to expand or duplicate them. Is OCR going to delay these good efforts for another year to satisfy Orfield?

Orfield’s fraud in the inception of his contract and belligerency in trying to delay and frustrate the reform intentions of the BOE majority are not tolerable.

I will move to terminate his contract at the next meeting of the BOE.

Fraud? Orfield should sue for defamation – fraud is a crime, and Paladino should prove that up.

Query: the BOE’s minority-as prior-majority presided over not only the “failing” schools, but the “performing” ones, too. There are myriad reasons why the underperforming schools can’t seem to educate or graduate kids, but blaming it all on the BOE minority or the teachers’ union misses the mark.

“Petri dish for his socialistic social re-engineering” what on Earth does that even mean? This stems from Paladino figuring out that Orfield isn’t a Paladino clone anti-SAFE Act tea party activist, and is therefore a socialist. “Self-absorbed charlatan”, “activist anti-Charter zealot”, “sinister process”. Orfield has the nerve to oppose racial segregation, and this apparently sets Paladino into a rage.

Note the very careful, repeated (improper) use of the word “socialist”—Paladino uses “socialist” as an adjective for someone who opposes racial segregation. It bears mentioning, then, that Paladino is rather expressly advocating for illegal racial segregation; integration is “socialist social re-engineering”.

Following up on his intemperate segregationist rant, Paladino reproduces an article written by a xenophobic conservative activist slamming Orfield. He then reproduced a laundry list of things that Orfield has said or written about a variety of topics in order to establish that Orfield is a liberal academic who has the nerve to disagree with positions that Paladino holds. If you’re interested, you can visit a local tea party website and see the whole thing: it is basically a compendium of ad hominem attacks and character assassination by a state official against an academic who dared to raise an objection. Who cares if Orfield didn’t like John Ashcroft? Who cares if Orfield is a Democrat or a liberal? To Paladino, that alone is enough to disqualify anything from anything.

Except, of course, for the Democrats whom Paladino supports.

That is the danger of all of this. While it’s arguably ok for private citizen Carl Paladino to hurl his hateful invective at anyone who dares to even mildly disagree with his dogma, Paladino is an elected state official. Not only does he owe the schools a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of all students, but if he decides—as a state official—to issue fatwas and wage jihad against everyone who dares to threaten or thwart his thinly veiled efforts to privatize and profit from schools, Constitutional and civil rights issues suddenly arise.

As we already know from Orfield, Paladino clearly “shows deep disrespect for federal civil rights laws.” They – and Orfield – are mere impediments standing between Paladino and his ultimate goals.

Perhaps more chilling than Paladino’s own efforts to defame and censor a critic, the Buffalo News’ editorial page gently chides Paladino for his behavior. The News has been a friend to charter schools, so its tsk-tsk tone is to be expected; however, the Buffalo News gets everything right except two: that Paladino sincerely wants to help, and that he can be a force for positive change. There is no evidence of the former, and while he could be a “force for positive change”, he’ll have to start acting like a responsible adult and less like a petulant toddler. The News says that Paladino sets back his own goals if he “self-destructs”. Unfortunately, self-destruction is what Paladino does. No one is as good at it as he.

Let the anti-intellectual insult follies continue, I guess. But it’s 2015 and reversion to what arguably worked in the 1930s isn’t the way forward.

Paladino Bullies the Wrong Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orfield says that in 35 years of doing this,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wife Apologizes for Husband’s Letter to the Editor

Back in November, I helped advocate for the passage of two bonding referenda to finance the repair of Clarence school buildings and grounds, and the construction of turf fields at the high school.  70% of the cost of these repairs will be covered and reimbursed by the state government.

In the Clarence Bee, after passage of the proposals, a gentleman sent in this letter to the editor:

bee1

This week, Mr. Patterson’s wife weighed in.

bee2

That’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks, Mrs. Patterson!

Paladino and the School Privateers

Carl Paladino makes a living, in large part, as a hypocrite.

Forget how he makes noise about family values while himself being a babydaddy. Forget how his company makes a great deal of money being the state’s landlord here in Buffalo. Forget how he and his cronies lie, or how Paladino comports himself on the streets of Buffalo like a vagrant escaped from the asylum, only with a Bimmer.

Carl Paladino is one of those ultra-conservative right-wing nutjob birther freaks who wants to completely dismantle public education in America. He doesn’t think teachers should make much more than minimum wage, he doesn’t think teaching is a profession that needs licensure or regulation, he rejects the Common Core and its 21st century curriculum, and he famously proposed during his disastrous gubernatorial run that inner-city kids should be sent off to state-run re-education camps.

Carl Paladino doesn’t hide his goal.

The solution is going to lie in the disassembly of the Buffalo Public School System. And we’re going to continue to do that until people smarten up. We’re going to open charter schools, we’re going to hopefully help the privates and the Catholics to become better and be able to take more kids. We’re supporting the closing of a number of Buffalo Public Schools and turning them into charters. That’s the game that we’re playing.

(Part of the Paladino playbook is to denigrate his opponents as stupid and corrupt; hence “smarten up”).

The Alliance for Quality Education promoted that quote, as well as a story about the money Paladino and his companies make as landlords for charter schools in Buffalo. In response, Paladino met with Buffalo News reporters and revealed to them details (but not to you – “transparency” is not in the Paladino playbook) about his charter school involvement, adding that his profits max out at 10% on his charter holdings, because “non-profit” is not in the Paladino playbook, even when children’s educations are at stake.

What’s fascinating to watch is this degenerate’s reaction when the lights are shone on him, and the public demands some minimal transparency. He lashes out viciously.

Elitists, led by self-promoting opportunists, in concert with Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore, ultra-liberal blowhard political whiners Marc Panepinto, Sean Ryan and Michael LoCurto, minority School Board members and their community leadership and other hypocrites, parasites and phonies, support the multigenerational tragedy of subjecting more than 30,000 children to the dysfunctional Buffalo Public Schools.

Setting aside for a moment that, when it comes to “blowhard political whiners”, there is ostensibly no better judge of that than Carl Paladino, who are these “elitists” at whom Paladino spits? Who are the elites who demand that kids be sent to dysfunctional schools, and cui bono, anyway?

For decades, we have spent billions fighting the cycle of dreadful poverty in our urban centers, yet it continues. With 46 out of 57 Buffalo Public Schools failing, the proficiency on state math and English standardized tests at 9 percent and 11 percent respectively, a graduation rate of 46 percent, (for black males, less than 15 percent) and terrible attendance and violence, the elitists want to preserve the status quo and deprive another generation of an opportunity for an education in an alternative to traditional public education. For them, the kids are not as important as black leadership empowerment. They thrive on keeping city kids hungry and uneducated, captives in urban centers, so they can be manipulated to vote for elitist causes.

Ah, the penny’s dropped. This “elite” of whom Paladino speaks is the group he more often refers to as the “sisterhood” – the group of predominately African-American females who lead the minority, anti-Paladino bloc on the Buffalo school board.

Blatant, bare racism is a well-established component of the Paladino playbook. Mansplaining / whitesplaining at the “sisterhood” is also something Paladino’s good at.

Let’s read on and see what Paladino’s argument is.

Charter schools are not perfect but they enjoy a much greater success rate than traditional schools. They are free from the constraints of union contracts.

There are much better and lower-risk development opportunities than charter schools with five-year licenses. When banks and other developers would not take the risk and the marginal return on capital, we decided it was more important to give thousands of kids an alternative opportunity to leave the cycle of poverty.

It’s time to say goodbye to these elitists and their cycle of poverty.

No, charter schools are not perfect. Neither are parochial, private, or public schools. Astonishingly enough, nothing is perfect. What’s interesting here isn’t the standard pro-charter pablum that Paladino parrots, but what’s missing. There’s nothing here about reducing class sizes, or increasing funding for community or social services. There’s nothing here about recruiting excellent teachers – on the contrary, being anti-teacher is well within the Paladino playbook. There’s nothing there about how Paladino’s charters – half of the Health Sciences Charter School, half of the Charter School for Applied Technologies, half of the Aloma D. Johnson Charter School, all of Tapestry Charter School, all of the West Buffalo Charter School, and all of the not-yet-opened Charter School for Inquiry – are performing compared to, e.g., traditional Buffalo public schools, private / parochial schools, and suburban public schools.

The notion that Carl Paladino is anywhere within view of “educating children” is, itself, laughably profane.

Paladino’s supposed interest in education is secondary to his hatred of unions. One of the principal reasons why charters do well has to do with parental involvement – you have to apply and put effort into getting a kid into a charter.  Furthermore, charters are no constrained by rules imposed on traditional public schools whereby the latter is required to take all comers, while the charter has much more freedom to pick and choose its student population. Instead of having a conversation about making all schools high-performing magnets for kids, we’re crafting a new style of segregation, not based on class or race, but based on luck. Luck of getting into a charter via lottery, luck of being born to a family that values education and is engaged in the process.

Instead of a system that lifts up all kids, Carl just wants to lift up the ones lucky enough to have parents who care. How tragic.

But make no mistake – Carl Paladino is on the board of a school district his kids didn’t attend, he is part of a majority bloc, he detests the teachers and their union, and he wants the kids to go to charter schools, on some of which he earns a profit.

Oh, and he thinks African-American females are the “elite”, but white Christian males like he are the downtrodden, all of a sudden.

Clarence: There’s an Election [UPDATED]

***NOTE: CLARENCE SCHOOLS ARE CLOSED TUESDAY NOVEMBER 18TH.  THE VOTE WILL TAKE PLACE ON THE NEXT OPEN SCHOOL DAY. ***

If you live in Clarence, Tuesday is election day. I’m willing to bet a lot of people aren’t aware of that fact. If you’re involved in any sort of sports league or club, you probably know. If you pay attention to the goings-on at the board of education you know. If you’re on any of the several mailing lists that local school support groups or PTOs cultivate, you probably know.

From 7am – 9pm on Tuesday November 18th, Clarence taxpayers have a unique opportunity to have the whole state pick up 70% of the bill for making necessary improvements, repairs, and upgrades to the school districts’ buildings and grounds. The vote takes place where school budget votes always do – in the High School Gymnasium, in the back of the building off Gunnville Road. Students will be asked to park in a neighboring lot to accommodate local voters.

There are two propositions on the ballot. Here’s an ad that Fix Clarence Schools (with whom I was involved) published in last week’s Clarence Bee:

FCS

 

Almost all of the cost goes to make repairs and upgrades to the school buildings, many of which have not had significant capital improvements or repairs in four decades. The general maintenance bond will finance things like new roofs, asbestos abatement, improved security systems, updated alarm systems, technology upgrades, and updates to old, inefficient, and potentially hazardous electrical and HVAC systems. Interest rates remain at historic lows, the district’s most recent Moody’s rating is Aa2 (prime), and local taxpayers will only shoulder 30% of the direct cost – the remaining 70% will come from a state allocation.

Some people balk at the 30/70 split, because the 70% still comes from taxpayers via Albany. but that 70% from Albany is already budgeted-for and allocated: either we get it, or someone else will. It’s made up of tax revenue from individuals and businesses from throughout the state – from Scarsdale to Plattsburgh and everywhere in-between. Plus, the money is getting spent one way or another, and given the acute need for Clarence’s physical plant, it would downright negligent to not apply for this funding.

The second bond proposal is much smaller, and its passage is contingent on passage of the general repair bond. Here, Clarence taxpayers are asked to finance 30% of the cost of three separate artificial turf fields at the High School. The reason why this is necessary was perfectly illustrated during the 2013 – 2014 school year, during which 140+ games had to be rescheduled due to unplayable fields. To make matters worse for taxpayers, these fields were unplayable despite the cost associated with maintaining them.

With the introduction of modern artificial turf, the district will have three fields that will be playable in any conditions, so long as there’s no lightning. With the installation of the turf come improvements to the fields’ drainage systems, and once installed, the cost to replace the actual playing field is a fraction of what the initial placement costs.

The three fields will be the football stadium (whose treacherous bleachers, dilapidated press box, and antiquated scoreboard will be replaced under the general repair bond), a multi-use field, and the varsity baseball diamond.

Proposed football stadium turf

Multi-use field and varsity baseball diamond

Here is what the fields looked like in Spring 2014:

People in the community have raised valid concerns about this. The first has to do with the turf infill – an NBC report that came out a few weeks ago broadcast allegations that the use of crumb rubber infill (which keeps the artificial grass blades upright and cushions the playing field) may have contributed to cancer in some players in the Pacific Northwest. Every study that has been done on crumb rubber, which is made from recycled tires, has shown this infill to be perfectly safe, and no study exists to establish a causal link between crumb rubber infill and cancer. Nevertheless, the district takes this very seriously and has many available, within-budget alternatives to crumb rubber that it will consider before construction begins. These include sand, virgin rubber, “Envirofill“, and cork.

The second concern that some have raised has to do with the district’s recent history of budget problems and what many believe to be a catastrophic loss of teachers, courses, and social workers. Why aren’t we issuing bonds to help pay to restore these people and programs? Unfortunately, we can’t. Firstly, the 70/30% financing ratio is only valid for capital building and repair projects such as the ones contemplated here. The district cannot issue a bond – much less one for which the state will cover the majority – to restore items to its operating budget. We don’t just need these teachers and programs for one year, but every year.

Think of it this way: we can issue a bond to buy the Keurig machine; we can’t use it to buy coffee capsules. But if we bond to make these repairs at 30% of the cost, that may likely free up future yearly operating budgets whereby money that would have been allocated to make piecemeal repairs to problem areas can now be reserved for teaching and counseling.

Every way you look at this, it’s win:win for taxpayers and the district.

The cost of both bond proposals for a typical $200,000 home in Clarence will be $46 per year; about $3.83 per month.  Remember – your STAR exemption, which is enhanced for seniors, reduces your taxable assessed value.

Here are two videos Fix Clarence Schools produced, featuring recent Clarence alumnus and Cincinnati Reds right-hand pitching prospect Mark Armstrong:


If you’re a Clarence taxpayer, resident, homeowner, parent, alumni, and current student of voting age, I hope you’ll make the trek out in what promises to be some inclement weather, and vote YES on Tuesday, November 18th to Fix Clarence Schools.

Thank you.

Unhinged Lies, Debunked

They were sore winners last year, and they’re sore losers this year. I suppose I prefer the latter, but let’s examine facts vs. fantasy. 

– 3,531 people voted in the Clarence school election Tuesday. This was the third-largest turnout in Clarence history. If you eliminate last year’s aberrant budget fiasco, it was the largest turnout in Clarence history

– The school budget – largely unopposed – won by a whopping 77% margin. It was the highest margin since 1995

– The three top vote-getters for school board each received approximately 2,500 votes. The demolition crew urged people to plunk – to vote only for – Mr. Worling. He received about 1,000 votes. Anyone who suggests that turnout was “low” or “sleepy” is delusional; the usual turnout is historically closer to Mr. Worling’s entire vote count

As I described at some length here, the taxpayers – parents, students, and seniors – who came out to support our schools worked very hard on a shoestring budget to out-work the opposition. The demolition crew’s butthurt, however, is strong today

Regard: 

How many bullshits? So many bullshits

May 20th came and went – and most taxpayers didn’t even notice.

Bullshit.

As I pointed out above, third-highest turnout in history. In 2012, the total turnout was 1,664. In 2011, it was 2,019. In 2010, 1,664. In 2009, 1,087.  Average turnout in Clarence school elections peaked at 2,881 in 2005, but is historically around 1,500 in a typical year.

In 2014, turnout was more than double what we get in a typical year. Taxpayers noticed – they just happened to notice that the corporate-funded anti-school destruction crew doesn’t have the best interests of the schools, the citizens, or the town at heart.

And that buzzword – taxpayers. Am I not a taxpayer? Is there some suggestion here that the 2,500-or-so people who voted in favor of the schools are not as much taxpayers as the 1,000 school-destroyers?  Who are these people who self-identify as only one thing – a taxpayer

They use the monicker “taxpayer” to shield themselves from the fact that they seek nothing less than a wholesale destruction of the public school system in town. They pretend to be on the side of schools, but after they broke the schools last year, this particular woman didn’t bother to help fund restoration of programs. She’s on the side of her own self-interest; community be damned. Don’t buy the charade. 

This year’s School Board election hinge on voter turnout. With a more reasonable budget on the ballot, anti-taxpayer groups flew under the radar. This year’s school board vote once again became a sleepy event populated by school insiders.

Bullshit.

Interesting Freudian slip there – “school insiders”.  I’m not a “school insider” unless, of course, I’m inside a school. I have kids in school, so technically that makes them “insiders”.

The author of this malignant screed is no longer an insider, but she was a few short years ago.  You see, her kids went through the Clarence schools, free from any threats from any right wing hate mob looking to do palpable harm to their educations. But now that her kids are out of the system, it’s ripe for destruction. She got hers, now fuck everyone else. It’s the new American way.

Let me add this horrible anecdote from a correspondent: 

You better believe they’re coming after the teachers. [Tuesday] night, Ginger Lahti (wife of board member Jason and sister of board member Roger Showalter) confronted my son, a junior, in the CHS parking lot. He was holding ASK signs and chanting “quality teachers and quality education for our students.”

She said to him, “You’re not doing this for the students; you’re doing this for your teachers so they can make more money. Your teachers brainwashed you.” Later, she pointed to Mr. Worling and said to [my son], “He’s not your enemy – the teachers’ union is your enemy.”

[My son] was really upset about it, because he loves his teachers and oh yeah – his father is a teacher! Ginger certainly chose the wrong kid to confront! And last year, [Jim] Murphy confronted [my son] during the voting day demonstrations. He also told [my son] he’d been “brainwashed” and that he’d “be better off being homeschooled.” These people have ZERO respect for teachers!! In fact, they have straight-up contempt. It’s disgusting.

Bullying schoolkids? Accusing them of being brainwashed, whilst simultaneously trying to brainwash them? Nice crowd of people, who can’t pick on someone their own size. 

That Murphy guy. He’s a trip. One of our volunteers went to where the anti-school crowd was bribing seniors with pancakes to get them to help destroy the schools (it didn’t work – hardly anyone showed up.) She’s a young mother, and had her infant with her while volunteering. As she was leaving,

… it was to Jim Murphy shouting at me… “You need your baby to protect you”.. That came out of nowhere because everyone was very pleasant to us while we were there.

Just awful people. Protect her from what, precisely? That’s a straight-up threat. Murphy used to be on the town’s Democratic committee. Some Democrat – working to destroy public education, a tool of the town’s big developer, bullying kids, threatening mothers. Glad we’ve sanitized the committee of such despicable malcontents.

Anyhow, Tuesday’s “sleepy event” was (if you take away 2013) the largest turnout in history.  

And we’re “anti-taxpayer” now? I am a taxpayer. In fact, the author of the anti-school post paid $2,400 in school taxes last year. I paid $4,300. Is that taxpayer-y enough for you? I’m also a citizen of a society – a society that guarantees kids a quality education from K-12. 

As a sign of just how brazen they were, taxpayers were openly disrespected at Meet the Candidates night when ALL THREE ANTI-TAXPAYER CANDIDATES FOR SCHOOL BOARD  PLEDGED SUPPORT FOR EACH OTHER – AND FOR LAST YEAR’S FAILED 9.8% BUDGET INCREASE.

Bullshit.

Maybe you felt disrespected, but taxpayers weren’t disrespected, and neither were you.  (Actually, it was a wholly cordial event and no one disrespected anyone, except in someone’s Randian fever dreams.)  At the Meet the Candidates forum, the ASK slate of candidates didn’t express “support for each other” at any time. That is a blatant lie. They did, however, indicate that they would have rather eaten the 9.8% increase and maintained programs, social workers, librarians, classes, clubs, teachers, and electives, rather than lost it all.   (Here is a compendium on my 2013 series on the budget mess.) 

It’s called getting a good return on a comparatively low investment. We have a cost-effective, fiscally responsible school district that maintains excellent results for minimum taxpayer exposure

You can’t make this stuff up. And this inexplicably blatant anti-taxpayer action paid off as the three all coasted to victory amid slack voter turnout.

Bullshit

High voter turnout. And they coasted with historically high voter turnout. It’s just that we turned our people out and yours stayed home. Maybe they were fatigued by your hateful, false propaganda. 

I was petrified Tuesday night as they called the results. I didn’t know they did it in ballot order, so when they said Worling’s name second, my heart dropped. Nothing was a sure bet, and I never once underestimated the financial wherewithal or bitter hatred that our opponents harbored for us and our cause. This wild rant merely confirms it. 

Our cause wasn’t spendthrift communism, but the maintenance of excellent and cost-effective schools. 

Clarence is the #3 district in WNY. It is also the third most cost-efficient district in WNY. It is fifth lowest in per pupil spending in WNY. You get the biggest bang for your school tax buck in Clarence. 

Our voters, frankly, came out because they’ve had it with the demolition crew’s propaganda and lies. 

The gambit should have served as a warning that the anti-taxpayer groups have concluded that the sleeping giant that awoke last May to strike down the 9.8% increase has returned to its slumber.

Instead, the move mobilized their base, and the three enjoyed the support of same 2500 votes that have traditionally been available for union-backed candidates in a Clarence School Board race.

Bullshit.

“Anti-taxpayer” again. I don’t quite follow the logic in the two preceding paragraphs, but it is a lie to suggest that 2,500 people typically turn out to vote for a certain bloc of candidates; “union-backed” or not. (You’re starting to see, I gather, their real bone of contention – that teachers are remunerated for their labor.)

Historically – at least in the past decade, and when you omit 2013 – about 1,000 people show up to vote in favor of the budget and for the highest vote-getters for school board. When you lie to people, you’re insulting everyone’s intelligence. The data aren’t that difficult to obtain, and lies are easy to debunk.  

It’s easy to understand why.

Last year’s failed budget brought record numbers to the polls, and the resulting tide went against the union types. This year, there was no such galvanizing issue. Taxpayers were too busy with everyday life to waste time when the budget wasn’t being contested.

Bullshit. 

No, you were just wasting our time by opposing a reasonable proposition to, y’know, keep our kids safe. Bus breakdowns don’t affect your family, but they affect thousands of others. It doesn’t matter – you got yours, right? You were wasting our time by pimping out some guy who can’t even be bothered to send his kids to the district. No one was energized by Worling and his half-assed non-answers to reasonable questions about a district with which he has no contact whatsoever.

How about I ask to become a member of the board of Central Christian Academy and tell them how to run their business, even though I don’t even know where it’s located?  

Such a lackadaisical electorate was no match for 2,500 school insiders who show up reliably each year to protect their families’ meal tickets.

Bullshit.

Meal tickets? What brand of insanity is this?  There’s not one single person in my group who is connected to the school district in any way beyond sending kids to it. We’re fighting for our kids’ education – not some fantastical “meal ticket”. If you ever needed to know how much contempt this particular person has for the schools, the teachers, the students, and parents – there’s your answer. 

It’s hard to blame them. This is the system we’ve chosen. It’s up to us to put up – or show up.

There’s always next year.

We see your contempt for the taxpayers who treasure our schools and our kids’ educations. We see your lies and how you’re trying to manipulate the facts. We know that you have nothing but malice for the kids and their teachers; for the parents, board, and administration – (even though you don’t bother to show up to board meetings.) 

Honestly, I don’t think New York is right for you. If you’re looking for low taxes and really shitty social services, I’d recommend Mississippi or maybe Florida. 

The Victory in Clarence

I feel like punctuating everything with a Jesse Pinkman-esque “bitch!” And I wonder what Donn Esmonde would say now, what with his bullshit, facile tea party pandering from last year. 

Clarence taxpayers took back our school district last night. The budget, with a 2.46% spending hike and a 3.16% within-cap tax levy increase, passed by an overwhelming and decisive margin: 2670 – 786.

But no one was seriously advocating against the budget – well, sort of. One especially nasty group foolishly tried to have it both ways, not expressly advocating against it, but not endorsing it, either. They repeatedly reminded their “supporters” that they’d be paying more in taxes. Never mind that everyone’s getting a rebate check for the difference later this year. 

On the other hand, we faced a very extensive push to vote against a proposal to replace aging buses. We were told the district should pay cash, instead of financing the purchase with an almost no-interest state loan over five years, like normal people do. The bus proposition also won overwhelmingly, 2454 – 999. 

I confess that I’m somewhat curious as to why 1,000 Clarence residents believe safe buses for schoolkids to be unnecessary; the opponents’ rhetoric was equal parts ridiculousness and fantasy. I’d love to find out about that. 

Turning to the school board, we originally had five candidates for three available seats; four pro-school candidates, and one anti-school. When the organization with which I was working endorsed three, we had the difficult task of asking Dennis Priore, a former Ken-Ton administrator, to drop out. It took a bit of convincing, but he did so, much to our relief and astonishment. His selfless sacrifice will not be forgotten. 

And so it was that we had three pro-school candidates – Andrews, Stock, and Kloss – and one candidate who was making noise about “creative solutions” that exist only outside the board’s mandate, and “clean revenue”, which would be a job for the town board. For me, he disqualified himself by sending his children to a private Christian school outside the district, (they are entitled to public bus transportation, though), and by failing to donate to the private foundation that helped to restore lost programs last year. 

Remembering that I never much paid attention to school board races, we needed a way to drill our choices into people’s heads. We came up with a mnemonic – “ASK”, and we used it repeatedly on all of our lit and signs. People responded positively, and as we canvassed outside the polls yesterday, they knew to vote “ASK”.  We had a small army of volunteers canvassing their friends and neighbors with palm cards. We leafleted events, utilized social media, and pulled together a great robocall to remind people to GOTV. 

In doing so, I solicited help from the best political consultant in town. (I won’t use his name until I get express permission). He helped pull the script together brilliantly. When I couldn’t figure out whose voice to use for the call – no one wants to hear from me, and some people I asked couldn’t do it for various reasons, he recommended we use my daughter’s voice. I reacted that no one knows her, but was convinced with, “she’s a schoolgirl who’s concerned about her future. Everyone knows that girl.” 

Everyone hates robocalls, but when have you ever received one from a kid? We got a great response from that, and reminded people not only how to vote, but to vote at all. 

So, we have a bit of time to celebrate an unexpected but decisive victory, with many thanks to everyone who helped, gave ideas, and otherwise spent valuable time or money to get us to this point. We took back the district yesterday. Our opponents’ 2013 playbook failed miserably this time around. 

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