April 11, 2008

School District Budget & State Aid

Don't be surprised if you don't see any members of the Lockport School Board out and about the next few days. You see, there all very busy over there on Beattie Avenue congratulating themselves on the fantastic budget that they plan to present to the taxpayers of the district to vote on May 20. There's only one problem with that: The budget stinks.

The proposed budget for the 2008-09 school year is about $73 million, and represents about a 4.65 percent increase in from the current year’s budget. The district, meanwhile, received about $2.5 million more in state aid, a 6.5 percent increase from last year. With the millions in new found aid, the district is still looking at a tax levy increase below 1 percent. Well, hooray for you. You're getting millions more in aid, and you're celebrating the fact that you're still going to raise taxes? The tax, by the way, that comprises 65% of my overall tax burden.

Are we as taxpayers supposed to feel good about this? Should people be dancing in the streets because we're only looking at a modest tax increase despite the fact that the district received millions more in state aid? This is simply disgusting. There is no regard for the taxpayers. There is no attempt to reign in spending.

We've heard time and time again about our ranking in taxes when measured against property values, but no one talks about the fact that school district taxes are a huge portion the basis for that ranking. God forbid we do, then you're against kids! Perish the thought!! I'm going to go out on a limb and say that over the next day or two, you'll see our local periodical go as far as writing an editorial about what a terrific budget the school board put together. If you gave me a 6.5% increase over what I made last year, my budget would look pretty damn good too. I might even manage to save a few bucks with a 6.5% raise. Not the district though, they'll make sure they spend every last dime of it.


DS said...

Time and time again, it's been proven that more money does not equal better schools.

And look what Emmet has on their sign out front, a date for their DC trip.

Must be nice.

Anonymous said...

Niagara County's taxes are school taxes, city taxes, county taxes and town taxes. If we pay the highest taxes in the country, then where is the outrage over our school tax burden? The local media does not seem to draw the connection between school taxes and our burden. Why not???

One theory is that the media recognizes that the overwhelming majority of school budgetary expenses are contractual and represent teachers' salaries and benefits that many private sector employees can only wish for. But it is difficult to take a position critical of those people teaching our kids (and buying their papers) and the local media certainly does not have the backbone to do that. So where do we go from here?

Larry S said...

The media continuously allows the school districts to skate on budget issues, especially Tim Marren. He's a real tough guy when it comes to beating up every other legislative body, but he's weasel when it comes to calling out the school board. This time is no different.

Anonymous said...

DS, I suggest you check your facts. Time and time again, it's been directly proven that socio-economic levels and education are directly related, less the obvious exception to the rule. That being said, pouring money into education without explicit direction is absolutly a waste of money. As a public education teacher, in Niagara County, as well as a Homestead & non-Homestead taxpayer, I can understand you concern, but why dont you complain about our upstate friends. Receiving double digit increases in State Aid to offset the high property taxes?? Now that's a joke. Teacher's are the only profession in which we are policed by the public only. Lawyers.. Drs... etc. All have their own boards. And the fact of the matter remains the same. You cant even wipe your ass without being taught first. Why shouldn't a teacher be paid well? 3 college degrees, countless hours beyond the call of duty. If I could, I'd pay back every single complainer myself. Here's your buck now ds.

Larry Castellani said...

Less money doesn't equal better schools.

Larry Castellani said...

The subtext of this diatribe against higher school taxes is the implied excuse that releives us of any responsibility to see that poor and black schools do not receive any funding necessary to bring their educational resources up to the level of suburban and white schools. In short the rationale is that since more money doen't help improve the quality of education we can with justification and without guilt or compassion let the poor, black and inner city schools stay where they are at, namely impoverished and educationally relatively destitute. In short, it's their fault. And of course this is another variation on "blame the vicitm." Who cares if their illiteracy rate is around 60% and their graduation rates around 50% at best? Not you if you buy Hobbes ideological rationale. On the basis of Hobbes argument, the objectively racist and Classist discrimination against the poor and working class can continue. In the name of a concern about excessively high taxes across the board, you in effect assure that the inadequate education of the poor never gets addressed. Then the army of cheap labor can be kept in place to keep chipping away at the middle class until they are all poor enough and wages low enough that the capitalists can all return eventually to a third world America and reopen the plants they sent to Mexico, China, India, etc. At the level of slave wages of course. It's not that Hobbes' position is subjectively racist or Classist. It's that his myopic and one-sided ideological unconsciousness enables him to think in no other way.

pirate's code said...

Geez, Larry, sometimes you are just...out there. I've read Hobbes' post regarding the Lockport budget a couple of times trying to see what you see and, well, I don't see it.

What I saw was a rail against a specific school district that received an increase in state aid well above the rate of inflation, but still sees the need to raise property taxes. A district that is quite clearly both black and white, wealthy and poor, and decidely middle class overall.

Nothing more. No subtext. No plot to oppress the little guy (whom, by the way, will also have to dig a little deeper as a result of this budget).

Your first post is largely correct, Larry, less money doesn't (necessarily) mean better schools. But, on average, New York State school districts spend more per pupil than any place in the country, yet our state's results are thoroughly average. (You can look that up, if you want. I did.) So, it stands to reason, that MORE spending also doesn't necessarily mean better schools. Agree?

Hobbes' sometimes indelicate post, as I saw it, was a scream for accountability. But, I'll only speak for myself, as a taxpayer in Niagara County (although not Lockport). My property tax bill is killing me financially. My school tax bill typically increases annually at a rate higher than my income. My kids go to those public schools and I certainly want to get the best possible education for them, but I am rapidly reaching the point where I am struggling to afford it. And I am neither poor nor black.

You see, Larry, in a perfect world we would have the best possible educational system. In a practical world, we need the best possible educational system we can afford. There is, sadly, a difference between the two.

I am one of those who believe we currently have neither.

Larry Castellani said...

You know, in a way you are absolutely right, reasonable, logical and practical. But you are also very right that I am “just…out there.” What ‘being out there’ however means two very different things to us. I’m “out there” trying to break through to a discourse that opens new corridors of action. You are dealing with the budget.

I really can’t argue with the one-dimensional congency of your practical economics. But can I agree with this hoping against hope that it’s somehow meaningful to continue to rail against a system out of control and a political dynamic that is futile and sterile?

So what do I do? Well, I end up agreeing with an ideological, yes ideological, position that favors the interests of the educational community. Irrational? Probably. But no more irrational than Hobbes and the Republicans complaining about the wasting of money that doesn’t serve their entrepreneurial interests and their desire to control the purse strings of everyone they possibly can.

The local Republicans behave in a manner consistent with the national Republicans and its all self-serving, autocratic, class biased and hardly in the interst of America and surely not in the interests of Niagara County. Of course there is no explicit plot to suppress the poor. They don’t need a plot; the dynamics of the business class and power relations has long since predetermined the outcome.

What happens on this blog site is all tantamount to “court gossip.” What will the “king” do next? What moral (read “economic”) outrage can be conjured up next as if it’s public expression might convince anyone that it is motivated out of an interest in the well being of the whole? What evil witches or warlocks can we burn at the stake next in order to gain more power for the party? What monies can we squeeze out of the public sphere now in order to channel it to the business community?

I sympathize with your financial concerns. But when millions of dollars are given away to businesses that don’t need it my capacity for sympathy and trust and my taste for economic logic dwindles to say the least.

The class division that exists at the national level is quite clearly reflected here in Niagara County. And no one is really interested in rectifying this class and cultural warfare that goes on silently and is expressed only in the financial discourse of taxes, tax breaks, take hikes, etc., etc., etc. Short of a very radical change in political discourse, organization and action, nothing will change short of disaster of some sort. Or, maybe Jesus will show up in a second coming with an announcement that Bethelem Steel is returning along with several other major industries that no one has yet heard of. Or maybe we’ll become the tourist capital of the world and that will save the day. NOT!!! I’m very very pessimistic tonight and I have a funny feeling it ain’t goin’ away.

I don’t see that the political power in NC has any sincere interest in the good of NC. I see a very vicious power mongering that is anti-democratic at best and really apolitical at worst. So, Pirate, your logic is probably inviolable within its own sphere of discourse. But to deal with the problems of this county as a whole it lacks the spirit, will and compassion necessary to authentically act politically at the level of radicality now called for. We are in desperate straits and Hobbes is whining about taxes as if that any longer is going to make a real difference. Desperate situations call for desperate measures.

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

pirate's code said...

Larry --

Well said, but you make an assumption that isn't correct. You discuss two paths, as it were, the practical and the ideological (forgive the over-simplification of your point, but I'm pressed for time). Because I took the more narrow, practical view on this particular issue doesn't mean I don't see or try to deal with your broader view.

We have tons of issues to deal with if we are to turn the fortunes of Niagara County and the region around -- economically, socially, racially, and so on.

The issue of school budgets -- one district or many -- is critical to our future. There is increasingly little accountability in how our tax dollars are spent on education, just like in other areas of government. More important, I worry that for every step forward, our education systems take two backward.

Yes, we need to have the broader discussion, but not at the exclusion of the more local issues.

Let me ask you this -- would your response have been quite so vitriolic had the original post about the school budget come not from Hobbes, but on another site that isn't so linked to GOP politics? Because, whether it is here or elsewhere, the issue remains the same.

Besides, someone more politically astute than me might fire back that you would never had read such a post about school spending on a Democrat leaning sight because we all know how tied the Dems are to the unions and, let's face, the various teachers' unions locally, in the state and nationally are one of the biggest bats in the political game.

Or do I need to attend a remedial political philosophy class ;-) ?

You see, Larry, I've been around here long enough to remember when the Dems controlled so much of what happens. The state of Niagara County is not a uniquely Dem or GOP thing. It took a long time for this county to get to where it is, it is taking a long time for it to decide what and where it wants to be, and it will take a long time for it to get there. If the issue is about assigning blame, there is plenty to go around.

Larry Castellani said...

The only way to protect education in an anti-education political culture is to stay ahead of the game. When what learning that occurs happens in the schools, the schools are continually burdened to make up the difference for an intellectually apathetic if not hostile culture. Given what schools are now burdened to do I in no way can be assured that such increases as Lockport received is adequate to keep up with what schools must do. Class size is still much too large across the board. How much more do we need to have proper class sizes. If we would admit that more teachers are needed, this budget is much too small. If we had adequate classes in civics and the humanities, then the budget would and should go up again. When every increase guarantees a “whine” from Hobbes without any objective criterion of adequacy of funding, then I see it as an ideological knee-jerk response issuing form an anti-education philosophy. Now if you want to ax a few administrators I’ll drink to that.

pirate said...

Larry -- "Now, if you want to ax a few administrators..."

Literally or figuratively, professor? ;-)

Again, I don't see any of this discussion as anti-education. I see it as a call for accountability.

But you make valid points about the need to discuss issues like class size, types of classes, technology and the like.

I'm eager to have that discussion so long as the educational system and those who control it (school boards, administrators) are willing to have a discussion about just how much education a community can afford.

Funds are not limitless. Communities in Western New York are shrinking. Tax bases are shrinking. Personally, I think part of the issue is the continued reliance on property taxes as a means to fund oommunity services. It's an archaic system at best, and simply doesn't recognize the economic times we find ourselves in. But, whether it's property, income or sales tax, there is a limit as to how much a community can afford to pay.

My education, such at is, told me that never has there been a community or civilization that taxed its way to prosperty.

There is a balance point that needs to be found, and soon.

Maybe we should ax a few administrators, hoist a couple of drinks, and talk about it.

pirate's code said...

That's "pirate's code" of course. Fingers not working as they should.

DS said...


Ok, let me check my facts...


Again more money =! better schools.

Wait, let me check again...

Nope. Still holds true.

And as to why I'm not complaining about other things? You don't know me at all, nor have read any of my other comments about how if the Gov't didn't take too much money in the first place, they would not need to give it back to us. States should only take as much money as they need to fund State projects. Feds should only should take as much money as they need to fund Federal projects. One of this BS of the Feds funding States, and the States funding the Locals.

In addition:
"Teacher's are the only profession in which we are policed by the public only."

Really? No other public servant (which as a teacher you ARE) are not 'policied' by the public? None at all?

And what do employees in the Private sector have anything to do with employees in the Public sector? Nothing, other than I am forced to pay for public employees regardless of the quality of service they provide. In the Private sector, I can pick and choose who I decide to 'fund'.

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