February 8, 2010

Let The Rhetoric Begin (Updated)

(Update: Boy, my post below already has generated some interesting email. From Newfane, one person told me that the principal at Newfane Elementary has issued a directive to teachers that NO STUDENTS ARE TO BE RETAINED. Furthermore, teachers are not to raise the issue of any special education testing with parents either during conferences. The speculation is that the school board apparently will balance its budget on the backs of children who actually need the help.

Well, this is what you get when you have a school board member who complained that her son had to do school work over break and then he gets busted selling pot in the school parking lot just a few weeks ago. What's the saying that the fish rots from the head down.)

Education is important
. I think you'd find few people who would disagree that statement. But in the face of Governor David Paterson's proposed budget cuts to education funding, the rhetoric and hyperbole are in full swing.

In the Lockport School District, where preliminary reports indicate that the funding cuts would lead to the elimination of 23 jobs and the closing of one elementary school, Superintendent Terry Carbone is urging the public to contact state legislators to ask them to reject the proposed reductions. Carbone went on to say that passing the cuts would "put our most natural resource, our students, in jeopardy." Fire up that hyperbole train, Terry.

Sadly, anytime a school district is faced with a budgetary issue, it always seems to be putting the students in jeopardy. Frankly, I'm goddamn sick of it, and I don't think I'm alone.

First of all, consolidation of the Lockport School District is way overdue. Eight elementary schools in a community the size of Lockport is completely ludicrous. Christine Neal was the only superintendent in the history of the district who had the courage to broach the topic of consolidation, and she was run out of town by a group of gutless cowards.

Secondly, the district has continued to add personnel at an alarming rate over the past decade, despite a declining population and student enrollment.

Thirdly, why does it always have to be the kids to take the hit? When was the last time anyone ever heard a district official or a teacher's union say "hey, we know things are tough, we won't take a pay raise this year to help out the district"? Ummmmmm, how about never.

Fourthly, we all know that the tax burden in Niagara County is heavy. We also know that the overwhelming majority of that burden is driven by school taxes. No one cares, as Carbone says, that "per-resident tax rate has not increased in the past six years". We care about right here and right now.

She reminds me of the Niagara County Legislature back in the early 2000's when after raiding the fund balance to keep the tax rate down for six years, they raised taxes 22%. No one cared about the six previous years, they just knew that they had to choke on a massive increase because of the financial smoke & mirrors game. Think about that before you try to use that as a rationalization, Terry.

The New York State teachers' union (NYSUT) is the most powerful lobby in the state. They raise and spend millions of dollars in elections, and they threaten candidates with their endorsement or lack thereof on a regular basis if a candidate does not bow to their pressure. Meanwhile, the taxpayers continually get screwed. By the way, New York State spends more per student than any other state in the nation on education, but regularly finishes in the middle of the pack when compared to other states. This state is the epitome of the old saying "throwing good money after bad", and it needs to stop.

I don't care if the Lockport School District cuts 100 jobs and closes five schools. And yes, I have kids in the district.

I am sick and tired of hearing how devastating it will be to the kids if they have more than 17 kids in a classroom. When I was in elementary school, we had 30 kids in a classroom, and most of us received a sufficient education. When this "standard" of 20 kids in a classroom became acceptable, I have no idea, but it's garbage. I'm going to go out on a limb and prognosticate that it was driven by NYSUT.

The bottom line is that every district in the state will be impacted by budget cuts. How they handle it will tell the difference. As a taxpayer, I'm telling the district that I cannot shoulder anymore of this burden. Do what you need to do to keep any tax increase to an absolute minimum. And don't fret so much about the kids - they're much more resilient than you give them credit for.


mrollins said...

First of all the child to teacher ratio does matter. Thirty children in a class is allot for one teacher. Especially if there are children in the classroom with extra needs (which there are). Please keep in mind the standards of education have increased also. Teachers work loads have increased I believe that. However with that being said we have to recognize that we as taxpayers can not afford that increase in teacher pensions and benefits. I see nothing wrong with an increased class size with an aide or even two aides in a classroom. Classroom aides get paid significantly less with no benefits. You can have three adults in a classroom and still be spending less than the cost of two teachers.

Also a HUGE money saver would be combining resources. This could entail everything from ordering supplies together as a district instead of each individual school, to sharing special needs instructors. I can not say for sure how things are run in various districts but common sense will tell you when you have a district with 5 elementary schools doing 5 different things, all having the need for occupational and speech therapists compared to one elementary school with all resources in one building its much more efficient. Let me explain….you have a speech therapist in one building going from class to class serving numerous children-sufficient and effective! Now the district with several schools how does that work do you have more than one therapist? Or does the same one drive all over? Either way more costly, less effective!

When was the last time the schools in Niagara County got together and said hey lets share resources. Maybe we can all contract with the same place for supplies, or maybe they all share heath care providers! Maybe just maybe they could save the county as a whole allot of money! They know their needs and profession the best it seems they should be the ones coming up with some solutions and not jus letting their unions fight for the same old ways!

Lastly what is up with the early intervention?! I know that’s an educational buzzword and shame on me for speaking ill of it but seriously? How many two year olds do we have getting serviced for speech? First of all allot of times these issues work themselves out because these kids are only TWO! Next we are sending therapists to the homes at what cost to do what? I know for a fact the work they are doing can be taught to a parent and then the parent can carry out the education to the child. Why can’t we hold a quarterly class at NCCC where a few therapists are paid to teach some essentials to parents and then they can go home with these new skills and work with the children? Seems to me the parents are more involved, and the children get more help more frequently, with much less cost to the taxpayer.

The Avenger said...

I read this stuff and it just makes me more convinced that school boards should be eliminated. I don't have a better answer, but getting unqualified yahoos who don't know anything about budgets, restructuring, cutting costs without cutting programs is absurd.

Lockport should be closing schools given the shrinking enrollment. Cut administrators, cut building costs, reduce the fat BEFORE you talk about hurting programs.

The Newfane story is simply disgusting, but it's good to know where you can get a dime bag when you need it.

bubba said...

I don't often post and very often don't agree with you but you are right on with this one. I too had calsses of 30 to 35 students and I don't think I missed out. The comment that there are special needs students in the classes is true. This however is due to the fact that we underwent a program known as inclusion in the 80s and 90s whereby special needs students were mainstreamed into the classroom. This was perhaps one of the worst ideas ever conceived. Born out of the self esteem movement it has done little other than dumb down curriculum and do a disservice to ex ed students by depriving them of the opportunity to learn life skills as they did in the old special ed classes. They are required to receive special attention often in the form of another aide or teacher to work expressly with them. A completely ludicrous and unworkable scenario. The teachers must slow down for them to the detriment of the other students.
Next your comment about teacher forgoing raises. I couldn't agree more. They should also have to live in the district they teach in and see what the tax burden is doing to the residents. Administrative personnel, why do we need 5 and 6 assistant superintendents and all their accompanying staff?
As far as shared services, lets go one step further and combine school districts into one county district under a central administration. The removal of the top office staff such as school superintendents alone would save approx. 9.5 million dollars.
It's time to re think education and fix it. We have tried to repair a failing, broken system by throwing money at it and have gone from number one in the country to number 39.
Tear it down and start over without the influence of teachers unions, public service unions and other assorted and sundry special (should be personal) interest groups. Some times less is more.

Dark Knight said...

Bubba, as I have learned more about inclusion classes, I completely agree. We have special ed teachers who push in here and there and have little accountability and in years when the number of inclusion students is down, pretty much no workload. Yet, classes with inclusion kids are overwhelmed to the detriment of the average student who gets less attention than they deserve.