First he took our lunch money. Next came the rumors: We're in it for power and popularity; we spend money on wasteful things; we don't care what's best for kids. After publicly shaming us, he took away the money that would have paid for sports, music, art, foreign language, AP classes, remedial intervention and smaller class sizes -- fundamentals that aren't required by law.
As an unpaid, elected member of a public school board, I learned that New York State doesn't permit out-of-the-box revenue-raising solutions that other states are trying. The grants I thought we could apply for aren't available for public organizations. The citizens pay state taxes, then the governor dictates what we must provide, and leaves us with too little to pay for what our community values. Among the state's decrees:
Layers of auditors, subcontractors and employees who exist solely to process the mountains of required paperwork and ensure we aren't stealing.
Tests -- so many and of such significance they have harmed the nature and quality of the instruction. This is the opposite of what educational experts say our children need to become critical, creative, successful citizens.
Refilling pension accounts that went bust in the stock market crash. Local tax dollars must make up for those huge losses even though the companies responsible for the mess were bailed out with federal tax money and have rebounded to full profitability.
Extremely expensive special education services. This is the elephant in the room that begs for a grown-up, rational discussion. New York State mandates much higher levels than the federal government requires. Everyone wants to give children facing unimaginable heartache and obstacles anything they need. But the idea that we can provide the wide spectrum of these services while containing costs is ridiculous.
Dignity for All Students Law. A no-brainer, right? Except we will be forced to fund the bureaucratic version of what works to prevent bullying. Meanwhile, we will cut music, arts and sports programs that are working for the same kids the law is trying to protect. Dozens of students have stood before our board with courage pleading for us to continue funding programs they described as having "saved their lives." This is tragic irony.
We have lobbied our state senators and assemblymen, only to be told they agree, but are powerless to effect changes. Albany's "three-men-in-a-room" scenario is alive and well. I don't feel represented.
Between last year and this year in North Tonawanda, we will lay off more than 100 people. They are community members who provide essential services.
The "fat" has been cut. We're into main arteries now. There is no more wasteful spending. It's the children and society that are being devastated. This fall, every public school student will feel this. Families with the means to move to wealthier districts with deeper local tax pockets or opt for private education will be forced to.
The school budget in May is the only one put to a direct public vote. If you vote it down and more money has to be cut, say goodbye to kindergarten. It is not required, according to New York State law.
I don't know what motivates the governor or if he honestly believes that pulling massive amounts of funding and increasing expenses is the way to improve education. My white flag is waving. My term ends in June. I tried, but didn't succeed. I am sorry, so very sorry. When the bully wins, it hurts all of us.