Monday, December 17, 2012

"I Hear America Weeping"

The first line of a famous Walt Whitman poem reads,
“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear…”

In the wake of the events at a small school in Newtown, Connecticut…

I hear America weeping, to the varied carols I hear,

The children’s choirs singing “Silent Night” to honor voices abruptly silenced,

The grief-stricken citizens mourning when they hear “I’ll be home for Christmas,”

The shaken President’s tears mirroring the pain of a nation as "The Littlest Angel" echoes in my mind,

The crooner on the radio singing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”...if only that could be,

The holiday carols will come and go 
But this year…
I hear America weeping, to the varied carols I hear, 
And wonder…
“Do you hear what I hear?”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

PCS BOE Members: Intolerance of public input

(The following blog posting was revised on January 30, 2013.)

At Potsdam Central's Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, Wade Davis apparently found it terribly vexing to listen to less than 4 minutes of public comment (only two people* spoke and they had waited close to an hour for the BOE to arrive from executive session).

Once Public Comment was over,  novice board member Davis scolded two members of the public for their comments.

One might wonder what was said to evoke such a disrespectful response. The comments made by two members of the public were so benign that the reporter never put his pen to paper... that is until Board member Davis confronted and bullied the speaker(s).

Advice to novice Board member Davis:
  1. Respect the right of the public to speak.
  2. Accept the fact that you will not agree with all members of the public.
  3. Try to recall that you are a public servant.
  4. Get some professional development on the proper way to comport yourself at the Public Comment portion of Board meetings.
If truth be told, Davis embarrassed the BOE on Tuesday night. How can an individual who bullies the public be trusted to protect students from bullying?

Davis's behavior should not surprise anyone. Over a year ago (prior to becoming a PCS BOE member) he publicly accused Board members Cowen, Ashley Carroll, Frascatore, Bunstone, Turbett, Regan, Hobbs, and Carvill, and Superintendent Brady of knowingly and systematically violating General Municipal Law. He had no basis for such accusations but apparently felt that wild and unfounded accusations would help him get elected.


* Note: I was one of the two speakers. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No Free Capital Project

Tomorrow is the big day!  The date will be 12-12-12, not to be seen again for one hundred years.  How will you spend your day?

The Potsdam Central School District Board of Education and administration hope that you will spend a few minutes at the High School Auditorium voting on the Capital Project referendum.  They hope that you will be inclined to vote for a project that seems like a "no-brainer".  Unfortunately, I don't plan to support the Capital Project for one reason. 

It is my opinion that this project is too expensive. It is true that this project will not cost the taxpayers any more than they are already paying for taxes, for now.  It never ceases to amaze me that school leaders always choose projects to be exactly the amount of money that is in the pot.  For this project, there is approximately $800,000 in the capital reserve and the district is retiring $1.6 million dollars in debt service.  The project spends it all.  However, at the most recent Finance Committee meeting, it was pointed out that to maintain the current programming at Potsdam Schools for next year, there is a $1.5 million dollar shortfall.

There won't be much more money from the State coffers, so the district will have to find it elsewhere.  That means a high increase in the tax levy or more cuts in programming for our students.  Or we could have a smaller capital project.  Not everything in that project's plan is desperately needed.  Some of the retiring debt service could be used to offset next year's budget increases and maintain programming. 

Don't be fooled into thinking that this referendum won't cost the taxpayers money.  We will either pay now or pay later.  There is no such thing as a free capital project.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

State Aid Rhetoric

Have you noticed the rhetoric about state aid ramping up in the last couple of months?  It seems that school administrators have decided that the only way to deal with the perceived "fiscal crisis" of their districts is to make the financial condition of the schools look very bad hoping to get the public to put pressure on politicians to give the schools more money.  As usual, they are predicting that all of the extras, sports, clubs, arts and music will have to be cut.  Elementary class sizes will get large.  Electives in the high school will be out.  They do this because administrators know that this is what will inspire the public to vote for higher taxes.

Every school district in this state has known since last year at budget time that this year's fiscal picture would be the same as last year.  Governor Cuomo indicated then that there might be a little more money, but not much.  Now, after Hurricane Sandy, there may not be any more extra money.  It is very likely that the State will be forced to cover some of the costs of the damage, particularly for those schools with significant damage from the storm.  In addition, they lost revenue from businesses which were shut down for several days.

Have administrators spent time considering how to re-organize the way they do business?  Have school boards engaged in conversations about how they might be able to offer educational services differently, or better? I don't think so.  The Potsdam School Board's Finance Committee requested information about different middle school scenarios months ago and haven't received anything yet.

Leaders at the Canton School District say that they will be insolvent within the next two years.  Well, how much negotiating have they done with their teacher's union?  It is my understanding that the teaching staff don't pay a dime toward the cost of their health insurance premiums.  How much do their taxpayers pay toward the cost of their children's education? For 2012, about $4.00 less per thousand than Potsdam.  That means, for a $100,000 house, a Canton resident's school taxes are $400 less than the Potsdam taxpayer's. 

The Potsdam Central School budget is almost $27 million dollars.  That is over $18,600 for each of 1450 students in the district.  We ought to be able to do a good job with that much money.  It is all a matter of priorities.