I am a parent of two Clarence district students. I became curious to find out the identity of the person or group behind the slick “vote no” mailers that hit town mailboxes on three occasions in the last few months.
On May 10th, a spokesman for the New York branch of a Virginia political lobbying group “Americans for Prosperity” (AFP) confirmed that a local AFP organizer was responsible for sending the mailers under the hitherto unheard-of “Citizens for Sustainable Schools“. No such group exists on the New York State Board of Elections website, nor is the actual entity responsible for the mailers identified on any of its materials online, or on the mailers themselves. The AFP is a well-known fake grassroots (astroturf) advocacy group funded by Koch Industries, which advocates for conservative policies. Although exceedingly well-funded, AFP is under no legal obligation to reveal how it operates or raises revenue.
The New York spokesman for AFP, Chris Trimarchi, denied that AFP itself had any responsibility for producing or paying for the mailers which hit Clarence homes a few weeks ago, and on two more occasions leading up to the May 21st vote. He immediately, however, directed me to Lisa Thrun, whom he identified as an AFP “activist” working in the WNY area, and gave me her number. I placed a phone call to Ms. Thrun, but did not receive the courtesy of a reply. I also sent her a message via Twitter, also with no reply.
Ms. Thrun and her husband are quite active with AFP and other local tea party organizations. They organized an Amherst anti-Obamacare teach-in with health reform opponent Betsy McCaughey in 2011, anti-Obama phone banks for AFP in 2012, and one of her LinkedIn profiles lists her as the local “Grassroots Chair” for the astroturf AFP. Ms. Thrun is the named plaintiff in an AFP-backed lawsuit filed against Governor Cuomo over New York’s participation in a northeastern compact to reduce greenhouse emissions. Here is the first mailer that arrived in Clarence homes:
A second mailer received May 10th was very senior-centric, and contains great language about “open checkbooks”.
The mailers sent to Clarence homes, and the associated website are completely devoid of identifying information. “Citizens for Sustainable Schools” simply doesn’t exist, and the website’s Whois information is locked behind an anonymous registrant.
But if you Google the phrase “Respect the Taxpayers” and “Sustainable Schools” and school+tax+new+york, you get these results:
Clarence schools have a great reputation for excellence – they are the pride of our community. A free and excellent public education is – or, at least, should be – every American child’s birthright. These things cost money – a good education costs money. No one doubts that an increase will be a hardship for some, but Clarence enjoys an overall property tax rate that is significantly lower than that of its Erie County neighbors, and part of the reason why Clarence has grown while other communities have not has to do with the excellence of our schools.
Thanks in part to the well-funded and professional “vote no” effort, which was filled with bad information, the budget failed. Many electives and music education are now at risk of being eliminated.
On April 2nd, the Clarence Central School District was recognized as one of its Best Communities for Music Education. Only 307 school districts in the country received this recognition. 9 of the Top 10 High School seniors are music students. Had the proposed budget passed, the increase in monthly taxes would have risen by approximately $11 per $100,000 of assessed value. Even with the 9.8% increase, Clarence would have boasted the 2nd lowest taxes in Erie County.
For what kind of America is AFP advocating if it recommends effectively ending music and art education in schools? What kind of America does AFP seek if it demands that already financially burdened schools cut – with a hacksaw – to a barebones budget? At what point do we stand up and recognize that we invest in our children, and our families and our society derive a palpable, lifelong return on that investment?
Being a taxpayer is not about frugality, but about value for money – about quality and efficiency. This site is replete with information about how well-run and efficient Clarence schools are, for which we receive excellent output.
We have no ties to the teachers’ union – not to NYSUT or the CTA. We have no PR department in Northern Virginia or DC. We will proudly affix our names to our advocacy. We will tell you who we are and where our resources came from.
The AFP and other “no” activists have pledged to support a school tax increase that is within the property tax cap.
As parent taxpayers, we will fight for our schools’ excellence and we will hold people to their word.
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