Regarding the Budget Study Session

In 2013, Clarence voters overwhelmingly rejected a school tax increase of 9.8% – well over the state’s tax cap.  The message that sent to the school’s board, teachers, students, and parents was that the community would not support maintaining the school’s excellent people, classes, and services if it meant taxes being raised in excess of that cap.

Even though the people who led the fight against the tax increase that year pretended they cared about the quality of the schools, class sizes went up, and we still lost many sports, clubs, teachers, and curricula. It was left to families to raise funds to restore some of what we lost, and most of those tax opponents did nothing to help.

Their supposed concern was nothing but propaganda.

They’re at it again, but the difference now is that the district is proposing a tax increase that is within the state’s cap. This means you’ll get a rebate check for the entire amount of the increase, which for a $200,000 house is about $71.

They still insist that they’re concerned about the quality of the schools, but their propaganda won’t fool people twice. Already, they’re blitzing local media with letters to the editor bemoaning the school tax “compounding” by 2 – 4% every year.

That is a lie.

The average tax increase since the 2008/2009 budget has been 1.4%. The average spending increase during that period has also been 1.4%.  What “compounding”?

They wring their hands over propositions to replace dilapidated buses with new, safe buses to transport our kids. They demand that this be privatized. But Clarence parents are largely happy with our bus service, except when an older bus breaks down. What could be more critically important than safely transporting our children to and from school? Not only would privatizing bus services lead to any measurable savings in cost, but we would be entrusting our kids to an outside company, and unknown drivers unfamiliar with the routes, all handled not by the best service, but by the lowest bidder.

One especially wrongheaded notion is that an at-cap budget should be voted down this year to send some sort of misguided message to Albany about “local control”. We have a locally elected school board that administers a locally controlled school district. The only message you send by voting down an at-cap budget is that you don’t care about the students, teachers, or education.

School districts in New York are organized pursuant to law. You simply cannot force a locally elected school board to break the law by voting down a budget. It would not change Albany, and the board would be powerless to anything except hold a re-vote.

Our schools are dependent on millions in state aid from Albany. What these tax opponents are suggesting – if legal or successful – would increase their local school tax bill exponentially. I somehow doubt that’s a desirable result for them, or for anyone.

In short, these tax opponents are unwittingly clamoring for a double-digit school tax hike.

Some try and scapegoat our teaching professionals, blaming their comparatively modest salaries and enviable state benefits. Oftentimes, tax opponents like to say that government should be run like a business. Taking that a step further, consider that 85% of Clarence teachers are rated by the state as “highly effective”.  If 85% of a business’ workforce exceeded expectations, they’d get bonuses, not vilification and layoffs.

People move to Clarence because our taxes are low and our schools are excellent. It’s a special equation that other districts don’t enjoy – we have schools in WNY that are far less efficient than ours and cost a lot more, yet attain poor results. No one matches our frugality and results. Why on Earth would we destroy that?

The district has lost $16 million in state aid since 2008, not counting cuts in foundation aid. We’ve already lost teachers and increased class sizes. We don’t need more of that – these cuts are unsustainable, not the tax increasing averaging less than the rate of inflation over 7 years.

Some people will question why the tax cap is over 4% this year. It includes paying off debts for capital projects – projects that Clarence already voted on, and which passed overwhelmingly. Propagandists claim that these costs used to be included in the regular operating budget.  That’s not only not true, but would be illegal.

We see these incredible stories about elementary school kids learning about science, the engineering program in the middle school and high school, and the amazing accomplishments from our singers, tech crews, and musicians. Indeed, Clarence was just rated one of the 388 best communities for music education by the NAMM Foundation.

As long as we follow the law, we have to abide by Albany’s rules.  Just like we expect our kids to follow the rules. We can advocate to change them, and the school board and parents have done just that, with challenges to the gap elimination adjustment, the APPR system, and common core implementation problems and testing. Voting down the budget does nothing to advance those efforts. On the contrary, it weakens our schools and our community.

Clarence’s tax rate is significantly lower than in other communities, but we pay more in real dollars. That’s because our properties are worth more than in other places. Why? Partly because our taxes our low, and partly because our schools are so excellent.

Let’s not ruin a good thing.

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