We’re More than Just Taxpayers

IMG_2423In Clarence, there isn’t an elected official who won’t parrot the mantra that we have to protect the taxpayer. We are so protective of the “taxpayer’ that we will, for instance, vote down an effort to lower our garbage rates and the frequency of garbage pickup days because a municipal contract for private carting services would amount to a “tax”. So, we’ll instead pay double directly to one of three approved carting companies. Protecting the “taxpayer” should mean saving us money, not picking nits over the entity to whom the check is made payable.

I’m a taxpayer. You’re probably a taxpayer, too. We’re all taxpayers. But frankly I don’t like being reminded of it all the time. Paying taxes isn’t pleasant; it’s a chore, and my identity is far more than just one of the chores society requires me to accomplish. It’s like saying we need to protect the lawn-mowers. Protect the Verizon bill payers. Protect the laundry folders.

I’m much more than just a taxpayer, especially when it comes to the Clarence schools.

I’m a citizen – a citizen of the United States, a resident of the town of Clarence, a member of our society. I am a husband and father. I’m a lawyer and a blogger. I’m lots of things, and there isn’t one particular one that defines me.

As a member of this society, as a resident of this town and a payer of school taxes, I have many different interests. Sometimes they conflict, and when that happens you have to balance the two interests.

Clarence High School parents recently received an updated list of electives that are being cut from the curriculum. This letter came as a surprise and, to many, a shock. The Clarence Bee has a report and an editorial on the matter. Principal Kenneth Smith notes that electives are always re-assessed in midsummer, and that these cuts were made due to low enrollment or lack of staffing. Lack of staffing that is, incidentally, directly related to this past spring’s school budget disaster. The Bee notes,

…the manner in which these additional 18 classes were so unceremoniously eliminated only added to the collective anger and frustration felt by many in town over the current state of education funding.

It was quite frankly a kick to the gut when families were already on their knees…

…For students who had hoped to take courses in AP calculus and physics or electronics, we only hope that some of the curriculum that is being eliminated will find its way into some of the other courses still available.

For some people in the community, the passing of the revote budget in June marked the end of an ugly spring, rife with resentment and frustration.

But for the students coming back to school in a few weeks, this budget is not in their rear-view mirror. It’s still staring them right in the face.

“Protecting the taxpayer” is an important part of the balance act that we as a society must perform. It’s particularly acute in western New York, where our overall taxes are quite high. But our school tax in Clarence is not. Our school taxes – and our schools – were targeted by a well-funded propaganda effort that has resulted in real, palpable harm to one of the very pillars of our community. But they’re lower than average. The district is ultra-efficient. Our schools have long done more with less.

Who is protecting the students? Who is protecting the parents? Who is protecting the taxpayer-parents? Who is protecting the interests of society at-large? Do you think that a poorly educated population is going to excel in the world economy? Do you think that it’s better to have kids at an after-school extra-help program, or running around town unsupervised while they wait for their working parents to get home?

It really comes down to a fundamental question – do you believe in public education at all?

Because if you do, we have to stop the bleeding. If you don’t, you should just be honest about it.

We can stop some of the bleeding by contributing to the Clarence School Enrichment Foundation. We can try and prevent this from happening again through other efforts – attending school board meetings, attending town board meetings, getting active in any available group that will fight for – and protect – the taxpayers who believe in public education, and understand that our society is one where various civic needs must be met to ensure a better future.

Oh, we should absolutely protect taxpayers against waste, fraud, and neglect.

But should we not also protect society from dumb kids with no future in a global economy? Should we protect taxpayers at the expense of not just my kids’ education – not just your kids’ education, but education, period? 

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