Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday in East Chatham

Feast of the Nine Fishes and three cousins. More photos on Facebook.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Even I'm Getting Tired of Me

My letter to the IJ today.

With rollover costs so high, many small upstate schools must cut nearly $1 million to fit within the state's 2 percent tax cap. Even given larger class sizes and reduced staffs, most face cuts that represent 5 to 10 percent of their budgets.

How do you cut $1 million? Look for things that aren't mandated. Cutting the entire athletics program, minus required physical education classes, gains you $150,000.

Most small districts have already cut electives and AP courses, but they could let classroom teachers teach music and art and save $100,000. Small districts don't have assistant superintendents, but suppose you could cut a principal and have just one person supervise two buildings? That's another $100,000 in salary plus benefits.

Feeding kids isn't mandated, so lose the cafeteria. Maybe you'll gain another $100,000. And kindergarten isn't required in New York. Release three teachers, save on all that construction paper, and stop heating and lighting those classrooms. You might save $200,000.

All those cuts, and you've only gained $650,000! And what kind of school do you have? One without athletics, art and music specials, lunch or kindergarten.

Here's an alternative: Ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support the Regents' proposal for distribution of funds to high-needs schools. Demand the mandate relief he promised with the tax cap. Without that, some of your biggest cost drivers — special education, testing, paperwork, labor — remain untouchable.

Kathy Zahler

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The best gifts are chocolate gifts. We'll celebrate Christmas later in the week!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Are We Doing?

The IJ has a link to an interactive map that shows average SAT scores and AP passing rates in our corner of NYS. In a nutshell, here are the data.


NYS: 497 verbal, 514 math

Dryden: 528 verbal, 544 math

Groton: 492 verbal, 487 math

Ithaca: 583 verbal, 579 math

Lansing: 567 verbal, 568 math

Newfield: 457 verbal, 467 math

Tburg: 572 verbal, 534 math

Range for mid-50% of entering Cornell students:

630–730 verbal, 660–770 math.

This may be slightly apples to oranges; the IJ data seem to combine reading and writing for the 2011 score, whereas the Cornell data I found were just for reading.

And here are the data for AP passing rates. A score of 3 is passing; 4s and 5s may earn college credit. Some of our smaller schools no longer offer AP courses.


Dryden: 71%

Ithaca: 87%

Lansing: 90%

Tburg: 64%

Monday, December 19, 2011

Be the Change for Kids, Part 4

We split into three groups. One talked about revenue enhancements. The basic feeling was "Why is this our job? Shouldn't the legislators be deciding where the money should come from?" However, ideas included private investment in schools, increase in lottery aid, surcharge on salaries or traffic violations, pay for play, marketing curricula, national purchasing cooperatives, regional bargaining/statewide contracts, and imposing a tax on high-spending districts.

One group talked about reallocation of resources. The feeling there was that mandate relief had to come first. The group wanted a definition: What is a sound basic education, what does it look like, and what should it cost? It may not be reasonable to base the formula on CRW when there are land-rich areas of the Adirondacks where the citizens are dirt-poor. Resources need to reflect demographic shifts, and the overall pie must be bigger.

The third group talked about restructuring public education. Perhaps we should be talking about countywide school districts. We should get away from the concept of mandatory seat time, allowing for individualization (hybrid online instruction, internships, etc.) Traditional teacher prep programs aren't working, and we need a way to weed out bad teachers.

I learned that a school district may not declare bankruptcy. If it has no money, the state legislature may enact a control board and take over (void) contracts, but that is thought to be so unpalatable politically that it will never happen. What will happen? I think we'll have a good opportunity to witness the answer over the next couple of years.

Be the Change for Kids, Part 3

Michael Rebell runs the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University and was co-counsel for the plaintiffs in CFE v. State of NY. BTW, the plaintiffs won that one, but you'd never know it to see our state today. Victory in 2007 required a four-year phase-in of increased funding to high-needs districts in order that they might provide their students with the right to a sound basic education accorded them in the constitution. The four-year phase-in lasted two years. The third year saw a freeze, the fourth year a cut, and the fifth year, which we're now entering, added a tax cap.

The state extended its promise of fiscal equity, but claimed that justice would have to wait, thanks to the devastating gap in state finance.

Rebell contends that the current state aid being provided is unconstitutional. Deferral of funding has no basis in law—the courts said four years, so four years it must be.

There are problems with bringing this back to the courts, although that is the ultimate plan. The plaintiffs asked the Court of Appeals to retain jurisdiction over the case, but the court declined to do so. That means that the case must begin from scratch. We are talking about a case that originally took ten years to wind its way through the justice system.

Rebell points out that there is no other constitutional right that is subject to fiscal constraint. We don't typically deny citizens rights because we lack the money to enforce those rights.

This Doesn't Help

This money was a loss anyway, because RPM had seven years' worth of tax abatements coming to them. Of course, the idea was that after seven years, they'd be a taxpaying asset to the community. This doesn't help because when people get nervous about viability, that puts the brakes on tax breaks, which in turn puts the brakes on business investment in the town, which means that our tax base never grows, with or without a patented method of altering the roots.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Be the Change for Kids, Part 2

Ken Slentz suggested that the state wasn't asking schools to do more with less, but rather to do "different with less." This received little but groans.

Common Core State Standards require a shift from attention to graduation rates to attention to readiness for college and careers. Based on this, the Regents are moving forward with an expansion of Career and Tech Education, including at the middle school grades. The state recognizes that college and career readiness includes some things rural schools can't afford; for example, AP, IB, and dual credit courses. Maybe we should all consider doing these as BOCES shares.

We should look at the increased assessment that comes with Common Core as "preventative education."

The Regents are looking at equity in funding, at comprehensive structures such as the aforementioned regional high schools, and at the expansion of BOCES as a regional model.

A successful district needs effective practices for attendance, a safe learning environment, a solid curriculum based on Common Core, opportunities for teachers to improve (professional development, the first thing most poor districts cut), and time in the classroom for all principals (most of whom are currently so over their heads with data analysis and paperwork that this seems a distant dream).

In short, we need to Invest in Student Achievement, which includes performance management through APPR and professional development; leveraging technology, which does not mean buying whiteboards for all classrooms; and offering proven curricula, including AP, IB, higher math, and CTE (all of which are out the window for most poor districts).

At lunch, an incensed superintendent I'd never met buttonholed me and cursed "people who try to tell me what the hell to do in my buildings but don't give me the money to do it."

More to come.

Be the Change for Kids, Part 1

Spent all day Saturday in Syracuse at a session entitled "The Canary in the Coal Mine or the Elephant in the Room: New York State's Approach to Funding High Needs Schools." Speakers included David Wakelyn, the newly appointed Deputy Secretary for Education in NYS, formerly senior policy analyst at the National Governor's Association; Ken Slentz, Deputy Commissioner for K–12 Education at State Ed; and Michael Rubell of Columbia University, head of the legal team that won the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit against the state. Conducting breakout sessions were Tom Rogers, District Superintendent at the Nassau BOCES; David Little, NY State School Board Association Director of Government Relations; and Rick Timbs, head of the State School Finance Consortium. In the audience were a couple of hundred board members and superintendents.

There was a lot said, but I will start by saying that we went away with absolutely no action plan, except that we should write to the governor and corral our state senators. I'll start with the word from the two state reps.

Wakelyn pointed out that since 2003, students in all states have taken the NAEP, a national test of basic academics, so that we have some data across time. Over the decade since the test was instituted, education spending in NYS has increased by 74%, but achievement has slipped. The taxpayers, says Wakelyn, want the government to be more effective. We should be more like Massachusetts, which has far better results. Although we spend an average of $18K per student, even southern poor schools outperform ours.

Wakelyn wants schools to consider per-student costs of everything we buy, from busing to AP courses. What makes sense to keep?

Questioners asked Wakelyn about mandates in other states. He suggested that we start assessing unit costs (per pupil costs) of mandates and letting the governor's office know. Questioners pointed out that upstate schools spend a good deal less than $18K per student. What if we included all districts in a statewide health plan? (That's one of Paul's brainstorms.) Should the state take over all contracts so that districts no longer compete?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Governor Makes the Rounds

In a wild blitz of talk shows today, our governor (AKA Prince Andrew) decried the Occupy movement as a bunch of paid skells, refused to commit to the Regents proposal for school funding, and referred to those who lobby for fair school aid distribution as part of a "culture of corruption." Why exactly was it that we thought he'd be better than (or different from) that jackass, Paladino?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Targeting Needy Schools

Instead of targeting them for failure, this Regents proposal might actually work at providing a tiny bit of equity statewide. It depends on the actual numbers, of course. Notice that "regional high schools" are still recommended, despite the fact that they are not yet possible in NYS.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Results of Dryden Vote

Proposition 1: Yes - 302; No - 74
Proposition 2: Yes - 273; No - 98
Proposition 3: Yes - 238; No - 129

Tiny turnout, as you might expect when there was zero publicity (outside of the school newsletter). But perhaps those giant potholes in the parking lot will now vanish.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reading List

More dour Scandinavian mysteries, these set in the Swedish part of Lapland. This is the first in the series; I read them backwards, which probably wasn't the best way to do it. But the author is quite good.

Vote Today

This hasn't received a lot of attention, so here goes:
Notice of Special Meeting/Capital Projects Vote
of the Qualified Voters of Dryden Central School District
There will be a Special School District Meeting/Capital Projects Vote
December 12, 2011 -- 7:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Middle School/High School Auditorium Area
on the Reconstruction and Equipping of Existing School Buildings and Facilities, Paving at the Middle School/High School, and the Establishment of a Capital Reserve Fund
To withdraw dollars from the capital fund requires a public vote. I am not sure why the vote is in December, but it is. A complete description of the project is here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hard to Imagine...

...that if he had lived, he'd be 71.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Farewell Anonymity

The IJ has bewildered its cluster of Angry Old Men by switching to a system of commenting via Facebook. On the one hand, I'm sure comments will be more sedate now that faces and names are appended to them. On the other hand, it's one less reason to read the IJ. Anonymous vitriol can be fun.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A New and Critical Report from SSFC

The Statewide School Finance Consortium has published a new report, replete with statistics that we've seen before but now pulled together into a narrative that shows just what's been happening over the past several years. I am especially interested in the way SSFC targets the State Senate as enablers of fiscal inequity in schools. Harsh, but almost certainly justified. The entire report is well worth a skim (or a deep read, if you like graphs and numbers and want to find out why things are in such a mess).
Members of the Senate have been preoccupied with ascension to and maintenance of power, personally and as a conference. Regardless of which party has had the majority in the house, each party has ignored numerous opportunities to solve the equitable funding issue.

Republicans and 3 Democrats represent SSFC member school districts. Past behavior of this delegation has enabled state aid unfairness to continue since 2007. Their performance will be imperative to the success of any initiative that results in greater equity, fairness, transparency and predictability in state aid distribution and will also likely prove to be a determining factor in who holds the leadership in the next Senate.

All of the data presented in this report, as well as similar research done by Rutgers University, Cornell University, the Alliance for Quality Education and others point to the same conclusions about New York State government: It is not paying serious enough attention to this issue and while it is empowered to act on funding equity it has chosen not to do so. Why?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And Another Useful Resource

And while I'm at it, a shout-out to the wonderful CU Center for Rural Schools. I've had a lively back-and-forth with them today over the fact that apparently no comparative analysis of districts' state aid ratios exists. Despite that lack, they are a great resource for demographic data-at-a-glance. Plug in the district you're interested in, and wonk away.

LWV Guide to Schools

I have to give a shout-out to the League of Women Voters for creating this astonishing directory of regional schools. It's slightly out of date now (it was created back in 2009), but it is still the best compendium of information I've seen outside of the NYSED website (which is MUCH harder to navigate).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bye Bye Barney

Redistricting has its pros and cons, as Barney Frank's departure proves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tax Caps & the American Dream

Here's my piece from the IJ today. (Click on the link to see the responses :P)

Recently, Time magazine had a cover article on the death of the American Dream, concluding that we can no longer expect to move up in America unless we meet certain pre-existing criteria. At the same time, Gannett newspapers trumpet Gov. Andrew Cuomo's statement that the "property tax cap is working."

The property tax cap is working. It is working to maintain the divide between rich and poor and to ensure that children in poor upstate districts have no chance at all to improve their lot in life.

The comparative wealth ratio (CWR) uses average income and value of real estate to compare regions or districts. Across New York, the CWR averages 1.0. In my district of Dryden, it is 0.52 — a little more than half as wealthy as the average New York state school district. In Bridgehampton on Long Island, the CWR is 36.249.

Bridgehampton has a tax base of $6 billion and expressed its 2011 tax rate increase as "$111 on a $1 million home." Last May, the citizens of Bridgehampton approved an 8.6 percent tax levy increase by nearly 3 to 1, suggesting that it would be easy for them to surpass the 60 percent vote required to override the tax cap in 2012.

I'm picking on Bridgehampton because it serves fewer than 150 students with a budget greater than $10 million. Its tiny size makes it ripe for the governor's proposed consolidation of school districts with fewer than 1,000 students. (In our region, that's Newfield, Groton, Candor and South Seneca.) The Regents agree with the governor. So does the commissioner. Small districts cannot survive financially, nor can they compete with larger districts in terms of offerings and chances for their students. They must merge or die.

But do you really think that Bridgehampton will have to merge with another district? Why would it? It is not going to be bankrupt in three to five years, as the best predictions indicate our small upstate districts will be.

Dryden educates 12 times as many students as Bridgehampton with just three times the money. But Dryden has had budgets fail with a 50-50 vote. Do you really think that Dryden will dare to ask voters to override the tax cap? Remember, rollover budgets put everyone over the cap. To stay within the cap means to lose services, not just to maintain what we have.

In Newfield, 2 percent of the levy equals about $94,000 — a little less than two entry-level staff salaries with benefits, or perhaps one nice new school bus. Do you really think that Newfield can stay within the tax cap without cutting personnel and programs — again?

Since 2001, districts have been asked to do more with less. Eventually, of course, that evolves into doing less with less. That's where upstate rural schools find themselves today.

The last time I wrote here about inequity in education, people actually commented that rich people deserved better schools. Yet in the United States, our public schools have always been a pathway to the American Dream — a means of leveling the playing field and giving all children a chance at a better life.

Your state and federal taxes help students in Bridgehampton, as their parents' state and federal taxes help our students here. Where it all falls apart is at the local level. Funding schools with property taxes keeps rich kids rich and poor kids poor. The tax cap is just the final nail in the coffin of upstate children's American Dream.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hypocrisy R Us

How grotesque is it that we continue to encourage Arab Springsters to emulate our democracy and to forgo police violence at a time when our Congress is at a standstill and our cities are gassing their citizens?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Broadband Tower, Continued

They are building pieces on site. The crane comes Wednesday. Then there will be a brief pause for the opening of gun season. Wiring should happen immediately thereafter. It's nice that the weather has cooperated thus far.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Cautionary Tale for the National GOP

Living in Dryden features Michael Rider's amazing visual on the Dryden Supervisor election, all the more amazing when we recall where we stood just a few years ago.

Although the demographics of the town have changed somewhat to lean further blue than before, I also think (without one iota of hard evidence) that the town's Republican base has separated somewhat from its current leadership and direction, just as nationally, moderate Republicans have moved quietly away from their party's leadership and direction. The Tea Party, for example, does not at all represent the very middle-of-the-road Republicans who populated Dryden's town board and school board for years. Dryden's village board is 100 percent Republican, but none of those folks reminds me of Eric Cantor or Michele Bachmann.

Dryden has always had a fringe presence in its Republican population that is church-driven and deeply ideological. Some of those folks have made their way onto the school board, but they have never, so far, dominated policy or direction. Some of them have made their way onto the Republican committee in town, but their politics seem, if results mean anything at all, not to resonate with the general population.

I suspect that at the local level, the sort of gridlock we see in Washington would simply not be tolerated. If roads don't get plowed and teachers don't get paid, people show up, angry, at the next town or school meeting. The Tea Party may want less government, but at the town and school level, what would that actually look like? It's not an argument that worked well in Dryden in 2011.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winners: Opponents of Fracking?

It was true in Dryden and Caroline, and this article mentions other areas of the state where the election was a referendum on the topic of hydrofracking. It is definitely true that in Dryden, voters crossed party lines to cast their votes for the Keep the Ban slate, although it will take some delving into numbers to figure out how many did so (and how many just stayed home).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fracking and Psy Ops

Thanks to Kris for sending along this piece on gas drilling companies' use of counterinsurgency techniques in small rural communities. Judging by our overwhelming victory last night, it's working here about as well as it has in Afghanistan.

To be honest, I would have been quite content sitting on the sidelines on this issue--until Anschutz sued my town. My reaction is perhaps similar to that of most uncommitted locals in South Asia and the Middle East--piss me off, threaten my community, and no matter what my politics might have been, I'll come after you.


Heading up to 75 degrees and sunny on the 9th of November? I'll take it.

A Decisive Win

Across the board, anti-fracking candidates won in Tompkins County. Read about our race here.

And Ithaca ends up with a largely new Common Council and its youngest mayor ever.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nineveh Makes Me Tyred

Switching gears from the election for a few minutes, I have to write about my trip to Buffalo to attend the New York State School Board Association's annual convention.

First of all, it was Buffalo in late October. The convention center in Buffalo, although it is right downtown, is surrounded by dark alleys and crumbling buildings. I lived in NYC for 13 years, seven of those across from Tompkins Square Park, yet I was afraid to walk back to my hotel after dark. Buffalo is the New York Nineveh, the ruins of a great city fallen on hard times. The architecture is still splendid, but in a decrepit, Ozymandian way. There are blocks of boarded up buildings. Expensive hotels lie cheek-by-jowl with strip bars.

It was the perfect setting for a completely demoralizing exhibition of everything that's wrong with American education.

I know I've written before about the history of our Regents system. It's an ancient system that is fully politicized and takes education out of the hands of the people and places it in the hands of a political elite. The Regents' plan for all of us is the Governor's plan: consolidate before we make you do it.

So I went dutifully to a couple of sessions on regional high schools--in theory just what they sound like--single high schools that serve two or more districts. I say in theory, because although the Commissioner and Regents like this idea, and it does allow impoverished districts to provide increased offerings for their students and possibly to attain other efficiencies (although a cost savings has yet to be proven), regional high schools are in fact not yet permitted legislatively. There is no plan for how to tax them, who gives out diplomas, or anything at all.

To be fair, there are people trying to get this legislation to happen. State Senator Cathy Young (R-Olean) and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell (R-Jamestown) are working on it, because towns in their region are trying to do this. Towns in the North Country and in Wayne/Finger Lakes Region have commissioned studies. Everyone says that the hardest thing to talk about is what happens to the sports teams.

Do we think that schools in Westchester or Nassau are discussing regional high schools or any type of consolidation? No, of course not. They don't have to. They're not going to be bankrupt in five years. They already offer AP courses and Chinese.

So once again, it all comes down to inequity. When the Governor or Commissioner says "consolidate," he means "upstate." Even NYC doesn't really need to consolidate; the combined wealth ratio in NYC is right around 1.0. In most of the towns that face this issue for real, the combined wealth ratio is 0.49 or less.

So that's why the theme of our Rural Schools Breakfast was "Fight or die." I exaggerate, perhaps, but that's what I took away from it all. I'm so sick of writing about inequity in education, I can only imagine how nauseated Rick Timbs is by now. His message to us was: What you're doing isn't working. Rick wants us to start lobbying our legislators with entire brigades from schools, businesses, parent organizations, etc., all with the message: What have you done for us lately? He calls the pork our legislators deliver to our districts "hush money" that covers the fact that they support the Governor's budget. And as sick as I am of the topic, there are times when I think I should chuck all of the volunteer stuff I do and simply work for Rick, because he is truly doing vital work, however discredited, unheard, and ignored it may be.

If it sounds like I had a crappy time at the convention, well, I did. I spent some time with Occupy Buffalo in Niagara Square because it seemed to be the only authentic thing going on. I attended the Commissioner's session and survived the syrupy kissing-up while standing in line to ask my question. I was next in line when he cut us off, having heard six questions in all. My question was going to be: In 2014, we're getting Next Generation Assessments that will be entirely web- or cloud-based. Some districts in my area have two computer labs of 30 machines apiece. What the hell is your plan?

I like the Commissioner. I think he's really nice and really committed and works terribly hard. I think he genuinely wants "what's good for kids" and hopes to "raise the bar" and has every intention of offering support. But his support is virtual, and that's not what we need here in TST, where South Seneca, Groton, Newfield, and Candor serve under 1000 students, have no money, and are therefore on the block for forced consolidation if and when (and I think the latter is likely) it happens.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Debate" Tonight

The six Dryden candidates will have a chance to answer questions from the floor at the first of two meet-the-candidates forums tonight at 7:30 at Neptune Fire Hall. I'll be at my TC Action board meeting, but I'm sure Living in Dryden will post about it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Best Representation (Corporate) Money Can Buy

Thanks to Rachel D for this Salon article, which details the horrifying intrusion of corporate dollars into a school board race in Denver.

Here in Dryden, the dollars are harder to trace, but certainly Anschutz Gas & Oil Exploration has a vested interest in the town board outcome and has made that clear both in the timing of their lawsuit and in their attorney's comments on the radio.

One of the many things the OWS protesters are protesting is the influence of corporate monies on politics. In 2011, the influence extends into local races in towns of 13,500. Your town could be next.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why Dryden, Why Now?

Living in Dryden posts in response to candidate Schickel's oft-repeated remark that banning gas drilling "painted a target on the town's back." It has been clear to some of us for a while that the choice of Dryden as target of a lawsuit was not arbitrary, and that it had more to do with threatening nearby towns that were contemplating similar legislation (e.g., Caroline, where the threat worked quite well) and bullying Dryden's electorate than with protecting an investment. Wouldn't it be interesting if a major figure in the Dryden Republican Party turned out to be the one who cost the taxpayers that estimated $200K the GOP keep harping on? (To be fair, the current cost of the lawsuit is nowhere near that amount, but who knows how long things will drag on.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"May Your Occupations Be Few..."

"...If you would lead a tranquil life." Well, Marcus Aurelius wasn't thinking about this kind of occupation, but the word occupy has been thrown around so thoroughly over the past few weeks that it seems that our tranquil life is a thing of the past. We're occupying everything from Cortland to the Library Book Sale. It's only a matter of time before Madison Avenue picks it up and we're occupying McDonald's or our local Kinney Drugs. Co-option is just minutes away.

Before that happens, though, I have to express my delight at OWS and its worldwide spawn. I grew up in a moment in time when occupation was a standard tool. In my first occupation, I occupied the IHS Board of Ed building to get a smoking area placed outside the cafeteria. (Yeah, imagine that happening today. But it worked.) At Cornell, students occupied Willard Straight Hall. My friend and editor Chuck occupied the president's office at Columbia.

I have always thought that the most important political goal in America must be decreasing the economic divide. That has led me to unfortunate decisions (supporting John Edwards, for one) and has somehow never caught on as a sexy issue with the politicos in power. It was always going to be an idea that percolated upward from below, so the natural evolution was always likely to be the kind of quiet revolution that OWS represents.

Is it the start of something real? Maybe. Maybe some of the students in tents in the park will be stimulated into organizing locally, running for local office, or supporting people like Elizabeth Warren for Senate. Occupation can be a focusing lens; when you are surrounded by like-minded people arguing over ideas, the result can be a lifelong pattern of deep thinking and community action. Or reading history! As Chuck wrote to me after his visit to Zuccotti Park, "It’s interesting... to think that back in the day, we thought of ourselves as the heirs of a vital leftist tradition, bolstered by decades of intellectual ferment and by ongoing exemplars of revolution in the Third World (even if later these mostly proved to be false). Today’s protesters don’t have any of that to lean on. They have to make it up out of whole cloth...."

Today's protesters may look at the disparity in power between players in the Arab Spring and think, "If they can do it, so can we." My guess: It's easier to overthrow a government than to get corporate America to share the wealth. Which does not mean, in any way, that we peasants should stop trying.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Required Reading

I'm behind the Times, but Krugman and Gitlin were worth a read last Sunday.

At the OWS rally Saturday were three groups of people I know, although they did not cross paths: DZ and family, Chuck, and the Steins.

Next up: Occupy Cortland.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ithaca Calendar Clock

Made in Ithaca, Civil War era, restored by Paul with a little help from the Clock Guy. Absolutely fabulous.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011


Just made out my check for Dryden school taxes. Over $10.1K. So proud.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dryden v. Goliath, part 2

Dude! You stole my headline!

First their reasoning was that they owned 22,000 acres. Now it's to avoid a statute of limitations.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dryden v. Goliath, part 1

Because it is privately held, Anschutz puts out very little information about its finances and operations. It's not even possible to find names of board members. However, we know that Philip A is worth $7 billion, and that his largest holdings involve not oil and gas, but sports and entertainment, courtesy of subsidiary AEG, which, as it happens, is currently being sued by Michael Jackson's mother. So we can anticipate that Anschutz has a fairly large budget to hire legal assistance.

Then there's the town of Dryden, which budgeted $51K this year for legal expenses, including union negotiations.

But we do have a number of brooks containing smooth stones.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Regrets, I've Had a Few...

Thanks to Wendy for forwarding this NYT article on local regrets from leaseholders. It mentions our lawsuit, too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Lie of Local Energy

Local MD Niziol has posted to the Dryden Safe Energy site bemoaning the immorality of a ban on "local energy."

What makes him think that the energy is for local use? Have the gas drillers promised that to the town? Not that I know of. Are the pipelines limited to the town? Not that I know of.

Chesapeake/Anschutz are gas exporters. I believe in local energy; that's why we've gone somewhat off the grid and are heating from our own below ground warm earth. But I see no proof that gas drilling in upstate NY has anything whatsoever to do with local energy. Sorry, Dr. N.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reading List

It's not easy to make analyses of scientific experimentation vivid and moving, but Mukherjee's anecdotal style turns this "biography of cancer" into a thrilling page-turner. The serendipity of discovery, the patience of scientists, and the importance of public relations are all focuses of his tome. Best book I've read all year, and perfect for the waiting room at Sloan Kettering.

Here We Go

It's not clear whether they have the standing to do this, but Anschutz certainly believes that it can win in a lawsuit against our town's ban on heavy industry. Choosing Dryden and doing this now seems a way to influence electoral politics in the only area around where there's a clear division between pro- and anti- in the race for town board.
If you read the comments on the article, you can see how things are going to play out over the next months.

LATER: Here's the actual complaint filed September 16.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


As I pack to head for NYC tomorrow to help Lara through reconstructive surgery, I am bombarded with images of the city ten years ago. Ten years ago, I had been ten years out of NYC, so the images, while familiar, seemed distant. Nevertheless, two months before the towers fell, we'd taken Olivia to a concert in the plaza in their shadow, and she had enjoyed the fountain, the crowds, and the salsa dancing. We told her how tall the towers were and that Uncle Mark once worked in a bookstore down below. So all three of us had a point of reference.

The towers opened a few months before I moved to the city. For the 13 years I was there, they remained a lodestar. If I came out of a subway and got turned around, they told me where south was. If I walked around downtown, I could figure out distances by searching out their tops. When I worked briefly in Brooklyn Heights, I ate lunch every day on the promenade overlooking the harbor they dominated.

The morning of the attack, PZ called me, because his girlfriend had called him from a hotel. (When you stay at a hotel, you always watch the morning news. At home, not so much.) We watched, 200 miles apart and connected by a phone line, as what we thought was a small plane hit the north tower again and again.

Within minutes, it was clear that it was not a small plane. We got off the phones to call others. I called Paul and Lara. Then I called Chuck, who was standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue looking south. He screamed into the phone, "Thank you George Bush, thank you Ariel Sharon, thank you etc. etc." I sat and watched. I got up and worked. I came back and watched. Soon, I recognized that this was no longer a workday. Around noon, Lara and Kevin arrived with pizza. We watched and ate as though we were watching an apocalyptic Netflix DVD. Lara's uncle was at the Pentagon, on the far side, away from the blast. Her mother was stuck on a flight home from Europe and would end up at Gander in Newfoundland for days. Paul and I knew people who would walk home across the Brooklyn Bridge, pack up their car, and never return.

I have been back to the city many times, but I've never visited Ground Zero. Don't want to; don't get it. I felt a bit the same way about seeing the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. I won't go tomorrow, either. I'll sit in what's sure to be horrible traffic as police hopelessly search all panel trucks for whatever, and I may watch the news on TV, but my mourning will be less for the people lost than for the death of our belief in ourselves, for the descent, over ten years, into a sort of dithering madness, wherein the melting pot resembles a poisoned cauldron and the lady in the harbor not a guide but a guard.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Gold Standard

With the rise of Ron Paul and the fall of the stock market, more people are thinking about the fact that we base our monetary system on sand and fantasy and speculation. Of course paper money has no intrinsic worth. On the other hand, it's hard to believe that unusual metal veins in the earth's surface are worth anything, either. Cowrie shells? Maybe.

My own Paul likes the barter system and has recently traded his computer services for a reconstituted snowplow with the guys at Bell's Auto in Varna. It helps to have a skill; no one is clamoring for my editorial expertise, although I have been known to throw together a brochure in exchange for baked goods. And while I'm talking about Bell's, here's a shout-out to the great folks at Bell's in Dryden. For the second time in two years, they've charged me nothing for checking out weird noises that turned out to be mostly in my head (although today's involved scraping a little rust off the rotors). It's so nice to have a car place that's local AND good-hearted. Worth its weight in unusual metal veins, in fact.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Steady Rain, continued.

It rained continually all night long, and in the morning, we were in a State of Emergency, which means that the sheriff alerts us all to stay off the roads. Parts of Routes 79 and 13 were closed entirely. School was delayed and then cancelled, despite the fact that the driving ban was lifted by nine or so. Paul took the dogs out back and lost Alex to a large puddle in the Big Dig there, where she happily lay in the water with only her head poking out. Noonish, Paul drove to work, and Olivia and I crossed town around two. There were washouts along Hurd Road, lots of branches by the sides of roads, and some mushy spots along the edges of Ellis Hollow, but on the whole, it didn't look bad, and downtown was passable. McGuire Ford's parking lot was a lake, and water was definitely high in the flood canal. Other people posted nice photos on FB of the waterfalls and streams in the area. Exciting, but nothing compared to what they're facing in the Southern Tier, where Binghamton lies partially underwater.

LATER: Owego, NY, from the Ithaca Journal:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Steady Rain.

We have enough rain that driving more than 30 mph risks hydroplaning, and I had to stop suddenly on my way down Baker Hill for a tree across the road, then back up and try a different route—–but at least our kid didn't spend her first day of school overnight in a classroom, as I hear Newark Valley kids will do.

Meanwhile, Texas is burning to the ground. As PZ said in this week's letter: "Given that Governor Perry will undoubtedly give credit to God for whatever rain might fall in Texas someday, I’m fairly comfortable holding the opinion that the current drought there is a clear sign that He is currently a bit miffed that they’ve foisted the Lone Star state’s lone star on the rest of us. A sign’s a sign, after all. Don’t blame Jesus."

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Great Decline

I'm currently reading The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, which has me thinking about declines in general. I'm starting to believe that when The Decline and Fall of the American Empire is written, one of the core reasons given for the decline will be the stubborn and poisonous ignorance of the American people, beginning in the last half of the last century (although the seeds were probably planted long before that). Krugman talks a little about that today.
Now, we don’t know who will win next year’s presidential election. But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect.

LATER: As further evidence, I give you this recent thread in the IJ. (See the comments.) Heartbreaking, really.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's an Ill Wind

But not as bad as advertised. We've got mud where the geothermal dig happened, and the ground is spongy and the sky is gray, but we did not lose power, and we probably would have been fine if we'd left the patio furniture where it was rather than storing it in the barn.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Teacher Evals

The courts have knocked down Cuomo's plan for teacher evaluations by deciding that some of the tests that evaluations are based on may be chosen by districts.

Since NYS belongs to a consortium that is phasing in Next Generation Assessments aligned with the Common Core Standards in 2014, and since those tests will happen four times a year instead of just one, it's hard to imagine how additional local tests will be squeezed in.

Assume one day per test for ELA/Math, and you already will spend over 4 percent of the school year just testing students. (That doesn't count the time spent away from teachers as they grade the tests and students sit and watch movies with substitutes.) And now you're going to add local assessments to that mix? Or is everyone assuming that this plan is just for three years, and then the Regents will come up with something brand new?

Well, at least Pearson is getting rich off the deal.

Monday, August 22, 2011


A whirlwind trip to enjoy the BB Hall of Fame and the opera.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Primary Candidate Endorsements

The IJ, ever-dwindling, is allowing 50 words apiece for endorsement letters this year and publishing them as a stream-of-consciousness.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Go Ahead, Secede

Seriously. Do it. Soon.

LATER: More.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Caucus Reminders

Too often, we hold town caucuses that feature only committee members. This year, I think we'll get more attention, because the issues are important. Dryden's Democratic caucus is August 23 at 7:30 at Town Hall.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cut Scores

Well, it's just too much of a pain to append a table in Blogger, so I'll simply report briefly on the 3–8 2010 test scores for Dryden. Statewide across the grades, 52.8 percent of students succeeded in ELA, which is to say they scored a 3 or 4 rather than a 1 or 2. Statewide, 63.3 percent of students succeeded in math, ditto. It's fair to say that these are not good numbers. In most places, 52.8 percent is not a passing grade.

And Dryden? At DES, students in grades 3, 4, and 5 came in below those statewide means in ELA and math. At Cassavant, where only 20 took the test in grade 3, students did much better, which is to say that 70 percent passed both ELA and math. At Dryden Middle School, students in grade 6 ELA beat the mean, but students in 7 and 8 and in 6, 7, and 8 math did not.

There will be a lot of chat in the upcoming days about "it's a snapshot, not the whole picture" plus comparisons and contrasts among districts and across years. I have stopped caring about all that. What I care about right now is the fact that only half of our students (and not many more statewide) are passing a test that supposedly assesses overall performance in reading and math.

Here's a statistic that might give you pause: Our community colleges spend $2 billion annually on remediation, yet fewer than a quarter of those remedial students earn an associate's degree college within eight years.

Well, when things look bad, change the test. That's what will happen in 2014, when we start phasing in Next Generation Assessments based on the Common Core State Standards. The good news is that those tests will be standards-based and correlated through those standards to requirements for college and career. They will require a lot more in the way of long answers and project-y type work rather than just multiple choice and an occasional essay. The bad news is that it's hard to imagine kids doing better (and easy to imagine them faring far, far worse) on those more rigorous tests than they did on the ones they just took.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Transactional vs. Transformational

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is one of the few progressives at the top of the NYS ticket, and he was the guest speaker at the TC Dems' annual fundraiser yesterday. Prior to that, a few of us sat down with him at the Statler, where he held forth on an issue dear to his heart, the need for transformational progressive politics. His indictment of "checklist liberals" in The Nation should be required reading for every grassroots activist who thinks that it's all about getting 'er done rather than changing the language of the debate and moving forward incrementally toward a grand goal.

I'll be talking about this soon with local activists who worked hard to push through the no-fracking change to town zoning but who are now starting to recognize that politics is actually part of this process. It does matter who gets elected or re-elected in November, and fracking or no fracking is just part of a much larger issue: How should we get and use energy? What do we want that to look like, not just this year and next year, but ten and twenty years from now? How does that connect with climate change, and what makes climate change a local issue? Most important, how do we talk about all that in a way that brings people over to our side? I'm excited to hear their ideas; many people involved in that movement are fiercely outside of party politics and don't like to consider their activism political at all. But it is.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Required Reading

Psychologist Drew Westin on the hopes and fears many of us share about our president.
That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Geothermal Day One

Well, they ran our well dry keeping the engine cool and hit bedrock and had to redesign the plan, but things got started today....

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dryden Bans Drilling

It's not yet in our paper of record, but last night the Dryden Town Board voted unanimously to keep gas drilling at bay. That's three Democrats, one independent, and a Republican, y'all.

LATER: A day late and a dollar short, the IJ weighs in. Nearly all of the comments so far are negative.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reading List

And yet another dour Swede, this one a master of plotting. Sort of a cross between Joseph Wambaugh and Graham Greene, with a little LeCarre thrown in. Difficult and dense, but quite good, and in its way much more caustic about the fatherland than any of the others I've read. It's interesting that two of the four dour Swedes I've read recently hint around at Olof Palme's early connection to the CIA (as opposed to the KGB, which is the more popular belief). Sadly, this is Persson's only book in English translation. I love his characters and would like to read more.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lack of Emotion Boils Over

The claim of dispassionate, neutral access to information on gas leasing on the new "Dryden" website is surely belied by the 51-and-counting comments on this IJ article. Here's the new "Dryden" site (the quote marks are because only two out of three administrators are from Dryden; the other is a failed politician from Newfield). Judge for yourself its neutrality on the issue.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I know we have lots of starlings in the barn, but that doesn't really explain how this guy hatched from a guinea fowl egg.

Post Office Closings

Despite the news that most 2011 post office closings would be small rural sites, the list for New York contains mostly city offices, with the occasional tiny town. Surprisingly, this county is unaffected.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July Harvest

Paul, Olivia, and Kerry went to their favorite blueberry-pickin' spot, Hall's Hill, and came back with this bounty despite the lack of rain.

Pogo Was Right

After my immersion year in dour Swedish mysteries, I have a better sense of the general Scandinavian depression over its recent openness to the world's ills and the (perhaps overstated by Henning Mankell) fear of immigrants that drives some public policy. It was not surprising, then, that the initial reports out of Oslo blamed Norway's part in the coalition fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. After all, here, too, our first assumption would be to blame the Unknown Other, especially if that Other wore funny clothing and prayed five times a day. So how earthshaking must it be that Norway's greatest disaster since WWII seems to have been perpetrated by one of its own, a Christian conservative nationalist with apparent anti-Muslim tendencies who quotes John Stuart Mill?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Putzes Stage a Putsch

I've been talking for weeks about this House-Exec stalemate's resembling a slow-motion coup (notwithstanding the fact that the word implies a speedy action), but now I know I'm right. Not only were certain freshman representatives clearly elected with the objective of bringing this government down, but their leadership is also in collusion. Seriously? The Prez has to wait all day for Boehner to return his call? Dude, get out of the damn tanning booth and serve the freakin' people. We get that you don't respect the president, and I'm sure it has nothing to do with race, but at least show a modicum of respect for the office. Your website claims that you ran for office with the intention of "restor[ing] trust between the American people and their government." You should have added "give or take a branch or two."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gas Heats Up

Well, tonight's the night of the big Town Board meeting. I suspect it will be rowdy. Living in Dryden has a good analysis of the pro-fracking site's dubious math.

Although it appears that this is a partisan issue in Dryden, and it will certainly be framed that way for November, I suspect that deep down, it really is not. There are people in town on both sides of the aisle who cross over on this one.

I have posted in the past about my view of energy policy as a class issue. Since that posting, we have arranged to retrofit for geothermal, so by autumn we will be off the grid in that one area, although still connected via electric. I still believe that local energy is better than imported energy, even if the energy imported just comes from a state or two away--for all kinds of reasons, including the energy expended and lost when energy travels.

But I don't want big trucks destroying our roads or unknown chemicals polluting our water, so I'm glad to let our town do what it can to protect its citizens. I don't see that as a partisan issue at all, but rather a logical choice. Those kinds of protections cannot be achieved by people on their own; they are the natural role of government.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

DSEC Error

The relatively new Dryden Safe Energy Coalition has a big ad in the Shopper inviting "particularly landowners" to the Town Board meeting tomorrow night. "Don't let $175 million+ of your rights be confiscated," they say. However, they got the date wrong and listed it as July 21 at 7 PM. It's correct on their website.

It's a safe bet that both sides will be well-represented, error or not.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Election Issue #1

I'll cross-post with the Dryden Dems site:

If there's any one election issue that will resonate countywide this year, it is surely hydrofracking. The Tompkins County Council of Governments Task Force on Gas Drilling just presented a session on "What Gas Drilling Sites Might Look Like in the Town of Dryden"; Living in Dryden has the synopsis and a link to the slides. And this Wednesday, July 20, at 7 PM, the Dryden Town Board is holding a public hearing on banning hydrofracking and all related activities in the Town of Dryden. Get there early to get a seat or to sign up to speak; discussion will likely be lively. Here is a brief take on where the town board is now with the issue. The proposed amendments are here. Get informed; your candidates will certainly be talking about this through the summer and into election season.

Dryden Dems will be posting about additional local issues as time goes on.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blogger vs. Internet Explorer

For a while now, I've noticed that Blogger has become less and less compatible with Internet Explorer. For example, I can no longer save a post in IE and have to switch over to Google Chrome. Likewise, the new ticker I stuck in with Michele Bachmann quotes works fine in Chrome and looks all wrong in IE. What's up with that?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Same-Sex Stats in Dryden

Guess which village has the higher percentage of same-sex couples, Trumansburg or Freeville? (It's 3.65% to 5.31%, but to be fair, Freeville is quite a bit tinier. Its 5.31% represents six lesbian couples, three with children.) Guess which town has the higher percentage of same-sex couples, Dryden or Ithaca? It's Dryden by a nose with 2.78% to 2.68%. (The City of Ithaca is about double that.) The IJ has statewide stats on this, in anticipation of next week's marriage law. Sadly, they're not in an easily linkable form.

Wacky Michele B

I wish I were clever enough to post these as an ongoing ticker until Election Day. Maybe I'll figure it out.

LATER: Did it!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Primary Dates Changing

The NY political calendar we're used to may get a major overhaul. No more petitioning in that crazy week before July 4th? Stay tuned....

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reading List

I'm addicted to dour Swedish mystery writers, and this might be the best yet.

Required Reading

Krugman gives up on Obama, more or less:
Mr. Obama’s people will no doubt argue that their fellow party members should trust him, that whatever deal emerges was the best he could get. But it’s hard to see why a president who has gone out of his way to echo Republican rhetoric and endorse false conservative views deserves that kind of trust.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


She worked with Paul at Baker Institute before embarking on her life's passion--to start a restaurant/winery with her husband. Now she's gone, far too soon. We love the restaurant and the wine and hope both will survive.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Hidden Gotcha

Hidden in this article about the passed tax cap, rent control, SUNY increases, and gay marriage is an offhand remark about something that wasn't an audible part of the conversation--yet may have a significant impact.
An important part of the cap would prohibit a school district from raising taxes at all if voters rejected the budget twice. Currently, a twice-rejected budget leads to a contingency spending plan that has a fixed tax increase, sometimes as high as what voters shot down.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Free At Last

With the GOP taking credit (after all, when the Dems ran the Senate, they couldn't get it done), gay marriage passed in NYS last night.

One hopes that this welcome addition to the demographic will end up decreasing the divorce rate in NYS (surprisingly low already, compared to some other less liberal states).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's Not All Bad News

Back home to a snippet of good news from the state. First, backstory: I joined the school board when Olivia was 3 or 4 with the objective of getting a Pre-K program there. Dryden was then one of the last to get on board with such a program, and money was beginning to be available from the state. I lost my first vote on the topic, and it took another ten years and two more superintendents to get the program started. The first year, Dryden fielded enough kids to fill a classroom plus, so they got money for one classroom. The second year, they had a rise in interest and asked for money for two classrooms, which they received. The third year, numbers declined somewhat, meaning that only one classroom could be filled. (Our primary numbers have been in decline for some time, so this doesn't really reflect on the program itself.)

Perhaps in previous years, this would have been fine, but in today's Account-for-Every-Dime New York, moving from two classrooms to one counts as Failure to Maintain Program. In the budget for 2011-12, Dryden's Pre-K funding was cut back to $34K--not enough to cover one classroom.

So the principal got on the horn to state ed, and I got on email to our legislators, and this week, Senator Seward, R-Oneonta, came through with a check to cover the program for next year plus a bill to maintain our program and other such programs despite our apparent failure to thrive. As I read the bill (and I'm happy to have others do so and translate for me), we can't grow the program, but the state can't shrink it, either, a compromise that isn't ideal but will do. The bill passed the Senate yesterday. (I guess it was easier to stomach than gay marriage.) And Pre-K lives to serve 16 kids annually for at least a few years to come.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Still in NYC

There are so many reasons I would make a bad nurse. Luckily, L is feeling much better and is able to handle her own tubes and flasks, so I just need to adjust pillows, comment on fluid colors, keep track of medication timing, and buy food. Oh, and pick her up at the hospital and drive her to our "home" in the Bristol Plaza.

Tomorrow I will have lunch with Mollie downtown and dinner with Diane and Phil somewhere else. Somewhere in there, I will try to get some work done....

Friday, June 17, 2011


It's been a long time since I spent any time at all on the upper east side. I'm currently ensconced in the posh Bristol Plaza, a stone's throw from Cancer Central--Memorial Sloan Kettering, the Breast Center, and all the many surrounding health facilities. Behind a high wall across the street from MSK is Rockefeller University.

I stupidly brought my little car, because back in the day you could always find on-street parking with a tiny little car. Not anymore. The avenues are all timed meters, and the side streets have impossible schedules for anyone hoping to park longterm. So I'm in a garage, but I did manage to find one $7 cheaper per day than the Bristol's exorbitant prices.

Our apartment has a kitchenette, and I stocked up on Food Emporium salads and bread, so I can run home, do a little work, and have lunch. Days so far have been: Wake at 5, work till 8, walk 10 minutes to the hospital, hang out, go back for lunch, come back in the afternoon, eat dinner in the cafeteria (award-winning, but still a cafeteria), home after 8, watch CNN. A setback (arterial hematoma) means that L won't leave the hospital before tomorrow at the earliest. The apartment is the quietest place I've ever stayed in NYC. (It's a Milstein building, which explains how the CU prez has an in here.)

A word to the wise (or those with an in): If you have cancer, go directly to MSK. They don't mess around. The entire staff, from orderlies and cafeteria workers through surgeons, is unbelievably great.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dryden Wins Awards

Dryden's Seussical, the Musical scored big at last night's CRT Awards at Cortland Repertory Theatre. Judges from the theater attend plays in every school district that inches into Cortland County, I think 16 in all. (Interestingly, some districts still manage to put on three or four performances a year.) Dryden won best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best ensemble, and best musical. And their performance of a medley from the show brought down the house. Here are Heather, Olivia, and Allie mugging before the show.