Thursday, March 31, 2011

School Runs

We worked through dinner trying to make head or tail of the state aid restoration runs. This document from State Ed implies that restoration was based on need, enrollment increases, students with Limited English Proficiency, and decreases to cuts. Although our local schools score high on need, they score quite poorly on enrollment increases and ESL population. That being said, we can't quite understand the numbers that resulted:
Dryden gets $284,801 back, or about 7.9% of the original cut.
Groton gets $55,453 back, or about 3.3% of the original cut.
Ithaca gets $674,762 back, or about 11.89% of the original cut.
Lansing gets $171,396 back, or about 11.1% of the original cut.
Newfield gets $69,578 back, or about 6.1% of the original cut.
Trumansburg gets $195,737 back, or about 8.4% of the original cut.
Overall, the six Tompkins County school districts get about 9.1% of the money originally cut. The poorest schools get below that average, and the richest schools get above it. If anyone can help me to understand how this is equitable or fair, I breathlessly await your explanation!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

12th Grandest Arch

PZ's gang in Afghanistan has "discovered" the world's 12th largest natural arch. The picture, by Ayub Alavi of WCS, is cool.

School Budget So Far, Redux

We didn't make it to Monday's budget hearing, mostly 'cause I'm sick as a dog, and it was in Freeville, not close to where we had to pick up Olivia. However, it appears that nothing much (at all?) changed from the earlier discussion.

Groton's budget seems more interesting. They're looking at serious restructuring--maybe getting rid of their middle school entirely--to save money. They also have some truly ridiculous proposals on their website involving eliminating both directors of IT and Special Ed within three years. Do they think either of those areas is shrinking?

Even more interesting from a policy viewpoint is ICSD's rejection of a payment in lieu of taxes for the proposed BJ's Wholesale Club near the mall. It seems to me that you can request payment in lieu of taxes for an entity (Cornell) that is legally tax free, but to accept a payment in lieu to allow a deal to be made with a business is never going to be in the best interest of the district.

Monday, March 28, 2011


The man SAZ always spoke of as the consummate scientist, because he relied so particularly on the scientific method--observe, question, hypothesize, test, conclude--died Friday. An inspiration to young scientists worldwide, and a champion of the importance of biodiversity.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Can't Copyright an Idea

Simon sends along the NYT's version of "A Tale of Two Districts." I thought it was better to compare two similarly populated districts, but they make similar points, so it's all good.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Well, she wouldn't have been my first choice, but Geraldine Ferraro did make history when she was the first woman on the presidential ticket of a major party. I like her somewhat more in retrospect, and I'm sorry she didn't live long enough to see the inauguration of the first woman president.

Friday, March 25, 2011

School Budget So Far

I don't have much to say about the Budget Discussion we atended last Monday, which is why I haven't posted about it till now. The BoE looked at four scenarios--a 2 percent levy increase, a 4 percent levy increase, a 6 percent levy increase, and an 8 percent levy increase. Things are heading toward the 6 percent number, it seems. They spent a long time and a lot of paper explaining the various reserve funds, in light of the discovery at Trumansburg a few weeks back that the business official there had regularly rolled over costs until the reserves held a massive (and illegal) $9 million. Not so at Dryden, we are assured.

People were encouraged to make suggestions and remarks; the best and most practical came from Tim Kirkpatrick, science teacher and union official. Closing the small schools was brought up once again, with the inequities in class sizes being the prominent reason. The BoE agreed that all class sizes would rise to about 20 at the elementary and a max perhaps of over 30 in some high school classes. I believe that getting to 20 at the small schools will be a major juggling feat. Someone pointed out that already, kids from Livermore Road near the big elementary school are bused to Cassavant. Growing our tax base was another theme; the mayor of the village of Dryden was serving as timekeeper and presumably took note.

Anyway, no good news, but we didn't expect any. Interesting tidbits from the Superintendent's presentation include that since 2003, student enrollment has decreased by 5 percent, teaching staff by 6 percent, and administration by 17 percent. Losses in the instructional area with a 6 percent levy add up to 6 aides, 9 teaching assistants, 4 elementary teachers, 1 PE teacher, .4 science teacher, and .4 math teacher. (It's worth noting that Paul's district hasn't had aides that weren't special-ed mandated for some years now.) Spanish will now be taught starting at 8th grade, not 6th. (I struggled for quite some time to get it down to 6th from 7th.) Extracurriculars and sports will take a hard hit. The union has agreed to let volunteers serve as assistant coaches, something that happens at many (most?) districts around here already.

We may find out today whether Albany's three men in a room added back some dollars for education. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Broadband Monoliths

Paul doesn't think we should call them "towers," as the word freaks everyone out. Simon posted about the meeting we attended yesterday that led to approval of the three main monoliths, and his piece was picked up by WHCU. Despite the Frontier guy's assertion that everyone in our area is served well by Frontier with a fine speed of 3M download and 440k upload, we regularly achieve less than half that speed--plus we had to beg Frontier to come out this far, offering them contracts with all of our neighbors as incentive.

I am grateful that we'll now have a local alternative that is cheaper and better.

Know Your Schools

Paul discovered this document posted by the League of Women Voters. It appears to be a pretty good overview of schools and educational facilities in the region.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Syrup 2011

About 2/3 done, I'd say. The new evaporator works very well, but the weather is uncooperative.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Like Father, Unlike Son

Well, it looks as though the three men in a room will get the state a budget in time. In honor of what will likely be the most inequitable NYS budget of all time, I looked for an old Mario Cuomo speech that he once gave in the area, but I couldn't find it. This excerpt from his 1984 convention speech might have to suffice.
Ten days ago, President Reagan admitted that although some people in this country seemed to be doing well nowadays, others were unhappy, even worried, about themselves, their families, and their futures. The President said that he didn't understand that fear. He said, "Why, this country is a shining city on a hill." And the President is right. In many ways we are a shining city on a hill.

But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.

In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can't find it. Even worse: There are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn't show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don't see, in the places that you don't visit in your shining city.

In fact, Mr. President, this is a nation -- Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a "Tale of Two Cities" than it is just a "Shining City on a Hill."

Maybe, maybe, Mr. President, if you visited some more places; maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds; maybe if you went to Lackawanna where thousands of unemployed steel workers wonder why we subsidized foreign steel. Maybe -- Maybe, Mr. President, if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and spoke to the homeless there; maybe, Mr. President, if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire ....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Richard Hanna Bucks His Party

As Simon points out at Living in Dryden, our rookie GOP Congressman was one of only seven Republicans in the House to vote against defunding NPR. Give the man some credit for b*lls.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading List

SO interesting. More a history than a biography, since so little direct information is available. But it tells about a time when the wealth of the entire world was concentrated among a handful of people, and one of them (the 22nd richest person in world history, apparently) was a 20-something short Greek woman with a hooked nose who happened to rule Egypt despite regular onslaughts from errant siblings back when Rome was a boring backwater and Alexandria was the happening ville. The most fascinating part to me is how history was a religion to people of that era--they were far more closely connected to Alexander, who had died nearly three centuries earlier, than any of us is connected to our Founding Fathers. Seriously, a page turner, for the descriptions of banquets and barge cruises alone.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Required Viewing

Absolutely astonishing before-and-after tsunami pictures. Move the blue slider left and right to see the power of the ocean.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Paul's New Toy

Paul designed it; the guy who ran Fingerlakes Fabricating built it. We figure it will cut our syrup-making time by 50 percent or more!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

See? We Don't Just Hate the Upper Class, Either

Not content to control the salaries of superintendents, LI State Senator Fuschillo, who once called for the resignation of former Commissioner of Education Mills, now wants all administrators' salaries and contracts to be controlled at the state level. I can't help wondering how these Republican senators reconcile this sort of thing with their No Government Is Good Government stance.

It's fairly clear that if people on LI regularly pass the budgets of their districts that pay administrators exorbitant salaries, as indeed they do, those people must think that their districts can afford it. A better bill, Paul points out, might call upon districts willing and able to pay those salaries to give up their state aid to the rest of us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Required Reading

Nice rabble-rousing speech in Madison by Michael Moore.

Snow Day!

The truck can't handle it and will remain at the base of the hill for the next few days. O cleverly stayed overnight at a friend's after rehearsal, but we should probably rescue her sometime today. I won't get out of the garage before spring. Roads were closed until around 9 AM, and all schools are closed. CU and IC didn't open until late morning. We finally get the snow that everyone to our east has been getting all winter. Bleh.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lyme Disease and Climate Change

When I moved back here 20 years ago, there was no Lyme disease here, because the cute little ticks couldn't survive our cold winters. Paul worked at Baker Institute then and annually trekked to Westchester to collect ticks for vets to study.

This week, our oldest dog tested positive for Lyme. Not only is it here, it's literally in our back yard.

Although PZ suggested that Paul was responsible for dropping a pregnant female and starting the ball rolling, I have to think it's climate related.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

See? We Don't Just Hate the Middle Class

I'm happy to see that "On Wisconsin" has devolved into a back-and-forth debate among family members. Here's one we debated at the dinner table, with no clear winner.

In many small towns, the school superintendent is the person with the greatest salary. In any school budget season, the number one target of irate taxpayers is the administration. Those points have caused our governor to target superintendents in his latest salvo against public employees. In brief, he wants a salary cap of $125K for small-district superintendents and $175K for large-district superintendents. There's no discussion at all about whether we should even HAVE districts of 250 and fewer students....

Here in Tompkins County, our superintendent salaries hover around the 50th percentile for the state. Here are the data for our county--salaries are the latest available, populations are 2009-2010.It may be worth pointing out that our median household income in this county is below $50,000. However, the median household income in a few downstate counties is closer to $100,000, and housing and other costs of living are far higher than ours.

My feeling about this proposal is that it's purely political and will make little or no difference here, except that it may drive people to seek employment elsewhere. It is both an easy and a simple-minded fix without much in the way of "reform" behind it.