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.