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.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I give up. What's a combined wealth ratio?

KAZ said...

The CWR is a measure of relative wealth used, among other things, to help determine state aid. It consists of two parts: average income of residents per state income tax filings + average value of real estate per resident per assessed value. The average across NYS is 1.0. Dryden's is 0.52. Bridgehampton's is 36.249.

Rachel Dickinson said...

This is a great post, Kathy. Thanks for putting it out there.