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 It's slightly out of date now (it was created back in 2009), but it is still the best compendium of information I've seen outside of the NYSED website (which is MUCH harder to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