Friday, December 21, 2012

How I Know the World Didn't End

Creepy old white guys are still holding dimwitted press conferences. End times might be preferable.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Required Reading

I haven't even dipped far into it, but I can already tell that this is the future of feature reporting. Astonishing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stumbling Toward Grace

What a relief it would be to fold oneself in faith at a time like this, a time when there are no facts to fall back on and no reason to latch on to. It's taken a couple of days for me even to be able to talk about what happened at the elementary school in Connecticut. Paul and Olivia are watching part of the memorial service tonight, but that sort of thing gives me no comfort at all.

I remember very clearly dropping Olivia off for her first day at kindergarten. When she attended Pre-K at Newfield, Paul was there with her every day, so I'd never before had the feeling I had when she set off for Dryden Elementary that day—the sense that I was thrusting her into the world and would spend hours each day not knowing whether she was okay. I knew and trusted her teacher; it was the world I didn't trust. Just a year or two before, there had been an incident at that school involving a kindergarten teacher and her ex-boyfriend. That time, no one had been injured. The district quickly implemented new rules about entry into the schools. Things returned to normal. But it was always in the back of my mind, the idea that this place whose safety I required and expected might not be entirely benign.

The progressivism that represents my belief system is at least as optimistic as most religions are—like religion, and unlike conservatism, it makes the future seem less scary. Progressivism or liberalism by its very nature assumes that a better future is possible. Whereas in religion the future is out of our hands, in politics it is entirely up to us. Contrasting religion and politics through the lens of Deborah Tannen's work on men and women in conversation, the former might be female and the latter male, with prayer being a search for empathy and political speech a call for action.

The president's speech at the memorial service tonight, which I did take a break to listen to, was a cozy combination of religion and politics. I'm sure he will get grief for comparing exurban Connecticut six-year-olds to drive-by victims in our nation's cities, but a child is a child and a gun is a gun. Not content to be the grief counselor in chief, he told his audience that he wants a political solution to the horror of mass murder.

Me, too. This amazing piece has streaked across the Internet today, to the extent that for a while I thought it was apocryphal. (If you can't access it there, because too many people are trying, it's also available here, among dozens of other sites.) Just this past year, an adult son killed his mother in Cayuga Heights after years of mental health problems. It is clearly easier to purchase guns than it is to get adequate health care of any kind, and especially mental health care. So that's one place to start. As for guns, well, that's a tough conversation at any time, and this case doesn't provide easy entry. The gunman used legal weapons that belonged to his mother's collection. Why his mother had a collection, and why the guns weren't locked, and how he purchased ammunition for them all—those are all questions yet to be answered. The description of the shootings sounds to me like video game shootings—that kind of overkill, that kind of randomness. So do we need to start having first-amendment vs. safety conversations, too? I'm not sure, but probably. And we need to talk about whether we want our children's schools to resemble armed camps. Our local elementary schools will all have a visible police presence tomorrow. I'm not thrilled about that. And maybe we need to talk less about divine grace and more about interhuman mercy.

If there's any conclusion to be drawn from the past three days, it's that the current 24-hour media cycle is desperately broken. Not one thing we heard in the first few hours turned out to be true, down to the name of the assailant. Facts are still coming out that contradict things that were stated as gospel on the first day. It's not even about bad reporting, although there was plenty of that. It's about having to say something every minute of every day. If you talk incessantly, at least some of what you say is bound to be nonsense.

The binary belief that the president reflected briefly in his speech, the belief in good v. evil, is at best simplistic and at worst a roadblock to a solution. Yes, I can see that it's comforting. But once again, it's passive and accepting. I prefer not to accept mass murder as the new normal.

LATER: I should have included this, the best of many op eds this weekend.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No Merger for Now

I've written before about the move toward school district mergers. It seemed very likely, given the study they'd done, that Romulus and South Seneca would merge. However, last night, that plan was scuttled with a straw vote by the Romulus board.

The merger would have been a boon for those districts but a drag for TST-BOCES, which would have lost South Seneca to Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES, thus upping the costs of everything for the remaining districts here.

Just Sad

Auburn is an example of what can happen if someone punches a number in wrong at the state level, and no one's around to correct the error. The story seems to be that a couple of years ago, Auburn was misclassified by the state, causing it to lose a couple of million per year in state aid. Despite the efforts of administrators and state legislators to clean up that error, the district remains incorrectly classified and continues to bleed funds.

You might ask, "How is this possible?" but the fact seems to be that the halls of State Ed are hauntingly empty, with fewer and fewer people minding the store. They've even outsourced the approval of districts' APPR plans for evaluating teachers. A misplaced digit on one district's forms is the least of their problems. But it's a big, big problem for Auburn's educators and schoolchildren.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Poor Tom Reed

Okay, it's The Onion, but the conversation with our soon-to-be Congressman still rings true.
“At the end of the day, it’s a question of whether a nonbinding signature on an outdated and worthless pledge written 26 years ago is more important than preventing the nation from completely going to hell. I just don’t know what to do here.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Required Reading

Thanks to Simon for this conservative lament—not the usual throwing-Romney-under-the-bus lament, but something far more powerful.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Red Welfare States

Paul asked me to create these maps to show how blue/red states compare in terms of federal dollars received. Using some fairly old data and laying it beside the 2012 blue/red state map shows that while they may talk the talk, a lot of red states really don't walk the walk—in case you had any doubt. So-called "Welfare States" in green take more than they pay in. "Donor States" give more than they get. Rhode Island comes out even.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Required Reading

Frank Bruni on the over-the-top sexism with which we look at the Petraeus scandal.

First Snow

The first real snow on the mountain—late, this year.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Required Reading

Thanks to Simon for this pithy recap.

Results in District 10

I think the fact that our conservative little election district went 3 for 2 for Obama, with a turnout of 74%, indicates something about the general electorate's feelings about Romney. I'm just not sure what those feelings were. But we'll take it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Required Reading

Today's NYT editorial on sending a message via your vote.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Aging and Driving

The AP has an article on an issue that has affected both sides of our family over the last decade: When the car keys should go away. It's a tough one, but they mention a useful test of skills:

• Walk 10 feet down the hallway, turn around and come back. Taking longer than 9 seconds is linked to driving problems.

• On a page with the letters A to L and the numbers 1 to 13 randomly arranged, see how quickly and accurately you draw a line from 1 to A, then to 2, then to B and so on. This so-called trail-making test measures memory, spatial processing and other brain skills, and doing poorly has been linked to at-fault crashes.

• Check if people can turn their necks far enough to change lanes, and have the strength to slam on brakes.

In related news, Olivia takes her permit test in a week and a half. We're not looking forward to that, either.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Farewell to George McGovern, my first presidential candidate. I couldn't vote yet, but I did stuff envelopes.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In a Binder

I was watching the Yankees lose, so I missed the "binders full of women" quote, but I am truly impressed by how quickly it's gone around-the-world viral. Here's a nice set of memes, for example. I have a source who claims that Romney didn't even ask for those binders; they were thrust upon him by organizations who thought he wouldn't bother to look at women for his administration without prodding.

There does seem to be a certain set of white Republican men who continue to view women as something Other, and they've all crawled out of the woodwork for this election cycle. Is it really such a huge step from that POV to Taliban mentality?

LATER: Thanks to Carrie for more and better memes!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Once Again Screwed, cont.

And now we have a guy from GeoTherm in Tully, who informs us that just like all the Gleason systems he's seen, ours was installed incorrectly and needs to be gutted and redone.

We can't sue anyone, because Gleason's in Chapter 11 as far as we can tell.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that in order for consumers to use NYSERDA money to install renewable energy systems, the state requires them to use certain hand-picked vendors, but they apparently don't vet those vendors very well or follow up in any meaningful way. I'm not saying that kickbacks are involved, but it might be nice to know just HOW they choose.

LATER: Paul has informed me how NYSERDA chooses. If someone wants to be an approved vendor, he/she must take a state-sponsored workshop for X dollars. Most small vendors can't afford the time or money. If it's like most mandatory state-sponsored workshops, and Paul and I have suffered through a few, it's worthless. So I am sticking to my sort-of-like-kickbacks story: To get on the list, vendors have to pay the state.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Glad I'm Not in a Swing State

Over in Ohio, they'll do anything to keep young people or people of color from going to the polls. For example, billboards are popping up reminding everyone of the dire punishments for voter fraud. If you think that's disgusting, you can sign a petition (it's easy enough to unsubscribe once you're done).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Walking to Work

The mayor of Ithaca posted this to FB, and I think it's pretty cool. We're number one! As someone who walks downstairs to work each day, I like to think I count. Click on the link above for the interactive version of the map.

"Once Again Screwed"

Last year's projects were the broadband tower and the geothermal heating/cooling system. Both took longer than expected and required a good deal of griping and fussing from our end, mostly by Paul. Now he reports that the reason the geothermal folks haven't responded to his recent calls is that the company, Gleason, has gone belly up. It is not unexpected; they were (1) horribly overextended; (2) staffed by a bunch of people who, while very nice, seemed not to know what they were doing; and (3) beset by difficulties of one sort or another due to points 1 and 2.

Meanwhile, I did not get Paul's message—"once again screwed"—via email, because our Internet went down at about 10:30, causing me to miss several frantic messages from clients involving an 11:00 conference call. I was working on a project that is entirely online, so I took the opportunity to run some errands, missing the call entirely. When I got back at noon, the Internet was back. So at least Clarity Connect is not on my shit list today. Much.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bambi, Beware

The DEC may be stalling on fracking regs, but it's still eagerly coming up with new ways to make walking in the woods inhospitable for a good part of the year. Not only did they extend the bowhunting season, starting it October 1, but they also lowered the bowhunting age to 12 and declared that 14 and 15 year olds can head out with guns over Columbus Day weekend, one hopes without shooting Uncle Bob as he lolls in his tree stand with his bow.

But it gets better. Now a large part of Tompkins County, being inundated with dangerous deer, has been designated a "deer management focus area," which turns out to mean that any hunter who registers (and it's very easy to do) can take two antlerless deer PER DAY during the hunting season and again during a special season in January.

Paul says that nobody asked any of the hunters he knows, all of whom are appalled. He also suggests that disapproving of fracking is meaningless if the natural world you're trying to protect is under siege anyway.

Monday, October 1, 2012

And Right Next Door

We are hosting a fundraiser for the candidate in the next district over.

Nate in The Nation

Our own 28-year-old Congressional candidate, Nate Shinagawa, receives mention as one of ten key races in this article in The Nation.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Community Needs Assessment: Health

One nice thing about being on the board of TCA is the access to tons of data about the area. Every year they put together a comprehensive community needs assessment that contains charts, graphs, and stats on the county as a whole, particularly with regard to poverty. The figures derive from all kinds of places, from the U.S. Census to TCAD to the Housing Coalition. I'll post a few interesting stats from time to time. Here are today's.

In 2009, the number of uninsured persons in Tompkins County was 9,274, or 10.5 percent of the eligible population. That's a little under the 13 percent statewide or the 12 percent nationwide. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau) Births to teens in 2007 were 45, or about 5 percent of live births. (One of O's classmates just posted her sonogram.) Statewide, the percentage was closer to 7. That same year, only one new mother in the county received no prenatal care, and 3 percent received care only in the third trimester, compared to 5 percent statewide.

In Tompkins County, 8,251 people received Medicaid in 2010—about 81 per 1,000 population, or less than half the percentage statewide. As I've always contended, the county has a higher number of mental health professionals per 1,000 persons than the state as a whole (0.33 compared to 0.32), but our number of physicians and assistants lags behind the state average, at 2.68 per 1,000 compared to 3.99 per 1,000. We're behind in dentists and nurses too, but well ahead in physical, occupational, and especially massage therapists.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kooky Gary Johnson

He doesn't go to church. He doesn't like big government. He is pro-choice and favors legalizing marijuana. As a two-term governor of New Mexico, he vetoed 750+ bills that would have increased the size of government. And he's on the ballot in 47 states as the Libertarian Party's candidate for President of the United States.

There's really only been one third-party candidate in recent history who made any difference at all, and that was Ross Perot in 1992. He earned 18.9 percent of the popular vote, and if he took that away almost exclusively from GW Bush, it's possible that he handed things to Clinton. In comparison, in 2000, the race was far closer between Bush and Gore, but Ralph Nader took only 2.74 percent of the popular vote. Since Gore won the popular vote but lost by 5 electoral votes, it's not really possible to make a case that Nader blew it for Gore.

Is Gary Johnson any kind of threat? Not really. I'm betting that more people write in Ron Paul than mark an X for Johnson. And it's really unclear where his constituency lies—with liberals who don't like Obama but love a balanced budget? with conservatives who hate taxes but don't mind abortion? He lost my vote when he said "I have smoked marijuana and I have drank alcohol" on NPR. A would-be president should lead the way grammatically.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

NYS Schools by the Numbers

Here's an interesting map from the watchdog Citizens Budget Commission. See how your district measures up.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Neck-and-Neck Campaigns

It lifts my spirits to see these particular campaigns closer than one might expect.

Michele Bachmann v. Jim Graves

Eric Cantor v. Wayne Powell

Paul Ryan v. Rob Zerban

And the latest polls have Elizabeth Warren leading Scott Brown, finally.

LATER: And another!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

90 Days 90 Reasons

Thanks to Jason for this one, a daily reminder from now until the election.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cornell Arts Quad 9/11/12

Choice v. Desperation

With Mayor Rahm Emanuel declaring Chicago's teachers' strike one of choice, it's worth a look backward to see how things got where they are. Lots of people in NYS are surprised that teachers are allowed to strike anywhere, but in fact, NYS is in the minority. In our case, it was a transit strike that led to 1967's Taylor Law, which ironically has become the bane of anti-unioner's existence in several regards. The Taylor Law does not allow any public sector union to call a strike--not police, firefighters, teachers, bus drivers.... at the same time, it grants all public employees the right to unionize and negotiate, and its Triborough Amendment ensures that in the event of lack of a contract, the previous contract stands indefinitely, making certain negotiations extremely difficult. The Taylor Law makes strikes illegal, which does not mean there haven't been teacher strikes in NYS since 1967, but in most cases, fines have been imposed on striking workers once any such strike was settled.

Chicago is one of many cities whose mayor now controls the schools. Others include Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Jackson, LA, NYC, Philadelphia, and Providence. Daley II took over Chicago schools in 1995, citing low test scores. Removing the elected board of education removes public education from direct public control. On the other side of the coin, an elected mayor often has a far bigger mandate than any school board member, who might typically be elected by 5 to 10 percent of the voting population.

Although there have been interviews with teachers complaining about class sizes and the length of the school day, which Mayor Rahm extended, the main sticking points seem to be what happens to laid-off teachers (are they placed in a pool for the next vacancy; can they receive a lump-sum payment; what if there's no room for them in the system; what happens to my class sizes if you close schools, get rid of teachers, and move the kids to my school) and how teachers are evaluated (the equivalent of NYS's APPR system, which is causing major agita around our state as well).

Chicago's teachers make what looks like a good living to people in upstate NY, whose average salary falls below the $50K+ that a starting Chicago teacher without a Master's degree makes fresh out of school. However, Chicago does not reward longevity the way some other cities do; after 25 years, a teacher in NYC will typically make more than one in Chicago. Salaries are not a key issue in this strike; the two sides are close, and the offer from the city looks pretty substantial to those of us who see 2% increases as the absolute max locally.

Most battles between union and management come down to personalities, and this one is no exception. Karen Lewis seems like a fitting foil to Mayor Rahm. Meanwhile, national politics is getting into the act, but you have to believe that Obama does not want to dip a toe into a mess in his home city that involves his former chief of staff and accountability-based education policies made by his own dept of ed.

I student taught at a public school in Hyde Park where protesters yesterday frightened some kids away from the doors but where some kids and their parents also joined the picket lines. I was there 35 years ago, and the school was already something of a dump. To tell you the truth, it looks a bit better now; I can guarantee that Latin was not taught in second grade when I was there. Even 35 years ago, the teachers felt extremely distant from the administration and light years away from anyone who really held sway over their lives, which at that time would have been an elected board. Mayors who wrest control from the people to run the schools may do so out of pure motives; it is much easier to impose order from above than to have it trickle upward through policy and public meetings. But when things go bad, the mayor becomes the bad guy. I can't imagine that Mayor Rahm will have much time to deal with his horrendous murder rate, the state of his roads and bridges, or rent control until this is settled. And he has to avoid looking like Scott Walker. It will be a tap dance worthy of a former Joffrey scholarship winner.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Voting Rights Checklist

Federal courts are working overtime to overturn racist, classist voting "reforms" in various states. This week, TX went down. Last week, it was FL. This week, too, OH got slapped. However, a number of states await clearance for their strict photo ID and other rules. Here's a good checklist to keep you up to date. The Brennan Justice Center goes into more detail. They estimate that 5 million eligible voters may find it difficult or impossible to vote in 2012.

I'm not a big conspiracy theorist, but this one is too fast and obvious to discount.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Saying It Doesn't Make It So

A ton has already been written on the truthiness of Ryan's speech last night, but I like this one, although FactCheck is also good. The sad part: Truth doesn't really matter in this brave new world.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Unluckiest Fellow

Could Mitt Romney be the unluckiest guy on the planet? It hardly matters that Tropical Storm Isaac won't splatter Tampa--The GOP has already postponed Day 1. What matters far more is that Isaac seems determined to ram New Orleans, which is guaranteed to raise the specter of Republican Presidents Who Failed Us. The only possible cure is for Iran to capture a bunch of embassy workers during the Dems' Charlotte convention. Not that I'm recommending that (for one thing, we no longer have an embassy there). Gee, Mitt, what did you do to deserve this?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Science R Us

Since discovering that "colonial-era biology" Congressman Akin was on the Science, Space, & Technology Committee, I thought I'd better take a look at other members of that esteemed body. First among equals is Chairman Ralph Hall of Texas, whose votes show him to be extremely dubious about climate change though supportive of computer science training. His main purpose on the committee seems to be to ensure that states and localities do not incur additional costs due to federal lawmaking and regulations, and he strongly believes in "minimizing duplicative research," which might come as a surprise to several Nobelists, whose awards often derive from competitive, even duplicative, global research.

Then there's Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who promises to believe in climate change when China and India do their fair share. He's a big talker about Solyndra and the need for accountability in alternative energy. (He also sponsored a bill that would prohibit funding to organizations that "support or participate in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization." I'm not sure what those organizations might be.)

Next on the list (I'm just going in order) is Lamar Smith of Texas. (Texans make up 12.5% of the committee.) He absolutely believes that climate change is affecting the earth, pointing out that "the Earth has undergone tremendous change in the past and is experiencing similar change now."

The fourth member of this critical committee is Dana Rohrabacher of California. Global warming? Well, if it were man-made, wouldn't we have signed the Kyoto Treaty? But we didn't, did we? So emotional junk science loses again! Clearly Mr. Rohrabacher's clever use of petitio principii makes him just the representative we want on our science committee!

Next is Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, who failed to vote for an energy act, despite his concern about our dependence on foreign oil, because it did not focus on the things that most interest him—nuclear power, hydrogen fuel, and clean coal. And Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, who is pissed that Obama wants EPA to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, when, after all, coal is important to Oklahoma. Needless to say, he also issued a strong condemnation of Obama's failure to support the Keystone pipeline.

Time for one more. Judy Biggert of Illinois has a whole issue page on Asian carp! (She rejects them.) And she wrote a nice statement on the discovery of evidence for the Higgs boson! Plus, she went to New Trier, one of America's top high schools, and thence to Stanford. She's still for off-shore drilling, as befits her party membership, and she seems to have nothing whatsoever to say on the topic of climate change.

It's hard to draw conclusions from this small sample, but I'd say that Akin is not really an outlier. More to come when I have time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


The Dryden Democrats will hold a caucus next Tuesday to select a candidate for Town Justice. For more information, see the Dryden Dem website.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Paul's Wildflower Garden

After the geothermal guys tore up the yard, Paul planted the back meadow with a selection of wildflowers, most of which are currently blooming. Photos don't do it justice.

Monday, August 20, 2012

War on Women? You Make the Call

Romney and Ryan are backpedaling fiercely from Akin's stupid comments on "legitimate rape," but they can't step back from the fact that Ryan and Akin co-sponsored a bill that redefined "real" rape, the kind that requires abortion, as "forcible rape," a definition killed in the House. When he first ran for Congress, Ryan wanted to outlaw abortion in the case of rape or incest, allowing it only in cases where it was necessary to save a woman's life (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/26/98). So they can't step too far back without really stepping in it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Consolidating, One Bit at a Time

When Paul was in Colorado, he discovered that many tiny schools there field small football teams and play a modified version of the game. In NYC, the kind of consolidation mentioned here is happening more and more. Dryden and Groton did it for a while with wrestling. Now Newfield and Trumansburg are merging football so that Newfield players have a chance to play.

Losing teams is often the main reason districts have for failing to approve a merger. This kind of sharing can be a reasonable first step toward opening those discussions. (Not that Tburg and Newfield can merge—I don't think they are contiguous at any point, which is a state requirement.)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hooray Romney Ryan

Not because I like the ticket, but because this ticket, out of all the possibilities, offers the best chance of a real, substantive debate on the kind of America we want to have.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust

WHCU reports that Superintendent Grimm is leaving Lansing for Penfield, a suburban Rochester district with nearly quadruple the number of students and even lower free-and-reduced stats than Lansing's. In doing so, he returns to his roots.

Grimm lasted four years in Lansing, which is about three years longer than his each of his most recent predecessors. Not that anyone will ask me, but I could recommend someone for their next superintendent.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Another Year, Another Search

With the departure of District Superintendent Ellen O'Donnell, I find myself involved in yet another executive search. We are lucky to be assisted by our interim superintendent, the DS at Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, who has managed to reduce the paperwork for us to what's critical. Tonight will be a long night of interviews and discussion. With luck, this will separate the sheep from the goats, and we can proceed. I can't help feeling that the right person in this position could make a world of difference for the local districts. We are handicapped by the salary cap, which places DSs below many NYS superintendents in income, although not in workload, since half of their time is spent commuting to Albany, sifting through State Ed arcana, and bringing The Word back home again.

One starts to wonder: Who would want this job?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Orleans at the Salty Dog was a staple of my youth. We saw Larry and the newly constituted Orleans perform outside Cincinnati in 2009, and Lara's friend Cliff played with Larry regularly. Sad news.

A Few Fotos from Florida

Others are available at my FB site.

Reading List

Here's what I read on my summer vacation. The nonfiction is nothing you don't already know, but seeing it all put together is hair-raising. The authors propose solutions, none of which I think is particularly plausible (mandatory voting?), and they seem to wave a blithe hand at the issue of money in politics. Ornstein is married to Bill's cousin (we met him at the Bill-Lela wedding), which is why I found it worth reading on vacation with Bill.

Despite the hype surrounding the fictional work, it truly is a tour de force, gripping and clever and worth reading. A great beach book.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Enough Bromides

Kudos to NYC's mayor for having the guts to talk about gun control in light of this morning's Colorado shooting. So far, he's the only one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Tower Is Live

Not that anyone called to let us know, but when Paul asked, he was told that Dryden's newest broadband tower is ready to go. He tested our new connection with his iPad and scored 20Mbps down, compared to our usual 0.4, so that's good news. We've alerted the neighbors and will change over once we get back from vacation.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Required Reading

Thanks to Simon for this astonishingly well-reasoned article on the befuddling relationship between art and commerce. Since Ithaca recently received kudos for its appeal to the Richard-Florida-invented "creative class" (We're Number Three! We're Number Three!), this is all the more relevant.
Vibrancy is a sort of performance that artists or musicians are expected to put on, either directly or indirectly, for the corporate class. These are the ones we aim to reassure of our city’s vibrancy, so that they never choose to move their millions (of dollars) to some more vibrant burg. An artist who keeps to herself, who works in her room all day, who wears unremarkable clothes and goes without tattoos— by definition she brings almost nothing to this project, adds little to the economic prospects of a given area.

Affordable Care in Dryden

Paul came home with questions about a small business in Dryden and the Affordable Care Act. Here are the answers.

Because the business has fewer than 50 employees, it is exempt from employer responsibility for offering insurance. However, since it has fewer than 25 full-time employees and offers wages that average under $50,000, it could provide employee health insurance, pay at least 50% of premiums, and receive a tax credit of up to 35%, increasing in 2014 to 50%. It will also be eligible in 2014 to shop at the Affordable Insurance Exchange to receive more choices and lower prices—similar to the buying power that large businesses currently have. If the employees it is insuring feel the cost is too high, they can take the employer contribution in cash and apply it to their own chosen health insurance plan from the Exchange.

Because it is so small, the Dryden business may decide to continue without offering insurance. Employees will be able to buy insurance directly on the Exchange, starting in 2014. If they make under $14,000 (or $29,000 for a family of four), they will be eligible for Medicaid. If they make under $43,000 (or $88,000 for a family of four), they will receive a tax credit that is advanceable (to lower monthly premiums). They may also qualify for cost-sharing of payments and deductibles. If they choose not to purchase insurance, they will pay a fee (now considered a tax), which will go to help pay medical bills for other uninsured Americans, a fee that every taxpayer in the nation currently helps to pay.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Evaluate This

In the ever-evolving world of Race to the Top, AKA the Gift That Keeps on Taking, the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) may have occupied more administrative-teacher time than any other obstacle. As this article indicates, fewer than 30 percent of districts met the July 1 deadline. Negotiations are sticky, because there's not much leeway involved. The state did cave somewhat in allowing a so-called "local" score to comprise 20 percent of the composite score for each teacher. Determining what that local score will entail has taken up a lot of time. Here's what the review will look like:

60%: Observations. These, of course, are largely subjective. At TST-BOCES, they will be based on the Danielson rubric, but other districts may use other rubrics—or none at all. Only certain people are allowed to evaluate through observation, and there must be a minimum of two observations per year, one of which may be announced ahead of time.

20%: State Score. Since TST-BOCES has very few classes in which state tests apply, most teachers there will be writing individual SLOs, student learning objectives, through which to measure their students' growth. In the districts, teachers who teach coursework that is not tested by the state will also need to write SLOs. Although there are some suggested directives for writing these SLOs, there is no clear across-the-board methodology or correlation. In theory, this assessment measures individual growth over time. A fourth-grader's scores from 2013 may be compared to that same child's scores from 2012 to see whether the child's year in Ms. K's class led to the expected growth. What that expected growth might be is something State Ed is apparently working out. With the exception of classes that have SLOs, this is the one segment of the APPR that might be considered quasi-objective and universally correlated—in other words, once State Ed works it out, growth G in Student A in District X will be equivalent to growth G in Student B in District Y.

20%: Local Score. Districts may buy existing tests or create their own. At TST-BOCES, there will be a mix. In theory, this assessment measures comparative achievement, although it is possible that it might also (or instead) measure growth over time.

A teacher who receives an overall composite score of 75, once all variables are compiled, is considered to be effective or highly effective. One who receives a score below 75 is considered to be developing or ineffective and thus in need of a TIP (Teacher Improvement Plan). Two ineffective scores over two consecutive years are grounds for dismissal, although there is an appeal process available.

Possibly the lone good thing about this plan is that it has forced unions and administration into serious talks about what constitutes a reasonable plan for evaluating teachers across the board. They all pretty much agree that this isn't it.

Worth noting: the amount of instructional time lost as teachers test students, grade tests, prepare SLOs, etc.

I should mention that there is a similar plan for evaluating principals.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shinagawa v. Reed: What's in a Name?

Greg S sends this along about a western NY station and its hate jockey, Bill Nojay. It might be one of those "If they spew racial hatred in western NY and nobody listens, does it matter?" events, but for the fact that Bill Nojay is also running for state assembly.

On the radio with me this morning, Mike Sigler suggested that Tom Reed had a "broader appeal" to people in the district. I thought he was talking about politics, but maybe I should have pressed him on it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blueberry Season Starts Early

Blueberry jam, blueberry muffins, and a boatload of blueberries left.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How Does the SCOTUS Decision Affect Me?

In my working life, I've had maybe five different insurance plans, including at least two different self-purchased plans. We signed up for our current plan prior to 2010, which means that we are grandfathered in under the Affordable Care Act. As far as I can tell, the changes for us are these:

1. Olivia can stay on our plan until age 26.

2. We no longer have a lifetime limit on coverage.

3. We can't get dropped if we get sick.

4. Our premiums may increase, but they can't suddenly skyrocket.

I thought we'd get free immunizations, but there's some discrepancy in what I'm reading. It appears that grandfathered plans aren't forced to provide free preventive care.

All in all, it doesn't seem to affect me much, at least not the way the screaming right wing would suggest. I don't much feel that my freedom is affected one way or the other.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Markhor My Words

When he rediscovered the woolly flying squirrel in 1994, there was no such thing as conservation in that part of Pakistan. In the 18 years since, PZ's work has led to a number of small triumphs, and now one pretty big one.

Check One

→"Gee, maybe there's something to this climate change stuff."

→"God is really, really, really, really, really, really pissed off."

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Tooth Fairy

Trotted around town like the tooth fairy delivering checks from the Dryden Democrats to Congressional candidates yesterday. Nate Shinagawa's office was staffed by people in various degrees of busy-ness, and Dan Lamb's fundraiser at La Tourelle was pleasant, if sparsely attended. Dan's race may turn three-way if the Republican challenger who just lost the primary decides to run on a Tea Party ticket, which seems very possible. Good news for Dan.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Just two weeks ago, I read I Feel Bad About My Neck, which like all Nora Ephron essay collections, made me laugh. I always liked her essays more than her novel or screenplays, and I didn't even know she was sick. Sad.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Common Core State Standards Are a Challenge

Here are some statistics that will curl your hair, from the NYSED Office of Information and Reporting Services. In order to be "college and career ready," students must graduate with at least a 75 in Regents English and an 80 in Regents Math. This has been shown to correlate with success in first-year college courses. Stats are for June 2011 across New York State.

Cohort % Graduating % College and Career Ready
ALL 74.0 34.7
American Indian 59.6 16.8
Asian/Pacific Islander 82.4 55.9
Black 58.4 11.5
Hispanic 58.0 14.5
White 85.1 48.1
English Language Learners 38.2 6.5
Students with Disabilities 44.6 4.4


The last of his subspecies. Farewell, Lonesome George.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Geothermal Is Not Just for Heating

It is 90 degrees in Freeville at 3 PM, with enough humidity to make it feel like 97. Tomorrow will be similar, with a chance of thunderstorms. But Olivia and the dogs and I are indoors where the temperature ranges from 70 degrees in the TV room to about 74 in my office.

It's hard to describe how delightful this is. Don't have a geothermal system? If you can plow through the nuttiness, you can do it yourself!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Governor's Twitch Toward Home Rule

Simon does better than I could on laying out the problems with the governor's not-a-plan, just-an-idea. The partitioning of a state based on "economic desperation" has often determined where coal is mined, oil is drilled, etc. Economic segregation was one of the issues that kept me from being virulently anti-fracking in the past. (Now that we do heat geothermally, the hypocrisy issue is minimized, but the unfairness issue still exists.)

After dealing with the NIMBY neighbors who clamored against our broadband tower, I have exactly zero faith in our town's ever endorsing, for example, a wind farm or a shared bank of solar panels. (It's worth pointing out that the neighbors were right about seeing the tower—it is higher than promised and can be seen from Midline Road and from certain vantage points near Irish Settlement.)

We used to heat with fuel oil that was trucked in after being piped in from I don't know where. Even the local purveyors of fuel oil could never tell me with any degree of specificity where the oil began its trip. Now we heat with the ground beneath our back yard and with wood from our forest. But our electricity is still coal-induced, so we are still not guilt free. And I don't begin to know the correct answer for the rest of the town, the county, or the state. Home rule is great. Now what?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Romney Gets Schooled

Romney's in trouble with some folks about his comment that class size doesn't matter in schools. Although I know the research he's alluding to, his interpretation of it is, shall we say, a stretch.

On a hunch, I checked up on the private school that Romney's boys attended in Massachusetts when he was governor. The Belmont Hill School for Boys boasts a student-teacher ratio of 6 to 1.

Class size may not matter, but class certainly does.

Dumbest Nest Ever

The little junco who thought this was a good idea is ruing the day she built at the foot of the stairs to the garage in a set of shelves that we pass by dozens of times a day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Local Boy Makes Good

Well, he's not pretty, and he dropped the F bomb on national TV, but Dustin Brown did grow up in Ithaca and even attended IHS briefly before being whisked off to Canada to pursue his hockey career. And now his LA Kings have won the Stanley Cup. Good for him!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

One Wet Dairy Day

We had the best turnout ever for our lineup, thanks to three Congressional candidates and their entourages plus assistance from Obama for America. Despite the rain, the event went off without a hitch.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Warmest. Spring. Ever.

Well, we sort of knew that, but now it's been confirmed.
In Ithaca, the average temperature in March was 45.2 degrees. The 30-year average, from 1981-2010, is 32.6 degrees. In May, the average was 61.6 degrees. The 30-year average is 55.4 degrees.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On, Wisconsin!

Time to be Scott-free. It looks dubious, though.

LATER: Dubious, indeed. And then there's San Diego's Prop B, which passed 2 to 1 and will phase public employee new hires (other than police officers) from pensions to 401(K)s AND will freeze pensionable pay for current employees for five years. That one will end up in the courts, most likely.

It's pretty clear that were it not for the 2008 recession and the demise of Lehman et al., this wouldn't even be an issue before the voters. But the notion that private employees who've lost their own savings should spend their tax dollars to bail out public employees whose pension funds hit the skids is more than the market can bear. And the PR of it all is such that everyone blames the teachers instead of the speculators who put us here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Speaking of Projects That Are Supposed to Improve Our Lives But Instead Make Us Nuts

Then there's the broadband tower, another project begun last year that should have been done nine months ago. The tower is up, far taller than we'd been led to believe it would be, and entirely nonfunctional, since it is not connected to any power. Neighbors who have called to ask have been told that the system is being held up by a dispute with the landowner. That would be us. It would be funny if it weren't so irritating. As I write, my "high speed" DSL via Frontier tests at 800 kbps down and 162 kbps up. I think PZ did better in Mongolia.

Geothermal, cont.

We signed the paperwork almost a year ago, and our lawn has been torn up for nearly eight months. But finally someone came to smooth it over, remove the rocks, and reseed the lawn. He was by far the best of the workers we've had.

Heat and hot water are still problematic, although 90 percent fixed. Air conditioning works like a dream.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In Which the Babies Discover the Wading Pool, and Much Rejoicing Ensues

Reading List

From the world of unreliable narrators come these two. Defending Jacob has received a lot of attention, but it's not as interesting (to me) as Turn of Mind, which is pretty amazing for a first novel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Frack Map

Thanks to Jim S for this, put together by FracTracker.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Probably Not Surprising...

...but parents object to high-stakes testing, too. This survey conducted by NYC principals (note: not exactly an independent or unbiased group, so I'd like to see the questions) revealed the negative impact on schools and children of increased high-stakes testing. Nothing new or surprising here, but it does make you wonder whether public policy is aligning with public interest.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Perfect Storm

Here's a prediction for 2014: That will be the year in which the current testing strategies for schools blow sky-high. I don't know what the replacement for our testing mania will be, but 2014 looks to be annus horribilis for school districts across the nation.

A few things will combine to cause this disaster. (1) The "national" testing created by two consortia of states will hit districts. Judging by the rates being paid to freelancers, the rigorous requirements of the Common Core State Standards, and the current lousy reputation of at least one of the testing companies hired to birth these new tests, I predict a slew of errors, over-the-top readability levels, and scores that make today's students look like geniuses in comparison. (2) The veil of secrecy surrounding the test preparation ensures that districts will not be ready to test all students on computer, because they will lack the bandwidth necessary for potential multimedia questions, they will not have adequate banks of computers for whatever the recommended numbers of test-takers might turn out to be, and they will not have time to prepare younger students with the skills they will need simply to perform the mechanics needed to select or type responses. (3) Because these tests are cloud-based computerized tests, no district will be able to test all students at once, because no district will have that kind of hardware plus bandwidth. Therefore, students will be tested in batches and questions will be randomized, leading to concerns about apples v. oranges as students in the same grade take different tests. Because students are tested in batches, more learning time will be lost as teachers oversee testing and perform grading tasks over several days rather than all at once. (4) Because teachers are now being assessed partly on how well their students do on these assessments, there will be hell to pay when those teachers discover that their students' scores are in the toilet thanks to (1) or (2) or (3).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Before and After

I thought I'd look at the rise in tax levies in our area before and after the tax cap. Compared to 2011–12, some levy increases are substantially lower. Others are not much different. Lansing's and Tburg's are higher than before.

District % Increase in Levy 2011–12 % Increase in Levy 2012–13
Candor 7.44 2.04
Dryden 5.50 2.86
Groton 6.04 3.85
Ithaca 2.39 2.30
Lansing 4.37 5.43
Newfield 8.00 3.67
South Seneca 3.24 2.80
Trumansburg -1.96 2.74

Be Careful What You Wish For

Paul has, of course, won a three-year seat on the school board, just at a time where things are heading south, morale-wise, but when there's also a grand opportunity to remake the middle school-high school as three administrators depart. Dominique Bouchard mounted a write-in campaign but lost to an incumbent who had at first decided not to run again, Brian June. The other two winners were also incumbents.

It is difficult to assess the direction of the board, because media rarely cover their meetings. At least now I'll have my own private ear to the ground.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vote Today

Polls are open in Dryden from 7 AM until 9 PM.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


In light of all the excitement over Obama's support of gay marriage, it's interesting to note that the three Republicans who crossed party lines to endorse it in NYS are still being punished, and the first of three has dropped out of his senatorial race.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Meet the Dryden BoE Candidates

In order of their appearance on the ballot, here are the IJ columns by Paul Lutwak, Bill Harding, and Lawrence Lyon. After what I saw at the BoE meeting Monday, I expect a flurry of write-ins for that fourth seat.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Trouble with a Capital T

What happens when I haven't been to a board of ed meeting in a while: Shit Hits Fan. Dryden is in the process of replacing a middle school principal, a high school principal, and an athletic director/assistant principal for the middle school/high school—a great opportunity to fix a lot of problems and change the culture, in my opinion. The background seems to be that discipline problems are enormous at the MS/HS, especially in the 8th grade, much in the same way that they were about 15 years ago. At that time, the district moved the high school principal down to elementary (which he felt was a horrible demotion and never forgave anyone for) and hired a high school principal whose main skill was discipline. Over the years, we all learned that a single-minded focus on discipline was not all that we needed in a high school principal. To give the guy some credit, the behavior problems did clear up. Now that he's out, we're back there again, it seems. Add to that an advisory board of teachers and parents who ended up under the misapprehension that they were the final word on hiring the new middle school principal, plus an administrative committee that did not pass on either candidate that advisory board put forward, and you have some riled-up parents and teachers.

I can understand their pain a bit, having been there. Back pre-Archambault, Paul and I preferred one candidate by far in a superintendent search, and the board accepted none of the candidates and reopened the search. Then back pre-Crawford, Paul picked the new superintendent dead last out of three, going so far as to say to himself "over my dead body." Paul continues to say "I told you so" about that one.

There was some talk tonight about combining all the vetting committees into one giant committee. I can tell you from experience that teachers who might be as vocal as can be with parents won't open up in front of administrators. I have no idea why parents and teachers were on the same committee this time; it seems like a recipe for disaster. A safe prediction might be that it would lead to Us v. Those Damned Administrators, and so it did. My only consolation is that I'm not on the BoE, and Paul, sleeping soundly, doesn't know what he's walking into. He'll have to pick up a copy of the Cortland Standard tomorrow afternoon, since nobody else bothers to cover Dryden meetings anymore. I give Chris Gibbons kudos for a reasoned and earnest response to some very angry remarks. Yeesh.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Commission or Smokescreen?

Here's the thing. If I were going to establish an educational advisory group for New York State, I think I'd include at least one person who actually works with students in a public school setting. I might include at least one person who comes from upstate New York. And I probably wouldn't chair it with the retired chairman of Citigroup.

The New York State School Board Association is all irked because there are no school board members on the commission, but to be perfectly honest, school board members don't know anything more about education than bank board presidents do. Instead, the governor has larded his commission with the sort of people who become quickly bored with school life, get out, and establish a nonprofit so that they can talk pie-in-the-sky till the cows come home about how much better schools could be.

What's really needed are principals, who can talk about how the state's current reporting requirements force them to spend days out of each month juggling data instead of observing teachers or dealing with student problems. Maybe a superintendent or two to explain once and for all why the legislature's Good Ideas translate into lost dollars and diminished programs, and how spending 1/10 of the school year testing or grading limits student-teacher interaction and the possibility of learning.

I might include somebody from upstate to speak to the idea that establishing charter schools in small communities merely siphons needed dollars from struggling public schools, and to tell why consolidation is such anathema to people whose identities are tied to a school, a post office, and sometimes a tiny library.

But I don't think this is a real commission. I think it is sleight of hand—look over here at this cool bunch of people while back here I do what I want.

There are people on this commission whom I truly admire: Geoffrey Canada! Michael Rebell! But I think they were chosen not to act, but to talk, and I think the time for talking is probably over.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Man Is But a Reed

Pascal suggested that man is a "thinking reed," but I don't put much faith in the brainpower of our new representative in Congress. Moving from Hinchey to Reed is going to cause serious whiplash throughout much of Ithaca. It's interesting that the Congressman plans to avoid Ithaca entirely as he opens his campaign. Good thinking!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012


Another soundtrack of my youth gone. Rest in peace, Levon.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Required Reading

Thanks to Simon for the facts about U.S. taxes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Merger Talk

Local districts talking about merging are: South Seneca and Romulus (seriously); Candor and Spencer-Van Etten (slightly less seriously). Either one could be a potential blow to TST-BOCES; the first might move to Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, and the latter would be likely to head south to GST. Stay tuned.

Beyond Complacency

Really? No contest in any school district? Some of the districts have yet to file, but it looks like a walk for all incumbents locally. That's especially amazing in Newfield, where teachers wear black armbands to board meetings, and a petition circulated calling for the recall of the superintendent. I think there's a story here, but I don't even know what it is.

On the good side, it looks as though Paul will finally get seated in Dryden.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reading List

I was never a fan of either one, but this delicate elegy is beautiful.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Off to CA

Olivia, Bridget, and I are off to Cardiff-by-the-Sea tomorrow, out of Scranton-Wilkes Barre to save some $, arriving at nearly 11 PM PST. Over a few days we plan to visit the beach, the zoo, Old Town, UCSD, La Jolla, and San Juan de Capistrano in time for the swallows. Photos to come!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Required Reading

Joe Conason waxes righteously indignant about our radical Supremes.

Why I Hate Politics

Conversation at the Annual BOCES Dinner Wednesday:

PAUL: How’s it going in Ithaca?

ITHACA SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: Fine! We just got another $150K from Lifton. Didn’t ask for it, don’t need it, but hey! We’ll find a way to spend it.

PAUL: Really? When my wife asked for $30K for Dryden Pre-K a while ago, she was told there were no earmarks available. She had to go begging Seward, who finally came through with the money.

ISBM: What can I tell you? We didn’t even have to ask. $150K! I guess for you guys in Newfield, that would be—three teaching positions! (Laughs.)

PAUL: Yeah.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

TST Lives

Any time a District Superintendent retires, State Ed does a review to determine whether or not that BOCES should remain open. It's an opportunity to look closely at how things are working and to call for consolidation if it seems useful, warranted, and cost effective.

There are 37 BOCES in New York State. All but 9 of the state's 721 districts belong to one. Our little TST-BOCES is among the smallest, serving 9 districts in all—Candor, Dryden, George Junior Republic, Groton, Ithaca, Lansing, Newfield, South Seneca,and Trumansburg. Most of those districts cross-contract services with OCM BOCES or GST BOCES, because those larger BOCES provide services that TST cannot, much as a larger school district provides courses and opportunities that a small district cannot.

TST serves over 900 students and 500 adult students and employs around 400 staff. It has been around since 1949, when its services comprised a shared dental hygienist and a teacher of driver's ed. It would certainly be a hardship if the Smith School (exceptional ed) or Career & Tech were to close, but any merger would be likely to maintain the Ithaca campus, because sending students to a different BOCES would mean bus rides of an hour or more. GST, which serves 21 school districts, has campuses in Painted Post and Elmira. OCM has satellites in Cortland and Liverpool in addition to the main campus in Syracuse.

There have been mergers of BOCES in the past (Onondaga + Cortland-Madison = OCM, serving 24 districts; Saratoga-Warren + Washington-Warren-Hamilton-Essex = WSWHE, serving 31 districts), but as far as I can tell, no more than four in the last 20 years, with GST being the most recent. The process seems to be that the state asks the local superintendents how they feel about a merger. I don't think anyone came to the districts from Albany to check things out. Nobody contacted the board (although I think they would have received a fairly unanimous "don't close us" response). In fact, State Ed has been so decimated in past years that I doubt there was anyone available to do a serious study.

Whatever the process turned out to be, and it is a mystery, the word came down this week: TST is to remain intact. That means that the search for a new District Superintendent can go forward—in itself a challenge, since the state's salary cap on DSs places them at lower salaries than many school superintendents who might apply. Plus OCM is looking for a DS at the same time. More to come, I'm sure....

Monday, April 2, 2012


He stepped in when Perkins resigned under fire and remained as pres up to and through my college career. Apparently the pressures of that difficult time didn't get to him, because he lived to be 97 (and is survived by his wife of 73 years!)

Friday, March 30, 2012

You Make the Call

Yesterday, news comes from Tioga County that the landowners down there are looking into the Canadian form of fracking, which uses propane instead of megatons of toxic water to stir the natural gas. Today, Anschutz decided, well, okay, they WILL appeal the Dryden decision. Coincidence? Let's see if they suddenly start renewing leases. Another example of the old adage, "If something seems too good to be true, it is."

Required Reading

I haven't had the courage to tackle the Supreme Court discussions this week, so I'll just post this piece Simon found. The truth about the American system of medicine, from a Canadian-trained doctor.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tax Cap Q & A

Here's a useful Q & A from the School Boards Association.

Q: Q: Does the tax cap mean my annual property tax can’t increase more than 2 percent?

A: Not necessarily. New York’s property tax cap law establishes a tax levy limit for each school district. The tax levy limit allows school districts to increase their property tax levy from one year to the next by 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, based on a multi-step formula. School districts are then allowed to take certain exemptions that may boost their tax levy limits to more than 2 percent or the inflation rate. If a school district’s proposed tax levy increase is within its limit, a simple majority of voters is needed for budget approval. If a school district’s proposed tax levy increase exceeds the tax levy limit, a supermajority of voters – 60 percent or more – would be required for budget passage.

Q: What may school districts exempt from their tax levy limit?

A: There are a limited number of specific exemptions to the tax cap that school districts may take. They include growth in “brick and mortar” development that increases the value of a school district’s full taxable property, contributions toward employee pensions above a certain amount, expenditures for some court orders, and the local portion of capital expenditures.

Q: Does the tax levy indicate how much my taxes will rise?

A: No. The tax levy is the amount of money the school district can raise through property taxes. The amount an individual will pay to contribute to the levied amount is the tax rate. Tax rates paid by individual taxpayers may differ greatly from one household to another, based on such things as equalization rates and assessed property values, and may exceed 2 percent.

Q: What if voters reject the proposed tax levy?

A: If voters in the district reject the proposed budget, the school board may put up the same or a revised budget for a second vote, or adopt a contingency budget with a tax levy no greater than what was levied the previous year. If voters reject the spending plan twice, schools must adopt a budget with the same tax levy as the prior year – essentially a zero percent cap.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Budget and the Schools

Well, credit where credit is due. As authorized in the two-year education aid plan last year, there will be an $850 million total aid increase for public education. $290 million in aid was equitably distributed to schools on the basis of need. The $250 million the Governor had wanted to devote to competitive grants was released in main part—only $50 million this year (and $75 million next year) will be in the form of grant monies, and the rest will be used to offset the Gap Elimination Adjustment, the amount the state deducts from education aid to reduce its own deficit. Reimbursable aid categories (BOCES, Special Ed, Transportation, Building Aid) retain their existing funding formula. Preschool special ed costs remain with the state and counties, not back at the districts. Schools have more leeway in purchasing buses, rather than being forced to buy them on state contract. Students whose parents receive public assistance are automatically enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program—a critical plus toward getting poor schools the funding they need.*

In related news, the dollar amount of lobbying continues to rise in NYS. A lot of the changes above required some skillful negotiations behind the scenes plus a concerted petition and letter-writing drive. But the result seems good. More to follow as we learn more.

*LATER: And something most states have been doing for years. As usual, NYS is late to the party.

If You're Keeping Score

There are now three Democrats running against Tom Reed in the newly formed 23rd Congressional District. The latest one, Melissa Dobson, seems not to have a website up yet. She is not the Melissa Dobson who's a new media strategist for food and wine in the Finger Lakes. Instead, she seems to be this Melissa Dobson. The other Dems are members of our own Tompkins County Democratic Committee—Nathan Shinagawa and Leslie Danks Burke.

They are running against Tom Reed, who, it's worth remembering, ran on a platform of rescinding Obamacare back in 2010. In 2011–2012 he sponsored 22 bills, including one to name "Taps" the National Song of Remembrance, one to put a "real time display" of the national debt in the House Chamber, and two "relating to the disapproval of the President's exercise of authority to increase the debt limit." Although I think a well-intentioned turnip could be a better representative of the district, he may yet be hard to beat. The bar is pretty darn low.


Both PZ and Adam Z sent this lovely article, which points out that the art of diagramming sentences was invented just 12 miles down the road from us in Homer, NY, back in 1847. I studied diagramming exactly once, in seventh grade in California. Despite its New York origin, it was long out of favor in New York when I went to school here. For me, though not for anyone else in my class, it was a revelatory experience that explained more about language than anything I've read or done since. At one point, in a flurry of showoffiness, I diagrammed the Preamble to the Constitution. I doubt I could do it today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Olivia Nails Sousa

With the Ithaca Concert Band at Ford Hall, Ithaca College.

Anschutz Schutz and Misses

Poor Tom West. Apparently Philip Anschutz, second-richest guy in Colorado, thinks he's too pricey. They still have a week to file an appeal. We'll see.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Paul Ryan's Budget

Paul Ryan always looks so unhysterical and plausible on TV—something about those puppy-dog eyes, I guess—that I'm grateful when something comes along to slap me out of my reverie. This time, it's thanks to Joe W, who sent along this helpful graphic from Politico. Click on it to enlarge.

Friday, March 16, 2012


I guess most people can't name their Congressional District, but I've been in the 24th for years, and it seems odd to note that not only will I lose that number soon, but I'll lose my Congressman, too. Dryden will cease to be part of Richard Hanna's district and become part of Tom Reed's, now the 23rd. Out of the frying pan of moderate Republicanism and into the fire of serious Tea Partydom.

I can't think that Tom Reed is delighted to pick up Ithaca on his way toward a district that will extend from our border in Dryden all the way to Jamestown and the Pennsylvania border. It's a horrible district, one that candidates Leslie Danks Burke and Nathan Shinagawa will be hard pressed to cover in their foreshortened campaigns. Meanwhile, Hanna now resides in District 22, a slab that extends from Broome County up through Utica. Dan Lamb will face him there.

The real, true, finished maps are due next Tuesday. For now, here's what things look like, more or less.