Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Dismantling of Public Education: Prologue

The Worling Plan
A recap of Tuesday's Clarence School Board Forum appears at the Keep Clarence Schools Great website, and you can read it here
The people who support strong schools are backing Andrews, Stock, and Kloss.  For many, last night was their first opportunity to see and hear Mr. Worling. 
In his opening statement, Worling said that Clarence needs excellent schools and teachers, but we need to be careful about budget issues. He added that the community's seniors must be respected by solving budget issues through what he repeatedly called “creative solutions”.
The candidates were asked what their first priority would be. Maryellen Kloss said we have many priorities, most of which involve making up for lost Albany funding, and Tricia Andrews agreed. Matt Stock's first priority would be to maintain the district's reputation through a focus on not only finances, but academics. If you divest from the schools, everything else falls, as well. A downward spiral would find families avoiding the town, and budget problems would only worsen. 
Worling said he had a list of "creative ideas" that would create "clean revenue", rather than rely on the taxpayers.  No one knows what "clean revenue" means. It appears to be some sort of obscure management speak
"The five pillars that drive clean revenue are pricing flexibility, utilization, predictability, recurrence, and sustainability. Valuable companies regularly cleanse their revenue by focusing on the highest margin and repeatable revenue sources."
I'd like to hear some details about what's "unclean" about the schools' revenue, which comes from the community through taxes, and the state. 
The candidates were asked if they had supported the 9.8% budget from last year. Andrews said yes, because even with that increase, the tax rate would still be lower than '08 - 09. Stock agreed, and pointed out the value proposition; that it costs money to attain excellence, and even with the increase we'd have been the most cost-effective district. Kloss strongly defended that budget and attributed its defeat to "PR manipulation" where certain people launched a campaign of disinformation to demonize the schools, and we've suffered terrible repercussions as a result.  
Only Mr. Worling opposed the 9.8% budget as being "too far-reaching".  He lamented that no one came up with his patented "creative solutions", ignoring the fact that he was absent from the entire process and also never suggested any "creative solutions" at the time, when it counted. He then proceeded gently to lay the blame on the faculty for having the audacity to have reasonable health care and a pension plan. 
This is the coward's way - blame the very people who have devoted their lives not just to a job but to a profession requiring a graduate degree, rigorous training, and testing. These teachers could have gone into the private sector and, e.g., been glorified volunteers like the teachers at private schools, or made tons of money working for private industry in some capacity.  Instead they answered the call to educate future generations. There are few professions nobler than this, and they earn - and deserve - good pay and good benefits. 
The candidates were asked if the board should more closely protect the interests of taxpayers or students. Everyone agreed that you can't separate the two. Andrews and Kloss pointed out that everyone is a taxpayer, but also that the schools are an integral part of our community of taxpayers. Stock returned to the idea that the schools offer a return on public investment - what we put into the schools has a long-reaching, positive affect on society. 
Worling said we should expand programs in the schools that teach kids real-life lessons, and we should "give them what they need". He did not explain how that jibes with his opposition to last year's 9.8% budget and the way in which its defeat did not give students "what they need", and cut the types of programs he described from the curriculum. 
A question about vouchers came up, and most candidates begged off, indicating that it would have to be a specific proposal to evaluate before they could comment, but Kloss, Andrews, and Stock all expressed their support for a strong public education system.  Andrews correctly noted that Clarence offers a better education than most private schools.  Kloss noted that the community would be weakened if the public funded private education. Worling wouldn't say he was for or against schools, but noted that "choice is good" and that "competition is good". 
There is competition. If you want a private education, send your kids to private school.  If you don't like Clarence schools, move someplace else. Lots of choices exist that don't deliberately allow parents to take their money out of the public school system and pay it to a private entity. The only loser in that scenario is the public system. Vouchers are a great last resort to help kids in a failing system. Clarence's system is far from failing, but instituting a needless voucher program could likely bring about that result. 
Did you know that Clarence has no social workers on staff in any school this year? They were cut in the wake of the defeat of the 9.8% budget.  Here's a tip: privileged kids from well-to-do homes experience problems, just like poor kids do. Andrews noted that we need to restore the social workers to enable kids in crisis to have a trusted adult to speak with in a confidential setting.  Stock said that people think mental health services are a luxury because they don't need it, but a kid going through a bad time can affect others, and guidance is especially needed if the kid can't go to family about it, or when family is the cause of the problem. Kloss said the loss of social workers "keeps [her] up at night". Worling gave some story about attending small claims court where parents were arguing and they had kids and maybe the kids might need help. Well, yes. But you supported the defeat of the budget that funded social workers, and now you tell us what, exactly? That we can have it all both ways? 
Some dopey question about whether people are undertaxed or overtaxed was asked.  No one thinks they're undertaxed - how dumb. The question is value, said Stock, Kloss, and Andrews. We get an excellent bang for our tax buck in Clarence, when it comes to the schools. Worling said we should look at costs and whether they're "sustainable".  He said we should look to other revenue sources. 
Likewise, when asked about what caused last year's budget crisis, Kloss, Andrews, and Stock pointed to loss of Albany aid, the global financial crisis, and an aggressive spending of fund balance that left us with little flexibility during the global financial meltdown. 
Worling blamed the teachers. Health care and retirement costs demand "creative solutions", basically laying all the blame on the people who work hardest and educate the next generation of kids. 
Finally, in his closing argument, Worling laid out his prejudices. 
He said the schools are "run like they were 50 years ago", and that they should modernize.  Query: when was the last time this guy sat in a Clarence classroom? 
What he means is that we pay teachers a living wage and provide them with benefits that people generally don't enjoy in the public sector.  This is true, to a degree.  The reason why this is has to do with attracting and retaining good teachers. Do you attract someone with a mountain of graduate school debt with a minimum wage job with poor benefits? Or do you offer them a solid pension, a good wage, and decent benefits? 
The candidates were asked whether they thought people were under or overtaxed.  The real question is: do you think that teachers are under or overpaid? Not only for their time actually teaching, but for the afterschool curriculum prep, the disciplinary issues, dealing with parents, preparing kids for standardized tests, revamping everything to comply with new standards, helping kids who need it and praising those who show advancement. This is not like being a cashier at a grocery story - being a teacher means being able to hold a class' attention on a given topic, having a mastery of a subject, being a surrogate parent, a social worker, a policeman, and confidant. To these people we deny a good living?! 
Worling said we need "creativity" but didn't expound on that. He said we need "clean sources of revenue" without saying what that means. He tried to explain by blaming the town for being unfriendly to business.  Really? A town whose supervisor heads up the IDA? He says the schools should create a trust fund of some sort, so that people who want to give more are able to do so. 
What a cop-out. 
This character has so much contempt for the schools, parents, and teachers that he would cut spending to the bone, despite saying in an election that he wants to give kids "what they need". He would then expect parents to pay, in effect, a surtax to maintain programs that prior generations enjoyed. It is an avenue that leads to the slow and systematic dismantling of public education by people who think it valueless. It is a way to destroy the public school system by rendering it a charity case, always with its hand out, looking for some spare change. 
To paraphrase, Worling is telling Clarence parents, "voluntarily pay more if you want to keep music, arts, electives, and clubs". Never mind that the entire community benefits from an excellent and comprehensive public school curriculum. 
Never mind that Worling is a real estate agent and should know better than most how school quality goes hand-in-hand with property values. 
Render the schools a charity case, and make parents pay a "voluntary surcharge" to keep critical programs, and you've signed a death warrant for not just the schools, but also for the town. There will be a sea of "for Sale" signs as supply overwhelms a shrinking demand, and by the time the damage is done and middle-class families abandon the town for better schools elsewhere, the town will be left with farmers, seniors, and the ultra-wealthy who can afford private education. 
Last year, when the 9.8% budget that Worling opposed was defeated, the schools lost a great deal of what made them unique and excellent. We didn't just lose social workers, but great teachers, electives, clubs, music, sports. Kids who had plans drawn up as a path to get into the college of their dreams - paths that included certain courses, electives, and extracurriculars - suddenly found themselves in study halls. 
Parents and businesses had to take up the slack, and raised over $200,000 to restore many of these programs out of their own pocket, in addition to paying their allotment of school taxes. 
That was the exception. Worling and the so-called "Clarence Taxpayers" vultures want that to be the norm, and he said as much on Tuesday. 
Worling? He did not contribute to CSEF. His concern for the education of our kids wasn't so great that he sought to help restore lost programs. When push came to shove, he abandoned our kids. 
What makes you think he won't do it again, if given the chance?  
If you care about the town, and you care about the schools, you won't let us undergo a repeat of last year. You won't let these horrible people destroy public education in Clarence as we know it. 
When your kids are done with school, will you work actively to dismantle the system that once served your family so well, and deny the same opportunity to current and future generations? Or are you not an awful person? 
That, to me, is the fundamental question. 

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