Thursday, March 24, 2016

Clarence School Budget 2016 - 2017

The School Budget process is well underway. If you have the time to check it out, you ought to review the video of the sessions held so far.

Here's January:


and March:

The upshot of it all is that the tax cap this year is 3.11%, and the school board is proposing an increase in the tax levy of 2.99%, which is under the cap for the third consecutive year in a row.

Yet despite that fact, a tiny group of individuals manufactures controversy and crisis out of whole cloth when none exists. Last year, it was a letter from an angry teacher that fueled their campaign for a "no" vote on a budget that came in under the cap. In 2014, it was a hangover argument from the genuine crisis of 2013 and the fake issue of "sustainability".

But make no mistake. Every year since 2013 - this will now be their fourth attempt - a "no" vote on the budget is routinely demanded by the same core group of people, no matter what the circumstance. It is folly to imagine that any of it is principled. Whether it was the 2014 school board race involving a guy whose kids don't attend the district, or the simply incredible financial lecturing from a twice-bankrupted newcomer who doesn't own his home, the coalition of "no" seems to have run out of ideas and steam.

At the March meeting, shown above, part of the presentation was from the chairman of the music department, Louis Vitello. He explained how the department is short-staffed and could use one additional teacher each for choral, band, and orchestra. At that same meeting, a new contract for school administrators was approved unanimously.

Here is how the "no" people reacted:

At the board meeting on Monday, the music department gave a presentation on how they were still short staffed, and how the students were suffering from it. Within ½ an hour, the administration voted themselves a 2.95% raise for each of the next 3 years. The teachers got their raise a few months ago. Both teachers and administration contribute very little to their health insurance and their pensions are extremely profitable. Furthermore, besides a declining enrollment, taxes are still increasing. What is wrong with this picture?
Look at them. Look at them pretend to give a shit about the music department.

Do these people think we forget why the music department is short-staffed?

Let's take a look.

Right now, the music department is looking to increase its staff from 17 to 20. In 2013, staff was cut from 19, which was already low compared to previous years, to 16. Why? To save a few bucks - the same rationale that resulted in lead-contaminated water in Flint.  Who cares if it hurts some kids, right? Never mind the teachers out of work. 

So, in 2013 we lost three members of the music staff, and we're trying to claw our way back to 2011 staffing levels, because enrollment in our music programs is steady. 

You know why we lost those music teachers? The 2013 "no" vote. We got Mrs. Acee back last year, but Mr. Vertoske is gone and isn't coming back. 

And look at their twisted logic, blaming the teachers and administrators for asking for raises while the music department needs people. Their thinking is: why won't the teachers and admin staff simply take less pay or crappier benefits, and then the district might be able to find money in the budget to hire these teachers back...

...where they can make less money and crappier benefits than, presumably, in other districts. 

The whole thing is a laughably ridiculous race to the bottom mentality, based on the notion that teachers and administrative staff are wildly overpaid do-nothings. 

So, tell people to vote "no", then complain that things happened as a result of that "no" vote. 

Yet after four election cycles of their bleating about "sustainability" and "clean revenue" and other catchphrases meant to capture some sort of new ways of thinking about school budgets, we've come to realize that school boards are subject to state laws, regulations, and mandates. We've come to realize that, like it or not, inflation is a thing that exists, and the cost of things will continue to go up indefinitely, infinitely, because that is how economies grow. 

During that same March meeting, the BOE voted on a plan to spend a $2 million state technology grant. Free money. Use it or lose it. One of them tried to make it seem as if this was somehow proof of the district's financial weakness. But Clarence isn't anywhere near the state's list of districts under stress

This same crowd advocated a "no" vote for the statewide referendum that approved the funding for this technology buy. 

So, tell people to vote "no", and when you fail, just start making stuff up. 

Those are the facts. Despite the modest increases of the last few years, the school tax rate in Clarence remains low. But it's not just that.

Compare that to places like Village of East Aurora ($3,787 including a 40% equalization rate), Orchard Park ($3,810 including a 55% equalization rate), and the Village of Williamsville ($4,426 including a 97% equalization rate) for a home of that same $150,000 value. 

The Equalization Rate for a municipality is the assessed value of the real property in a town as determined by the local assessor divided by the state's appraised value of that same real property. This ratio is stated as a percentage. At an equalization rate of 100%, assessments are at full market value.

Clarence is one of only a handful of municipalities at a 100% equalization rate, yet its overall tax burden remains among the lowest in Erie County, and its school district is in the top three.

I don't know yet what sort of cockamamie rationale this crowd is going to use as the basis for its "no"
 vote this year, but let's not let them get away with disingenuous bleating about things like the music department that they single-handedly helped bring to its knees. 

The budget proposal for 2016 - 2017 would raise the levy by 2.99%, meaning the amount of money the district needs to raise overall. Your tax rate will be effected based on a number of variables. In the end, it'll cost the owner of a home worth $300,000 an extra $84/year. PER YEAR.

Here is what affected parents and students said in 2013 when the 9.8% levy increase was defeated:

It is a shame that voters took all of their National and State tax frustrations out on the local kids in Clarence with this vote. AND shame on you parents with kids that voted against the budget as well as those of you that have already benifitted from this great school system. I know that their was a lot of you. F…ing selfish and stupid! This is the saying… Be careful what you wish for. Wait until you see what happens to the kids and the school district now. I bet you wish you could do it all over again. For $300-$400 (tax deductible) a year was this worth it.


As a student of Clarence High School I almost can’t stand to see the argument that has ripped this town apart. True, I wholeheartedly support the budget because it is my education and I have worked hard recently to try and get people educated on the actual facts of the budget. As an active member in the school’s music department and an avid participant in the electives and AP courses our school offers I am extremely worried about this budget because I know if this budget doesn’t pass these classes will be cut, my high school education will be highly deprived, the prestige of the Clarence community will go down and the number of colleges that will accept me will decrease. I know that it is now to late to change your minds but I’d like to thank those of you who voted yes and ask those of you who voted no what will happen over the next few years as with out a stabilizing budget this year how will taxes and the schools be affected. Staff cuts will run rampant and our schools will be reduced to teaching only the core concepts required by the state with high class sizes and an increasingly unstable budget so taxes will continue to need to increase.

The district was brought to its knees. The same people promise to do it over and over again, year after year.

Please attend the next meeting of the BOE on April 4th. We need informed, affected people to be there. 

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