Spending up front on ‘prevention’ saves money in the long run

To the Editor:

As a grandparent of Berne-Knox-Westerlo elementary and middle school students and a seasonal resident of East Berne, I’ve watched with interest and enthusiasm as the district has made many improvements over the past 10 years.

BKW serves rural communities that do not have the kinds of resources available to students in more urban and/or affluent areas. As an example, Voorheesville Central School District offers 13 after-school clubs for elementary students, 14 for middle schoolers, and 23 for high school students.

The City School District of Albany lists more than 20 organizations as Afterschool Program Partners. Schenectady City Schools will offer summer enrichment programs (8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) at eight of their 13 public schools. 

Unless someone can drive our kids to town, they have no access to summer camps and programs, after-school programs, or activities except for those offered at the school. BKW offers free or low-cost activities like athletics, Future Farmers of America, Bulldog Club, theater, band, chess club, art club and more.

Late bus service makes participation possible for all students regardless of family income or transportation concerns.

My career has been spent working with youth and families, many from populations considered vulnerable and “at-risk.”

I started as a program planner/director at a not-for-profit organization, working directly with young people and their families, and ended as a state-level program planner and funder, collaborating with educators, social-service providers, law-enforcement and community members across New York state to design and support programs that supported youth and families and, hopefully, reduced the likelihood of their justice-system involvement.

My personal and professional experience tells me that spending money up front on “prevention” saves money in the long run. Structured activities supervised by supportive adults give students safe places that are educationally enriching.

In addition, these informal settings encourage the development of social skills, build esteem, and provide a sense of belonging to a community: all important “protective” factors.

Now about the money. New York State Education Department data (2022-23) indicates that 37 percent of BKW students are “economically disadvantaged.”

This seems high compared with nearby districts like Voorheesville (14 percent) and Guilderland (24 percent); not so high compared with similarly rural districts like Schoharie (51 percent) and Middleburgh (59 percent).

Our rural districts also report higher rates of students with disabilities (15 to 17 percent) compared with Voorheesville and Guilderland (11 percent and 13 percent, respectively). Per-student expenditures for the rural schools are comparable: BKW ($29,000), Middleburgh ($31,000) and Schoharie ($25,000) — and not out of line with those for New York State ($26,000).

But still. Can we afford it? To me, United States Census Income and Poverty data suggests that maybe we can — and should.

Albany County’s median household income is $77,000; comparing Berne ($75,000), Knox ($112,000) and Westerlo ($83,000), it seems we are at or above average.

Anecdotally speaking, in the eight years I’ve been a seasonal resident  several new homes have been built or are under construction on about two miles of nearby town road. A few trends (real estate and housing costs, and the availability of at least telecommuting for many former office workers) suggest that our rural population may grow, and with it — though lagged — enrollment in our schools.

Meanwhile, let’s do all we can to support our students. That 37 percent of them are “economically disadvantaged” and 34 percent qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches seem like reasons for all of us to exert ourselves to do more, rather than less, for our young people.

I encourage eligible residents to vote on June 18 in support of the proposed 2024-25 school budget, and let’s unite as a community to advocate at the state level for Foundation Aid in 2025.

Lorraine Hogan

East Berne/Delmar

Editor’s note: Lorraine Hogan is the mother of Molly Belmont, who organized a letter-writing campaign for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo PTA.

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