With school finances, few react to what is perceived as the norm

To the Editor:

First I want to state my position on education: Education is critical to our future.  Professional teachers with a safe and clean place to work are critical to the quality of education.  

[Guilderland] Superintendent [Marie] Wiles wondered why attendance at the presentation on the $18 million-plus upgrade to Guilderland Schools was so low.  Having attended budget forums in the past, none in the last few years, I will give my reasons for not attending and perhaps they will help Superintendent Wiles improve the process and raise community participation in the future:

— 1. The number of school personnel attending the forums has in the past exceeded the general public and is in a sense overwhelming;

— 2. The speakers on behalf of the school are carefully selected and are excellent at presenting facts that seldom leave the listener with a question on that topic.  The use of “professional jargon” by staffers can be confusing and intimidating to a taxpayer who has not had recent contact with current education policies;

— 3. I felt that every attempt was made by the school administration to limit or steer the topics in their favor;

— 4. In polite meetings, the party with the information can easily control the parties with the questions.  The floor is used to prevent the public from raising questions on issues and in the worst case as a way to “overlook” a questioner; 

— 5. Perhaps, and most importantly, many of the answers given contained the phrases: It is a contract issue or a mandate forced on us. In either case, it takes the issue off the table for discussion.

Do most people realize that there are six major groups at work within our schools?  We have the teachers, the administration, the school board, the New York State Board of Regents, the federal Department of Education, and the parents.  Everyone but the parents has a lobbying group.

Now most people would think that the goals of these groups would be held in common but, alas, they often are against each other.

If a public company, one with stockholders, were to borrow money every time a building repair or improvement were needed, the board of directors would be voted out but not before personnel changes were made.  Yet our school district has repeatedly ransomed the future of all property owners that remain in the town.

We do not vote out our school board because it is a hard job that few want and frankly the board may have little choice as to how it deals with these issues.

Every day, I drive past new housing developments in the town; the administration states enrollment is declining.  Is Guilderland turning into a 55-plus community?  I think not, most 55-plus-ers do not buy the three- and four-bedroom homes currently under construction.

So, if not, then the decline of school-age children may only be for a very brief time.  In either case, how much is the consultant charging to plot the district’s course and are the consultants from a private firm or from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services?   Does the school or the board have an ongoing relationship with the town personnel that issue building permits? 

In terms of cell phone ownership, the average teenager, and Guilderland’s may be above average, have cell phones with more computing power than ran most state agencies when their parents were born — why are we providing more at cost to the district without a state or federal mandate? Perhaps an income test.

The constant references to the state’s portion or the federal portion of any project’s cost versus that from the district taxpayers: Did all school administrators fail basic economics? Nearly all people who pay school taxes also pay federal and state income taxes.  Those groups, the state and federal government, return that money in order to direct policies at the local level — it is not found money — it is still your money and could be used for other community projects.

Lastly, study the numbers from school votes of past years.  They show the number of people who actively participate in the process by voting on school issues.  Adjust the voting numbers for the members of the education community, their families, and the people who directly profit from rising school budgets.  You can see how only a handful of fully independent and interested residents voted on school issues.

From that group, we need a subset with the energy and interest to attend meetings that historically have had no effect on the initial proposal.  Individual parents care and respond to negative changes that affect their children, but few react to what is perceived as the norm.

Lou Domanico

Editor’s note: This letter was received last week in response to the Oct. 31, 2013 front-page story, “GCSD presents details on $18M proposed upgrades” (online at www.AltamntEnterprise.com). In keeping with the paper’s longstanding policy of not publishing new letters the week before a vote, we held this letter until after the $18 million bond vote on Nov. 14. See related story on the vote results.

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