Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why Tackle School Choice Now?

Smoke 'N Mirrors?
Just Blowing Smoke?

It's annual budget building (or busting?) time in the Greece Central School District. Usually, this process alone overwhelms our nine school board members who are fed a constant stream of ever-changing numbers, as programs and/or services are added-in or subtracted-out ~ depending on the latest changes to state aid formulas.

But this year, things are different, very different. New York State is essentially bankrupt and the newly elected Governor Cuomo seems intent on doing something about the mess in Albany that got us into this financial quagmire. Making significant cuts in aid to school districts are high on Cuomo's "to do" list. That's really bad news to a district like Greece which faces a roll-over budget increase in excess of $7 million! Worse yet, Greece Schools keeps losing enrollment which also reduces the amount of state aid received. On top of that, past school boards in Greece have utterly failed to heed the warning signs that they MUST reign in the district's spending in some significant way!

Faced with this miserable mess the Interim Supt. and the Greece Board of Education wonder ... "What to do? ... What to do? ... Let's divert everyone's attention away from the fact that a significant double digit tax hike (say 15%) will be the ONLY way to retain the one thing our base of politically connected "Yes" voters demand: schools-of-choice."

How do they go about it? They propose making some significant changes to the school choice menu GCSD offers without ridding the district of the actual schools-of-choice! What does this mean? It means that Pinebrook, West Ridge & Odyssey Schools remain open at a time when the district really must consider closing down at least 2-3 schools to get the budget under control given the reduced enrollments in the past decade. 

Truth be told, the Greece Central School District built space to accommodate some 17,000 pupils back in the early 1990's ... and we've never come close to serving that many students! Current enrollments have fallen to 12,270 pupils (Attendance Committee Report pg.75) and projected growth over the next 5 yrs. puts district enrollments at a meager 12,724 students (Enrollment Projections 11/1/2010 - pg. 8).

The bottom line:
  • GCSD built space to serve 17,000 students
  • GCSD serviced approx. 14,000 at the height of the district's enrollment growth over the last 25 years
  • GCSD serviced 13,448 pupils in 1971 - before we acquired Apollo (Cardinal Mooney), built Pinebrook, built Arcadia MS and added dozens of extra classrooms to the other elementary schools (1993 and CIP 2001)!
  • GCSD needs space for just 12,200 students currently and only 12,724 students through the 2015-16 school year!
  • 17,000 - 13,000 = 4000 student surplus of space going into 2016!
So, as I said earlier, the idea to create a furor over suggested future changes to the current school choice options seems to merely deflect attention away from the real elephant in the living room ~ we must reduce the number of buildings, the staff, the maintenance, the utilities and all of the other associated expenses with retaining the current number of buildings we use to get our ballooning budget under control!  Stated differently, if we properly manage our building space needs, our system can no longer support the current three schools-of-choice ~ Odyssey, Pinebrook and West Ridge ~ as they are.

Other things to consider:
  • Since we have an interim superintendent in place, why would we make such significant changes to the "options" now without fixing the part that's actually broken?
  • Since the proposed changes wouldn't be instituted until 2012-13, what guarantee is there to the voters in May that anything will actually change anyway?
  • I'm not proposing the closing of any specific buildings. I'm suggesting that the three school-of-choice buildings will no longer be used as such if we get our space needs in line with enrollments.

Bend over, grab ankles!


Charlie Hubbard said...

The answer is quite simple - we need a committee, a study, or continue to just close our eyes real tight and maybe no one will notice.
Make no mistake the board has dug themselves one he## of a credibility hole (refer to 1st paragraph) - anything to avoid making a decission on anything of significance.
I'll say it again - it's all about trust.
The way the budget was handled last year and the disrespect for voters leads the way.

Anonymous said...

We have only one choice but to vote no and vote no again. We could hope that qualified candidates run for the 3 board seats. We could hope that 2 others on the board would volunteer to resign early and let others be voted in to fill the remainder of their terms. Then there would be possibly 5 that could do something other than warming seats.

SCATS said...

To 12:49PM ~~ Personally, I've given up hope on electing board members with a spine. Look at the people who have been elected over the last 15-20 years. Look at how many of them FAILED to do what they promised to do. Look at how many of them, including the current BOE Prez. drank the Kool-Aid and became part of the problem themselves. You are correct though, that voting "no" repeatedly is the only message they hear. Sadly, they refuse to heed it as Charlie stated.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately a "no" vote has little impact except to prevent the needed replacement of busses, capital repairs, etc. The contingent budget still covers the things we don't like (schools of choice, excessive transportation, overly generous benefits that exists no where else besides school districts, etc)
There needs to be continued pressure on the BOE to address the waste in our current structure (Excess capacity,excess administration). That will only come from places such as this blog.
In the meantime, we vote "no" and our property values drop because people are reluctant to move into a district where there is unrest.

SCATS said...

To 1:09PM ~~ Your property value dropped? By how much? Over what time period? Do you know any more people who lost value? I know of no one! In fact, my property's assessment, which is supposed to reflect the true market value for my home, continues to creep up! The same is true throughout my neighborhood aside from the few homes that went through foreclosures.

Some people may be reluctant to move into Greece but I can assure you that the exodus away from city schools and into Greece schools continues ;)

Anonymous said...

To 1:09 at "There needs to be continued pressure on the BOE to address the waste in our current structure"

Yes this blog is one way that they seem to be feeling the pressure. That can be seen by the way that the newspaper waits until something is brought up here to write about it. Then the board prez and VP are force to respond with inane quotes about how they want to have a "conversation" with the public. When did we ever see that happen?

But there is no harm to the program or buses or house values by voting no. We are just showing people that we are standing up to them and many people might want to move where that is happening. And Scats is right about the assessments. We have voted down many budgets and they still keep holding and improving...unless you think higher assessments are not an improvement since you would have a higher tax rate.

Anonymous said...

If there is all the empty, unused space in the district, then I agree we should be closing buildings.

Where are the empty classrooms? Where are the classes with less than 20 kids? Where are the half-full buildings? Which schools should be closed?

I haven't seen the empty rooms. Just wondering where they actually are.

Anonymous said...

To 1:09PM....YOU are one of the parents that continue to drink the District's kool aid when it comes to property values! As SCATS correctly stated our property assessments keep going up. My assessment has gone up $30,000 in the last 5 yrs. And it is a fact that my house would sell for the assessed value or MORE! Try fighting the town assessor to lower your property value and 9 times out of 10 he will tell you to go pound rock salt.

We need to close school buildings plain and simple. We need to configure our elementary schools as all K-5. We need to close Odyssey and rent that space out or turn it into an alternative school for all the pain in the ass kids who don't want to learn. We should move these kids out of the Mall for their "continuing education" over to Odyssey.

And I for one am tired of paying for babysitting bussing services to bus kids all over town to their before and after school day care. This is just plain nuts.

And most of the parents who complain are the ones who need this service the least. Ya know the ones with the honkin SUV's, big houses and diamonds on each finger! If kids need to be bussed to day care before or after school it should be BASED on the poverty level for these services.

SCATS said...

To 1:53PM ~~ Classes with under 20 kids? Where the heck did you pull that figure from? Achramovitch raised class sizes. Half full buildings include schools like Parkland and Brookside that have under 300 students each. Any lack of empty space is akin to 3 people living in a 5 bedroom home ... they will fill it up over time, not that they need that much room.

Did you know that Pinebrook was designed to hold 625 kids??

Anonymous said...

To the author of "Just Blowing Smoke"......NICE JOB!!!

Please remember you could also close/sell Barnard and the old District Office at Latta/Mt. Read.

One tactic that could be used is to have a 100 community members SPEAK at the public/community, input meeting, regarding the budget. Normally only 10-15 people show up to support their own cause..that being S.O.C.

The speakers theme could very simply be "Close Schools" West Ridge was closed in 1982 with 8 mo. notice. Half of the students went to Brookside and the other half went to Buchman Heights. Done deal..notification and closed in 8 mo.!!!

Including Barnard, four schools plus old D.O. could be closed by Sept. 2011.


Doug Skeet

SCATS said...

To Doug ~~ Thank you :) Yes, I agree that Barnard and other older bldgs. could also be closed down.

One thing to watch for in this debate is that although SCATS used verifiable figures from GCSD's own documents, no one argues against these figures. In the end, that would be the only valid argument ~ one citing figures from the district's own verifiable sources ;) By the way, Don Nadolinski knows eveything I say is correct. He's been here for the entire timeframe in question.

Anonymous said...

The pro's and con's of schools of choice are no different today than they were 5-6-7 years ago.

SCATS said...

To 5:51PM ~~ Actually, that's not entirely true. Enrollments have continued to decline over the last decade, by a lot! These schools have outlived the purpose they were designed to fulfill ~ buffers for boundary changes necessitated by increased enrollments.

Anonymous said...

1:04 it's easy to criticize from the outside. Maybe now that the Board Members have access to information they didn't before and have a better understanding, they changed their minds.

SCATS said...

To 9:43PM ~~ Changed their minds from what to what??? As Joe Moscato pointed out on a different thread, the BOE voted on a resolution directing Achramovitch to begin a study on this issue over 3 years ago. Because the history of what happened is important to understanding the current situation, I'm reposting Joe's comment here:

Joe Moscato said...
After reviewing the report and reading comments generated on this site, I offer my comments and observations. I have a personal stake in this committee’s origin and its results. I invite you to visit Board Docs minutes of 4/3/07 and 8/14/07 meetings. There you will find my motions that had to overcome considerable opposition from some of my colleagues and the superintendent who were opposed to this initiative.

My comments deal with content and the spirit and intent by which I authored the resolution adopted by the Board on 8/14/07.

TIME FRAME – Big disappointment there, but expected. Achramovitch was opposed to this study but was told by his employer, The Board, to do it. He ignored the Board’s directive and in doing so was guilty of gross insubordination. But he had help from board members who did not tell him to proceed and the result, three years passed before O’Rourke took charge.

MAKEUP OF COMMITTEE – My motion called for participation by all parties of interest. That meant representation by those making up the various demographics of our school district. This committee makeup did not address my intent.

STUDY THE POSSIBLE CREATION OF MORE K-5 NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS, REDRAW PRESENT SCHOOL BOUNDARIES – I considered this the most important component of the motion. The spirit and intent was two-fold. Establish more 6 year schools thereby creating the same continuity and educational success enjoyed by schools of choice families and students. I and many other district employees past and present feel this would enhance the learning process by establishing a stable learning community for student and parent interaction. The present K-2, 3-5 does not lend itself to this and students and families are often split by several schools. The second component concerned the savings realized in transportation associated with the establishment of neighborhood schools. Of all the conclusions in this report, this was the most disappointing to me because if done, it would enhance the educational opportunities for all our students as well as the benefit of saving dollars. The statement that to implement K-5 would require the buildings to make changes in the bathroom facilities is a lame excuse. This district “flushes” more money down the drain in the form of excessive, bloated legal fees than the cost of a few more toilets.

OPEN ENROLLMENT – a much needed recommendation three years too late. When this is implemented, it will take several years to realize significant savings in transportation costs due to the grandfather clause which is fair. However, it is a step in the right direction.

It would be fair to say, at least in my case, that overall I was disappointed with the report as it did nothing to enhance the educational opportunities and performance of all our students which was at the heart of my resolution in the first place. Let’s just call it another “lost opportunity” as was stated five years ago by an individual commissioned to study district operation and student achievement.

2/20/2011 1:48 PM

Anonymous said...

So why didn't you cite Mr. A for the insubordination that you refer to?

SCATS said...

To 8:57AM ~~ If you were paying any attention during that period of time, then you already know that the BOE majority was too busy playing games with Robert's Rules of Order in their childish attempts to silence Joe than to do the business they were elected to do.

Anonymous said...

WHy stop at K-5, Joe. Recent trends and movements around the country have been back to the K-8 model. The evidence is that even 8 th grade students are closer to elementary students than high school students in their need for stability of classroom and benefit from having fewer teachers watching their progress.
Why shouldn't we look at K-6 or K-8 models. If we have excess space in the elementary schools, we could close the Middle Schools and iuse the space to benefit the students, too.

Anonymous said...

Looks like I have something to try out this weekend. I never knew yo could have a smoke enema. Thanks, SCATS!

SCATS said...

To 6:26PM ~~ Married to an administrator?

Anonymous said...

12:56 scats speaks for Joe?

SCATS said...

To 10:49PM ~~ It was an easy question. Got a problem with my response?

Anonymous said...

Different subject. Maybe they will close the northgate store before it even is built.

SCATS said...

To 8:37AM ~~ Thanks for the heads up on that :)

Anonymous said...

After reading more about Michelle Rhee, I am 110% convinced that it is the teachers union that is keeping kids from educational success. It is about the adults NOT THE KIDS.

Anonymous said...

Who's the chubb on the D/C site writing in? Is that the former Board member? If it is, lets get him back on the board he sounds absolutly rabid about the issue. It looks as though he's starting to create a bit of a following over there as well.

SCATS said...

To 6:52PM ~~ No, it is NOT the former BOE member. I verified that.

Re: "It looks as though he's starting to create a bit of a following over there as well."

It sounds like you think "he" has a following here too. That causes me to think "he" is you, trying to toot your own horn again. You could always get your own blog ;)

Anonymous said...

To 6:52-I'm not sure who scats talks to, but I'm pretty sure that is the person you think it is.I think that meg even mentioned it at one point.BTW I happen to agree with him on the SOC issue.

SCATS said...

To 6AM ~~ The reason you "aren't sure" is because you rather assume I'm wrong than just ask. Guess what? I asked the former BOE member! Imagine that, SCATS says it was "verified" so you assume that is meaningless. As for "meg" verifying anything, please tell us a joke that's funny next time.


Anonymous said...

SCATS: you did an excellent job on this blog topic. Thanks for the links and the history. I commend you for your depth of knowledge on these issues!

If we're keeping open this many schools with this few pupils then it looks like we're being hoodwinked and reamed by the Greece school board. Appears to be going on for years. Room for 4000 students we never had? And they got a $7 million budget gap? And they won't close a bunch of buildings? Our boe people must be Greece grads to be in the dark to this degree! Time to get things back to where the dog is wagging his tail instead of the other way around. If they don't shutdown a bunch of buildings but continue reducing classes and sports and other stuff, there will be a crashing no vote in mid May. Can you hear the hoofbeats boe?