02.01.2012 Musings from a School Board Member No Comments

Local Control? In a small, rural district, at best, it’s at the margins, yet, it’s what makes us distinctive.

(Author’s note: This column was originally published in February 2011. I thought it apropos, still, as we enter a new budget planning process. Since there’s no district newsletter published in January, I thought I’d refresh this piece and offer it this month, at the start of a new year.)

Budget Season. Not exactly tidings of comfort and joy in the best of times (cut me a little slack, as I’m writing this during the glow of the holiday season!), this year promises to be filled with extraordinary challenges. A property tax cap enacted in the summer of 2011 and the expiration of special revenues from the federal government that were used by the legislature and governor to offset cuts in aid from New York State over the past three years will exacerbate the challenges we’ll have to deal with this year when the governor releases this year’s budget in a few weeks. This will require a different approach in our planning to ensure we’re able to meet our commitment to provide a valuable and relevant educational experience for the students and our community.

So, just what should that educational experience look like in Tully, NY?

Each year, we strive to provide an engaging range of opportunities for our students, in the traditional classroom setting and outside of it. Beyond the mandated basics, our ag programs, athletic programs, Career and Technical Ed programs, AP and college-credit courses, music and drama programs, and the opportunities available through the New Visions program have created links for our students to help them see relevance in their academics, and explore interests and possible careers after high school. None of these services are mandated by the State Education Department; should we cease to offer them?

Several years ago, after several tragic accidents throughout Central NY involving teen drivers, the then-board of education asked the community if we should reintroduce Driver Education as an elective for our students. The community—we—said “Yes.” It’s not required; should we continue to do this?

While our district administration and board of ed have taken a leading role with our state legislative delegation in seeking relief from burdens such as the Wicks Law, the Triborough Amendment, and other unfunded mandates, we, at this point in time, have no flexibility and no choice but to plan for no relief. In fact, when all unfunded mandates and uncontrollable expenses such as energy costs and mandated pension contributions are factored in with the required costs associated with providing basic school, academic support, and transportation services, you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that nearly 95% of our annual expenses are dictated to us. Where do we have any flexibility? In the distinctive services we provide to make a Tully public school education unique and engaging for the broadest range of students.

Rather than shrink from the challenges before us, I believe this can be one of our proudest moments. We can come together as one community, to declare the importance of and priority we give to our students and our future.

What should we do?

I’m serious: what do you want us to do?

We represent you; we are your voice; the budget that will be developed will be your budget, and you will “own” it. Whether it passes overwhelmingly, as I hope it will, or by a single vote or goes down in defeat, only to be re-submitted, there will be school next year. The board is committed to practicing what we preach, and in supporting the environment to fulfill it: “Inspire kids. Excite teachers. Be creative in achieving excellence.”

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