Our society seems to be obsessed with the idea that bigger is always better. Sure we’re getting away from the idea that everyone needs to drive a 3-ton sport utility vehicle that gets 7 miles a gallon, but aside from cars and cell phones, not too many things have gotten smaller in the last several years. The push seems to be toward making everything bigger.
The school system is one area where this is painfully obvious right now. Last week, the State Commission on Property Tax Relief released a report listing its recommendations for how to curb the ever-increasing property tax burden felt by so many New Yorkers. The recommendations included a property tax cap and relief from unfunded state mandates, but it also recommended that the state require all schools with less than 1,000 students to consolidate.
In Chenango County, that would mean the end of at least three school districts: Otselic Valley, which has 484 students, Afton, which has 729 and Oxford, which falls just short of the mark with 974.
Perhaps the commission is right and the result would bring about lower taxes to the residents of the area, but I’m not sure that the residents of the state would prefer to have lower tax bills at that cost. In addition, the loss of jobs for that area would be tremendous.
In addition to the recommendation for the required consolidation of schools with less than 1,000 students, the commission also recommended the Commissioner of Education be granted the authority to order consolidation of schools with less than 2,000 students. In Chenango County, every district, with the exception of Norwich, has fewer than 2,000 students.
Property taxes in New York are a huge problem and with the current economic situation, all possible solutions need to be reviewed, but as is the case with many state mandates, one final decision for all of New York State doesn’t always work for every community.
Do we need to make some changes to the school system in Chenango County? Possibly. Should we look strictly at the number of students enrolled in a district to make that decision? I don’t think so.
Consolidation of any kind is an emotional issue, and sometimes to get an objective view the situation needs to be looked at by neutral parties with no personal ties to the situation, but the situation should be assessed by someone each and every time, instead of coming up with one solution and assuming it will work for all of the districts across the state.
I hope our elected officials will realize that when they are deciding what to do with the commission’s recommendations.