Chenango County, weíve got a problem. And the scary part is ... if each and every person reading this (spread the word if you please) doesnít get involved, no amount of griping, whining or carrying-on is going to fix it.
And no, Iím not going to dive into another political rant Ė a tendency I do have from time to time, Iíll admit Ė yet this problem does involve politics, particularly on the state level. In other words, get out your pen, grab a fresh sheet of college-ruled paper and start writing.
Itís time (and more than time) to flood our state representatives with letters. Not dozens of letters, nor hundreds or even thousands. We need to do better than that. In fact, each and every one of us Ė if you happen to give a damn about the children and students of our community Ė has a responsibility to put a stop to this madness and Ė no matter what it takes Ė itís time to make a stand.
Unfortunately, this is just one more matter in which itís the rich versus the poor, but this time, itís not a Democratic versus Republican issue. This involves our children and their education. In my opinion, both are worth fighting for. And itís a fight that they Ė our state legislators Ė better be ready for, because if this is done right, we can finally affect some change in a system that is no longer on the point of breaking.
Iím speaking, of course, of the enormous gap in financial equity between school districts statewide. Personally, I had no idea things were this bad two weeks ago, yet a two-hour presentation by Dr. Rick Timbs on the issue, in addition to Norwich Deputy Superintendent Rob Wightmanís extremely informative discussion on the matter Monday night, were more than enough to open my eyes. And itís not like this information is all that hard to come by; I simply never realized the scope of the issue.
In all honesty, itís absolutely insane, this inequity between school districts. In fact, itís more than that. Itís disgusting. And the numbers donít lie.
Take Norwich, for instance. Last year, the district lost an estimated $2.5 million in state aid. Budgeted spending for 2010-2011? Approximately $37 million. Travel 200 miles southeast to another school district, one that also saw slightly more than $2.5 million in aid, with $188 million in budgeted spending for 2010-2011, and the discrepancies are ... outrageous, to say the least. If district A (Norwich) were to rely on its tax levy to make up the difference, youíre looking at an increase of 24 percent. For district B? 1.33 percent.
Does anybody else see something wrong with this picture?
The problem is simple, really. Rich districts can afford to absorb cuts in aid much more easily than a poor district. And when youíve got dozens of programs Ė extracurricular, college credited courses and the like Ė to every one here in Norwich, you can afford to make some cuts. Here in Chenango County, on the other hand, weíre struggling for every dollar. The result? More layoffs, more re-distribution of resources and, of course, the possibility of merging districts. And just so you know, the whole merger scenario is not a fix-all to our problems. Itís a temporary solution at best.
Hereís another example. Take Otselic Valley, one of our least wealthy districts. With 2010-2011 budgeted spending at just over $9 million dollars, enrollment at approximately 400 and state aid cuts of half-a-million dollars, these kids are losing somewhere in the amount of $1,500 per student in aid. In East Quogue (Suffolk County), budgeted spending in 2010-2011 was more than $21 million. Yet enrollment within the district is only slightly higher than OV, at 408. Guess how much those folks lost in state aid?
Approximately $250,000 ... about $600 per student.
Just last year, Governor Cuomo said we must, and I quote, ďinsure adequate funding to high need districts which historically have not been adequately funded.Ē
Trust me, Iíve never been a big fan of political posturing, but this really takes the cake, if you get my drift. Our state legislators have been promising to fix this problem for years now (if not decades) and, to put it simply, theyíve failed. Actually, one must wonder if theyíve even tried at all, considering the fact that Ė more and more these days Ė itís the little guy versus the big guy ... the rich versus the poor.
In Chenango County, 50 percent of our students are considered to be living in poverty. Those other two districts I spoke of, combined? Less than 8 percent.
Regardless, itís time this issue was discussed at length with our state representatives. And if you read this and want to get involved, write a letter to Governor Cuomo, Senators Gillibrand, Schumer and Seward, Congressman Hanna and Assemblyman Crouch. In fact, take the time to cut this column out and send it along with your letter, if you think of it. Me? Iím going to get started sooner rather than later and write my own letters. And Iím also going to continue monitoring this issue, because personally, I think our children are worth the time and effort.
Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunbrian.