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Unhinged Lies, Debunked

They were sore winners last year, and they’re sore losers this year. I suppose I prefer the latter, but let’s examine facts vs. fantasy. 

– 3,531 people voted in the Clarence school election Tuesday. This was the third-largest turnout in Clarence history. If you eliminate last year’s aberrant budget fiasco, it was the largest turnout in Clarence history

– The school budget – largely unopposed – won by a whopping 77% margin. It was the highest margin since 1995

– The three top vote-getters for school board each received approximately 2,500 votes. The demolition crew urged people to plunk – to vote only for – Mr. Worling. He received about 1,000 votes. Anyone who suggests that turnout was “low” or “sleepy” is delusional; the usual turnout is historically closer to Mr. Worling’s entire vote count

As I described at some length here, the taxpayers – parents, students, and seniors – who came out to support our schools worked very hard on a shoestring budget to out-work the opposition. The demolition crew’s butthurt, however, is strong today

Regard: 

How many bullshits? So many bullshits

May 20th came and went – and most taxpayers didn’t even notice.

Bullshit.

As I pointed out above, third-highest turnout in history. In 2012, the total turnout was 1,664. In 2011, it was 2,019. In 2010, 1,664. In 2009, 1,087.  Average turnout in Clarence school elections peaked at 2,881 in 2005, but is historically around 1,500 in a typical year.

In 2014, turnout was more than double what we get in a typical year. Taxpayers noticed – they just happened to notice that the corporate-funded anti-school destruction crew doesn’t have the best interests of the schools, the citizens, or the town at heart.

And that buzzword – taxpayers. Am I not a taxpayer? Is there some suggestion here that the 2,500-or-so people who voted in favor of the schools are not as much taxpayers as the 1,000 school-destroyers?  Who are these people who self-identify as only one thing – a taxpayer

They use the monicker “taxpayer” to shield themselves from the fact that they seek nothing less than a wholesale destruction of the public school system in town. They pretend to be on the side of schools, but after they broke the schools last year, this particular woman didn’t bother to help fund restoration of programs. She’s on the side of her own self-interest; community be damned. Don’t buy the charade. 

This year’s School Board election hinge on voter turnout. With a more reasonable budget on the ballot, anti-taxpayer groups flew under the radar. This year’s school board vote once again became a sleepy event populated by school insiders.

Bullshit.

Interesting Freudian slip there – “school insiders”.  I’m not a “school insider” unless, of course, I’m inside a school. I have kids in school, so technically that makes them “insiders”.

The author of this malignant screed is no longer an insider, but she was a few short years ago.  You see, her kids went through the Clarence schools, free from any threats from any right wing hate mob looking to do palpable harm to their educations. But now that her kids are out of the system, it’s ripe for destruction. She got hers, now fuck everyone else. It’s the new American way.

Let me add this horrible anecdote from a correspondent: 

You better believe they’re coming after the teachers. [Tuesday] night, Ginger Lahti (wife of board member Jason and sister of board member Roger Showalter) confronted my son, a junior, in the CHS parking lot. He was holding ASK signs and chanting “quality teachers and quality education for our students.”

She said to him, “You’re not doing this for the students; you’re doing this for your teachers so they can make more money. Your teachers brainwashed you.” Later, she pointed to Mr. Worling and said to [my son], “He’s not your enemy – the teachers’ union is your enemy.”

[My son] was really upset about it, because he loves his teachers and oh yeah – his father is a teacher! Ginger certainly chose the wrong kid to confront! And last year, [Jim] Murphy confronted [my son] during the voting day demonstrations. He also told [my son] he’d been “brainwashed” and that he’d “be better off being homeschooled.” These people have ZERO respect for teachers!! In fact, they have straight-up contempt. It’s disgusting.

Bullying schoolkids? Accusing them of being brainwashed, whilst simultaneously trying to brainwash them? Nice crowd of people, who can’t pick on someone their own size. 

That Murphy guy. He’s a trip. One of our volunteers went to where the anti-school crowd was bribing seniors with pancakes to get them to help destroy the schools (it didn’t work – hardly anyone showed up.) She’s a young mother, and had her infant with her while volunteering. As she was leaving,

… it was to Jim Murphy shouting at me… “You need your baby to protect you”.. That came out of nowhere because everyone was very pleasant to us while we were there.

Just awful people. Protect her from what, precisely? That’s a straight-up threat. Murphy used to be on the town’s Democratic committee. Some Democrat – working to destroy public education, a tool of the town’s big developer, bullying kids, threatening mothers. Glad we’ve sanitized the committee of such despicable malcontents.

Anyhow, Tuesday’s “sleepy event” was (if you take away 2013) the largest turnout in history.  

And we’re “anti-taxpayer” now? I am a taxpayer. In fact, the author of the anti-school post paid $2,400 in school taxes last year. I paid $4,300. Is that taxpayer-y enough for you? I’m also a citizen of a society – a society that guarantees kids a quality education from K-12. 

As a sign of just how brazen they were, taxpayers were openly disrespected at Meet the Candidates night when ALL THREE ANTI-TAXPAYER CANDIDATES FOR SCHOOL BOARD  PLEDGED SUPPORT FOR EACH OTHER – AND FOR LAST YEAR’S FAILED 9.8% BUDGET INCREASE.

Bullshit.

Maybe you felt disrespected, but taxpayers weren’t disrespected, and neither were you.  (Actually, it was a wholly cordial event and no one disrespected anyone, except in someone’s Randian fever dreams.)  At the Meet the Candidates forum, the ASK slate of candidates didn’t express “support for each other” at any time. That is a blatant lie. They did, however, indicate that they would have rather eaten the 9.8% increase and maintained programs, social workers, librarians, classes, clubs, teachers, and electives, rather than lost it all.   (Here is a compendium on my 2013 series on the budget mess.) 

It’s called getting a good return on a comparatively low investment. We have a cost-effective, fiscally responsible school district that maintains excellent results for minimum taxpayer exposure

You can’t make this stuff up. And this inexplicably blatant anti-taxpayer action paid off as the three all coasted to victory amid slack voter turnout.

Bullshit

High voter turnout. And they coasted with historically high voter turnout. It’s just that we turned our people out and yours stayed home. Maybe they were fatigued by your hateful, false propaganda. 

I was petrified Tuesday night as they called the results. I didn’t know they did it in ballot order, so when they said Worling’s name second, my heart dropped. Nothing was a sure bet, and I never once underestimated the financial wherewithal or bitter hatred that our opponents harbored for us and our cause. This wild rant merely confirms it. 

Our cause wasn’t spendthrift communism, but the maintenance of excellent and cost-effective schools. 

Clarence is the #3 district in WNY. It is also the third most cost-efficient district in WNY. It is fifth lowest in per pupil spending in WNY. You get the biggest bang for your school tax buck in Clarence. 

Our voters, frankly, came out because they’ve had it with the demolition crew’s propaganda and lies. 

The gambit should have served as a warning that the anti-taxpayer groups have concluded that the sleeping giant that awoke last May to strike down the 9.8% increase has returned to its slumber.

Instead, the move mobilized their base, and the three enjoyed the support of same 2500 votes that have traditionally been available for union-backed candidates in a Clarence School Board race.

Bullshit.

“Anti-taxpayer” again. I don’t quite follow the logic in the two preceding paragraphs, but it is a lie to suggest that 2,500 people typically turn out to vote for a certain bloc of candidates; “union-backed” or not. (You’re starting to see, I gather, their real bone of contention – that teachers are remunerated for their labor.)

Historically – at least in the past decade, and when you omit 2013 – about 1,000 people show up to vote in favor of the budget and for the highest vote-getters for school board. When you lie to people, you’re insulting everyone’s intelligence. The data aren’t that difficult to obtain, and lies are easy to debunk.  

It’s easy to understand why.

Last year’s failed budget brought record numbers to the polls, and the resulting tide went against the union types. This year, there was no such galvanizing issue. Taxpayers were too busy with everyday life to waste time when the budget wasn’t being contested.

Bullshit. 

No, you were just wasting our time by opposing a reasonable proposition to, y’know, keep our kids safe. Bus breakdowns don’t affect your family, but they affect thousands of others. It doesn’t matter – you got yours, right? You were wasting our time by pimping out some guy who can’t even be bothered to send his kids to the district. No one was energized by Worling and his half-assed non-answers to reasonable questions about a district with which he has no contact whatsoever.

How about I ask to become a member of the board of Central Christian Academy and tell them how to run their business, even though I don’t even know where it’s located?  

Such a lackadaisical electorate was no match for 2,500 school insiders who show up reliably each year to protect their families’ meal tickets.

Bullshit.

Meal tickets? What brand of insanity is this?  There’s not one single person in my group who is connected to the school district in any way beyond sending kids to it. We’re fighting for our kids’ education – not some fantastical “meal ticket”. If you ever needed to know how much contempt this particular person has for the schools, the teachers, the students, and parents – there’s your answer. 

It’s hard to blame them. This is the system we’ve chosen. It’s up to us to put up – or show up.

There’s always next year.

We see your contempt for the taxpayers who treasure our schools and our kids’ educations. We see your lies and how you’re trying to manipulate the facts. We know that you have nothing but malice for the kids and their teachers; for the parents, board, and administration – (even though you don’t bother to show up to board meetings.) 

Honestly, I don’t think New York is right for you. If you’re looking for low taxes and really shitty social services, I’d recommend Mississippi or maybe Florida. 


The Victory in Clarence

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I feel like punctuating everything with a Jesse Pinkman-esque “bitch!” And I wonder what Donn Esmonde would say now, what with his bullshit, facile tea party pandering from last year. 

Clarence taxpayers took back our school district last night. The budget, with a 2.46% spending hike and a 3.16% within-cap tax levy increase, passed by an overwhelming and decisive margin: 2670 – 786.

But no one was seriously advocating against the budget – well, sort of. One especially nasty group foolishly tried to have it both ways, not expressly advocating against it, but not endorsing it, either. They repeatedly reminded their “supporters” that they’d be paying more in taxes. Never mind that everyone’s getting a rebate check for the difference later this year. 

On the other hand, we faced a very extensive push to vote against a proposal to replace aging buses. We were told the district should pay cash, instead of financing the purchase with an almost no-interest state loan over five years, like normal people do. The bus proposition also won overwhelmingly, 2454 – 999. 

I confess that I’m somewhat curious as to why 1,000 Clarence residents believe safe buses for schoolkids to be unnecessary; the opponents’ rhetoric was equal parts ridiculousness and fantasy. I’d love to find out about that. 

Turning to the school board, we originally had five candidates for three available seats; four pro-school candidates, and one anti-school. When the organization with which I was working endorsed three, we had the difficult task of asking Dennis Priore, a former Ken-Ton administrator, to drop out. It took a bit of convincing, but he did so, much to our relief and astonishment. His selfless sacrifice will not be forgotten. 

And so it was that we had three pro-school candidates – Andrews, Stock, and Kloss – and one candidate who was making noise about “creative solutions” that exist only outside the board’s mandate, and “clean revenue”, which would be a job for the town board. For me, he disqualified himself by sending his children to a private Christian school outside the district, (they are entitled to public bus transportation, though), and by failing to donate to the private foundation that helped to restore lost programs last year. 

Remembering that I never much paid attention to school board races, we needed a way to drill our choices into people’s heads. We came up with a mnemonic – “ASK”, and we used it repeatedly on all of our lit and signs. People responded positively, and as we canvassed outside the polls yesterday, they knew to vote “ASK”.  We had a small army of volunteers canvassing their friends and neighbors with palm cards. We leafleted events, utilized social media, and pulled together a great robocall to remind people to GOTV. 

In doing so, I solicited help from the best political consultant in town. (I won’t use his name until I get express permission). He helped pull the script together brilliantly. When I couldn’t figure out whose voice to use for the call – no one wants to hear from me, and some people I asked couldn’t do it for various reasons, he recommended we use my daughter’s voice. I reacted that no one knows her, but was convinced with, “she’s a schoolgirl who’s concerned about her future. Everyone knows that girl.” 

Everyone hates robocalls, but when have you ever received one from a kid? We got a great response from that, and reminded people not only how to vote, but to vote at all. 

So, we have a bit of time to celebrate an unexpected but decisive victory, with many thanks to everyone who helped, gave ideas, and otherwise spent valuable time or money to get us to this point. We took back the district yesterday. Our opponents’ 2013 playbook failed miserably this time around. 


Clarence: The War on Apathy Begins

On the one hand, we’ve got a well-funded conspiracy to destroy the Clarence schools.

On the other hand, we’ve got apathy.

It might be similar in your town, but then again not every  town has a bunch of businesses and developers working in concert to destroy the schools and depress property values. In some towns, businesses like to forge lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with local residents.

They say Clarence doesn’t “respect the taxpayer”. The data say otherwise:

The conspiracy involves the child-hating “Clarence Taxpayers” cabal, the Americans for Prosperity tea party astroturf types, and big developers in town, led by Paul Stephen and his henchman, Noel Dill. Lawn signs for the anti-school board candidate are popping up in front of properties owned by developers, who have no qualms about depressing property values so they can make a few more bucks off the brick garbage they put up – without question – around town. They’re all vultures, circling and waiting to pick at the carcass of a community they’re working to destroy.

Derelict Abandoned Motels for Worling

What they don’t understand is that they can’t win. The Triborough Amendment renders toothless any effort to strong-arm the teachers and their union. If the district and teachers don’t come to terms on a new contract, the existing contract remains in effect until they do, someday. These dummies think that they can force the district to hire a “professional contract negotiator” who will perform magic to bring the teachers to heel.

Also, the teachers aren’t the enemy. They deserve what they earn. These professionals deserve and earn their salaries and benefits. Stop blaming the teachers for non-existent problems.

Their hand-picked anti-school candidate has the nerve to ask parents to voluntarily pay more in taxes to fund things like clubs, extracurriculars, electives, AP classes, sports, and music, but we’re all supposed to pitch in to pay for a “negotiator”, even though we pay one – the superintendent – a lot of money to do that job.

I don’t use “child-hating” lightly. I won’t link to their abortion of a website, but the only things the “Clarence Taxpayers” group has gotten excited about are the schools, they’ve successfully blocked town efforts to help build an ice rink complex at Eastern Hills Mall, and an indoor soccer facility. That’s it: they’ve only ever opposed anything having to do with kids.

These people are monsters masquerading as taxpayer advocates.

Rock the War on Public Education

Parents are pissed off at this blatant war being waged against their kids. We’ve had it with these malicious efforts to pit seniors against middle-class families who just want their kids to have the same great schools that past generations enjoyed. The wealthy, like the anti-school candidate for the board, send their kids to private schools anyway.

That’s right. The anti-school guy who is running for the public school board sends his kids to Christian Central Academy. His family has no educational investment whatsoever in the schools. Meanwhile, I’ve delivered signs and palmcards to modest homes whose occupants rely on public education.

If you’re in Clarence, please vote yes for the school budget, vote yes for the modest bus proposition, and vote for Tricia Andrews, Matt Stock, and Maryellen Kloss.

We have two enemies – apathy, and the people who exploit it.


Tea Party Astroturfs The Clarence Schools Again

It’s that time of year again when the tea party in Clarence decides that it’s time to dismantle some more of the still-sturdy foundation of the school district. This year is better than last, but the town is still replete with awful people doing awful things that have an adverse affect on students, teachers, and the community at large.

“Creative Solutions” for funding schools

Clarence is a small and affluent exurb, and those of us who live there have it better than most. But what happens in right-leaning towns like Clarence today might come to your town tomorrow.

I am a strong believer in quality public education, and I find it difficult to sit back and watch bad people mount a costly PR campaign in order to create problems that are either fictions or that wouldn’t otherwise exist. You shouldn’t manufacture a problem, only to claim credit when you start pushing so-called “solutions”.

In 2013, the school budget was under significant stress because pension costs were untenable due in large part to the financial meltdown of 2008 – 2009. On top of that, the Clarence district had spent down a lot of its reserves in an effort to keep school taxes low, which gave it less leeway in this emergency.

As a result, the district asked taxpayers to support an above-cap tax increase in order to meet all state mandate obligations, and also to avoid what the board called “imminent educational insolvency”. The tea party twisted the facts and numbers, and spent tens of thousands of dollars for an unprecedented PR campaign to successfully defeat the budget. Last year’s budget battle formed the genesis of my perpetual, proportionately vicious hatred of Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde – a guy who used to stand for strong public education, and whose own wife was a Buffalo Schools employee. Read last year’s open letter here.

In the end, a new budget was proposed – and passed – within the cap. As a result, teachers were fired en masse, electives were eliminated, clubs cancelled, music curricula slashed, and sports cut. For a school district that prides itself on excellence, it was a devastating loss and crushing defeat.

Parents and local businesses rallied together to raise $200,000 to restore the clubs and sports, but a lot of kids who had navigated a path through high school found that they were in study halls rather than electives they needed. This year, the board unanimously passed a budget that is within the cap of 3.16%, and raises spending by less than 2.5%. The levy is going up to $15/$1000 of assessed value, before STAR and other exemptions.

Thankfully, the fiscal emergency is over – as predicted – and next year’s budget restores lost clubs, sports, and hopefully some electives. There will not, however, be any restoration of teaching positions, nor will the district have any social workers on staff, for the second year in a row. Clarence is one of the wealthiest towns in Erie County; it’s not that it can’t afford quality schools with adequate staff, it’s just decided not to. Yet the equation that made Clarence so attractive over the last couple of decades – quality, top-ranked schools with relatively low taxes – is being adversely affected.

If you do deliberate harm to the school piece, you’re going to see fewer families moving to or staying in town, and that will result in a negative spiral that won’t do anyone any good. The chief exploiters of anti-tax fury in town are a small band of malcontents who call themselves the “Clarence Taxpayers”. Joined by Americans for Prosperity “activists” and the executives at Stephen Development, a local developer and operator of manufactured home parks, the school district and parents have been outspent for a second year in a row by people who do not believe in public education, and who are acting out of sheer self-interest.

I don’t think that strong schools are important just because I happen to have two kids in the system; I think that good schools are important to the town in general – to the community, and to our larger society. I don’t want our future to be any dumber than our present is. I want everyone’s kids to have a quality education, whether my kids are in the system or not.

Part of the problem is that almost every one of the anti-school tea party people have seen their kids go through the system. The “I got mine, screw you” is so loud and palpably clear, and one wonders what greater good is being served with such an attitude. This is the same town that goes “Blue for Ben” and comes together after a plane lands on top of a house.

So, the tea party appears to be ok with this year’s budget. Never mind their full-page color ad in the back of the Bee, which screams above all else – we have all the money and we are Astroturfing – but at least this year they’re not going to try and torpedo the school system itself. Yet. They have, however, found themselves a school board candidate.

Local parent-taxpayer advocacy group, the bonafide grassroots “Keep Clarence Schools Great” has endorsed Tricia Andrews, Matt Stock, and incumbent Maryellen Kloss for the Clarence School Board. There is one additional candidate – Richard Worling, the darling of the anti-school faction. The problem is this – the anti-school people are urging their supporters to vote only for Worling. If they vote for any other candidate, they add to their vote totals.

Worling has reportedly been selling himself in different ways, depending on the audience. To the Bee, and at a recent candidate’s forum, Worling is presenting himself as a school-loving, reasonable guy whose kids just happen to go to a private fundamentalist religious school completely by accident. But to his fellow parishioners at the Chapel at Crosspoint, he’s apparently selling himself as the candidate of “Christian values”. I don’t care what you are, or where your kids go to school, but it would be best if you were honest and consistent with the way in which you portray yourself, and not change who you are, depending on your audience.

Worling has only a financial investment in the Clarence district; he is completely divested from the educational life of the schools. That is his right, but it doesn’t bode well for taxpayers whose kids do attend the schools if he gets in. Remember that fiasco a few weeks ago about banning books? This poses a direct threat to the ELA curriculum the next time somebody comes up with a book with a bad word in it. This is before you get to the fundamental truth that the anti-school people want your kids to go begging in the street for spare change to help fund school programs.  This is all about their vision of a third-world public school system run by questionably educated volunteers, in mud huts with no supplies. And when the kids do have to resort to panhandling – as they did last year through the good work of the Clarence Schools Enrichment Foundation (CSEF) – these taxpayer heroes walk right on by, cursing the urchin scum.

A recap of Tuesday’s Clarence School Board Forum appears here. A complete takedown of what happened appears here, and I’ve edited it here to highlight the tea party mentality. The people who support strong schools are backing Andrews, Stock, and Kloss.

For many, Tuesday was their first opportunity to see and hear Mr. Worling. (I have edited out Andrews’, Stock’s, and Kloss’ responses – see them here).

In his opening statement, Worling said that Clarence needs excellent schools and teachers, but we need to be careful about budget issues. He added that the community’s seniors must be respected by solving budget issues through what he repeatedly called “creative solutions”.

The candidates were asked what their first priority would be. Worling said he had a list of “creative ideas” that would create “clean revenue”, rather than rely on the taxpayers.  No one knows what “clean revenue” means, and it appears to be some sort of obscure management speak,

“The five pillars that drive clean revenue are pricing flexibility, utilization, predictability, recurrence, and sustainability. Valuable companies regularly cleanse their revenue by focusing on the highest margin and repeatable revenue sources.”

I’d like to hear some details about what’s “unclean” about the schools’ revenue, which comes from the community through taxes, and the state. The candidates were asked if they had supported the 9.8% budget from last year. Only Mr. Worling opposed the 9.8% budget as being “too far-reaching“.  He lamented that no one came up with his patented “creative solutions”, ignoring the fact that he was absent from the entire process and also never suggested any “creative solutions” at the time, when it counted.

He then proceeded gently to lay the blame on the faculty for having the audacity to have reasonable health care and a pension plan. This is the coward’s way – blame the very people who have devoted their lives not just to a job but to a profession requiring a graduate degree, rigorous training, and testing.

These teachers could have gone into the private sector and, e.g., been glorified volunteers like the teachers at private schools, or made tons of money working for private industry in some capacity.  Instead they answered the call to educate future generations. There are few professions nobler than this, and they earn – and deserve – good pay and good benefits.

The candidates were asked if the board should more closely protect the interests of taxpayers or students. Worling said we should expand programs in the schools that teach kids real-life lessons, and we should “give them what they need”. He did not explain how that jibes with his opposition to last year’s 9.8% budget and the way in which its defeat did not give students “what they need”, and cut the types of programs he described from the curriculum.

A question about vouchers came up, and Worling wouldn’t say he was for or against schools, but noted that “choice is good” and that “competition is good”. Of course, there is competition. If you want a private education, send your kids to private school.  If you don’t like Clarence schools, move someplace else.  Lots of choices exist that don’t deliberately allow parents to take their money out of the public school system and subsidize a private entity. The only loser in that scenario is the public system. Vouchers are a great last resort to help kids in a failing system. Clarence’s system is far from failing, but instituting a needless voucher program could likely bring about that result.

Did you know that Clarence has no social workers on staff in any school this year? They were cut in the wake of the defeat of the 9.8% budget.  (Donn Esmonde said these were all scare tactics; he was wrong). Here’s a tip: privileged kids from well-to-do homes experience problems, just like poor kids do. Worling gave some story about attending small claims court where parents were arguing and they had kids and maybe the kids might need help. Well, yes. But you supported the defeat of the budget that funded social workers, and now you tell us what, exactly? That we can have it all both ways?

Some dopey question about whether people are undertaxed or overtaxed was asked.  No one thinks they’re undertaxed – how dumb. Worling said we should look at costs and whether they’re “sustainable”.  He said we should look to other revenue sources. Likewise, when asked about what caused last year’s budget crisis, Kloss, Andrews, and Stock pointed to loss of Albany aid, the global financial crisis, and an aggressive spending of fund balance that left us with little flexibility during the global financial meltdown. Worling blamed the teachers; health care and retirement costs demand “creative solutions”, basically laying all the blame on the people who work hardest and educate the next generation of kids.

Finally, in his closing argument, Worling laid out his prejudices. He said the schools are “run like they were 50 years ago”, and that they should modernize.  Query: when was the last time this guy sat in a Clarence classroom? What he means is that we pay teachers a living wage and provide them with benefits that people generally don’t enjoy in the public sector.  This is true, to a degree.  The reason why this is has to do with attracting and retaining good teachers. Do you attract someone with a mountain of graduate school debt with a minimum wage job with poor benefits? Or do you offer them a solid pension, a good wage, and decent benefits?

The candidates were asked whether they thought people were under or overtaxed.  The real question is: do you think that teachers are under or overpaid? Not only for their time actually teaching, but for the afterschool curriculum prep, the disciplinary issues, dealing with parents, preparing kids for standardized tests, revamping everything to comply with new standards, helping kids who need it and praising those who show advancement. This is not like being a cashier at a grocery story – being a teacher means being able to hold a class’ attention on a given topic, having a mastery of a subject, being a surrogate parent, a social worker, a policeman, and confidant. To these people we deny a good living?!

Worling said we need “creativity” but didn’t expound on that. He said we need “clean sources of revenue” without saying what that means. He tried to explain by blaming the town for being unfriendly to business.  Really? A town whose supervisor heads up the IDA?

The tea party guy says the schools should create a trust fund of some sort, so that people who want to give more are able to do so. What a cop-out. This character has so much contempt for the schools, parents, and teachers that he would cut spending to the bone, despite saying in an election that he wants to give kids “what they need”.

He would then expect parents to pay, in effect, a surtax to maintain programs that prior generations enjoyed. It is an avenue that leads to the slow and systematic dismantling of public education by people who think it valueless. It is a way to destroy the public school system by rendering it a charity case, always with its hand out, looking for some spare change.

To paraphrase, Richard Worling is telling Clarence parents, “voluntarily pay more if you want to keep music, arts, electives, and clubs”. Never mind that the entire community benefits from an excellent and comprehensive public school curriculum. Never mind that Worling is a real estate agent and should know better than most how school quality goes hand-in-hand with property values.

Never mind that in 2007, Rich Worling paid $6,245 in school taxes on a property assessed at $425,000, or that in 2013, Worling paid $5,992 in school taxes on a property assessed at $440,000.

Tell me which taxpayers are being disrespected, exactly.

Render the schools a beggar, and make parents pay a “voluntary surcharge” to keep critical programs, and you’ve signed a death warrant for not just the schools, but also for the town. There will be a sea of “for Sale” signs as supply overwhelms a shrinking demand, and by the time the damage is done and middle-class families abandon the town for better schools elsewhere, the town will be left with farmers, seniors, and the ultra-wealthy who can afford private education.

Last year, when the 9.8% budget that Worling opposed was defeated, the schools lost a great deal of what made them unique and excellent. We didn’t just lose social workers, but great teachers, electives, clubs, music, sports. Kids who had plans drawn up as a path to get into the college of their dreams – paths that included certain courses, electives, and extracurriculars – suddenly found themselves in study halls.

Parents and businesses had to take up the slack, and raised over $200,000 to restore many of these programs out of their own pocket, in addition to paying their allotment of school taxes. That was the exception. Worling and the so-called “Clarence Taxpayers” vultures want that to be the norm, and he said as much on Tuesday.

Worling? He did not contribute to CSEF. His concern for the education of our kids wasn’t so great that he sought to help restore lost programs. When push came to shove, he abandoned our kids. What makes you think he won’t do it again, if given the chance?

Now, I’m back at it, trying to prevent these horrible people from destroying public education in Clarence as we know it.

When your kids are done with school, will you work actively to dismantle the system that once served your family so well, and deny the same opportunity to current and future generations? Or are you not an awful person?

That, to me, is the fundamental question.


Clarence Bans Nothing

On Tuesday night, the Clarence School Board held its regularly scheduled March meeting. On the agenda was a review of the curriculum procedure regarding materials that some parents might find objectionable. This is a completely reasonable thing for a board member to want to discuss, and wholly uncontroversial. 

However, late last week, an inflammatory hit list of allegedly obscene or inappropriate books and other materials was sent to selected homes in town. I obtained a copy of it and posted it widely  – here at Artvoice and on social media sites.  It – and my accompanying letter to the board – spread throughout the town. 

The people who had hoped that Tuesday’s meeting would include a discussion of an inappropriate curriculum were met with a shocker last night. These meetings – at best – attract about 20 spectators. This time, however, the place was literally standing room only. 

The board flew through its regular agenda, including a somewhat distressing presentation about the district’s understaffed special education department – last year’s budget crisis eliminated all of the social workers. Zero, nada, zilch. Kids who need these special services include those who undergo some sort of situational trauma like death, disease, divorce, drugs, or depression. So, it’s an interesting coincidence that many of the books on the hit list included kids who underwent similar traumas – especially rape. It was also striking to me that the majority of the books on the hit list were written by women, had female lead characters, or advocated somehow for the notion that women not be victims of assault, and that they are human beings equal to men in all things. 

When the discussion turned to this agenda item, Trustee Jason Lahti, who originally brought the matter up, begged off the controversy, indicating that he merely wanted to discuss the curriculum process, not ban any books. He indicated that he did not know anything about the letter and hit list from his wife, Ginger, that circulated throughout the town. Trustee Roger Showalter, Ginger’s brother, tersely indicated his satisfaction with the town’s opt-out provision for parents or kids who find materials objectionable. Then the rest of the board spoke. Every single Trustee spoke passionately and eloquently about the teachers, the students, the curriculum, and the adequacy of the current policies. Julie McCullough got the first standing ovation, and a huge sigh of relief when I realized that the crowd was there to defend – not defame – the books and faculty. Board President Michael Lex spoke about the need for adolescents to learn about overcoming assault and adversity, and quoted the author of hit list book Speak

But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.” – Laurie Halse Anderson

Then, the community spoke. Student after student – some current, some recent alums – was unbelievably brave and eloquent. Not only had they been taught to be rational analysts and critical thinkers, but good speakers, too. They defended specific books – one especially brave young alum spoke of her own assault and how it affected her mental health, causing her to drop out of college. She explained that she suffered terrible anxiety, yet she stood bravely in front of the board and 100+ members of the community to defend Speak, holding up her dog-eared copy and explaining how it helped her. Kids stood and defended their teachers and the way in which they teach these materials in a thoughtful and engaging way. 

There were a small handful of people there who were there to defend the hit list. Ginger Lahti herself was there, and tried to disassociate herself from the controversy. While Channel 2 was airing an interview with her in which she acknowledged preparing the mailing to address “obscene” works, she stood before the community to explain that it wasn’t even her list, that she had only shared it with two pastors, and that she doesn’t know how it got circulated. She said she wanted to see what the community thought, and she acknowledged that the community was clearly just fine with the current policy. One woman relentlessly attacked the works, alleging that she and her family had opted out over 30 times because of language and themes in some of the works, and she saved especial ire for the sex ed curriculum. Frankly, if you’re opting out of award-winning literature 30 times, perhaps public school just isn’t for you. 

However, the four people, including Lahti, who spoke about the hit list did raise an important issue – some kids who opt out have no meaningful alternative, and are just sent to the library for weeks at a time. 

When I spoke I thanked the board for bringing this matter to the community’s attention, and thanked Mr. Lahti specifically.  I said it was good to, basically, air grievances and discuss how to make policies work better, and that it was important that the handful of affected opt-out parents bring the issues of alternatives to the board’s attention so that these matters can be handled better. But I pointed out the Blue 4 Ben movement and argued that the community was capable of great things when we work together, rather than trying to rip people apart. While the agenda seems uncontroversial now, when it was coupled with the outrageous hit list, it certainly seemed to be a set-up for an effort to ban books and restrict the faculty’s and students’ rights. While Mrs. Lahti now disavowed the list and said she didn’t know where it came from, I noted that she referenced it in her letter. I closed by noting how my parents emigrated to this country in order to flee totalitarian dictatorship and a place where they were told what to think, what to read, and with whom to associate, and never did anyone imagine that we’d be facing similar issues in the U.S. a half-century later. 

The faculty – Mr. Zahn and Mr. Starr spoke passionately to defend the teachers and the curriculum, but also the Constitution. There was the kid who joked that the books on the hit list were so harmful to his upbringing that, instead of being back at college doing drugs, drinking, and having sex, he was at a school board meeting during Spring break defending the wholesomeness of his education. One parent stood to link the earlier special education presentation to the issues brought up in many of these books – how will we adequately help kids who suffer real-life traumas if we refuse properly to fund the nurses, special education, and school psychological staff. 

It was a glorious night, and the board just killed it. A packed house to defend free speech and critical thinking. A packed house to defend controversial books and essays, arguing that these materials are part of a carefully crafted, well-considered curriculum, and that the works are handled appropriately, with care. 

Yesterday, in advance of the meeting, I took some time to learn a little bit about each book on the hit list. Each one of them is an important, noteworthy work that teaches adolescents a valuable lesson. 

The Clarence List by Alan Bedenko

 But I learned a valuable lesson, too. I learned that the kids are awesome. They’re brave, well-spoken, thoughtful, and hungry for knowledge. Whether it was the professional-quality, amazing production of Spamalot that the high school drama club put on last weekend, or the heartfelt speakers last night, they made us all proud. 


Shorter Everything

1. Dennis Gabryszak is a creep who is accused of doing creepy things to at least 7 women, who have the courage to come forward and publicly air the ways in which this schmuck humiliated them. Gabryszak has not denied or otherwise addressed the allegations and is unfit for public service. 

2. It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up was the lesson learned during Watergate, and on Thursday New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took 2 hours to explain how he was completely in the dark about some really despicable things that his very close advisors and confidants were doing. When his appointee to the NYNJ Port Authority, David Wildstein, resigned in December – a month ago – over September’s politically manufactured bridge debacle. For Christie to suggest that this is all news to him strains credulity. For him to suggest that he was completely in the dark about these things seems unlikely. Ultimately, if you surround yourself with petty, vindictive people, and you maintain a public demeanor that is, at times, petty and vindictive, you can hardly stand there with a straight face and claim that you are, like, totally shocked that people in your employ behaved in a petty and vindictive manner. 

3. Yesterday, GOP gadfly Michael Caputo was sitting in for Tom Bauerle on WBEN, and he had legendary dirty trickster Roger Stone call in – that’s quite a get. They talked about a meeting Friday put together in an effort to convince billionaire birther Donald Trump to run for Governor of the state of New York. Stone got it exactly right – Trump doesn’t have a chance. Ultimately, New York State is as blue as it gets, and while Democrats and left independents might consider a Republican who portrays himself as a centrist who is liberal on social issues (see: Pataki), there’s no way in hell any self-respecting Democrat would support a Donald Trump for governor – not after his dramatic and absurd lurch to the very fringes of the right wing in the last few years. For all the Freudian bleating about the NY SAFE Act, the metropolitan area around the five boroughs – how did Glenn Beck phrase it? Oh yeah, “they surround you”. 

4. Declared dead several years ago, it turns out that shared border management still has a pulse. Because Canadian border agents are now armed, like their American counterparts, one of the big obstacles to pre-clearing traffic on the Canadian side and eliminating the inspection booths on the American side has been eliminated. For now, it’s a pilot program and it’s only for commercial traffic, but if it’s successful there’s no reason why it couldn’t also be used for passenger vehicles, too. If that happens, all of the alarmist talk about the adverse health effects from idling traffic at a bridge crossing that has existed for 100 years can stop. I never quite understood how adding lanes to alleviate traffic congestion would aggravate health problems on the west side of Buffalo, nor did I understand why the anti-bridge rhetoric was effectively arguing for the complete removal of the bridge altogether. But hopefully the saga of the Hundredyearbridge will make a millimeter’s worth of progress. 

5. If your town government decides to hold a “public hearing” about a local controversy at 4:30 pm on a weekday, and doesn’t bother to invite representatives of the locality’s regional governmental entity, then it’s safe to say that the town government isn’t interested in dealing with conflict or problems. The one-party system in the town of Clarence is not showing itself to be particularly responsive or concerned about legitimate gripes from people in the northern flood plain.

Unbelievable. 

6. Chris Collins (NY-27) is playing to type

7. Subset cars: 

– did you know that it is perfectly legal for any American to import any car from anywhere in the world, provided it is 25+ years old? Not only legal to import, but legal to put on the road. Here’s a cool story about a dream come true

– I told you a few weeks ago to get yourself a set of snow tires. That’s not all. When it’s snowing and sloppery out, you should also (a) keep your washer fluid topped off; (b) keep an extra gallon of fluid in your trunk; (c) physically wipe the slop off your wipers every once in a while to keep them clean and clear; (d) take a squeegee to your front headlights at every fill-up to get the road sludge off of them and enable you to actually see at night. To that end, if your local Noco or whatever doesn’t keep a proper squeegee bucket around with some form of unfrozen cleaning solution, stop going there or complain. It is inexcusable in a cold climate. 

Have a good weekend!

 

 

 


Politics in a One-Party Town

Last night, I did  my civic duty and attended a candidate forum in the town of Clarence, sponsored by my local chamber of commerce. (Note: I am a member of my local Democratic Committee). The entire panel of candidates was made up of white males. There is one female candidate for town board, Tracy Francisco, but she was unable to attend.  The forum had been sponsored by the League of Women Voters in the past, but is now run by the Chamber of Commerce. 

Stefan Mychajliw was there, and he delivered his well-polished shtick. His knowledge of audits and finances is thin, so he spends time doing what he does best – being gregarious and charming. He talks much of his family, heritage, and upbringing, and he loves to talk about leading by example – his first audit was his own office, e.g. Unfortunately, Kevin Gaughan did not appear. This is a shame, because he’s smart and people like what he has to say. 

Alan Getter is a Clarence CPA who is running against incumbent Ed Rath. They were asked a few questions about the recent Child Protective Services issues, and about county roads. Rath pointed out that Clarence has more county roads than any other town (although not the most lane-miles). Some of the roads in town are crumbling, and the small, discretionary portion of the county budget doesn’t allow for everything to be fixed right away. The long-gone Board of Supervisors enjoyed shunting responsibility for maintaining rural and suburban roads to the county, and it might be time to start un-doing that, and returning responsibility to the towns. 

There was an overarching theme in all of these matters in a town where Democrats are treated as mythical creatures, like unicorns or the Loch Ness Monster: 

Can you explain how you’ll properly staff & fund your particular government office, while simultaneously demagoguing public spending and taxes?” 

In Clarence, town races also come down to, “Please expound on your dedication to maintaining parks and green space, and explain how we will encourage commercial investment to help prop up the tax base“. 

Everyone hates taxes, and everyone made the point that they would keep a close eye on runaway government spending, but the same people are concerned about the quality of roads and whether the town is getting its “fair share” of county money. I mean, we rely on the county and state for police services, so really there’s not a lot of room for complaint. If Clarence wants green space (a hot-button issue) and to improve its roadways, then it should do it, and stop waiting for others to do so. 

I got a chance to hear Democratic Sheriff candidate Dick Dobson speak for the first time last night – Tim Howard was absent. Dobson is very articulate and persuasive, and explained how his work organizing a police force in East Timor gave him a unique perspective in how a police force should operate. He also gave the best rationale for maintaining a quality, secure holding center I’ve ever heard a Democratic candidate for that office give, and the way in which he delivered it had the crowd really paying attention. Dobson’s really polished, and if Bert Dunn would get the hell out of the race, Dobson would have an excellent shot. 

Finally, “highway supervisor” seems like a purely ministerial thing – maintain town roads, plow them, and clear debris. The only reason it’s an elected position is because it’s a patronage pit in every town, and the best way to grow and maintain political power is to control a handful of jobs – this is now completely controlled by the town’s one-party system. There is no reason why it should be elected, and towns should make it an appointed position. 

Maybe Gaughan’s government downsizing effort was a good idea in terms of saving people money. 


Donny, Can You Hear Me?

Shrill, too.

Because you want to hear me explain this in a more direct and profane way, here is the audio version of “Donn Esmonde is an Ass”, recorded over lunchtime Thursday with Trending Buffalo’s Brad Riter

http://www.trendingbuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/TB09-26-13bedenko.mp3




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