Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact

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

Filed under: Activism
Tags: , ,

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. 


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.


Out of Excuses

Well, Carl Paladino is the big winner in last night’s Buffalo School Board election. The two candidates he was backing won, and Barbara Nevergold was re-elected. I tend largely to stay out of Buffalo School issues because (a) I’m not invested in the district in any meaningful way; and (b) my own kids’ school district has its own problems relating to tea party politics, so I concentrate on that.

So, with a newfound, slim anti-Pamela Brown majority on the board, Carl Paladino is all out of excuses. By this time next year, one would expect there to be some measurable, positive changes to the district. They’ll fire Brown, bring in someone else, and own whatever happens.

The question is: what’s going to happen? When WBEN’s morning program interviewed Paladino the other day, he made much of “neighborhood schools”, the evils of busing, and expanding charters. Forty years after the federal court imposed busing on Buffalo, the city and schools remain as segregated as ever. Given Paladino’s clumsy and intolerant relationships with people who don’t resemble him, it’ll be interesting to see how his ideas shake out.

I suspect that one of Paladino’s big ideas will be de facto privatization of the public schools. When you examine his motivation for all of this – he says it’s because he cares, but this seems like an incomplete rationale, at best – it could have to do with the resulting demand that charter and new voucher-supported private schools will have for real estate.

In Clarence, we’ve got a school board candidate running who is billing himself to his friends at the Chapel at Crosspoint as the “Christian values” candidate. Richard Worling was feted Saturday morning by the local tea party anti-tax group and their mobile home park owner-benefactor. His kids go to a Christian academy in Amherst, so although he’s financially invested in the schools, he has no investment in the schools’ life, academics, faculty, or administration. The problem is that, if he’s elected, then the board will have three members who were backed by the anti-tax forces, and God help the district. These are the same people who concern-trolled the ELA curriculum just a few short weeks ago.

So, nowhere is immune from right-wing meddling and experimentation with public education. In Buffalo, failure is linked directly to poverty. In Clarence, success is under attack in the name of God and taxes.

We live in a society now where pulling money from schools is in vogue because public education is under assault from the right. It’s why congressional Republicans want to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, privatize Social Security, and otherwise roll back the social safety net. I don’t know why people are buying into that, but it threatens to reduce the country to second-world status, if we aren’t there already. We’ll spend wildly on defense, but we reject investment in the next generation of Americans.

The time has come for Paladino to exchange divisive outraged demagoguery for leadership.

It’s a brave new world out there.


Good Riddance, Fred Phelps

A busy week with late nights, so posting has been regrettably light. So, with the weekend approaching, I leave you with these thoughts: 

1. While Mark Croce may have a right to charge up to $75 for a day’s worth of parking at the corner of Blight and Squalor, Buffalo is not a $75-per-day parking city. We don’t have a parking shortage, nor do we have any particular need to restrict access to our downtown, so something like Uber’s “surge pricing” – something else we don’t have in Buffalo –  is a ridiculous notion.

The barrage of counterarguments from people upholding the right to cheat tourists was astonishing.  Airline fares! Hotel rates! Well, sure. But Croce’s lot was charging 1500% more than a regular Thursday, and double to triple its usual “event” rate. “They could just drive around” is the method suggested for tourists unfamiliar with downtown Buffalo to find something else. True, I guess – that’s should maybe be our local tourism slogan to replace “For Real” or “Sense of Place”.  “Just Drive Around a Bit” that doesn’t make an outrageous markup any less so. Most of the lots – including the FN Center’s own directly across the street from the arena – were $20 for the day. If you were willing to walk a bit, they were less. But part of that “choice” is predicated on you being somewhat familiar with where you are and how to get around. I can’t imagine why anyone would pay $60 to park outside in the Buffalo snow, and the law might not consider it to be gouging under the law, but I think it’s someone taking unfair advantage of visitors who simply don’t know that $60 is an outrage to park around here. Or that we have plenty of other choices. Or that we have a Metro Rail. I argued about this with people on Twitter, and was truly surprised by the number of people defending Croce’s right to charge whatever he wants. Well, sure, I guess. But does that make it right? Or does your humanity, good neighborliness, and sense of fairness demand that visitors not be gouged by a greedy millionaire? Welcome to Buffalo! If the government doesn’t rob you, our business oligarchs will. 

But seriously, if it costs less to eat the ticket you get from parking in a “No Parking” zone than in one of Croce’s lots, the rules of “basic economics” are out the damn window. 

2. Last night the Blue Bash to celebrate the 2014 Undy 5000 and the Colon Cancer Alliance was held at Artisan Kitchen & Baths. While colon cancer is the 2nd deadliest cancer in America, affecting thousands of people every year, there’s such a phobia and stigma attached to it that people are dying needlessly. Early detection is the difference between life and death; survivor and victim. My wife is a cancer survivor and we are raising money for the CCA to help its mission, part of which is to provide free colonoscopies to people who cannot otherwise afford them. Please consider donating anything you can at this link. 

3. Looks like a lot of local school districts – Orchard Park, Ken-Ton, Depew, Cheektowaga, Sweet Home, and Buffalo, to name a few – are undergoing the same gut-wrenching budget crisis this year that Clarence underwent last year, and there’s more on the horizon.  When Clarence’s budget was in trouble last year, the board tried to pass a 9% increase to maintain the status quo. The vote failed, and the curriculum was gutted and electives were eliminated. Some in WNY pointed and laughed. Sprawly, tax-averse Clarence kids got what they deserved, some argued. Well, the hurt is getting spread around while Clarence’s crisis appears to be over. If we can’t adequately fund our schools and instead prioritize things like handouts to businesses and pothole repairs, then our priorities are beyond screwed up.


Clarence Schools Urged to Ban Books

Note: At the February meeting of the Clarence school board, new trustee Jason Lahti asked the board to add an agenda item to the next meeting so that certain inappropriate materials could be discussed. The following letter was circulated to some Clarence families over the last week. The author of the letter is Lahti’s wife (and co-trustee Roger Showalter‘s sister). Shown below the embedded letter is the text of what I sent the board in advance of Monday’s school board meeting. In 1999, an effort was made to ban Harry Potter in Clarence schools. Now, we have a wider range of materials under attack. I think my letter speaks for itself, but I will add that banning books in schools is a 1st Amendment issue, and if this happens, I will gladly participate in an effort to bring a Constitutional challenge. Banning books is a much clearer and more present danger to education than anything relating to Common Core. 

Clarence School Curriculum Letter March 2014 by Alan Bedenko

 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Clarence School Board,  

It has come to my attention that there will be an agenda item and discussion at the March 10th board meeting to address concerns about certain curriculum materials having mostly to do with English, literature, and sex ed. 

I will be blunt – I do not want the school board legislating, micromanaging, or censoring the ELA curriculum or the ELA teachers. I think that these teachers are professionals, and that the school and parents can trust them to make appropriate curriculum choices in order to stimulate our children’s minds, turn them into critical thinkers, and make them hunger not only for knowledge, but curiosity. 

It is also my understanding that a policy exists whereby a parent can opt a child out of a particular reading assignment if they have a problem with the subject matter, so the issue is moot. 

The timing of this is highly suspect. I perceive this as a renewed attempt to divide this community into factions. Last year it was the budget. This year it’s the books. Next year it will perhaps be rejection of the science curriculum, or abstinence-only education. 

The NYS School Board Association maintains that a school board member must be, among other things, a “representative of the entire community”, and not just one faction of it. 

I do not support the censorship or banning of books, and I hope that in these lean budget times, the board would choose to avoid a costly and embarrassing constitutional challenge. 

1. CONFLICT OF INTEREST

There was an informational packet sent around to some town households in the last week or so, containing a call to action and a list of wildly extracontextual selections of themes and passages from books, essays, songs, and sex ed materials. It can be found at this link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/211263269/Clarence-School-Curriculum-Letter-March-2014 

That packet was prepared in part and sent by Ginger Lahti, who is the sister of one board member and the wife of another. There is a clear and obvious conflict of interest, and Mssrs. Showalter and Lahti must recuse themselves from any discussion or vote on this curriculum issue. This is not to punish Mrs. Lahti from speaking out – she has every right to petition the board for whatever she chooses. But because of the close family relationship she has with two members of the board, fairness and ethics demand recusal. The Board’s own Code of Conduct demands high ethical standards and mandates avoidance of even the appearance of impropriety. I believe that this issue meets that standard, and demands recusal.

2. SEX ED

There is a handout about avoiding STDs that Mrs. Lahti finds objectionable. Another one a “sexual behavior chart”. I’m willing to bet that there are more materials that exist within the sex education curriculum, some of which likely contain information about not having sex at all. But teaching abstention does not free our district from not teaching kids how to avoid sexual risk as part of the larger health curriculum. Some kids and parents are embarrassed to discuss matters such as these, but it’s critically important for adolescents to know how to avoid unwanted pregnancy and disease. None of it forecloses a household from emphasizing abstinence within its own personal morality. 

3. LITERATURE

10 of the 24 objectionable materials are for AP classes – college level reading. These kids are at an advanced, mature stage of their academic and chronological lives and can absolutely be trusted to read about adult themes. Likewise, the educators can be trusted to select age-appropriate literature, and the uncomfortable parts of these works can be addressed and discussed.

Where one finds only “male love dolls” and “flavored lubricant”, another finds a brilliant essay on life as a homeless person. Does Jonathan Swift’s classic 1729 satire, “A Modest Proposal”, which mocks the mistreatment of the poor, now merit censorship? After all, Swift is not really advocating for the consumption of infants. Steinem didn’t write about frathouse rape to excite people’s prurient interests, but to expound on the college experience that some women endure. The “Fraternity Drinking Songs” piece demonizes sexual harassment and mistreatment of women – people should be outraged by the song, not by the piece criticizing the song and its rape lyrics.

Farewell to Manzanar isn’t about glorifying child abuse, but one Japanese-American family’s experience in the WW2 internment camps. Those camps were a nightmare – we’re now going to censor teachers from teaching about American history, because some of it was unpalatable? Should we restrict anyone from using Anne Frank’s diary in the classroom because her experience is just too much? These allegedly serious concerns include – apropos of nothing – lyrics from a 5 year-old Nelly Furtado song, and a Donn Esmonde column.

It would appear that there are passages and themes picked out of a larger work, completely out of any meaningful context. They are selected by trained, educated, licensed, professional AP English or Literature teachers so my child can become a critical thinker, a lover of reading, and a lifelong learner.

4. CONCLUSION

Education shouldn’t just be the rote memorization of facts and figures. Sure, that’s part of it, but school exists also to teach kids how to think. Life and this world are full of things that make people uncomfortable. Thinking about things that make us uncomfortable is to be encouraged, not legislated away. Given that most kids in Clarence come from a home with involved parents and relative comfort, we should all make sure that they understand, appreciate, and think critically about the world and their role in it.

If layperson parents want to ensure that their children are exposed only to “wholesome” materials (the definition of which is wholly subjective), they have myriad ways to accomplish that goal. The problem is that Clarence is not some monolith – one person’s “wholesome” is another person’s unconstitutional censorship.

Mrs. Lahti’s call to action closed with a quote from utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill; “bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men look on and do nothing.” Setting aside for a moment the insulting notion that Clarence’s ELA and health educators are “bad”, that one quote is – like all the others in that packet – wildly out of context and wholly inappropriate here. Mill’s 1867 inaugural speech at St. Andrew’s University is a great read, and a brilliant exposition on the purpose and value of higher education.

Mill went on to say that schools, “are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining their livelihood. Their object is not to make skillful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings.” He described education as many things, including, “the culture which each generation purposely gives to those who are to be its successors, in order to qualify them for at least keeping up, and if possible for raising, the level of improvement which has been attained.” These children will go on to do great things, if we let them. Here’s a better Mill passage:

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

— On Liberty, John Stuart Mill

Please do not censor or redact what is taught to kids in the schools. Our professional educators do not seek to add violent, or pornographic texts in order to elicit similar behaviors from students, or to excite some hypothetical violent or sexual propensities. These texts all serve a particular purpose, within their proper contexts, whereby our children are molded into adults capable of critical thought and rational analysis. Please don’t legislate someone else’s morality on our children, and breach the Constitution in the process. If parents truly fear exposing their children to the materials at issue here, they can take advantage of the existent opt-out provision. This is sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Alan & Maryl Bedenko

Clarence Center

Parents of two children in the Clarence Central School District, and School Taxpayers


Quinn to School Board?

Here’s a secret: as bad and dysfunctional as Carl Paladino and Larry Quinn think the Buffalo School Board is, arrogant mansplaining / whitesplaining only makes the whole thing a bigger circus.

In point of fact, Paladino’s bull in a china shop dealings with his school board opponents underscores just what a disaster he and his ilk are, would be, and have been, whenever the electorate is unfortunate enough to elect them to some public office. Nothing has changed except angrier press releases and longer meetings. There’s no compromise – just conflict. So, the only solution is for Carl to recruit his super-rich buddy to come and help him out. 

Throughout all of it, the very real and evident question is – do these guys truly want to make the schools better, or are they looking to starve and privatize the system into a distributor of vouchers and regulator of charters? (Charters that are on the property rental market). Or is it just thinly veiled prejudice, founded on the notion that black females don’t know what they’re doing? Because it sure as hell looks that way. 

The crisis in Buffalo city schools is not something that can be fixed on a balance sheet or through privatization. But guys like Carl – tea party right wing extremists – don’t ever support the policies and programs that would help lift people out of multigenerational poverty. The “concentration camps of couth” or the Emily Post Correctional Facilities idea was the sum total of Carl’s ideas along those lines. 

If these guys truly want to help the schools, they should stop being assholes and start cutting deals, making friends, and earning allies. Through negotiation and discussion you can accomplish great things. By treating your opponents like idiots, you’ll accomplish nothing. 


Shorter Esmonde

1. Sergio Rodriguez is a swell guy, but he has no hope – a “sand castle has a better chance in a tsunami”. So, I will label his run for Mayor “quixotic” and otherwise dismiss him altogether, while doling out some faint praise. 

2. James Sampson is a wealthy and important person, and if there’s one thing I like, it’s wealthy and important people. He “aches” for the schools, and wants to change them. Don’t forget that my wife works for the school district, I sure didn’t bother to disclose it this week. Also remember that only the city schools matter, and suburban schools – and everyone in them – can go rot in hell

As always, Donn Esmonde is an Ass




Older Posts »