Niagara Gazette

June 24, 2013

CITY DESK: A class all their own

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The dunce cap is coming. 

Some time in the corner may be warranted as well.

I can see myself standing at the chalkboard writing “I will not question the cost or quality of education in Niagara County” over and over and over again.

Although I feel a bit like a smart-aleck student who knows he’s about to be punished by a disapproving teacher, I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway: Voters in the Wilson School District deserve to be pushed to the head of the local, taxpaying class.

In the face of the now annual public relations campaign to drive the need for more money to fix what ails education, voters in Wilson stood tall and pushed back not once, but twice.

No matter what the superintendents and the teachers and the teacher union reps say, they were right to do it. 

If only more of us were smart enough and bold enough to follow their lead.

It’s amazing to me that in Western New York — a place were annual tax increases are as common as disappointing Buffalo Bills games — so few people vote and those that do tend to, well, support more of the status quo. 

Contrary to what we hear from so many school officials and board members, money is not the driving force behind quality education. 

There’s plenty of money in education today. Just ask all the administrators who are collecting six-figure salaries, and the ones who have already retired to Florida with six-figure pensions of their own.

Last year, the Citizens Budget Commission determined that New York spent $18,825 per pupil versus the U.S. average of $10,292 — a whopping 83 percent difference. 

Business First — the Buffalo publication that does a fine job each year of giving us the real, raw numbers concerning education and education spending — noted that more than 800 administrators and teachers drew six-figure salaries from WNY school districts last year. 

Buffalo, the largest district in the region, had the highest number of six-figure salaries at 75.

Eleven other school systems had at least 10 employees making $100,000 or more last year. 

Williamsville led the category, aside from Buffalo, with 37.

Which district would you guess followed close behind?

Niagara Falls. 

Poor, urban, underserved Niagara Falls — a place where poverty runs high and a lot of families find themselves in need of public assistance just to get by — paid 33 district staffers in excess of $100,000 apiece last year.

Funny how so many residents around here complain when city hall tries to hire just one person at the magic $100,000-per-year rate. 

Do the math, people! Compare and contrast!

It’s not just administrators. 

According to Business First, a total of 4,663 school employees from the region earned between $75,000 and $99,999 in 2012. Another 10,118 received annual salaries between $50,000 and $74,999.

Mom was right. I should have been a teacher.

In an era of downsizing and layoffs and salary reductions, folks in educational circles still appear to be doing pretty good.

The good news for teacher types is that they can still basically rest easy. For the most part, they keep winning, overwhelmingly even. 

Of all the budget revotes across New York state this year, only two — Wilson being one — went down in defeat the second time around. 

In other words, even when voters rise up and say enough is enough, the system gives the districts another chance to get — maybe not as much more, but more just the same. 

So, be proud this day, Wilsonites.

You bucked the school budget system so many others out there were too timid or too intimidated to buck themselves. 

After all, nobody likes being labeled anti-education or anti-child. 

As for me, I’ve looked at the numbers and reviewed the salaries. 

The way I see it, the rankings paint a pretty clear picture of which districts are doing a good job graduating students and helping them — pardon the teacher speak here — “achieve to” state and federal learning standards and which ones are not. 

I may not have a teaching degree or a master’s in education, but I can formulate my own opinions based on the numbers as they are presented. 

Like the majority of those voters up there in little, ol’ Wilson: My mama didn’t raise no dummy. 

Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.