Niagara Gazette

April 11, 2013

GUEST VIEW: School funding issues can't be fixed locally

By Keith Fox
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I find the the guest editorials from the Saratogian which ran in the Gazette on April 3 to be poorly informed.

I realize this was on the opinion page, where any opinion can be printed, but I would think that a responsible publication would not want to propagate false information. Here are my personal opinions too. They do not necessarily represent to total Lew-Port Board of Education, but they are factual!

First: There are over 700 individual school districts, thus there are over 700 teacher contracts. I must point out there is this “thing” called the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law. It states (in effect) that an old contract stays in existence until the new one is ratified, thus normally a union will not ratify any contract that gives them less than what they already have. Each school district has their own contract; they must be looked upon individually. At the present time, I can only comment of the Lewiston-Porter Teacher Contract. Understanding current economic conditions, the Lew-Port teachers, in a very responsible action did agree to several changes, such as pay adjustments, and the agreement to pay part of their health insurance costs. They did not have to — but they did. They should be praised and not grouped with others that may not have been as conscientious.

Second: Teacher pensions; yes I get one, but the idea that it is under local control is false. Local school boards are mandated by the state to do what we must do. The state Legislature has made adjustments to the plan — we are now in step 6, but these changes will come slowly. I have heard individuals say ‘if you declared bankruptcy like some companies have, you could drop their pensions.’ This is against state law, this is not a private company. You must look to the state for this relief, and change the state constitution.

Third: The cap cannot force a reexamination of teacher contracts. As mentioned before there is the Triborough Amendment. It does make districts cut a lot of the things that make a school like Lew-Port great. We cannot, nor want, to cut core curriculum like reading, history, math, and science. We are forced to look at cutting some our interesting, creative, and effective programs which are not mandated. Yes, that includes sports, music, art, AP courses and more. Believe me there are sleepless nights when these things must be done.

The public seems to think that our schools are still back in the one-room buildings with a wood stove. More progressive individuals may look back to their own school years and assume that things have not changed from when they were in school.

A generation or so ago, people like my mother went to a “normal” school”; a two-year teacher training program that certified them to teach. Now teachers must be highly trained, with not only a degree from a four-year college, but also a master’s degree that likely with take another two years. While, I, and many of my generation, got their education under the GI Bill, when costs were low, today’s young people are running up astronomically high student loans.

In the 1980s, as a teacher, I was one of a group that was able to take additional training on a computer. Wow, have things changed quickly. Now the State Education Department is mandating that many tests be taken on a computer. This requires that school districts have enough computers available at one time so all students in a grade level can take the test. Costs continue to increase with one unfunded mandate after another. Schools have changed to the point that even I have a tough time recognizing them.

If you want to cut taxes, go to the governor, the state Legislature and the State Education Department and yes, even the federal government too, and tell them to cut a bunch of the programs that they mandate. Cut all of the mandated testing that is making students sick. Discontinue the mandated teacher evaluation program that has created a mountain of paperwork and hours of both teacher and staff time. I could go on, the list is long. Find out where the real problems lie.

If you are seriously concerned about the school budget, get involved, come to our budget workshops, sit down with staff or board members and really find out. There is an old adage “Do not just find fault, find a remedy.”

Keith M. Fox is a Lewiston resident.

Keith M. Fox is a Lewiston resident.