Oops! They did it again.
Perhaps it’s because they think it’s enough to hold the line on property taxes each year. Perhaps it’s because they’re nearly unaccountable to the public because so few voters turn out for school board elections. Or perhaps it’s because they’re part of a society that has simply forgotten how to save and live within its means.
Whatever the reason, members of the Niagara Falls Board of Education last week squandered an opportunity to put their house in fiscal order. Instead of thinking rationally, they took the drunken sailor route and rehired 31 of the employees that had been laid off earlier in the year. And officials say all of the 53 terminated workers could be back in their positions by the end of the summer.
Once the state budget was passed, it was clear that the Falls district would receive more state aid than anticipated. So, did the board come up with a well-thought out plan that would balance the immediate needs of the students with the long-term need for fiscal stability? Of course not.
“We spent every dime we had,” said board member Russell Petrozzi. He said he was going to vote in favor of saving some of the surplus but changed his mind when he discovered there might be another increase in state aid next year.
So this is what it’s come to. The people in charge of educating Niagara Falls’ children acting like they’re on welfare. Might as well blow it now rather than save it. The truck from Albany will drive up with even more cash next year, so let’s burn what we have now.
The board and Schools Superintendent Carmen Granto will point to the fact that there has been no school property tax increase in the city since Ronald Reagan was president. That’s fine, but a lot has changed in the Cataract City since the Great Communicator lived in the White House.
The city’s population has plummeted and is expected to dip below 50,000 in the near future; fewer kids to educate. And the load on that truck bringing cash from Albany keeps getting heavier. So why haven’t property taxes gone down? Or, at least, why does a school district with a $3 million windfall also carry a debt load?
The reaction from the representatives of the teachers was predictable. Union President Joseph Catalano said lowering debt and raising contingency funds are what auditors would recommend; that they only look at dollar signs, not students’ needs. You’d expect that kind of talk from education union leaders who hide behind the human shields of children when their membership is in the financial line of fire.
What parents and taxpayers should expect from their elected representatives on the school board is the same kind of fiscal planning seen in a well-run household: Watch the nickels and dimes, repair and replace what really needs attention and spend money on only what’s necessary.
I watched a segment on Friday’s “Today” show on NBC. It showed how recent college graduates are deeply and, in some cases, hopelessly in debt because of student loans and outrageously high credit card balances. Of course, TV’s talking heads then came on to recommend how the new grads can climb out of their newly dug financial hole.
I then read about the local high school graduates and their optimistic outlooks for the future. Will they be the featured guests on the “Today” show four or five years from now, behind in life financially before they even start?
And when you wonder where these people learn their spend today, recover tomorrow method of financial planning, it might be some of the same people responsible for the education system that taught them English and mathematics and science for all those years.
It’s a legacy I’d hate to leave to our children.
Dick Lucinski is the managing editor of the Niagara Gazette. His columns appear on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Oops! They did it again.