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State Must Slow Unsustainable Growth In School Spending

On Tuesday, thousands of voters will go to the polls to approve school budgets and elect school board members.

Individually, there is little wrong with the budgets that voters will be voting on. Several don’t raise local property taxes at all, while others raise taxes token amounts.

Cumulatively, however, the amount of money being spent on education in our county is mind-blowing. Chautauqua County school districts, plus Gowanda and Randolph in Cattaraugus County, will spend a combined $501,989,221 next year if voters approve all 20 public school budgets. That half a billion dollars comes out to $24,929.94 per student, an increase of $963.90 per pupil.

It’s hard to fault local school districts for accepting the money the state is giving them each year. Would you make serious changes to the way you operate if your parents were paying three quarters of your bills? And it’s difficult to fault local taxpayers for approving school budgets that use aren’t increasing local taxes by very much.

But it’s hard to look at that half a billion dollar price tag to educate Chautauqua County’s children and not shake one’s head in bewilderment at the fact that we’re spending more money than ever to educate fewer children than ever in our county. It’s hard not to think of that $500 million and wonder what happens when the state goes through another economic downturn that kills the money tree. It’s happened twice in the past 20 years, and it’s going to happen again. And, frankly, that $500 million price tag buys an education that isn’t preparing enough students for the jobs our businesses have available.

We know that fundamental change to the way education is provided in Chautauqua County isn’t going to begin locally. In our view, the state should tie some of its aid to programs that promote sharing of administrative positions, more tuitioning agreements and regional high schools.

Something must be done to slow down the escalating cost of education rather than propping up a status quo that is unsustainable.

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