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The Effect That No School In The Ripley Community Would Have

A recent Editor’s corner (Feb. 3) by John D’Agostino offered his view on the public sector’s perception of the $16 billion deficit facing New York state. Quoting from his opening paragraph, “It can be summed up in three words: Ripley Central Schools.”

He went on to reference the fact that the Ripley school board was looking at a $3 million capital improvement project and he voiced the opinion that if the district moved all its students to neighboring schools, there would be no need for the capital project, and all taxpayers would see some benefit. I can’t argue with that logic, but one needs to also look at the effect no school would have on the growth of the very small community, where/how students would go, and how receptive parents might be about putting kindergarten to third-grade students on a bus because such a venture would require voter approval.

But seriously, how can small schools across New York state be responsible for a $16 billion deficit even if they all had capital projects? And why target Ripley Central by name?

Perhaps the issue of the state’s massive shortfall could be summed up with three different words, “cronyism, corruption and fiscal mismanagement.” Of course, I’m referencing politicians in Albany and New York City. Politifact, a highly regarded fact-checking site, claims that New York state is “the most corrupt state in the country.” That means there are people running the state that shouldn’t be allowed to play with matches. That’s the root cause of the state’s debt problem, not small schools such as Ripley Central.

No question that school size does matter. Economies of scale are real and larger schools may offer more electives. But small districts such as Ripley, Panama, Sherman, Clymer and Forestville play the hand that was dealt them. A merger is a historical strategy for combining schools, and unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, it seldom works. Ripley has tried five times to merge with no success.

Ripley joined with Chautauqua Lake, Brocton, and Westfield a few years ago, trying to get Albany’s approval for a grade 9-12 regional high school. The fine folks in Albany said “no” or words to that effect.

Several years ago, Ripley became the first school in Western New York to tuition out its students. Grades seven to 12 take the 18-mile bus ride every day. Again, Ripley has taken an active role in the education of students and school funding. Despite all those efforts, Ripley is linked to the state’s $16 billion deficit. Doesn’t seem fair, reasonable, or even logical to me.

The point I’m making is that past Ripley school boards took an active role in trying to address issues of enrollment and costs. Ripley Central has not sat back and waited with open arms for state aid to drop in their laps like manna from Heaven.

For purposes of full disclosure, I was a teacher and coach at Ripley Central for 35 years. In 2016 I authored a book critical of the previous school board and particular administrators, detailing significant nepotism, cronyism, and fiscal mismanagement issues. I’m very pleased to report that most, if not all, of the issues I raised, have now been addressed and corrected. The new administration, Superintendent William Caldwell and Principal Micah Oldham has been well received by the staff and community.

District teaching positions previously created to employ politically connected individuals have been eliminated by the new Board of Education. No more lifetime health insurance benefits for administrators; shared services where practical. Property taxes have remained relatively flat, and most importantly, the school’s educational performance ranking has improved. A total team effort by the young teaching staff, the new administration, and the school board. I’m proud to have spent my entire career at Ripley Central.

Jeffrey Buchholz is a resident of North East, Pa.

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