Regional school districts are asking taxpayers to approve budgets that will increase school budgets by more than $10 million - to a total of more than $400 million.
You're being asked to spend a lot of money on a system of education that is, at best, treading water.
History tells us many of these budgets will be approved because, on their own, the budgets aren't terrible spending plans. Seven area districts have a tax levy increase of less than 1 percent. Two - Falconer and Bemus Point - actually cut the amount of their budget. Even the largest tax hike, Sherman's 4.12 percent, falls beneath the state tax cap while restoring some positions that had been cut and also transforming the district's half-day kindergarten into a full-day.
These budgets will be approved because they are the best local educators can do under a flawed system that does its best to perpetuate itself year after year. Everyone remembers the gloom and doom we heard in January, February and March about education. All it took for the gloom and doom to go away was an additional $13,686,614 in state aid. It was enough to keep tax levies within reason, keep taxpayers from being too upset and perpetuate the system for another year. The additional state aid may have perpetuated the system for another year, but it doesn't come close to fixing the flaws in our schools.
Education officials and elected representatives expend much thought and many words each spring pontificating about our broken education system when the state Legislature is talking about aid to schools or the governor is talking about new education initiatives to be included in the state budget. For all that hot air, we still have the same broken educational system year after year. Spending goes up and pays not only for less education, but an education system that educates fewer students in Chautauqua County, too.
It is lunacy.
The changes that need to be made are at the top.
One set of recommendations that should be at the top of the education to-do list come from the state Association of School Business Officials, which include: creation of "Reorganization Incentive Foundation Aid" for schools considering a merger; enacting legislation to allow school districts to participate in regional high schools without merging; moving to a single vote by removing the need for a non-binding "straw vote"; moving back to an "areawide" approval vote instead of separate approval votes in each district; and providing incentives for the creation of community schools. We also repeat the call issued in March for a state aid policy that makes sense, that provides the investment needed for high needs, urban districts by letting high wealth school districts pay more.
We deserve a system of education that does more than tread water while spending more and more money every year. Let's remember this as we elect a new governor and members of the state Legislature this fall.