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The Clarence School Decline Ends Today

14 Jun

I have written extensively about the Clarence schools budget crisis in previous weeks.

(Local AFP Activist behind Anti-School Direct Mail in Clarence)

(Your Concerned Stock-Photo Neighbors in Clarence)

(Vote “YES” For the Clarence School Budget on May 21st)

(Clarence Voters Teach Students a Lesson)

(AFP Takes a Victory Lap)

(Open Letter to Donn Esmonde)

(Unfair Blame and Facile Hypocrisy)

(An Education in Education)

(Clarence’s Teachers are Indispensable, Not Disposable)

(Thank You, Mr. Vertoske)

On Wednesday morning, the various factions came together to urge a “yes” vote on the revote budget, slated for Tuesday June 18th. This is without a doubt a win for the community – to end the fighting and come together to prevent further harm.

That same evening, I appeared on WBBZ-TV‘s “Political Buzz” program, which airs Friday night at 7:30. We extended the half-hour talk a bit, and that segment is now on YouTube:

Today, Business First revealed that the Clarence school district had slipped from 2nd place to 3rd. When I bought my house in 2002, Clarence was the number one district in all of WNY. Beginning in 2003, it maintained a decade-long run at number 2, behind only Williamsville.

Why did the district slide to third place? It’s not from uncertainty arising out of the 2013-14 budget, and it’s not because of the current controversy. The Business First rankings take several objective standards into account, including (but not limited to) the last 4 years’ worth of state testing scores.

As Clarence faces down over $4 million in cuts to personnel, programs, and services, consider what it is that makes Williamsville number one. After all, Williamsville is also a relatively wealthy suburban district just like Clarence:

“We always do really well, but always think we can do better,” [Superintendent Scott Martzloff] said. “And that’s why we are on journey of continuous improvement. We continue to examine what we do, why we do it and how we can do it better for the future”…We’re certainly very fortunate to have highly professional and dedicated teachers in the district who work well with all of our students,” he said. “At the same time, we have students who are generally pretty motivated, parents who are supportive and our community really values and supports education. So we’re fortunate to have that right recipe.”

While Williamsville is seeking the right equation to get excellent results, Clarence has abandoned its hitherto-similar equation without a hint of concern.

While the defeated original, 9.8% budget itself contained $1.8 in cuts, the revote budget adds another $2.5 million in cuts, prompting school board president Michael Lex to declare that the district is teetering on the edge of “educational insolvency”. By that, he means that the district is meeting its financial needs only, but is not meeting the community’s educational and social expectations. He bluntly explained that the cuts to clubs and extracurriculars, amounting to a savings of $122,000 in teacher-advisor stipends, will reduce kids’ college opportunities.

With the revote budget, and the over $4 million in cuts, the tax levy will increase by 3.62%, well under the 3.79% cap. The rate will be $14.65 per $1,000 of assessed value; an increase of about $39 per year for a $100,000 house; approximately $3.25 per month.

But what’s gone now? The High School loses Art Partners, Chorus Club, Community Service Organizer, Drama Club, Environmental Club, Foreign Language Club, Future Business Club, Future Teachers Club, Garden Club, Helping Hands, History Club, Interact, Latin Club, Media Club, Orchestra Club, Reach Out Club, Scholastic Club, Stage Band (Jazz), Summer Band, Technology Club, Varsity Club, Asst. Musical Director, and Asst. Yearbook Advisor.

The Middle School loses the Art Club, Assets Committee, Chess Club, Clarence Service, Drama – Art Club, Drama – Dance, Home & Careers Club, Asst. Musical Director, Quiz Bowl, Science Club, Show Choir, Stage Band, Strategic Games Club, Student Leadership, and Vocal Pop Chorus

As time rolls on, the dramatic cuts necessitated in the 2013-14 revote budget will begin to be felt within the district, and reflected in the rankings. Increasing class sizes, cutting social workers and guidance counselors, and eliminating extracurriculars and sports programs is exactly what Williamsville and East Aurora aren’t doing. Instead, they’re striking a balance while we lunge into the unknown, possibly dropping right out of the top 10 when all is said and done.

A decrease to 3rd place is the result of the last 4 years’ cuts. This is what happens when you eliminate the Clarence student enrichment program – the pull-out for gifted and talented students that helped to challenge bright young minds. This is what happens when you reduce the number of reading specialists to help prepare for English Language Arts testing and general literacy, this is what happens when you begin to devalue the excellence you have, and you assume that it will just all play itself out. Down-vote-arrow-237x250

Clarence is third overall. It is also third in science, (up from fifth in 2012), third in English, (up from fourth in 2012), and fourth in math (steady vs. 2012).

While it is important to lobby for Albany reform and mandate relief, and while it’s important to begin planning now for a potentially darker fiscal future, we also can’t lose sight of the fact that teachers are doing more with less, and we simply cannot scapegoat them into bearing the brunt of this meltdown. Not every household in Clarence is wealthy enough to afford a private alternative to cut public school programs. Not every wealthy kid with a mom and a dad is a good and motivated student; more money, more problems.

We talk a lot about running government like a business. Forget for a moment all the financial arguments about per pupil cost, administrative efficiency, and the excellent results we get for lower taxes than most other communities.

Instead, consider this: what business do you know that is content with third or fourth place?