Tag Archives: AFP

AFP Takes a Victory Lap

30 May

AFP’s Victory Lap in Clarence

It takes a lot to get me to join something. Between work, my kids’ school and afterschool activities, time is not a luxury. But I became a joiner last week. 

I have joined hundreds of other dedicated and concerned taxpayer-parents of current, future, and former Clarence school students, who have united not just to maintain, but to improve, the quality of Clarence schools. You can find us at www.keepclarenceschoolsgreat.com, and we’re putting our names behind our effort. We aren’t funded, advised, or otherwise working with any union, special interest group, or lobbying organization anywhere – especially not Albany or DC.

On May 21st, an overwhelming majority of voters rejected the Clarence Board of Education’s proposed 2013-2014 budget, which contained a school tax hike of 9.8%. Because of that defeat, several more dedicated, professional educators will be summarily and unceremoniously fired. The district is losing its last social worker. Several sports programs will be eliminated. We aren’t happy about this outcome, but we accept it. We’re going to make sure that the upcoming revote budget does as little harm to the students as possible. We certainly don’t see anything about which to gloat or cheer. 

Our group extends its thanks and best wishes to the teachers, librarians, and staff who will soon find themselves out of work. We know that budget cuts aren’t just abstract theory, but that they affect real people and their futures. Make no mistake – these cuts will adversely affect the quality of the education Clarence’s children receive. What is there to applaud? 

We had hoped that people would see past the slick propaganda, and would vote to maintain the quality of the schools for current and future generations. The schools have undergone many cuts in the last decade, and simply aren’t what they used to be. Thanks to prior years’ cuts, there’s no marching band, no enrichment program, music and art programs have been reduced, and with the most recent round of cuts we’re looking at larger class sizes and elimination of freshman sports and half of of the modified sports programs.  Reduced opportunity benefits no one. Where’s the good news? 

And when is it enough? While we should be discussing how Clarence can regain the #1 spot in Business First’s rankings, we’re scapegoating teachers and harming students’ opportunities. The district’s spending is well under control, and administrative costs represent 6% of the budget.  The truth is that  the district is already run efficiently – “like a business” – and we won’t ever cut our way to excellence.

But if the rejection of the budget and the loss of dedicated teachers and staffers had one silver lining, it’s that we’re awake now; energized to ensure that the excellent Clarence schools our kids deserve aren’t just maintained, but improved.

We think the schools are sustainable already; they’ve been sustainable this whole time. The cutting, however, is unsustainable.

As taxpayers, we demand value for our money, and the Clarence schools are the best value in WNY. We get Cadillac quality for the cost of a Chevy, and we won’t have our schools hijacked by a phantom group claiming bipartisan “concern” for our students’ educations, while spending tens of thousands of dollars to do them harm. Don’t presume or pretend to be on the side of the schools or the students if you’re not.

Above, you see another slick insert included with everyone’s issue of the Clarence Bee this week. It is a victory lap – gloating over the firing of teachers, over the reduction in programs for our schoolkids; cheering higher class sizes and fewer resources. Applauding a curriculum that provides fewer opportunities for current students. Who died and made our local AFP stooge the queen of the schools? What election did she win to give her the right to dance on top of the rubble she helped create? Look at that flyer – as if the phony bipartisanship wasn’t enough of a lie – she has the chutzpah; the gall; the unmitigated shamelessness to presume that she is on the same side as the taxpayer parents whose kids now have to make do with less than her kids had to. To say this is appalling and classless is an insult to appalling classlessness. 

By improving the quality of the schools, you protect your investment – your tax investment, and your investment in your own home. Great schools make a great community. 

We’re your neighbors. We’re your friends. We pay taxes, too. We’re awake now, and we’re just getting started. 

 

Clarence Voters Teach Students a Lesson

22 May

Perhaps we should retain the services of 20 year old Y counselors to “teach” kids at or near minimum wage with no benefits? Is there a way we could outsource teaching to Bangladesh? Should we eliminate music education, art classes, electives, and advanced placement – fire those teachers? Because all of the gloating I’ve seen Clarence school opponents express in the last 7 hours is packed with thinly concealed animus towards the teachers and their labor union.

The teachers. In this country, at this time, we demonize and defile the educators.

Last night, Clarence voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed 2013-2014 school budget, and elected two of the so-called “pro-taxpayer” board candidates. A tax that is wholly deductible from federal income taxation is rejected. The curriculum will suffer. Teachers will be put out of work and stop contributing to the local economy. There is no win here, and the school opponents’ gloating is disgusting and unseemly.

The most direct way to personal achievement and success? An education. The key to unlock a better future for WNY? An education. The reason why families have flocked in recent years to Clarence? The schools. A huge source of pride – at least until yesterday – in the town? The schools. First, do no harm.

So why did Clarence families come out in unprecedented numbers expressly to reject a crisis budget that sought to address a fiscal shortfall? I don’t have the answer to that. I’m just really angry and disappointed about it.

I guess I should be amused by the fact that not a single media outlet, except the Bee, picked up on the fact that the tea party astroturf group spent tens of thousands of dollars of outside money to defeat this budget. If AFP was so concerned about the taxpayers, they could have just donated the money to the district or maybe the band boosters to keep the music programs afloat. They could have directed that money to the Advanced Placement programs or electives that will likely be eliminated from the curriculum. But because AFP is about helping people express their frustrations over federal or state taxation at the students of Clarence, it was more important to spend huge sums on slick propaganda.

People complained about the teachers and their union, claiming that they were completely unreasonable and wholly to blame. Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the product – look at the outcome. We get (got) what we paid for. Our taxes in WNY are high, but Clarence’s are among the lowest. The proposed levy may have been steep, but the result still would have been a lower payment than the checks families cut in 2003. The overall rate is down even as budgets and property values have gone up.

But the parents of Clarence students didn’t have a massive billionaire-backed lobbying and propaganda group to help them agitate in favor of the budget. The teachers’ union didn’t send 3 slick mailers to every home in Clarence and a 4-page full-color insert in the Bee. Big, bad NYSUT has nothing over the AFP’s access to money.

No, the truly grassroots pro-schools effort was barely funded, relying on Facebook, e-mail, leafletting, and word-of-mouth. There were no big 9′ tall signs on any vacant eyesore properties placed in favor of the budget – only “summer portrait of a lovely grandma” was placed, and defaced.

And I suspect that the budget opponents did the defacing in order to earn free media attention and to portray themselves as victims. WGRZ didn’t report on the mailers that came from Long Island, but they did report on the supposed vandalism. WGRZ didn’t do a story on the consequences of this no vote, but did you see what they did to that sign?!

So, now what? Another $2.4 million in budget reductions will need to be added in order to bring the levy within the tax cap. The revised budget will be submitted to the taxpayers who may very well reject it again, in which case a contingency budget with no increase will be imposed. Either way, kids get shafted.

I’m obviously angry because I have a personal stake – I have two children in the system and we moved here for them. But when they leave the Clarence school system, I understand that it’s important to continue to maintain the system’s excellence (perhaps even to improve it) for future generations. Just because I’ve got mine doesn’t mean I will withhold it from you.

My kids’ – your kids’ – education isn’t some hypothetical or theoretical thing to be used as a pawn in a tea party showdown. It’s their only chance, and they should get the best education possible. Clarence just showed me that it doesn’t really much care. In unprecedented droves. Right now, my decision-making is whether I make this a personal cause or if there’s no point and I should just stop caring, move, and give up. The fact that the value of my property likely plummeted yesterday makes that a difficult decision.

But yesterday near the high school at Gunnville and Main Street, hundreds of students excitedly and hopefully held signs, sang songs, and urged passing motorists to vote yes on the budget. The voters didn’t just vote no – they really showed those kids! Because for all the rhetoric about how the teachers make more than doctors and drive to school in gilded Rolls-Royces and furs, the reality is dramatically different, and it wasn’t the teachers who were taught a lesson.

One of my (Republican) friends on Facebook wrote,

It is a shame that voters took all of their National and State tax frustrations out on the local kids in Clarence with this vote. AND shame on you parents with kids that voted against the budget as well as those of you that have already benifitted from this great school system. I know that their was a lot of you. F…ing selfish and stupid! This is the saying… Be careful what you wish for. Wait until you see what happens to the kids and the school district now. I bet you wish you could do it all over again. For $300-$400 (tax deductible) a year was this worth it.

In another thread, a current Clarence HS student writes,

As a student of Clarence High School I almost can’t stand to see the argument that has ripped this town apart. True, I wholeheartedly support the budget because it is my education and I have worked hard recently to try and get people educated on the actual facts of the budget. As an active member in the school’s music department and an avid participant in the electives and AP courses our school offers I am extremely worried about this budget because I know if this budget doesn’t pass these classes will be cut, my high school education will be highly deprived, the prestige of the Clarence community will go down and the number of colleges that will accept me will decrease. I know that it is now to late to change your minds but I’d like to thank those of you who voted yes and ask those of you who voted no what will happen over the next few years as with out a stabilizing budget this year how will taxes and the schools be affected. Staff cuts will run rampant and our schools will be reduced to teaching only the core concepts required by the state with high class sizes and an increasingly unstable budget so taxes will continue to need to increase.
That is all I have to say

Taxpayers? I’m a taxpayer, too. I’m also someone who knows that you get what you pay for. If frugality was the key to everything, we’d all live in a 500 SF apartment and drive a Smart forTwo. Being frugal isn’t the key – getting quality, value, and a good return on investment is what’s important, and Clarence schools excel at that. For one of the lowest tax levies in WNY, we get one of the best educations in WNY. How much of a school tax abatement did the town IDA give to a German niche car company to build a new dealership across the street from its current dealership? How much in school tax abatements has the IDA given in the past, say, 5 years, further burdening residents and – now – punishing students?

My wife told my kids this morning that the vote failed. “Why?” asked my 1st grader. “There won’t be a musical next year. No show choir, no voce” because the teacher will be laid off, said my 7th grader. They’re surprised and sad.

The huge turnout of no votes taught a lesson, alright. They taught the kids a lesson about lies, propaganda, and punishing them for daring to want to learn. They taught them that it’s better to load up on outside money, cloak it in secrecy, and invest in mailers and signs rather than schools.

Local AFP Activist Behind Anti-School Tax Direct Mail in Clarence

10 May

A spokesman for the New York branch of the right-wing group “Americans for Prosperity” (AFP) confirms that a local AFP organizer is responsible for sending slick mailings to households in Clarence under the pseudonym “Citizens for Sustainable Schools“.  No such group exists on the New York State Board of Elections website, nor is the actual entity responsible for the mailers identified on any of its materials online, or on the mailers themselves.  The AFP is a well-known fake grassroots (astroturf) advocacy group funded by Koch Industries, which advocates for conservative policies.  It is a well-funded special-interest front group based in Northern Virginia. 

Clarence voters will go to the polls on May 21st to vote on a 9.8% school tax increase to ensure that the Clarence Schools can maintain elective courses, art, and music programs in the face of financial hardships from decreased state funding, years of small increases, and legacy costs.  The school’s superintendent produced the following video, and had the courage to put his – and the district’s – name on it. 

The vote in Clarence is critical because the proposed increase exceeds Cuomo’s property tax cap, and must be approved by a supermajority (60% of votes cast). 

Chris Trimarchi of AFP New York denied that his group had any responsibility for producing or paying for the mailers, which hit Clarence homes a few weeks ago, and again on Friday May 10th. He directed me to Lisa Thrun, whom he identified as an “activist” working in the WNY area, and gave me her number. I placed a phone call to Ms. Thrun, and will update this post when I receive a reply. 

Ms. Thrun and her husband are quite active with AFP and other local tea party organizations.  They organized an Amherst anti-Obamacare teach-in with health reform opponent Betsy McCaughey in 2011, anti-Obama phone banks for AFP in 2012, and one of her LinkedIn profiles lists her as the local “Grassroots Chair” for the Koch Brothers’ decidedly astroturf AFP.  Ms. Thrun, as local chair of the AFP, is the named plaintiff in an AFP-backed lawsuit filed against Governor Cuomo over New York’s participation in a northeastern compact to reduce greenhouse emissions. Here is the first mailer that arrived in Clarence homes: 

 

Today’s version is very senior-centric, and contains great language about “open checkbooks”. Hope those seniors don’t have grandkids who might want an education!

How did I find the AFP connection? Simple. 

The mailers sent to Clarence homes, and the associated website are completely devoid of identifying information. “Citizens for Sustainable Schools” simply doesn’t exist, and the website’s Whois information is locked behind an anonymous registrant. 

Instead, I Googled the phrase “Respect the Taxpayers” and school+tax+new+york, which revealed phrases that were contained on the mailer: 

The thing is, the proposed increase is not outrageous, especially if it helps to protect the excellent quality of Clarence schools. A free and excellent public education is – or, at least, should be – every American child’s birthright. These things cost money – a good education costs money. No one doubts that an increase will be a hardship for some, but Clarence enjoys an overall property tax rate that is significantly lower than that of its Erie County neighbors, and part of the reason why Clarence has grown while other communities have not has to do with the excellence of our schools. 

If the budget doesn’t pass, it is likely that all bands and orchestras at Clarence schools will be eliminated, and all musical instrument instruction will cease. Those 13 educators will be out of work, having negative economic consequences. This includes the concert orchestra, symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, concert band, symphonic band, wind ensemble, 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade Band & Orchestra will be eliminated. Without passage, all vocal music classes will be cut from the middle and high school. All that will be left is the K-8 general music class – the bare minimum the state mandates. will receive ONLY a General Music class; the basic requirements mandated by the State.

On April 2nd, the Clarence Central School District has been recognized as one of its Best Communities for Music Education. Only 307 school districts in the country received this recognition.  9 of the Top 10 Seniors are music students. If the budget passes, the increase in monthly taxes would rise by approximately $11 per $100,000 of assessed value. If you own a house worth $200,000, that’s an extra $22 – the cost of a large pizza with a couple of toppings. Even with the 9.8% increase, Clarence will have the 2nd lowest taxes in Erie County.

For what kind of America is AFP advocating if it recommends effectively ending music and art education in schools? What kind of America does AFP seek if it demands that already financially burdened schools cut – with a hacksaw – to a barebones budget? At what point do we stand up and recognize that we invest in our children, and our families and our society derive a palpable, lifelong return on that investment? 

Vote yes on May 21st at the Clarence High School gymnasium from 7am – 9pm. The quality of our kids’ education, the quality of life in the town, and the town’s desirability are at stake.