Senator Young … Just Who Do You Represent?

I would have to say that I am very disappointed in what you recently voted to support. You have, for most of your political career, loved to pit downstate against upstate always claiming to be the lady on the white horse for the poor folks in the rural areas of Cattaraugus and surrounding counties. Well, your VOTE of support for the Senate budget clearly shows that this characterization is not true and you have no empathy for the impact that GEA is having on the districts that you represent.

Why should the schools continue to shoulder this much of the burden when you can find money to benefit the wealthy parents of non-public schools and charter schools by supporting $250 million for an education investment tax? Plus, $540 million to expand Pre-K in New York City … all of this while the GEA is still taking money away from the schools you represent? Of the 33 schools in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, 26 are projected to receive less state aid in 2014-15 than they did in 2008-09.

On top of that, it is clear that you support the governor on this tax freeze plan. The tax cap, GEA are not enough … so you want to pass more stipulations on what we can and cannot do. How is the second year of this grand plan going to work? No one seems to know. If you and the governor get your way, all local governments will have to consolidate and show savings to get property taxes reduced.

Since 2008, districts have been cutting back, taking steps to reduce spending, cut staff, eliminate programs and cut opportunities. All of this happened while the TRS (Teacher Retirement System) employer payments skyrocketed from single digits to 16.25 percent and 17.53 percent next year plus the ERS is now over 20 percent. As I shared with you in a letter I sent to your office, Ellicottville will spend less in 2013-2014 than we did in 2008-09. We, like other districts, have been responsible and have taken the appropriate steps but it is now time to restore our funding.

Is the goal of the Senate and the governor to force mergers? If so, then why don’t you be honest with the public and say it? You and I both know that you will never take that stand publically. What will happen to the quality of educational opportunities for students across the state in poor/rural school districts? I think you know the answer … more and more cuts, elimination of non-mandated subjects like music and art, no electives, elimination of clubs and sports. Meanwhile, the wealthier districts will survive. If you look at the way the GEA has been applied, it is the Robin Hood theory in reverse. Just look at the data that Rick Timbs, executive director of Statewide School Finance Consortium, shared with us the other night at the GEA Rally. Since 2010, the 33 districts mentioned above will have lost [about] $157,000,000 due to the GEA reduction.

Yes, the senate found $217 million toward GEA but in order to eliminate it in one year, it would take a $1.64 billion aid increase. Now I know that is not realistic, but why not split it over two years? The reason is, you and the others in Albany can claim you have a “surplus” and then can redistribute it in other ways taking the money that should be going to schools that has been reduced since 2010. Those in the legislature are taking credit for a surplus when you have systematically reduced state aid since 2010.

We had over 600 people at Ellicottville Central School the other night to rally against the continued GEA reduction. That is unprecedented in my 39 years in this business. While you did not attend the meeting, you sent a letter stating your support to have the GEA eliminated. ACTIONS speak louder than words. You have to have the political strength to stand up for what is right even if there are not enough collective votes. I had hoped your lack of attendance would have resulted in support for our schools when this budget proposal came out, but it is obvious that you were not thinking of us.

You often talk about the creation of jobs in our area and how you want to support and promote that through small businesses and creating a better environment to attract businesses. Well, we have lost roughly 250 jobs in the schools and those people paid taxes, shopped in stores and supported the economy of our area. There seems to be no concern for those lost jobs.

– Mark J. Ward, Ellicottville Central School Superintendent