By Adrienne M. Costello-Sulik
No school district is perfect, but for many years Clarence has been about as close as possible. For decades the town has enjoyed top-notch schools at reasonable tax rates.
The numbers speak for themselves. Clarence was rated second in academic success and first in cost effectiveness by Business First in 2012. Business First also reports that of 97 local districts, Clarence spends less per pupil than all but two.
I will be the first to admit that school districts can mismanage funds. I have been in countless classrooms in local districts. I know that layers of bureaucracy, ineffective administration and poorly allocated resources are real problems. But I can attest from experience both as an education specialist and an alumna that Clarence has almost always gotten it right.
Clarence schools were a shining example of how effective public education can be. Over the last five years, spending has gone up just over 1 percent a year, less than inflation. This budget deficit was created by lost state aid and a diminished reserve fund, so a tax increase was the only alternative.
Since the tax rate had actually dropped by more than 10 percent in the last five years, a 9.8 percent increase would still have resulted in lower rates than residents were paying five years ago. The voices of reason were drowned out by the loud and costly campaign of an outside special interest group, “Americans for Prosperity,” which saw an opportunity to make a political point.
Make no mistake; AFP isn’t just committed to keeping budgets within the caps; it actively advocates for the abolition of public education. With manipulative mailers and a few disingenuous talking points, AFP hammered its message into the minds of many well-meaning residents who mistakenly thought that school spending was out of control, leading them to believe that a “no” vote was the fiscally responsible choice.
It was dishonest and shameful, and divided a community that has always prided itself on the quality of its schools. It is ironic and sad that AFP’s campaign pitted seniors against students, as most seniors probably don’t realize AFP also advocates the dismantling of Social Security.
In recent years, the Clarence schools have seen drastic reductions in music and art programs. Because of the failed budget, we’re now losing dozens of beloved teachers, freshman sports, half of all clubs, teachers aides, a guidance counselor, a curriculum director and the last district social worker.
The community must come together again to vote on a revised budget on June 18. If this budget does not pass, we would lose much more. Please visit keepclarenceschoolsgreat.com for more information.
Adrienne M. Costello-Sulik, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English education at SUNY Buffalo State.