By JOHN METALLO
For the Recorder
Personnel in every school district in New York state are currently working feverishly to craft a budget which they hope will be appealing enough to district voters to get their approval at the polls this month. While these budgets may gain public support at the polls, we need to examine what these often ill-crafted budgets will do to the children in our schools.
The annual budget vote is a product of the antiquated, regressive and most likely unconstitutional method through which New York state and many other states in the nation fund at least a portion of their public schools which is through levying property taxes. I am calling upon the state Legislature to take action to eliminate the vote on school budgets immediately and to take immediate steps to move school funding from property taxes to some other form of taxation (there are many scenarios that are fairer than the one the state is currently employing). I am also asking citizens and every teacher in the state to join with me by contacting their representatives to demand this change. What follows should provide all of the explanation necessary for such action.
Roughly 120 days ago 26 children and school staff members were brutally murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. First responders to the murder scene likened it to a combat zone, and there were reports of veteran police officers and medical examiners becoming physically ill at what they witnessed in that school building. Immediate cries went up across the nation to make sure that we take every step possible to keep school children safe by any means necessary. Some of the recommendations included: installing bullet proof glass in school doors, providing school resource officers in every school, installing security cameras and metal detectors in every school, and in at least one community, safety was such a concern that it was recommended that school principals and teachers be allowed to carry concealed firearms.
Four short months later, it appears that this was just so much rhetoric and nothing more than a tempest in a teapot. In a move that defies logic and any modicum of common sense, last month, voters in Newtown, an affluent school community, rejected the school budget that included funding for school resource officers in all school buildings because the 5 percent tax increase was too high. I am literally appalled, mystified and angered by this, and I think that any reasonable, caring person would feel the same.
Upon closer examination, there is significant support for my move to end the vote on school budgets. The proposition for the Newtown school budget amounted to $72 million, and it was defeated by 482 votes. While Newtown has 17,231 citizens registered as voters, only 4,495, or 26 percent, cast ballots in the budget vote. Nearly three out of four voters did not even bother to go to the polls, and considering the total number of registered voters in the community, the budget was defeated by the vote of 16 percent of the registered voters. This vote is clearly not representative of the community at large and it should be rendered null and void in my opinion.
Citizens of the United States are not allowed to directly vote on the national budget. Similarly, no popular vote is allowed on the state, city, village, county or town budgets. The only budget which faces public scrutiny and an annual ballot in which residents are essentially voting to raise their property taxes is the school budget. Ironically this is the only budget that guarantees that every dollar spent will remain in the community paying the taxes. Who knows where our federal and state tax dollars end up?
Obviously, the school budget vote is producing results which are negative at best, and which in many cases could put the safety and potentially the lives of our children and their teachers at risk.
This spring, in Newtown, a second tragedy occurred when voters turned their backs on their schools. I guess this says something about what is really important. It is the worst manifestation of the adage that "money talks."
Rest in peace all of the babies who died in Newtown and all of the teachers who died trying to protect them. All teachers stand strong ... together ... continue to do the right thing for the kids. Residents of New York, do the right thing as well. Protect our children and our teachers. Demand that the school budget vote be repealed immediately.
Let's build school budgets which actually make sense.
JOHN METALLO is an Amsterdam native
who currently resides in Slingerlands.
He taught in Gloversville for 14 years, was principal at Mayfield High School and superintendent of schools in Fort Plain. He is a retired teacher who was also principal of Albany High School and an adjunct instructor at the University at Albany and SUNY Plattsburgh.