It is unfortunate that public education is the only area in which taxpayers have a very direct and immediate voice in supporting or rejecting tax initiatives. The pain we feel from an economic crisis created by the greed of unregulated banks and corporations can too easily fuel action that hurts community children, public education and ultimately ourselves.
The economic times are very frustrating and painful, but where and how should we push back? Is pushing back at others in our community wise?
-- Should we push back against a responsible school board and district that have spent many years developing a renovation plan for the unsafe New Paltz Middle School with ongoing opportunities for community input? This plan will most effectively keep New Paltz affordable by costing taxpayers less over the years than renovating or building later.
-- Why not push back by gathering accurate and well-researched information. For example, will the district's debt be $100 million as some opponents allege? The district now has about $24 million in debt, some of which retires in two years, more ($12 million) in nine years and the rest ($10.8 million) in 13 years. For the middle school project, the district would take on a debt just under $30 million dollars, factoring in state aid. This combined debt will be $54 million dollars, not $100 million dollars.
-- Why not push back by basing our thinking on reason and not fear. Should we fear the state cutting out building fund monies once the project starts? As a veteran SUNY employee, I've seen the state cut academic budgets many times, but never cut a building project allocation once it's committed. The district has also promised that it will not move ahead on the project without the state's share committed.
And instead more broadly,
-- Why not spend more of our time pushing back through our elected leaders and advocacy organizations against those economic and foreign policy decisions that have brought on and sustained this economic crisis, pushing for solutions that can bring much greater economic relief than the $163 a year the average household will pay to retire existing debts and the middle school loan. (See The National Priorities Project's costofwar.com.)
-- Why not push back by becoming more active advocating for school funding changes in New York state, such as the Equity in Education Act legislative proposal that would change funding from the property tax to income tax, to take the burden of school taxes off those who are hurt by them the most. (See NYS A.6009)
Yes, we do need to push back, but let's think about what are fair, honest and effective ways to confront these hard economic times.
I will vote "YES" for the middle school renovation because I believe it will best keep New Paltz affordable while showing commitment to the common good. I hope you will join me.