Newsmaker of the month: Voting for diminishing empires
May 17 voting came with very little drama or surprise. By the end of the evening, all school budget proposals had passed comfortably.
There was one exception in Forestville, which was the most narrow of all the county votes. The spending plan passed by an eight-vote margin.
What also passed, with a much larger result, was an $8,475,000 capital project to replace building roofs, heaters, replace boilers, upgrade parking lots, make interior and exterior renovations, and make energy savings improvements. As is usually the case with any major rebuilding effort that gets voter approval is much of the funding comes from New York state. Local taxpayers are on the hook for very little of the construction and building.
Of course, these same taxpayers forget they are the ones paying into the state system through an income tax. On a larger scale, the funds come from the generous lawmakers in Albany who local residents often are critical of for their lack of control in spending.
While no one can deny that the building improvements are needed, there is a problem in the overall scope of allowing school voters to decide on millions of dollars. Overall, there are about 450 students in the district. That means the capital project is worth $18,833 per student.
Worse, it allows districts that are shrinking in terms of students numbers to maintain an empire that may not be worth saving. Last year, Ripley voters — a district with a total of 230 students and most of those in grades seven to 12 being educated in Chautauqua Lake — approved a $3 million project. Again, a small district taking advantage of Albany funding to maintain an identity as student population diminishes.
When we as a state invest in building at shrinking schools, the question has to be asked: is it worth the investment?