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dear john

Over at The Corner, John Derbyshire has a message for Long Island taxpayers on this school budget vote day:

STARVE THE BEAST [John Derbyshire] I urge all my fellow Long Islanders who read The Corner to go out and vote down the school budgets being presented to us today. In my town, the budget proposal asks for an increase of 5.52 percent over last year. Did your family's income increase 5.52 percent last year? If not, you can't afford this budget. The only way to kill socialism is to starve the beast--cut off its food supply. Vote down the budget and keep voting it down, till the school boards get the message that in tough times, the public sector has to tighten its belt with the rest of us. Similarly, when you vote for school board members, vote for the ones who are NOT shills for the public-sector unions. It's not hard to figure out who they are from their mission statements.

I was actually going to rant about this today. Instead I'll just reprint the email I sent to John.


I used to be one of those people who urged everyone to vote for the school budget, no matter what. I believed that if you wanted to get the best possible education and school activities for your child, you needed the give up the extra dollars and make the budget pass.

No more. Ever since I had some inside dealings with my school district (East Meadow) and saw how things were really run, how board members got to be where they were, and how we are all being taken for a ride, I became determined to vote down the budget this year.

Just like lefties, the rallying cry of the school board and district is Do It For The Children! They send out mass mailings basically threatening that your kids will go without library books, sports and purple crayons if you do not vote the budget in.

I'll live with austerity. I'll go to work late so I can drive my kids to school if they cut the buses. I'll give them music lessons at home if band is cut from the curriculum. I'll do whatever it takes to make sure that my money is not going to bloated administration salaries, Aeron chairs for the district staff and junkets to Albany to protest the teacher's union cause of the day.

They want to put the blame on the taxpayers if teachers have to be cut because the budget fails when, in reality, it is there fault for not spending their money wisely in the first place. Do we really need all these touchy-feely self-esteem programs in our schools when kids don't even have updated text books? Half of our "cutural arts" program involves multicultural teachings and some of our kids are getting out of junior high without being able to structure a sentence.

I'm voting no this year.

So, there's my rant.


Like you, I used to vote in favor of the school budgets but have recently begun to think that maybe it's not such a bright move...our school district recently put up a FAQ page on their website and the majority of the questions posted were to do with the misappropriation of school funds. Did the school district purchase the superintendent's car, are the night janitors being paid a full-time wage with benefits even though they're only working four hours, is it true that seven of the school office workers are siblings or inlaws of the superintendent and are making 30% above the average wage in their field...

In the meantime, we're hounded by the Flyer Brigade who tell us things like there will no longer be advanced math classes or bus routes offered.

The part about it that really pisses me off is that the budget cuts won't come from, say, the office furniture or car allowance budget, but rather from supplies, teaching staff and bus service.

One particular gloom and doom scenario outlined for us was that three entire schools in the district would have to be shut down and those students would be reassigned to different schools with the projection of students per classroom spiking to 45 kids for every one teacher and part-time aide.

Oooh, you've put me in a mood to rant now, too.

Hello Michelle--my name's Sean, I discovered you through Treacher, Parrott and Sherman, I disagree with you on this issue, and I posted about it on my blog. How's that for a fine how-do-you-do?


Take care,

This is a difficult issue. I believe in the idea of public schools. A strong public school system is one of the things that makes this country special. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who thinks that public schools are a socialist construct needs to take a trip to North Korea so they can experience the real thing.

However, our public schools do have serious problems. Some are of their own making, some are not. It's a fact that fears of desegregation led many people to move to the suburbs, seriously weakening the funding base of many of the large school districts. That started a downward spiral that continues to this day. It's also true that many school districts are seriously mis-managed. Administration costs are frequently over-bloated, and school boards often seem incapable of doing the right thing. I voted against funding measures for my own district at times in the past, feeling I was forced to do so due to egregious mis-management and promises broken by the administrators.

I have no patience with the folks who want to make the school funding issue into an anti-union crusade. The problem with the idea of having merit pay for teachers is that any scheme you devise for doling out pay increases will reward those who figure out how to score well against whatever measurable criteria you establish. It will not reward the good teachers, because much of what makes a good teacher is not quantifiable. With any sort of merit pay plan for teachers, you end up rewarding either political skills or the ability to look good against easily measured standards that are less important than those which cannot be objectively measured.

So, I guess I would say to go ahead and vote against the funding issue if you feel you must, but try not to generalize the specific problems in your district into hostility for the public school system at large. If we allow it to be destroyed in favor of some sort of privatized scheme, our society will be immeasurably weakened and we will inevitably move toward increased stratification along the European model - not a desirable fate.

Not for, not against. Since I don't live in your area I'm not a party to the news.
Just remember that regardless of how you vote, they will still buy the chairs, increase admin salaries, and fund jaunts for themselves.
The only real way to make a change is to vote out the school board who makes the budget and replace them with honest people.

Voting the school board out and attending those awful, boring school board meetings was the only way to change things in my (Jersey) town.. In California, perpetually underfunded schools cut costs by having overcrowded classes & few supplies (the bureaucracy remained intact), Budget cuts donít seem to change things for the better, but voting the bums out, and shouting them down at meetings (politely, of course) does.

Good for you 'Chelle!
I like talk of local politics... that's the stuff that affects us directly.

And well, when you tear a new hole in some assclown, fund-missappropriating beaurocRAT, it makes me feel... well, naughty inside. :0)


I meant to spell it: "Chele"...

Please don't hurt me.

Dear Natalie,

When you wrote that:

--- The part about it that really pisses me off is that the budget cuts won't come from, say, the office furniture or car allowance budget, but rather from supplies, teaching staff and bus service. ---

...you were describing what students of government call the Washington Monument Defense. Bureaucracies threatened with budget cuts will always "close the Washington Monument" -- i.e., the part of their services the public truly values -- to deter such public reductions of their money stream. It works almost all the time.

Example: In the early 1980s, when the Customs Service was ordered to reduce its budget by 5%, they laid off all the agents whose job was to search incoming cargo for illegal drugs -- probably the only Customs function the general public would have approved.

At the school level, the things that the parents who bother to vote on school budgets most appreciate are 1) busing, 2) athletics, and 3) after-school activities. These things reduce the burdens involved in sending kids to school, and increase parents' time away from their kids (let's not talk too much about that just now). In New York, these things are automatically removed when a budget is voted down. It's as perfect a counterpunch to a budget reduction (or a refusal of an increase) as I can imagine, a textbook washington Monument Defense.

Near me on Long Island, there's a district facing an 18% increase this year. Why? Sweetheart deals with the teachers' union, which is insisting on large pay increases and the elimination of teachers' contributions to their own retirement accounts and health insurance. Virtually no one in America gets entirely employer-funded health insurance any more...except teachers. And this business of the district paying to fund teachers' retirement accounts -- their equivalent to your 401K plan -- requires no comment from me.

There is no bigger fraud in America than "public" education. Considering the abysmal quality of the educational experience -- I've had to spend endless hours disabusing my two daughters of falsehoods drummed into them by their teachers -- it should really be called the rape of the public under the guise of education.

Memo to me: must increase blood pressure medication.

We just voted down the school budget for the 2nd time (1st vote was in March). We gave them everything else they wanted on seperate line items; an extra million for teacher's raises and perks, school repair budgets etc. But when it came to an extra million for 3 schools, we said we couldn't afford it (twice).

The school district now says it will have to cut out art classes, music classes and the like. Fine - we have paid and paid and paid for the last 5 years, with no visible improvement on the quality of education.

It's funny how we are currently paying about $10,000 per pupil for education, but the district says it needs on the order of $11,000 (or more) to give a quality education. Show us quality and we'll show you the money - otherwise we will continue to vote down increases.