Rock the vote
And while you’re at it, cast a ballot for your favorite school board member. There are a total of three choices in the city’s school district. Oddly enough, it’s the same three choices that have been on the ballot since 1999. They are in essence the same folks that have routinely driven –or at least presided over –the steady increase in school taxes every year.
But it’s not their fault really, the district assures. It’s the fault of burgeoning fuel costs and the price of benefits these days. It’s the cost of living increases, they claim; it’s the unfunded mandates. So take another 2.9 percent increase –the “lowest budget-to-budget increase” in eight years –or vote the budget down and face contingency cuts to school supplies, sports teams and the use of district facilities.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: There are no choices today at the polls. Not in Saratoga Springs at least. And across Saratoga County, the choices are starkly limited. Across 13 school districts, there are a total of 33 school board seats up for election and only 43 candidates. And nearly a third of those challenged seats are in the city of Mechanicville.
Ultimately, it’s these are the folks who will have their hands on the district’s purse strings; the same purse that levies the greatest percentage of property taxes. Yet finding candidates for the local school board is akin to pulling teeth. More often than not, voters simply rubber stamp the same incumbents into another term of rubber stamping the same budgets that reflect increases every year. After all, pulling a lever is a lot easier than actually running for a seat.
Who could blame them given the excitement and interest provided by the standard school board meeting? For anyone who hasn’t enjoyed the pleasure of attending such a conference, here’s a quick exercise to simulate the likeness: Take a bunch of morphine and start reading an appliance manual with reruns of Mr. Rogers blasting in the background.
The format at most board meetings is quite simple. First, there’s usually a student presentation of sorts; the type of affair when a bunch of third graders are paraded before the board to discuss their Odyssey of the Mind competition for 20 minutes. Then, anything that might generate community interest outside of the ‘aww…that’s sooo cute’ contingent is truncated down to a one-sentence agenda item that is summarily voted on without discussion. There is a brief moment at the end for the community to speak out, if they haven’t already been lulled to a slumber by the utter dearth of substance.
This is not to say the community can’t be active in such things as budget discussions. Often times, there are so-called budget workshops. At these meetings, residents can chime in with their disdain over the aforementioned increases, but are left with little respite, other than the usual excuses.
So instead, they sit at home and withdraw from the system and allow it to go on autopilot. Similarly, the state Legislature’s oversight of the education system is also on autopilot. Despite the cries of both homeowners and educators alike, the public education system continues to languish with inequities. The calamity that is in dire need of restructuring continues to be plagued by political dickering; discussions about charter schools and school vouchers.
Meanwhile, a fellow like this former Columbia High School student receives his diploma, but can’t read beyond the third-grade level. Now that’s money well spent. Increases would be a bit easier to stomach if New York’s education system wasn’t breeding the future Wal-Mart cashiers of America.
Still, the public continues its disinterest in the public school system or holding their legislators accountable for creating a ‘lesser of two evils’ quandary at the polls. Sure, they’ll speak out when taxes go up 10 percent or the school’s soccer team is disbanded. But until then, they’ll leave the grumbling up to others.