Here are the questions we wanted to ask. Many are with reference to the mailing most of us received a few weeks ago.
I.) Why should the disparate treatment of taxpayers among the component school districts be considered fair?
The Dollar amounts listed below are BOCES' estimated Tax Increase on a $100,000 home due to their proposed project:
- Brookfield $1.52
- Clinton $4.29
- Holland Patent $2.87
- New Hartford $6.46
- NY Mills $6.20
- Oriskany $2.09
- Remsen $4.15
- Sauquoit $2.00
- Utica $(2.08)
- Waterville $1.40
- Westmoreland $1.36
- Whitesboro $3.82
While we understand that differences in state aid and numbers of students sent to BOCES can affect rates, that does not explain why the project will result in a negative rate (a tax reduction) for Utica, unless Utica taxpayers have been charged for something that they won't be charged for in the future. Clearly, the taxpayers are owed a better explanation.
Additionally in this regard, while it has been suggested that New Hartford and New York Mills are paying more because they are the wealthiest districts in terms of real estate, real-estate wealth may not reflect ability of residents to pay. For example, New York Mills is not "wealthy" considering demographic information readily available on the web. Here are some stats from 2000:
- - - - - - - - - - Median Household Income
New York Mills: $30,993
New Hartford : $45,991
Oneida County : $35,909
While it may be true that NY Mills housing values are higher than the Oneida County average, from the median household income information, NY Mills residents are clearly less able to afford a tax increase than the general county population. This begs the question, why should they (with a median income about 14% below the county average) be expected to pay more than residents in all other component districts but one (the one that has a median income about 28% above the county average)?
It also is unknown what formula of the 3 available under Education Law §1950 (4)(b)(7) (i) BOCES is using to apportion the costs of its administrative and capital programs among its component districts. A component district's share of all BOCES expenses =
- (Formula 1) The component district's full property valuation/The total valuation of all districts.
- (Formula 2) The component district's Average Daily Attendance/The total Average Daily Attendance of all districts.
- (Formula 3) The component district's resident enrollment/The total resident enrollment of all districts.
II.) Why is BOCES expanding programs at its main facility when the county has lost more than a quarter of its population since the current facility was built?
If BOCES is expanding while regional population is declining, then it must mean (a) that the local school districts are doing less in certain areas and those functions are being transferred to BOCES or (b) BOCES is duplicating what the local districts are doing. The career and technical education portion is something that the local districts do not do, and was one of the primary reasons for BOCES, especially for some of the smaller suburban districts. -- No problem there.
In contrast, the move toward increasing the special education and alternative education presence at the BOCES facility is troubling. It appears to be one of the reasons why BOCES is building classrooms for core academics and other facilities that a 'regular' school would have. Why should this not be considered duplicative of what the local districts are doing? (New York State/Federal regulations for special education will not be accepted as an explanation because if the students were kept in their home districts they would already have access to these things.) These are things that the taxpayers are already paying the local districts to do and, regarding special education, are required to do.
III.) Is BOCES growing because it is providing a place for local districts to get rid of their more difficult-to-teach students? Doesn't this encourage laziness by the local districts? Long ago special education was reserved for the truly, obviously disabled: the blind, hearing impaired, and crippled. Everyone else learned in regular classes. Now it seems "learning disabled" is the big disability. But aren't these children part of the "bell shaped curve" that formerly were taught -- and succeeded -- in the regular classroom? Isn't the boom in special education really a "cover up" for failed education policies such as whole-language reading, constructivist math, and social promotion? In other words, aren't the schools ignoring their own failures by blaming the students, labeling them "special education" students? Why should taxpayers tolerate this? Why should we support this with more contributions?
IV.) Why would the concentration of the more difficult-to-teach students at the main facility not be demoralizing to them? Where special education students are concerned, why does this not violate the federal "education in the least restrictive environment" regulations? The whole idea behind requiring students to be taught in regular classrooms where ever possible was to prevent the "system" from using "special education" as an excuse to cast aside the more-difficult-to-teach students. But that seems to be precisely what is occurring with this project.
V.) Why should the taxpayers pay BOCES to further the education of teachers when there are already several venues in the region that serve this purpose, including Utica College and SUNY-IT? Why isn't this duplication?
VI.) Why is the public presented with a fait accomplis? The BOCES Board is not elected, so it represents the will of bureaucrats more than the people. When deciding on expanding its services, why was the public not brought into the discussion? Why was the consent of the public to an expansion not sought? It seems that BOCES, like many programs in what has become the "black hole" of education, has created its own need to expand.
Hopefully, BOCES will respond to these questions on its website.