School boards and administrators are in the process of generating the data that will be used to create their 2012-13 budgets. As we approach this task, we do so with the realization that not only have we been lied to, but so have our constituents. And the lies have come from the very people whom we elected to serve us and whom we trusted to do what is best for our children, our schools and our communities.
In the Northville Central School District, we believed that our governor and legislators were being honest with us when they stated that upon passage of the 2 percent tax-levy cap, a serious examination of the many burdensome and costly unfunded mandates placed upon us by those very same legislators would take place and that the result would be passage of many forms of mandate relief. We believed that our governor and legislators understood our plight and that they would stand by their promises of assistance in these increasingly difficult times.
Our governor told us that the answer to the problems in our state was very simple: Cap local property taxes. He told us that schools and municipalities have created systems of waste, fraud and inefficiencies. He told us that we have plenty of money in our reserves and fund balances, certainly enough to cover the shortages that have and will continue to occur each time our costs increase (due to the very same mandates that the very same governor and legislators continue to choose to ignore for fear of alienating powerful allies). He told us that despite having to cut deeply these past few years into staffing and programs that our students need in order to attain a "sound, basic education" as required by our state constitution, we are still not doing enough to lower taxes, and that, somehow, we must find ways to fix our educational systems that he deems to be subpar. He mistakenly but very publicly told and continues to tell the entire country that public school education in New York state is not worthy, that we rank in the bottom third in the nation and that it is the fault of the schools themselves, and unrelated to the loss of state aid and the unfunded mandates that have put us into what he believes are poor levels of performance. Then he and the legislators ignored our pleas to adjust the state aid funding formulas that punish the small, rural upstate school districts that are facing bankruptcy and instead cut our state aid by $1 million over the last two years.
We have done what was asked of us. We currently have one of the lowest taxes on true rates of any district in Fulton, Hamilton and Montgomery counties. Our three bargaining units (teachers, support staff and administrators) all accepted salary freezes for the current school year, as did our non-unionized employees. Our coaches and club advisers are volunteering their time to work with our students. Our tax rate stands at 61 percent of the New York state average. But none of that is enough to satisfy this governor. He continues to perseverate on the perceived flaws in the schools rather than consider the various solutions that we have offered.
And yet, we must go on because our mission is to find the answers to these enigmas. Our mission is to educate our children, to create systems by which we can deliver programs and services more effectively and efficiently for less money. Our mission is to produce students whose skills are not only competitive with their counterparts in the wealthy, overfunded school districts downstate and on Long Island, but also with the children of other nations that value education and support it financially and spiritually.
We ask only that you join us in this mission. Please attend Board of Education meetings (the first and second Tuesday each month at 6:30 p.m. in Northville), listen closely to the facts, ask relevant questions, offer productive suggestions, contact your governor and legislators to voice your support for public school education along with your objections to the injustice being perpetuated upon the students and public, and remain committed to educating the children of your school district.
Thank you, everyone.
Kathy Dougherty is superintendent of the Northville Central School District.