Fortunately, New Paltz public access, Channel 23, has been replaying a public meeting with the New Paltz school board that took place, according to the tape, on January 17. (I thought that the meeting was on the 16th, and maybe it was, but the tape running on 23 says the 17th.)
I say fortunately because it was a hard thing to watch, but by going back several times I was able to see most of the meeting in five and ten minute segments. I saw much of the action more than once, but finally felt that I had seen enough to catch the full flavor of this unusual encounter between the taxpaying public and the school board, most specifically the school board in the person of their CEO, superintendant Maria Rice.
Here’s the gist of it: Rice and the board would have the public believe that the board must choose (and they are in a rush now to make this choice as early as next week) between construction of a new middle school building or renovation of the existing Middle School. A new building is being ballparked at about twice the cost of a renovation, but neither is going to be cheap.
The predicate for propounding such a choice is apparently a study done about three years ago that said that an investment of $10 million dollars would extend the life of the existing Middle School a mere five years. That money was never spent, but Rice wants everyone to believe that the usual “crisis” is upon us and we must renovate “for the 21st Century” or build a new school “for the 21st Century.” I thought that I heard the ballpark figures as $30 million for the renovation, $60 million for the new building, but neither figure is firm. (Maybe it was $20 and $40 million, and not firm.)
First of all, why would anyone with a nose for balderdash buy the claim that $10 million dollars of repairs would extend the life of the existing Middle School a mere five years? Why would anyone believe that the Middle School cannot function indefinitely, and adequately, with proper maintenance. Whether some consultant said it or not, has no one around here ever gotten that sort of BS sales pitch before? If not, rent the movie “Paper Moon” on CD and take a refresher course.
So, the dilemma of massive renovation or new building is simply a false dilemma, clearly presented in bad faith as an either/or option for taxpayers. Dangled in front of all this is the usual state aid, which is more encompassing when the choice is renovation than when it is for new construction. “And just have a looky at all this Free Money! There will be a bond, of course, but looky at all the Free Money!”
But there is no third option, or at least the third option is being discussed as a dark choice, an unenlightened choice already off the table, and that third option would be, of course, to simply fix and maintain the existing building, upgrading it as schedules and funds and aid permit.
The big laugher of the night was the blown-up photograph of some pipes in the bowels of the Middle School held together with duct tape. That was the proof that crisis was here already. “See those pipes? That means we need to build a new building. Or, if you people aren’t that smart, we have to renovate for two years. And looky at all the Free Money!”
The bottom line for many of the folks attending this meeting was that the existing Middle School is a blessing because it is right in the village, facilitates walking, and allows students access to the downtown, the library, etc., after school. It has, in short, a treasured and immediate physical connection to the heart of the New Paltz community. The consensus seemed to be that it should be renovated and not supplanted by a new building that would most likely be built adjoining the High School on South Putt Corners Road.
I really don’t want to get into the personalities on this school board or to explore its approach here in depth, or the personality or methods of the superintendant. Suffice it to say that that is another ten-volume work that I don’t have the time for. I’ve been paying reasonably detailed attention to their meetings for a long time. It would take at least a year just to unravel the bureaucratic double-bind and group psychology at work with them. But to put it in the briefest possible terms: they are a disaster seeking to inflict further disaster on the New Paltz community.
The superintendant should find another community to bankrupt, and the entire board should resign. There is nothing that they can do to correct their own course. Then the community should choose a new board from candidates whose goal is to gradually reduce the school budget over five years, and who will hire a new superintendant, preferably from the community, who will be committed to that and to getting test scores up so that we have some proof that the students in the schools are actually learning what they need to learn to make their way in life.
And, yes, I think that the members of the New Paltz community need to be radicalized to force something like that, and would need to broadly realize that stealing from one another for the benefit of the school district is not helping anyone but school bureaucrats and teachers unions.
Before too long, most of the people voting to sustain these huge school budgets will be wondering why their neighbors have to sell their homes to people from Westchester, and they’ll figure it all out when they in turn have to sell their home.
The only way to stem this, and to restore some meager rationality to the school funding process, is for the current board and superintendant to resign and for a community consensus to emerge with a commitment to reduce the school budget gradually, over the next five years, and at the same time do needed maintenance and repairs to the Middle School.
Do I think that will happen? I’m not going to say no, because anything is possible if people wake up to the destruction that is being wrought by this school district, but the difficulty of even seeing the problem is something that must be overcome first.
Later: And, yes, in case I wasn’t clear about it, the reason that the school board and the superintendant should resign, and why the New Paltz community should demand that they resign, is the bad faith shown in presenting this false dilemma to taxpayers. Bureaucratic self-hypnosis is not an acceptable excuse. There is no way out for this board and this superintendant but out the door. It’s no great tragedy. It doesn’t mean disgrace. It just means out. You cannot act in that kind of bad faith and stay, whatever the excuses might be.