I can remember it as if it was just yesterday. Feb. 22, 1958, the real Washington’s Birthday – the day that my family left the Bronx and officially moved to Hicksville. My father put my mother and three kids into his 1950 two-door Chrysler and headed for the Whitestone Bridge (Throgs Neck Bridge was not built yet). It was a Saturday!
I can remember my mother was upset over leaving the Bronx. She believed that the Bronx air was better for us.
On Miller Road was a brand new Cape Cod frame house. The model of that house was on the corner of Woodbury Road and East Street. My parents were wise enough to have extras added to the house. A one car garage, cost $300; half dormer completely framed with a center hallway $800; complete cement basement entrance (with door and drain) $150; extra bathroom upstairs $150 (complete). The total cost of the house was $16,000 with a 30-year mortgage. They had achieved the “American Dream.”
The drive toward secularization in American public schools since the 1960s is most unfortunate because without religious understanding, it becomes difficult to comprehend everything from the Reformation and settlement of the New World to the force behind abolitionism and the great social reform movements of the 19th century that shaped our history. It’s also wonderfully ironic.
Public education began by the Puritans because they believed knowledge of the world was connected to knowledge of its Creator; that the Bible and other theological writings deemed essential to the individual’s salvation could only facilitate that salvation if the individual was literate enough to comprehend Scripture. The philosophy was a continuation of the link between religious institutions and educational institutions that hark back to the Middle Ages with the church creating the universities of Europe that later served as a substrate for the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries. Indeed, by 1660, there were more than 400 public schools in England and, among their kindred in the Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies, the literacy rate was as high as 85 percent. That’s a sobering thought when we pause to consider that in 2011 America’s literacy rate is lower than Russia, Western Europe, Japan and Singapore and that, indeed, many counties in the U.S. had a higher literacy rate in 1880.
Governor Cuomo has proposed to eliminate funding for 4201 Schools (for deaf/blind/physically challenged students) for the 2011-12 school year. As a result, Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf students, and those from 10 other 4201 schools, are in jeopardy! A child who is deaf, blind or physically challenged did not cause the state’s $10 billion deficit. It is wrong to abandon the state’s more than 100-year commitment to these special schools through which these students become productive citizens. It is also wrong to shift these costs to the more than 45 school districts, which send students to Mill Neck Manor!
Reforming our educational systems is important, re-evaluating the formula for state aid is just as important.
Governor Cuomo made some very valid points in his article last week most of which I tend to agree with; however these are not the only things that need to be addressed. One of our Block Captains gave a presentation to our B&B last Thursday explaining how State aid is distributed to our school districts and what consolidation would mean for Hicksville. Did you know that out of 41 school districts Hicksville has the sixth lowest budget in Nassau County and is ranked as the ninth lowest in property taxes. Most of this is due to our enormous commercial tax base.
We are writing in response to your Feb. 16 letter to fellow New Yorkers on education reform. We agree that New Yorkers elected you to be their voice in Albany and to make tough decisions; it is also true that New Yorkers elected 5,000 school board members around the state to be the voice of their school districts.
Few issues are as critical to the future of our state as fundamentally reforming our education system. We are prepared to work closely with you to make the necessary changes so schools can provide a high quality education at the lowest possible cost.
Your letter suggested four ways in which school districts can absorb your proposed state aid reductions without laying off teachers, cutting programs or harming students. The following is NYSSBA’s Four-Point Plan to help us achieve those goals:
My Fellow New Yorkers,
You elected me to be your voice in Albany and to make tough decisions. Few issues are as critical to the future of our state as reforming our education system.
Right now, we rank number one in the nation in spending per student, and number 34 in student achievement. Worse still, these poor results are coming after a decade of record spending increases in education funding.
Throwing money at the problem is not the answer. We need to cut the bureaucratic fat and champion reforms that will help our students achieve their true potential.
We need to spend smarter. To this end I have proposed a $250 million fund for competitive awards to school districts that have the greatest improvement in student performance. A similar fund of $250 million will reward school districts that produce the most innovative means to cut waste from the system.
Both before and after the enactment of a control period by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority on Jan. 26, budget reform and the renegotiation of union agreements with Nassau County have been the call of the day.
Accusations by various groups and individuals that paint the county worker as the No. 1 reason why the county has fallen into this financial abyss, are wrong and baseless. True, county workers are paid with public funds that are derived from taxes for the most part. That’s true in any county in America. But people seem to forget that the Nassau County workforce is a small part of the county resident’s property tax bill.
The Nassau County Interim Finance Authority or “NIFA” recently issued a control period over County finances. NIFA is comprised of non-elected and unaccountable individuals appointed by State politicians.
Many supporters have asked me if NIFA’s action is politically motivated since its board is comprised of the former Vice-Chairman of the Democrat Party and the political campaign treasurer for the former Democrat Presiding Officer of Nassau County. The Board’s statement that the board is bipartisan is hollow as the Republican member is former County Executive Tom Suozzi’s budget director.
My supporters and the media should know that while I am concerned that NIFA is politically motivated and partisan, I am alarmed that the architects of Nassau’s budget mess are now acting as its watchdog.
Our state is at a crossroads. After years of overtaxing and overspending, we are at the fiscal brink. We can continue down our current road to financial ruin or we can take a new course – a road to recovery.
Yesterday I submitted my Executive Budget and today [Feb. 3] I released a message about it that you can see at www.governor.ny.gov.
The budget is designed to get our state on the right path by eliminating a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes or borrowing. Just as importantly, it will transform our state’s budget process itself.
Those who know me know of my affiliation with various cultural, historical, scientific and religious institutions in the area. Why do I dedicate so much of my life to these institutions for which I earn little or no financial compensation and struggle with energy-draining chronic health ailments? In a society in which fewer and fewer people join churches, clubs and civil organizations, it’s a sense of duty. It’s the understanding that not only have we outsourced our citizens’ jobs, we’ve also outsourced knowledge and learning itself; our children and grandchildren’s greatest inheritance. We have subcontracted human knowledge out to professionals – scientists, technicians, theologians, scholars and academicians – who are not the reliable guardians they once were.
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