We have witnessed a period of contentious BOE meetings, underscored by unpleasant debates, alienated board members, staff and residents, reduced school budgets and repeated threats of book banning. Most of this has been under the gavel of our own Richard Sussman.
I've been tempted to write to Mr. Sussman. I want to tell him that he has shown continued contempt for the democratic process. He has used his power to cut off debate in a way that stifles the rights of free speech. And, in his zeal to ban books he has thrown a one-man assault against basic first amendment freedoms. I would ask that he read about Germany in the '30s and tell me if there wasn't a familiar whiff. But I won't.
Why not? Because, I have come to see that Sussman is not the problem. Is he divisive, insulting and abusive? Absolutely. To excess. But sadly for the rest of us, that's why he's there. I realize now that he is nothing more than the point man for those who oppose funding for the schools. He's their enforcer. The fox sent to guard the chicken house. Disruption is his mandate. Division is his purpose. Worst of all. He has been successful.
What is his constituency? I would guess they have no children to educate. Or, their children have grown up and left home. Possibly they live on fixed incomes. When they see increasing school budgets, they rise to anger. They must feel that they are being forced to pay for something they don't use, and for which they get nothing in return. But wait. Is this fair?
Anyone who has lived here for 20 years or more probably paid less than $100,000 for his or her home. Today, on average, that home is worth more than half a million dollars. Beside inflation, what has added to this increase/ Try services, such as the police department, and ... our schools. Last year Newsweek magazine listed Schreiber as one of the 100 best high school in the country. Not county - country; the USA. Yes, this does show up in your net worth. Families move here to get a quality education for their children. And they pay taxes on the increased value of their homes.
It's a fact; education costs more than ever. But, so does food, gas and health insurance. Our schools must buy up-to-date computers. As do we all. The school pays more for textbooks than ever. This budget pays increased teacher salaries - and it pays for utilities as well. So, is this a valid reason to punish the children in reducing the quality of our schools? I for one say no. I don't enjoy paying taxes. Yet I do. And I am fully prepared to do what it takes to keep Port Washington the outstanding community it is today.
By the way, I still do have a message for Mr. Sussman: Richard, keep your hands off my kid's right to learn. You are not the one to decide what my children will read. Dwight David Eisenhower gave one of his greatest speeches at Dartmouth College when I was there. He told us in stunning simplicity "Don't Burn Books." Banning is just the first step toward burning. Freedom is so hard to win, so easy to lose, Wake up.
Robert T. Wolfe