But Dont Get Out the Hats and Hooters Yet.
By now, you may have read of the astounding result in the recent vote on a $50 million bond for New Rochelle schools. In case you haven’t, the thing failed! And that is good news to the many who think public education is a fine concept (like the author) but who also believe that there are better ways to advance it than in the cunning and unscrupulous manner just employed.
The resolution: a puzzling construct offering scant explanation or context. The timing: an inexplicable (or better, unexplained) imposition on plans for family travel and religious observance between the Chanukah and Christmas religious holidays. The economic cost: an incredible accretion of indebtedness on a system sorely lacking in new or growing property resources to carry it. The homeowner stakes: added responsibility for debt-based financing (read: with costs of interest!) for repairs that in other towns and cities are regularly covered in annually budgeted capital accounts.
The claimed need for the additional funds seemed simple; roof and masonry repairs and window and door replacements at multiple locations, general electrical and plumbing upgrades and code and federal regulatory compliance. Questions were raised about the timing of the plan, with much urgent work already begun and nearing completion. The charge that 20% of the borrowing was destined for the soft costs (lawyers and accountants, banking and title expense etc.) rather than the widely illustrated mortars and bricks of actual construction was never addressed in the abbreviated campaign season.
A collapse of several tons of concrete at one location last summer provoked cries for improved maintenance. Reports of corruption among school personnel and shortcomings of vendors of goods and services added to the controversy. It seems the board imagined that with discontent growing, albeit unorganized, here was an opportunity to win gains at taxpayer cost, without the inconvenience and pain of changing anything in internal personnel and administrative budgeting and practices.
To many, the good guys won! Stated simply, an insular, tone-deaf, schools panel overestimated the somnolence of the general public voter occasionals and unjustifiably relied on the usual PTAs and public employee unions to turn out supporters of spending and special interests. The merits of the proposal and the soundness of the counterarguments certainly are worthy of closer consideration in time; a reform group critical of the December bid, suggested holding another referendum during board and budget voting in May 2016. In the end, a small preponderance of voters (1479 versus 1445) agreed that no was a better response than yes and so carried the day.
A forensic analysis of the New Rochelle body economic, if you will. If you follow New Rochelle matters from your central core apartment or Sound Shore or a north end freehold, good for you. You have at minimum displayed the requisites of modern citizenship; the recognition that in these parlous time, matters of some great economic importance are occurring in your backyard (or school yard, in the present case) and are deserving of your attention.
For many, this standard is too high. Some are legitimately distracted by the real challenges of paying for the privilege of living here. working for a living, keeping down a job, maintaining the property or leasehold, while beset with Federal and New York income taxes and staying current on the crushing cargo of school, city and county taxes (taken together with state taxes, the highest burden in the entire country; or didn’t you notice?) (Still, as you shudder at terrorist incidents and unrest elsewhere in the world, do you not marvel at the sheer joy of going about domestic life in such a remarkably peaceful and safe community as New Rochelle as I do?)
Others are diverted by the languorous bounties of cheap cable/internet/broadcast radio/TV entertainment and the finest dining and live entertainment a train ride away in Manhattan (New Rochelle only Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway according to the 1906 George M. Cohan musical). Others may find meaning in government-advertised/subsidized slots, scratch-off games, lotteries and private fantasy team sports. For such sensualists, is civic obligation and regard for the public welfare to be damned? To these uncaring or unconscious denizens of deficits by default the civically dedicated activists direct the most contempt. At times of municipal financial distress, desertion of the simple duty of voting in school elections and referenda pains those unable to carry the taxes themselves and others legitimately dependent on public assistance. A double whammy against those paying their taxes no matter what – asking only that others do watch duty over the coffers, and; other unfortunates who only ask that government services to which they are entitled continue without interruption.
Next time; to consider the dynamics of popular electoral management of public education. The attitudes, economics and politics that make apathy the norm and 3.5% of the population voting the new normal in New Rochelle!