School Budget Myths

There was a lot of misinformation floating around about the May 15 vote for the 2012-2013 Oneonta School Budget, and especially about Proposition 1, which would have maintained four elementary schools.

For results and reflections, see Oneonta and Center Street School, 1981-2012.

Some big myths:

1. Proposition 1 only affects Center Street. False. Not passing Proposition 1 would indeed shutter Center Street school. That means over 200 children who will need to be placed in the three other schools. That means potential teacher and other staff realignment across the district. The long-term effects on educational quality are unclear.

2. Center Street enrollments are declining. False. Center Street enrollments were actually lower 20 years ago, when Principal Cook began in the early 1990s. Back then there were only single sections at every grade level, shared services, and enrollments of below 200. It is true that there has been enrollment decline across the district, but Center Street currently has thriving enrollments, with some single-section and some double-section grade levels.

3. Central Oneonta is only student rentals; it is not attractive for families. False. Central Oneonta neighborhoods feature a healthy mix of single-family houses, apartments, college rentals, and multi-use spaces. A well-maintained home in central Oneonta is highly valued and sells quickly if priced for the market.

4. Center Street facilities are outdated. False. Previous school boards purchased additional land to support two modern playgrounds and wired the building for high-speed internet access. Every classroom is equipped with a SmartBoard. The building is one of the most energy-efficient in the district. It is an historic gem, but it is also modernized and meticulously maintained. Parking can be busy during peak times, but thanks to the high number of walking students, the safety patrol, and the vigilance of Principal Lewis, entries and exits are swift and timely.

5. Proposition 1 goes to building maintenance. False. 90% of the additional revenue from Proposition 1 goes to employing 20 people, providing salaries and jobs for those working directly with community children.

6. If we don’t close a school this year, we’ll have to close one next year. False. Voting Yes will enable residents to participate in a long-term planning process. School closure is not inevitable, but if it happens it should be part of a well-formed plan to deliver affordable and high-quality education.

7. Proposition 1 prioritizes elementary education at the expense of middle and high school. False. Proposition 1 does provide additional funding for elementary education, but does not take anything away from middle school and high school programs. When the tax increase becomes the new base for 2013-2014, that money could be available to support middle school and high school programming.

8. Center Street parents don’t like other schools. False. We have four very good elementary schools in Oneonta. We do love our school and many of us specifically chose to live in this neighborhood because we think the school is special. We have a very socio-economically diverse school and neighborhood, set in beautiful historic buildings. And there are very fine schools, teachers, and facilities across the district.

9. They’ve been planning this for 40 years. False. As of just three months ago, there was no talk of closing any schools. During the space utilization study of 2011-2012, Superintendant Shea specifically stated that there were no school closings on the table. The closure was announced abruptly and without public input.

10. A 6.96% tax increase will cost me a thousand dollars every year. False. For the vast majority of property owners, with valuations between $100,000-$200,000, a 6.96% school-tax increase would mean an additional $10-$20/month, or $120-$240/year. (Exception: Homes valued at over one million dollars.)