kitchen table math, the sequel: letter to the editor, part 2

Monday, May 18, 2009

letter to the editor, part 2

Letters to the editor are becoming a specialty around these parts.

I love the line about parent expectations & artificial turf.

update 9/5/2009

The LoHud link no longer works. Here's the full text of the letter:

Unfair description of Irvington voters

MAY 18, 2009

I was taken aback by the denigrating tone of your May 11 endorsement of Irvington school board candidates. The editorial betrayed a disturbing ignorance of local issues when it sniped at Irvington residents, caricaturing them as wealthy "movie and media stars," and conveyed irony that residents expect "... students to continue to perform with the best of them," despite an unwillingness to spend large sums for artificial turf fields.

The editorial's focus on dollars and cents misses the central point that Irvington residents - the majority of whom happen to be middle- and upper middle-class - have been rankled for years by a district administration that repeatedly ignores or belittles parents' concerns about the uneven quality of academic programs; implemented a controversial new math curriculum despite overwhelming community opposition; and has overseen the installation and replacement of four different middle school principals in less than six years. In this context, residents were understandably angry to discover that district expenditures have risen above $26,000 per student - the second-highest level in Westchester County.

Contrary to what was implied by your editorial, I am proud to be a member of a community that uniformly and vigorously supports its public schools. If we didn't, we would have walked away from these battles long ago.

Kathy A. Kaufman

And here is the Journal News endorsement to which Kathy was responding:
Our recommendations for Irvington school district
May 11, 2009

It would be so easy to lapse into assumptions when talking about Irvington. The pricey restaurants, the movie and media stars, the big houses - while taking stock of these things, the casual observer might easily conclude that the locals just throw money around. Members of the Irvington school board could set you straight on that one.

Twice in as many bond votes, district voters rejected propositions to spend millions to renovate athletic fields - this despite the pleas of so many disenfranchised (or so they said) young people. The last vote, in December, wasn't even close. A $6 million bond failed by nearly 1,000 votes. Additionally, from where this Editorial Board sits, it seems the public discourse over school funding here has taken on a harder edge. At the same time, district residents expect Irvington students to continue to perform with the best of them.

Among the five candidates running for school board, we think two offer district residents the best opportunity to reach both those aims - Tanya Hunt, the board president, and Kevin Swersey, a challenger. Hunt, a full-time mom and former press secretary to members of Congress, has been on the board since 2006. She knows the district inside and out; she was an active PTSA and Irvington Education Foundation volunteer before joining the board.

As board president, she has led the district through what doubtless has been one of the toughest budget deliberations in years. The $51 million budget before voters May 19 would increase spending less than 1 percent; taxes would rise 0.2 percent. Ten positions would be axed. Another ballot question aims to cut transportation costs. "I believe it is critically important in these difficult times to have school board leaders like me who intimately understand the complexities of governing and running a school district," Hunt replied to our questionnaire. We agree.

Swersey is a fine wine consultant. He has served minimal duty as a volunteer - it used to be that everybody running in Irvington had extensive volunteer experience. More recently, though, Swersey has worked hard on his own to drill into the school budget, pressing for answers, probing for savings and efficiencies, holding officials accountable. Whether Swersey actually "has the goods," so to speak, is another matter. In this economic climate, however, it is painfully clear that what district residents want is someone who will press for answers - and keep pressing. We think Swersey, better than the other challengers, would fill that bill.

Also on the ballot are John Dawson, a teacher in Yonkers; Paul Janos, the former Tarrytown mayor; and Robyn Camp, a lawyer.

A Journal News editorial

Robyne Camp won with 53% of the vote.

She was the only candidate of the 5 who was not endorsed by a newspaper.


Anonymous said...

For that amount of money, in a school system that small, you could close down the whole system and give each kid a $20,000 voucher to the private school of their choice and save lots of money. I'd bet private schools would open or expand to fill the demand.

BTW, some small towns in New England have used vouchers for about a century. They usually had an elementary school, but sent high schoolers to other towns, to the school of their choice. My public high school had some of these kids and a number of my college classmates had attended their local Catholic high school, on the same program.

SteveH said...

Our town is too small to have a high school, so we pay a fixed fee to send them to the next town over. I'm sure that there has been some talk about giving this money to parents to send their kids to other schools, but there is a big problem with that. Maybe 20-25% of our kids already go to private school and nobody (else) wants to support them. Unfair? Yes. If there had always been a voucher-type system, there would be no problem, but to do it now would require a huge jump in taxes.