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Wednesday, June 22, 2016: Surprise! N.Y. politician just screwed all of us

   Leading off today: I'm here to offer my two cents regarding New York State government -- though if we're going to be technical about it, I guess I'm figuratively offering that much though literally ponying up only three-quarters of a cent.

   You're in the same boat, too, because three-quarters of a cent is the approximate amount of money that every man, woman and child in the state was just docked to make Patty Ritchie, a Republican state senator from Heuvelton, look good to her constituents roughly 20 weeks ahead of election day.

   Ritchie proudly announced Tuesday on her Senate website page that she has secured a $150,000 grant to help rescue Oswego sports programs. Among the athletic teams scheduled to be cut in Oswego -- under a budget approved by district voters last month -- were varsity football, wrestling, girls hockey, cheerleading and modified sports, Syracuse.com reported.

   Oswego AD David Grydzka said the district has a priority list for teams, though he declined to offer details prior to Wednesday's scheduled board meeting. He said it clearly won't reinstate all sports, "but will go a long way."

   By way of background, Oswego's school district will be operating next year on a $79 million budget that cuts roughly 10 percent of all paid positions. It's largely the fallout from a huge hit to the revenue side of the ledger related to how much Exelon Corp., the owner of the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station, contributes via a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) -- a whole 'nother financial/political discussion.

   Oswego already dug deeply into reserves and raised taxes by nearly 10 percent to balance the 2015-16 budget. That sort of bookkeeping maneuvering is unsustainable in the long haul, so the superintendent (who made a cut to his own salary) and school board determined that the focus for the 2016-17 budget needed to be on slashing expenses. As devastating as the layoffs (including 11 elementary teachers) are on an individual basis, the job cuts saved $2.6 million and will make for repeated savings in subsequent years.

   Being an extracurricular activity, sports naturally and unfortunately had to share in the pain to the tune of $340,000 in cuts. (More background via Syracuse.com.)

   So along comes the local state senator to the rescue.

   "When the city schools slashed funding and Oswego's students faced an end to most school sports, I immediately went to work to find a way to help, and today I'm pleased to announce that the 'Bucs' won't stop here, and that Oswego's student-athletes are back in the game," Ritchie said in her announcement.

   "School sports serve an important role in providing students a complete educational experience, by encouraging fitness and health, teaching interpersonal and leadership skills, improving academic achievement, building community spirit and helping them to make lifelong memories and friendships. And now students and families can look forward to another season of action and cheering on their teams."

   Her heart might be in the right place, but Ritchie's head is elsewhere on several counts:

   (1) At the risk of stating the obvious, literally hundreds of school districts across the state have to make program cuts of some sort each year due to fiscal constraints. Many of those cuts are to academic programs in the form of reduced course offerings or layoffs that result in higher student-to-teacher ratios.

   When a district has to cut 10 percent of its staff without a corresponding drop in enrollment, perhaps something other than athletics should be the focus when new money is found -- especially when the money was found in the pockets of taxpayers. Ritchie's announcement is all about sports at the expense of nuts-and-bolts learning.

   (2) Oswego administrators made a decision and its residents approved it. So why are the rest of us being forced to ride to the rescue for extracurricular (emphasis on "extra") activities? Where's the $150,000 for Maple Grove? For Avon? For Canastota? For Johnson City? For Amsterdam? For etc., etc., etc.

   This doesn't quite rise to the level of taxation without representation since the state Senate, Assembly and governor's office all signed off on Ritchie's grant. But it's discretionary (i.e., "pork-barrel") spending at its worst.

   (3) The aforementioned Exelon is making a power play (no pun intended) for substantial subsidies to keep the Nine

  

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  • Mile 1 and Ginna nuclear reactors operating. As it stands now, upstate utility customers are going to get hit up for an additional $12 a month into perpetuity to foot that bill.

       No explanation offered up by politicians to tell us why all 20 million New Yorkers shouldn't absorb the cost equally cannot also be applied to the Oswego situation, which also largely stems from an Exelon issue.

       (4) Lest we forget, New York has long led the nation in school spending. This fiscal year, the state is spending $24.8 billion in education aid -- up 6.5 percent from the previous year -- and its per-pupil spending in 2014 was 87 percent above the national average.

       In her Oswego announcement, Ritchie brags about how she had previously secured a 9.9 percent aid increase for the district for the coming year and how aid to Oswego schools is up 48 percent since she took office in 2011.

       As we used to say in the radio business, that pins into the red on the bullshit meter.

       Anyone who's lived in New York for any substantial period of time understands that regular state school aid (as opposed to building construction and renovation) is very much formula-driven based upon enrollment and a few other metrics. The allocations to individual school districts are not affected in any meaningful way by rank-and-file elected officials in Albany. Those numbers are ultimately determined by how much money the three men in a room -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo and whoever happens to lead the Senate and Assembly majorities in between indictments handed down by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara -- throw into the overall education budget.

       In conclusion: Please don't construe my rant as anti-Oswego or anti-sports. I'm all for keeping kids on the playing fields because I understand quite well that athletics can play an important role in learning. Sports keep kids in school and (mostly) out of trouble. They teach teamwork, discipline and other values that will come in handy long after the students arrive in the workforce.

       What I am opposed to is the way we arrived at this $150,000 lifeline to one particular school budget and what the implications are for subsequent years and other districts.

       Ritchie's Senate turf covers 33 New York school districts. Do they all get to cut $150,000 from their sports budget next year and tell voters, "Relax, Patty will cut us a check -- using other peoples' money -- after the dust settles."

       Lather, rinse and repeat for all the Albany hacks running for re-election every other year and what you end up with is bad precedent, bad policy and bad representation.

       A hundred million dollars later, every district in the state is feeling the love and overtaxed property owners are feeling the pain.


      
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