Spring Migration

Well, I’ve made a leap to WordPress so here is a straight copy of prior posts from my blogspot site:

The Architects of Decay

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” Harold WilsonThe consensus view — community, punditry, politicos– on the Amsterdam mayoral election states that this election was about “change”. The people not only wanted change but embraced change. If change were water, then our community wanted to drink it from a firehose to quench their thirst. Change, change, change!

The problem with the consensus view, of course, is quite obvious: people talk about change; people yearn for change. But when it comes to executing change in the City of Amsterdam, people recoil. And then, what truly never changes starts to take shape: the complaints, the whining, the pathetic self-loathing, and the incessant rhetoric on taxes.

The recent issue on Mayor Thane’s request for an administrative aide provides a crystal clear example of how to inter change. Mayor Thane made it quite clear in her campaign that her goal was to better market and to better promote the city. So now that she actually wants to EXECUTE her plan with her supposed mandate for change from the electorate, her plan fails and receives significant push back from the community. This should not be a surprise at all.

Our community did not reach its current state through embracing change or progressive thinking. This is the same community that cannot distinguish between expenses and investments; the same community who rests their economic development hopes on an organization with the words ‘Industrial Development’ (AIDA) in its title even though the viability of Industrial Development in update NY diminishes year-by-year; the same community who sees no immediacy to establishing a Web presence and who believes that marketing the city will cost zero.

I’d say our community detests change when it actually means real, substantive change.

If you read any literature on change, there is always pain involved in change and as a corollary, the higher the degree of change, the higher degree of pain. The other aspect of change is that some people will embrace change and others will oppose it. I think it’s time to ratchet up the pressure on the opposers– they need to be relentlessly challenged and pushed back. Their deadwood ideas, failed policies and ignorance of basic economics and marketing all need to be buried. This is the only way forward; the only way to get to real change.

Change will not come from framing every topic as an issue of taxes. The framers and their arguments have been around for decades to get us to where we are now.

If that last sentence doesn’t convince you of a need for a radical change, I’m not sure what will.

 The Irony of It All

From the Dec 21, 2007 Daily Gazette (by Michael Goot):

Amsterdam’s William B. Tecler Elementary School has been added to the state’s list of schools that need improvement.

A total of 444 elementary and middle schools have been identified as “Schools In Need of
Improvement” in New York state by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. A total of 106 schools were new this year, according to a press release from the state Education Department. Schools in need of improvement are identified as those failing to make “adequate yearly progress” on English language arts or math tests for grades three through eight.
“We weren’t expecting this,” said Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Ronald E. Limoncelli on Thursday. “This was a surprise. We’ll be developing strategies. The school has to develop a plan and we’ll be working on that.”

This is stunning coming from the same administrator and largely the same board who decided and/or supported the decision to close Bacon School.

The ironic part is that Bacon was listed as a “High Performing School”: http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/irts/reportcard/2007/20070531/HP-May2007.pdf

So a High Performing School gets shuttered and then we’re “surprised” that another elementary school makes the list of schools “In Need of Improvement”.

Isn’t it moronic ironic ?


 

Are You F*&ing Kidding?

A few years back I happened to engage in a conversation with a local realtor and appraiser on local home prices. I was trying to emphasize the importance of a strong housing market to the overall success of the community and to the financial success of the homeowner. I made what I believed was a non-debatable point as a matter of policy for a community with the issues Amsterdam faces: rising home prices tend to be good for the community. Or stated differently, declining home prices are not so good for a local community.

But to my amazement, I heard the exact opposite response: rising home prices are BAD for the community. WTF?!

I’d long forgotten this conversation until meeting someone else who engaged in the same conversation (not with the same person). I was stunned. Do people in our community really believe that declining or stagnant prices are preferable as a matter of policy to rising home prices? I think so.

I think I understand how this mindset can exist within our community. Please follow me on the tortured logic required to achieve this: If home prices were to rise, then less and less people could afford to live in Amsterdam. But if home prices drop then more and more people can afford to live in Amsterdam so more and more people will move here. It’s that simple– don’t you get it? Then of course there is whole segway into how taxes are too high and what we really need are low taxes and lower property values. It’s really simple.

And it’s really that stupid.

Yet why does no one care about property values or even worse advocate policies that run exactly counter to what this community needs?

I’m at a loss to explain why the same people who have fits of apoplexy when they have to pay tens of dollars more in taxes remain blissfully happy to lose tens of thousands of dollars in home appreciation and equity.

I just don’t get it.

 The Prophets – Part 1

I thought it would be interesting to look at what the pro-closers were saying last year when it came to rationalizing the Bacon closing. Let’s deconstruct the infamous Dr. Diamond editorial piece-by-piece from the Recorder, May 11, 2006, “Playing the hand we are dealt”:[Diamond]It was hard to argue with my son when he said he was looking at a house with $4,500 in property taxes in Pennsylvania. The house was $350,000. The same $350,000 here would cost about $20,000 in taxes. Then there’s the appreciation factor. When he asked me “If I want to sell the house in 10 years, where do you think I will get the most money, Amsterdam or Pennsylvania?” My son wins the argument.

I’m not sure what bothers me more– the condescension toward almost everyone in Amsterdam with our median home values of $100K or the sheer irrelevancy of this comparison. I don’t know why his son does not move to Greenwich, CT as the taxes there are so much lower. He could buy a home for $1.1M and pay only $4441 in taxes. It seems to me that we need to cut taxes in Pennsylavania too; I’m sure his affluent, suburban neighbors would be supportive of increasing class sizes to get a tax cut. As far as appreciation, I think Greenwich will return the most money. I win the argument.

[Diamond]There is no quick fix to our problem. Those of us who live here have heard the “bedroom community” story for the last 25 years. It is now time to ask when it will start. I, for one, am now accepting this reality.

Within one year, Supt Limoncelli’s position on growth reverses and counters Diamond’s prediction (sounds like ‘bedroom community’ talk to me):
[From the March 24,2007 article “Another GASD building project proposed”] …and many expect growth for the Amsterdam area in the coming years with many housing and retail projects reportedly in various stages of development.
“When you hear about the opportunities that may be developing in the area, I think we need to prepare for it,” Limoncelli said.
Buccifero also points out that more space will not only accommodate the potential for more students but also for more programs.

[Diamond]In order to maintain the education in our district, we need teachers, not buildings. By closing a school, we can hire more teachers and lower the class sizes.

[From the March 24,2007 article “Another GASD building project proposed”] …the facilities committee is still recommending that six extra classrooms be added on to Barkley and four each onto McNulty and the high school.

Oops, looks like we need to add classrooms already. So much for the “we need teachers not buildings”. The final sentence is nonsensical– the rationale for closing Bacon relied upon the savings from cutting teachers and having excess classrooms. So if you hire more teachers, you eliminate the savings; if you cut teachers then class sizes have to grow. These are mutually exclusive outcomes counter to Diamond’s statements.

The closing of Bacon will upset some, but I understand that it is for the betterment of the entire district and most importantly, all of the students.
It is about time that we play the hand that we are dealt. It is about time that some governmental entity does what is necessary to address the financial future and needed services that their community needs, while being aware of the costs which will be paid by the residents.


First, this does not benefit “all the students”. It does not benefit over 1700 elementary school students given they are bearing the brunt of the cost. It only betters, in a relative sense, the outcomes for secondary students.

Second, Diamond ignores the costs incurred by a portion of the district’s taxpayers. Namely, impact on property values; the impacts upon elementary educational quality as class sizes mostly jump at all schools.

Third, the costs as calculated by the administration and school board assumed they could predict the future perfectly over the next 5 years. But already they are adding classrooms and adding teachers. The minute you add teachers you’ve eliminated the savings calculation that they used to justify the closing. If you recall, the savings mostly stemmed by getting rid of teachers and staff. Once you add them back in one year later, it shows how wrong their initial projections were.


[Diamond]Supporting the closing of Bacon is what I and the vast majority of my patients feel is the right thing to do. However, the one thing that made my decision easy was a rumor. I probably have heard every rumor in Amsterdam over the past 30 years. It’s a way of life here. There is now a rumor going around about people that I have known for over 50 years regarding Bacon that makes me, let’s say, sick.

This is a perfect preface to smearing DeCusatis and Martin as he defends the Cinquantis and then supports Walrath and DeRossi. Why mention this rumor at all if not to infer that it is coming from the pro-Bacon group and their supported candidates. It’s one thing to cite irrelevant and misleading ‘facts’ but quite another to impugn your opponents.

So much more to come…

Financial Malpractice — Part 1

 According to my sources, the GASD school board received two competing proposals to list the Bacon property. Platform Realty Group submitted a proposal for $900+ thousand while Pyramid Brokerage submitted a proposal for $625 thousand. The board then proceeded to select Pyramid Brokerage. Huh?!

Time and time again, the financial talk does not match the walk. I’d like to understand how this aligns with the typical “looking out for the taxpayer” or “the taxpayers want us to lower their taxes”. Of course, the “press” will not bother to investigate this nor will NYSED but how many financial missteps need to take place before someone shoulders some responsibility?

It ultimately comes down to accountability– as long as no one is ever held accountable, the board and administration will continue to mismanage the finances and continue the downward spiral of the district.

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