What's the Point

Maybe it’s lack of sleep or driving all day in the rain yesterday to and from Boston but I seriously question what’s the point in even blogging as it seems to have no effect or possibly the opposite effect on the collective mindset.
You would think the school board having been chastised twice with a budget defeat by a small margin would take some time to reflect upon why it’s important to grab the voters on margin to bring the budget vote to the winning column. As I’ve pointed out ad-nauseum, a significant part of the reason budgets get defeated is that the board and administration act as if they are a separate entity from the broader community than an integral part of the community. So they do not engage the various stakeholders in the community; they’d rather push them away. Even worse, the rationale for such actions rely upon mind-numbingly ill-conceived  financial or economic rationales that if the GASD were a publicly traded company their forward looking statements on financials would be subject to an SEC inquiry.
Here’s a specific forward looking claim put forth by Mr. Walrath (Recorder story here):

During the meeting, board member James Walrath said he didn’t want the building, which is currently listed with Pyramid Brokerage Company for $325,000, to be viewed as a storage facility.

So the financial argument centers on potential buyers turning away from buying a museum building because the museum would still be storing museum pieces(!?). Think about how laughable a proposition that would be in light of the fact that the financial risks to purchase this building include a likely zoning change and the fact that the sale is subject to a public vote. But those financial risks– real risks– are ignored to instead argue that museum pieces in a museum render the sale less likely. WTF.
And Mr. Walrath, if you think selling a historic building formerly housing a museum with some errant museum pieces is viewed as a storage building, let me take you to Bacon school which in large part is a true storage facility with attendant graffiti and neglect. But then, what’s the point: that was a crowning achievement in forward-looking financials, real estate marketing and community building.
Really, why deal with this stuff. It’s a road to madness.
F’ing A.

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6 Responses

  1. madmirth says:

    Wow. Talk about a harshing of a mellow…
    There are a few of us who follow who are genuinely interested in helping the area succeed, to help all those in this area improve (organizations, businesses, individuals). If we let the naysayers win, we all lose.
    Keep up the good fight.

  2. P. K. Dick says:

    The school board needs to wake up and get in the game. The school district is a major factor in the ultimate success of this city. If they don’t work to build a good learning environment they will guarantee a long term disaster.

  3. F.George says:

    As a curious reader of your blog, who are the stakeholders of the GASD. It certainly wouldn’t appear to be the community or specifically the taxpayer.
    I glanced at a break-down of the vote and it seems the people of Amsterdam did support it 50/50. Had it not been for a smaller component of the district (whom apparently are tired of being taxed to death) it would have passed.
    How do you see the next budget panning out? And do you have an axe to grind because of the closure of Bacon?
    P.S. Frank Lloyd Wright was the “godfather” of architecture. What do you suppose he’d think of Amsterdam?

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      F George,
      When I mean stakeholders, I refer to the totality of the community: tax payers, parents, students, teachers, administrators, neighbors of school property, business, not-for-profits and other community agencies. I usually refer it to suggest that it more people have a stake in the school district than just the ‘taxpayer’ which is typically the way any school budget debate is framed locally.
      Next year’s budget will likely be much worse than the current budget: the district has almost exhausted its reserves which where used for tax reduction and keeping the tax rates low and the picture in terms of state/federal funding looks somewhat bleak so any tax increase — of which there is sure to be due to year-to-year increases in expenses– will disproportionately fall on the taxpayer. IMHO the funding for schools as a property tax funded public good needs reform at the state level; next year will likely create some political angst as taxpayers will be hit pretty hard and maybe meaningful reform of school funding will be addressed although to say our state leadership is dysfunctional would be grossly understated.
      On Bacon, I make no pretense of ‘objectivity’ as it impacted me and my local neighborhood negatively so I write about its impacts. While I try to move on, I use Bacon as a highlight of bad policy in the past and in the case of shuttering the museum as another bad set of policies with some of the same bad policy thinking. I also think it’s important to remind the advocates of policies that they will be held politically accountable for their decisions; I think that is fair to do so especially as locally we seem to have no institutional memory of past policy decisions and how they shape where we are today.
      I think it’s a fair criticism that I have an axe to grind as the closure was the catalyst for initially creating this blog and its closure has framed what for me is a common narrative of how policy gets made here–poorly. I also believe advocates of closure — from politicians to parents to administrators to the broader community — should be held politically accountable for their decision to close the school. In my view, the school district plays a vital role in the success of a community so it’s not just me who should have an axe to grind it should be anyone with a stake in the success of the community. So closing Bacon and closing the museum has broader impacts than just their local neighborhoods. I guess I’m saying I’m advocating for more than just my self-interest. Or we all have axes to grind.
      Interesting question on Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m not sure I qualify to answer the question but my sense is that he would be horrified at how we have neglected to relate architecture to its surroundings. I see nothing organic in how development relates at all to its surroundings –look at Route 30 development or look at urban renewal of the downtown area– but this is hardly a new phenomenon nor is it uniquely an Amsterdam phenomenon. If you think I have an axe to grind, check out James Howard Kunstler’s take on architecture and how it relates to its surroundings.
      Cheers

    • P. K. Dick says:

      The stakeholders really include everybody in the district. The school district is vital to the future on many different levels, from the viewpoint of property values to those of students and taxpayers. Unfortunately, the only stakeholders that seem to be driving the process are disgruntled taxpayers. The taxpayers seem to vote with the short-term outlook in mind. Any increase is bad so they vote down the budget. This is understandable because taxes are high but it is short sighted because investment in a community is tied to the perceived quality of the school district and in the long run investment and growth lower taxes. If our district is perceived as substandard – which I believe is the perception – then it is difficult to attract quality residents to buy houses. Instead the houses will be purchased by slum lords who will rent them out to individuals who have high needs and low earning power. This puts further stress on the school system and lowers the perceived and actual quality of education. I believe that GASD is trapped in this type of cycle of disimprovement. I think Flippin is frustrated because the school board is alienating its supporters (Bacon Parents and Museum Supporters) resulting in failed budgets.
      This is part of the problem. The root of the problem is the structure of financing schools coupled with voting on budgets. The finance system creates incentives to waste money – GASD spends 5 million on transportation. This expense is a low priority because transportation expense is “aidable” meaning the GASD only pays for 20%. Under these conditions it makes “sense” to close neighborhood schools to “save” money. Also, building construction is aidable at 98% – meaning that new construction is “free” while maintenance is at full cost. There is no reason to “waste” money on custodians to protect our investment. This structure is repeated across the state to varying degrees. The result is New York State!
      This madness must be ended by our legislators. Local efforts are futile.
      Having residents vote on the budgets is another mess. We elect representatives that spend their time and effort to learn the details and make informed decisions. Then the work product is torpedoed by the uninformed and disinterested. In every other aspect of government this does not happen. As an experiment with school districts this is a failure.
      High needs districts like GASD need more unrestricted aid to keep taxes lower and quality higher.
      All of theses issues again need legislative attention.

      • Norman says:

        Human beings are naturally short-sighted.
        Turn amateur elected school boards into advisory boards and eliminate public budget votes. Then have the state appoint superintendents of schools who are answerable to the commissioner of education. And finally, pay for public schools with state dollars and take the burden off of property owners. A lot of the irrationalities you speak of will be ironed out this way.

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