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School Budgets: Don’t Waste A Serious Crisis

Jonathan Drapkin, President and CEO of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress

It’s school budget time — and parents, politicians, educators and educational critics are choosing sides.

We’ve heard from Governor Andrew Cuomo (author of a two percent property tax cap proposal), NYS Senator David Carlucci (who supports it) and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe (who opposes it). Earlier this month the Nyack School Board presented their 2010-11 budget which called for a 2.9% increase, program cuts and staff layoffs. School supporters said the board should have raised taxes further to avoid staff reductions. With homeowners now paying as much as 70 percent of their property taxes to school districts, education critics countered asking “are there no limits?”

The business community is channeling the philosophy of Rahm Emanuel, who, as Obama’s Chief of Staff, once famously said, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Business leaders are saying that now is the right time to question educational spending in Rockland County and to re-examine how schools are being run.

Jonathan Drapkin, President and CEO of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, says educational “outcomes are less than desirable, the cost is unsustainable and revenues are declining.” Drapkin, who spoke to the Rockland Business Association last month,  called on educators and business leaders to have an honest discussion about the future of education in Rockland County.

Quoting Albert Einstein, Drapkin says the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. “That is the situation we find ourselves in with regard to our schools,” he says.

The business leader says he’s a fan of teachers — and points to the positive influence that educators had on his upbringing. However, Drapkin is critical of unions who oppose reform because it will disrupt the status quo. “As soon as we try to have this discussion it is quickly labeled as anti teacher or anti school administration — and that is unfortunate,” he says.

“The state budget indicates that right here in Rockland the average loss in aid is going to be 13% per school district,” says Drapkin. “The response could be ‘Outrageous! We can’t afford it’ or it could also be “I understand that the state does not have the money it once did. So how do we adjust the way we pay for education?’ ”

Drapkin outlined a 10 point program for Rockland’s business community to help reform K-12 education.

  1. Hold a high level meeting between corporate executives and the 8 School District Superintendents.
  2. Create a task force to examine finances and methods of adjusting to the new realities, while improving the quality of education.
  3. Create a technology task force to find new ways to integrate information technology.
  4. Design and recruit mentors and advocates to support students.
  5. Conduct an assessment of the skills that business leaders think are eroding among new recruits.
  6. Provide assistance and advice in determining methodology for bestowing raises and merit increases based upon performance.
  7. Develop an Adopt-a-School or Adopt-a-Class program sending mentors into schools.
  8. Create partnerships and collaborations with schools to compete for the proposed $250 million grant pool proposed by the governor.
  9. Create an internship program for business to engage students.
  10. Design a Youth Build Program through a partnership between schools and businesses.

“We cannot be afraid of failure,” says Drapkin. “We need to let teachers and administrators be entrepreneurs. We need to celebrate and reward those that wish to innovate change.”

Drapkin says educational supporters and critics need to get past the ‘blame game.’  “Communities need to accept responsibility. And the business community must help lead the way to change,” he says.

Source:  Perform or Reform: The Time for Education Transformation is Now, Speech to the Rockland Business Association 2/17/2011

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