Ithaca Times

Students Deserve a Better Example

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Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 1:04 pm

One hopes that former Trumansburg Schools Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra has a little more cognizance of right and wrong than shows in his statement on the Ilion schools website. If you haven’t followed the story, among the school districts covered by our papers, Trumansburg finds itself in a unique position this year because, in defiance of State regulations for fiscal management, the district has been keeping more money in reserve funds than allowed.

    Whether this practice came about during Tangorra’s tenure is unclear, but it was only discovered by the current school board in Trumansburg last fall. They have since undergone independent audits and taken steps to correct the practices that led to this fund balance bloat.

    According to a recent article in the Utica Observer Dispatch, Ilion school district is now in the same situation. For some in the two school districts affected, this is a good thing. It will enable the districts to keep their taxes low; other schools, which have been cutting teachers and programs, are faced with decisions to jettison sports programs, buses, more teachers, and delay repairs and maintenance while still having to ask the taxpayers for more money, because all the cuts they’re making don’t replace the losses in State aid.

    So Tangorra can gloat. His position seems to be that it’s okay to break the rules as long as the school district comes out with money in its pockets. Hello? That’s not your money, fella. School districts and other taxpayer-financed entities operate under strict rules about where the money goes, and how much can be reserved, to keep a check on their power to tax people.

    People lose their houses for not paying taxes. Elderly and disabled people, people on fixed incomes, pull up stakes from a beloved town and move away because their pension and Social Security checks can’t keep pace with the increase in property taxes.

    So taxes this year are lower in Trumansburg and Ilion. What if you already sold your house and left? The excess in reserve funds comes from taxes levied in previous years. The people who couldn’t pay in those years have already absorbed the penalty; the school districts don’t seem to be expecting any penalty at all for mismanagement of the funds. Tangorra is not the only school superintendent who seems to work on a model of, the more taxes brought in, the better for the schools. In this way of thinking, a school district is an aspect of the real estate market. Higher real estate values translate to higher tax revenues, which translate to more money to the schools, which then draw more homebuyers to the district to take advantage of the schools. If you play this out to its logical conclusion, the ideal school district is composed entirely of wealthy two-earner households with school-age children.

    Anathema to such a model are retired people who have done their bit for the common good and now just want to enjoy their retirement in the town they live in. They can’t pay the ever-increasing taxes, and their children are grown and gone, so they have only sentimental reasons to stick around. Who needs ‘em?

    We do. It’s just as important to keep people of all incomes and experiences at home in the community as it is to keep a diverse curriculum. It’s more important for kids to be able to go to Grandma’s after school than to get there on a yellow bus. Adults accommodating people of low income in the community is just as, or more, important than kids learning to accommodate people of different ability levels in the classroom. If we don’t set the example of how to live decently, then all that education- as current Tburg superintendent Paula Hurley pointed out in her speech to this year’s graduates- is wasted.

    Shame on Tangorra for his attitude, his practices, and his rotten example to the students of Trumansburg and Ilion.