Funds, staff keep shrinking

For some, it was an unsettling tone. Cassadaga Valley music teacher John Cross and another 75 residents attended last week’s Board of Education meeting to voice their concerns regarding the elimination of a music teacher position in the district.

“I’ve done everything I can over the last four weeks (to convince the board not to cut music). … I don’t want to go in there and blindside anyone,” Cross said. “It needs to be said. I’ve been around here longer than anyone. I am not a public speaker, a political organizer, or a rabble rouser.”

His sympathetic story is one we hear annually at a number of districts. And Cross is correct. The cuts are not fair. But neither is the expenses associated with the Cassadaga Valley music program.

According to seethroughny.net, three music teachers in the district receive more than $275,000 in salary. Total compensation of the music teachers, including health benefits and pensions, equates to $386,000. That’s about 10 times more, according to published reports, than most professional musicians will earn if they are lucky.

Is that cost sustainable to a school district of just a little more than 1,000 students? Absolutely not. But if you do not hear concessions offered by staff members in the district to add another position, what other choice does the board have?

One option residents have is to defeat Tuesday’s proposal that goes before voters, which would give the board the option of revisiting its budget. The bad news is the board could decide to put an austerity plan into effect, which is 2 percent less than what is proposed and usually adds to the unhappiness.

No district in this county of 17 1/2 is riding a wave of optimism. Enrollments are declining, programming is suffering and expenses keep rising. At least Ripley – the smallest of all our county districts – did something about it. Voters there approved tuitioning their students in grade seven to 12 to Chautauqua Lake. It stabilized costs, lowered taxes and adds opportunities for their students.

What about the other districts?

It is more of the same. Bare-bones plans. Excuses of state mandates and fewer courses for the students.

Which gets us back to the reduction at Cassadaga Valley. It will not get better there – or any other local district in the future. But joining forces, as Ripley and Chautauqua Lake have done, provides some flexibility.

Chautauqua County residents, however, have fought being flexible for years. It is why mergers and consolidations of the smallest bits of government and schools have been defeated over that past 30 years.

We are running out of other choices.