Saturday, March 26, 2011

U.S. Census, What it means to us

Through out census season, as some of us call it, we endure a constant bombardment of information, speeches, phone calls and the last step, someone knocking on our door.  Why is all of this so important?

The Census is a gathering of information that outlines the population through out the U.S.  It tells us how fast various ethnic groups are growing in the U.S., where people are migrating to through out the U.S., how fast the population is growing or shrinking in the U.S. along with other population issues.  One important fact that needs to be articulated is, everyone is to be counted, whether you are black, white, Hispanic or other, whether you are in the U.S. legally or not.  People should know and be told that information gathered by the U.S. Census cannot be used against you for any reason.  The belief is, some don't get counted because they don't want people to know where they live or don't want the government to know they are here illegally.  This is wrong, we need to count everyone here in the U.S., because if you live here you are part of the system which requires tax dollars to provide you as well as others with services. 

How does this affect us and why should we stand and be counted.  One big reason, the Census is used to determine the number of Congressmen a State should have.  For example, having a Congressman representing a specific area gives you a real voice in Washington.  A Congressman is suppose to be a direct connect to Washington, reflecting the views of their constituents.  Once a Congressional district gets to big this tends not to happen.  With the Census number of 2010, New York State lost 3 Congressmen.  Now some may think this isn't a big deal, but this gives us less influence in Washington when it comes to federal funding.  A lot of Federal and State programs are structured to use population as a benchmark for qualification.  If a specific area has a dramatic change in population, whether up or down funding also mimics the movement of the population up or down.

Although Columbia County basically remained static, when in 2000 the population was 63,094, now in 2010 the County's population has been determined to be 63,096, a growth of 2 people over the last 10 years.

Hudson's fate isn't so positive, Hudson had a population of 7,524 in 2000, in 2010 it has been determined that Hudson's new population is now 6,713 a decrease of 813 or 10.8%, the largest population decrease in Columbia County NY.

Although, this appears to be a small drop in Hudson's population, the affects of a drop like this will be felt City wide.  Hudson stands to lose Federal, State and County funding if the current numbers hold up.  This means, the taxpayers of Hudson will have to pay more for the same services we currently receive if we are to lose funding because of shrinkage in population.  One would think, that if the population is shrinking less service is needed, but it doesn't seem that way currently.  As someone who represents the 4th Ward in the City of Hudson, it seems our needs are getting greater not less.  It's because of all the issues and worries I have outlined above Mayor Rick Scalera, Council President Don Moore and I are reviewing the 2010 census information to determine what the next move for Hudson should be regarding the census results.  Residents of Hudson, all residents of Hudson need to stand and be counted, Hudson's financial future depends on it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Battle Of Education

As we have all seen, we are all going to have to share in the pain of getting NYS back to fiscal stability.

At the core of some cuts being proposed by Governor Cuomo is aid to our schools. What that means for most school districts, is layoffs or at minimum program cuts. As someone who believes layoffs should be of last resort, I fear most school districts may be unable to avoid them. Understanding this, I took sometime to watch the documentary by Geoffrey Canada called “waiting for superman”. Waiting for Superman, is a documentary showing how families who have little means struggle to get their kids a quality education. It goes into the school district and identifies what Geoffrey Canada believes is part of the problem why we have under performing schools, the tenure system.

Geoffrey Canada points out that after 3 years on the job teachers are granted tenure status. At the college level, in order to receive tenure, one would have to go before a board of peers and be evaluated on performance along with other qualifications and measures. In this process only about 1/3 of college professors ever get tenure.

Today, Governor Cuomo proposed a bill that would end LIFO, (last in, first out), which relies exclusively on seniority. Some are arguing that this would disrupt the stability to the teaching profession. As it stands right now, in order to fire a teacher that is underperforming other teachers, that teacher would have to basically commit a crime. Very few jobs have the same kind of job security as teachers, one that comes to mind is police officers. One of the problems that has come with teachers who reach tenure is, some, not all, once they get tenure tend to relax on their responsibilities as a teacher. Most of us, without naming any specific teacher, has had a teacher who would put the daily assignment on the chalkboard and then you wouldn’t see them until the bell rang to signify the end of class. In the private world, like working for Goldman Sachs, Microsoft or even Walmart, if you are amongst the bottom performing employees in the company your employment status would be tenuous at best. Thus driving home that work performance and measures are the standard, essentially making companies more efficient and effective.

This begs the question, why shouldn’t teacher’s employment status be based on performance measures, which is the standard most who work in the U.S. follow?

Also at issue is the bureaucracy of the school system. The pay of school superintendants is being questioned along with how many school districts are actually needed in any given area. These issues are going be an ongoing battle that may end with the consolidation of school districts to lower cost.

School budgets are amongst some of the most pressing issues facing our communities today. Questions like, how should our school budgets be funded? should a cap be put on our school budgets? should smaller school districts be forced to consolidate?

One thing is clear, as taxes rise and employment opportunities continue to shrink people are going to scrutinize where every penny of their tax dollars are being spent. At the rate we are going, using the State of Wisconsin as an example, battles are going to be fought over pension obligations, healthcare obligations and how school budgets are funded.

I for one believe a start would be to extend the millionaire’s tax. I would be willing to compermize increasing the minimum threshold level to a salary of maybe something like $500,000 or more, but that is a debate point, getting rid of the tax should not be a option. Also, the current method of funding school budgets through property tax is broken and it needs to be addressed in the very near future. I think regarding this issue, everything should be on the table, from a grocery tax to an income tax. However it is decided to address this problem, it needs to be modeled to include a greater portion of the population instead of putting the heft of the financial burden on homeowners.

Our schools and the quality of education for our children is a battle that will not end anytime soon. In order to keep pace with emerging countries, we need to do more with less.