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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rent or Own?

Cars and houses are normally among the biggest items anyone purchases in their life. (I would contend that the investment a parent has in the future of their child - primarily their child's education - is actually the biggest "purchase.") So, there’s usually an internal debate within one’s mind as they contemplate which direction to go – Do I buy a car or lease a car? Do I buy a house or rent a house? It’s a decision with major impact on wallets and pocketbooks everywhere.

However, public schools make no distinction between residents who own a house and people who rent a house. I’m pointing this out because someone anonymously sent me a letter questioning “Why the taxpayers of Green Island are paying for renters who choose to send their child to a private or catholic school?” My responses reference School Law, a publication of the New York State Bar Association and the New York State School Boards Association. The quotes that appear in this Blog today are all from this text.
First, children are all offered the same opportunities regardless of whether their parents own or rent a home in our attendance area. That is true all over the state. “The basis for free public education in New York state is contained  in article 11, section 1 of the state constitution, which declares that the Legislature ‘shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated’. This pledge extends to New York residents regarding private, parochial and charter schools as well.
Second, public schools throughout the state are required to provide textbooks for all children, no matter where they attend school within the state. These are not options that our school system, or any public school system, can decide to ignore, despite the current economic strain confining nearly all districts in New York. “Section 701 of the Education Law requires all school boards to purchase and to loan “upon individual request” textbooks, workbooks, and manuals, for example, to all children residing in the district who attend Kindergarten through 12th grade in any public school and in any non-public school that complies with Education Law.”
Another question presented by the author of the anonymous note I received - …”I see renters who have a bus for one child to travel to a private school. This cost MONEY!” That’s right. It does cost money. But, this is also another example of our district complying with state education law as cited in School Law: “Must a school district furnish school bus transportation for resident students attending school outside their attendance zone? Yes. Except as otherwise provided, the Education law requires that school districts transport students to and from the school they ‘legally attend.’”  In addition, we combine transportation routes with other school districts that send children to the same private school to reduce expenses by sharing costs.
This last complaint echoes a similar concern registered by a taxpayer in a district where I once worked – “How come half the time I see a school bus, its empty. That’s a waste of taxpayer money!” From the time a bus leaves its starting point, until it picks up the first child, it’s empty. Similarly, after it drops off the last passenger and heads back to its parking area, it’s empty.  The bus is always empty before it picks up the first passenger and after it drops off the last passenger!
I don’t believe that taxpayers are uncaring or irrational. I suspect many misdirected complaints arise from a concerned citizen who lacks information. It is the responsibility of the school district, me in particular, to communicate in a manner that informs people to the degree they can render opinions based on this information, whether it is a position in agreement or in opposition to the school.

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