Weekly Feature

2012-03-14 / Front Page

Goal of new initiative is to ‘Keep Clarence Schools Great’


Keep Clarence Schools Great began as a concept last year, when a number of community members felt the budget process lacked transparency and not every voice was being heard, said founder Brendan Biddlecom.

It’s grown into a grassroots initiative that promotes the idea that strong communities require strong schools, he said. The group has been advocating for budget decisions that keep cuts at a minimum.

Biddlecom said there are close to 300 signatures on the group’s online petition, and members have been speaking up at board meetings, conducting a letter writing campaign to board members and the school superintendent, and talking with friends and neighbors.

Most in the group agree that the cuts instituted last year were difficult and similar cuts would be fundamentally damaging, he said.

According to Biddlecom, the group thinks Draft 2, which would require an estimated 4.3 percent increase in the tax levy, but $2.08 million in cuts, would be difficult but much preferable to Draft 3, which would raise the levy by about 2.24 percent and include $2.85 million in cuts.

Biddlecom said he believes the Board of Education should allow the community to vote on Draft 2, which would require approval by 60 percent or more of voters. If it failed, Draft 3 could be put forward for a vote.

Not allowing the community the chance to vote on Draft 2 would be a subversion of the democratic process, he said.

Biddlecom said the difference between drafts 2 and 3 would be about $2 per month for the average Clarence resident.

Clarence is rated as a cost-effective district and has some of the lowest spending per student in the area, according to Biddlecom.

“I think we need to move beyond this sense of self-preservation and look at the schools as being part of the fabric of our community and understand that even if you’re going to look at it again through a completely self-interested perspective, having quality schools should be a concern of yours,” he said.

Clarence is growing and property values are good largely because of the reputation of the school district, he said.

KCSG supporter Katrina Maccallini said she has two children in the middle school and is concerned that impending cuts could be detrimental to the schools. Reductions to the enrichment programs have affected her children, and an increase in classroom sizes and loss of teacher aides will impact every child, she said.

Maccallini said the board has indicated that comments have been split 50-50 for and against Draft 2, but she thinks those with a negative view are more likely to be vocal at this stage.

“I really, truly believe that there are at least 60 percent of people out there who would vote yes,” she said. “I want them to give us a chance to vote for that.”

Mike Hammill is an interested member of the community whose children have graduated from the Clarence school system.

Cuts to the music department are of special concern to him. One of his children is studying music, and the other is still involved in musical activities.

Hammill said there are financial pressures everywhere, but he would hate to see students lose the opportunities that give them an advantage when they head to college.

“I think the strength of the Clarence schools is a wonderful thing for the community. I think it attracts people to the community; it attracts business to the commun ity,” he said.

In a letter to the Board of Education, Rich Pierpaoli said “Our nation is facing an education crisis, our town is not and we should keep it that way.”

Pierpaoli said he and his wife would be more than amicable to paying 2 to 5 percent more in taxes to makes sure the town’s children “are taught in a climate that still stresses the arts, sports and sciences in classes where teachers are not struggling with too many children in them.”

Keep Clarence Schools Great will be holding an informational and planning session at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, in the Clarence High School library, 9625 Main St. Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks will be speaking for the first 15 to 20 minutes, with an additional 10 to 15 minutes set aside for questions and answers. The members of the Board of Education have also been invited.

That will be followed by specific actions leading up to the community forum on March 24 and strategies for spreading the KCSG message to the wider public.

Email keepclarenceschoolsgreat@gmail.com for more information.

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