Get Liberated ! - not regulated 

What happened to the $20 million?

by Fred LeBrun
First published: Friday, June 14, 2002

What's astounding is that anybody at all showed up for the revote on Troy's $62.6 million school budget Wednesday.

After all, the fix was in and we all knew it. A well-steamed Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno reluctantly saved the day by coming up with millions to avert what would have been the most dramatic school tax increase in the state.

Imagine how that looks on a politician's resume, the hometown school district "losing'' nearly $20 million over not a lot of years.

Internal communications between Bruno and School Superintendent Armand Reo make it quite clear how irritated Bruno was over playing St. Bernard with a barrel of money around his neck, especially in a year when statewide revenues have plummeted and school districts are bug-eyed with anxiety. Back in March when school taxes in the enlarged district looked as if they were skyrocketing by a back-breaking 40 percent, Jim Matthews, the new business manager trying to reorganize the district's mysteriously blown finances, estimated that every $1 million in aid would reduce the tax rate 5 percent. That was even after cost-cutting, including laying off 87 employees, 32 of them teachers.

Since we're down to a modest 10 percent tax increase, that means St. Joe came across with the equivalent of more than $5 million.

Forget about all those complicated state aid formulas you hear so much about. A hard lesson in civics, boys and girls. It's who you know after all that matters.

This Troy school tax debacle needs to stay in our sights for a couple of good reasons. Even now, months later, there's no clear focus or good answers forthcoming on how the Enlarged School District of Troy could so woefully and quickly plunge into a pool of red ink.

Where was the accountability? Control of school district finances is a shared responsibility.

What planet was the board of education sleeping on when all this happened? Why didn't the superintendent have complete and incremental knowledge of this disaster while it was developing?

Why wasn't this looming financial mess shared with the taxpayers all along? The day of reckoning is still ahead of us, but not that far ahead. Sources in the state Education Department say that by mid-August the full accounting of why the Troy school district is as screwed-up as it is will be laid out by the numbers. And not just with numbers. Programs, how money was spent and who spent it will be detailed.

Routinely, Education Department audits do not shy from specifics, and we will all be enlightened, I'm sure. That includes what basically constitutes a fresh board of education, in that four members are newly elected. It's a fair assumption to suggest that before it's all over, the superintendent will have a ton of explaining to do, and not all of it to a friendly audience...

Submitted by: Werner Hetzner 

Source: Albany Times Union




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