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Is “Y” Just a Crooked Letter? – Some Sobering Facts on School Taxes and Returning Manufacturing to America

November 10, 2016- During his 1968 presidential campaign, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy borrowed a phrase from George Bernard Shaw that was also quoted by President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Irish Parliament, stating “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not”.  Yet as profound as these words may sound, before achieving dreams that never were, and before change can be achieved, one needs to revert and ask that simplistic yet powerful question that is asked by every child during their early developmental learning stage, which is questioning why conditions exist as they do.

Following a long dragged our meeting last evening that concluded that, despite the dreams of many, that it was just not possible to restore the American manufacturing jobs lost over the past several decades within the next few years, the discussion was then brought to the level of asking what was necessary in order to return manufacturing to America for future generations, However, before answering that question, one needs to understand why things are as they are. The answer, plain and simple, is that our K-12 educational system has not maintained parity with technology. In fact, to function in an automated manufactory environment, some level of manufacturing engineering education is necessary. However, the truth is that manufacturing engineering is not, and has not been a prominent engineering discipline in the U.S. for decades and most K-12 curriculum today, primarily math and language arts (IE English), along with standards of achievement are severely lacking.  Thus, before we can “make America great again” as regards manufacturing, we need to change the way our children learn which may mean reengineering our present educational culture, curriculum and standards.

Heading home my mind wondered to one of my personal pet peeves, which is the perpetually increasing school tax dollars taken from homeowners to fund the forever increasing Mahopac Central School District, and why so many senior citizens are forced to sell and leave the vicinity so that they can maintain a standard quality of lifestyle, and why so many millennials are being forced to remain living at home after graduating college, given that the MCSD promotes itself (and justifies its spending budget), as being a Blue Ribbon School. I decided to do some research and my findings where indeed shocking. From an economic standpoint, one of the most sobering statistics as published by recent U.S. News study (based on data pertaining to the 2013/2014 school year) of national schools (which supported that which was told to me the other evening by a local legislator) is that school attendance has been dropping for years while school infrastructure has remained constant (accompanied by increased capital budget spending) accompanied by significantly increased operations line item spending (as per the most recently published budget report). Based on the 2013/2014 data as reported by US News, in that year the 9th grade student population was approximately 82% of the graduating class student populous clearly indicating a problem that needed to be addressed. However, over the past decade, district school taxes have increased substantially which mirrors a condition that existed decades ago when after overbuilding and over spending, school properties needed to be sold due to excessive capacity based on enrollment.

Putting that issue to the side temporarily, I then began to wonder how many graduates from this “Blue Ribbon” school district had graduated top rated undergraduate and graduate schools or universities and achieved advanced proficiencies necessary to compete in fields such as science, business, mathematics and engineering. But before reaching that point it was necessary to look at where the school and K-12 students are now. This is where the real sobering facts were revealed. Although the school district promotes itself at virtually all levels of communication as a “Blue Ribbon” school, the sad fact is that none of the participating schools have been recognized as having federal Blue Ribbon status for nearly twenty years. In fact, earlier this year one of the candidates running for the school board was quoted as saying that her primary intent in running for the Board of Education is to help return the school system to its Blue Ribbon status. As I have not had a child in the Mahopac School system since 1995, I took them on their word (as a taxpayer) that Mahopac was still a Blue Ribbon School.

Further reading of the US News report was akin to “fingers on a blackboard” (no pun intended). However before quoting some of the statistics, I need to share my personal opinion that although we live in a world where both parents need to work, parental partnership with the schools is paramount to the learning process of all children. In fact, the educational and learning process of a child begins at birth with the first two years being the most instrumental as regards preparing them for learning new information and skills. Accordingly, it would not be fair to only point fingers at members of any educational institution and accountability needs to be shared by all involved. Here we go. First, the MCSD has only a 90% graduation rate. That means if one were to go into any first grade class of say 15-20 students, between 1.5 and 2 of those children would not be completing their fundamental K-12 education. In a large suburban community, such as Mahopac, that to me is unacceptable. Although there are always bright children in every school, and those children always are assigned to the best teachers with access to the best school resources (hey, I was in the NYC Special Progress and Honors Programs of the NYC school system years ago and I had the finest resources as compared to some other students then, so why should it be different now-but that does not make it right), of those 9 out of 10 graduates, only an index of 26.7 was achieved as far as college readiness. Further extrapolated from regents and other state exams (many of which are now being “opted out” by half the students (often with their parent’s blessing), Only 74% were graded as possessing proficiency in mathematics (which is critical to advanced education in an industrial society), with only 53% meeting basic learning standards and only 22% meeting standards with distinction. Of those who did not meet fundamental mathematics proficiency, half were without any mathematical skill sets at all. Although the students did much better in English (mainly due to the significantly reduced NYS standards in English to accommodate non-English speaking students) still only half met basic learning standards while 43% met standards “with distinction”. My point is not to criticize the students, but for the amount of money being taken from property and homeowners, one would hope that the money would be spent in a way that could help more of these students to learn. Not everyone’s brains work alike and sometimes it means stepping outside the box (or in this case the curriculum) in order to reinforce skills that should have previously learned and teach new skill sets. I recall when I entered the 7th grade and faced with learning algebra. To me it may as well have been Martian and I just couldn’t plant me feet in order to get a solid foundation. I recall my math teacher asking me to speak with her after class and asked if I wanted to return after school and maybe she could explain things in a way that I could understand it better. After only a couple of hours it was as though I had mastered algebraic equations years ago and I never looked back. I will never forget that teacher as without her I may have given up on everything. Every student has their own unique method of learning skills and assimilating information, and a good teacher knows how to identify that method of learning and press that magic button. Einstein, who is now known as a genius in physics, had the ideas but did not know how to express them in acceptable mathematical terms. He needed some help seeing that part from a different perspective. I would hope that the MCSD has many more Einsteins that is obvious, and for the money that we are paying I would hope that that spark of student genius (imagination) could be identified. Clearly a 10% Mahopac dropout rate should be totally unacceptable.

So clearly, if America is to be tomorrow, as it was once before, a dominant manufacturing country where American made components with integrated software can be totally manufactured and assembled here in the United States, and sold both domestically as well as globally, new high tech manufacturing technical skill sets are necessary and to achieve those skill sets, a solid K-12 foundation needs to be poured.

Oh, might I add, that one of the most sobering statistic of all was that fact that that gap between economically and otherwise disadvantaged student performance was less than 8% with a state gap of 10%. This means that while economically disadvantaged enrollment was only 7% (with minority enrollment of 16%) the percentage of disadvantaged students who were proficient was 73.5% while non-disadvantaged student proficiency was a close 81.3%. Maybe this has something to say about the “new millennium entitlement generation” that will lead our nation in the not too distant future. Remember folks, “if it is to be it’s up to we”.

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