Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs….

I’ve been seriously trying to write a post about the on-going school budget debates, but it seems that every time I do something else happens, or there hasn’t been enough solid information to write an intelligent post.  It seems we are now at the breaking point where State funding is set, board members have filed for re-election or election and things have gotten ugly.  We have been dealt with more aid cuts and the fight to save programs continues to rage.

As I see it, there are basically two issues at play as we draw closer to the big budget vote.

1).  There is a decisive rift between those who believe our budget crisis is a funding issue evolved from years of steady decline in State funding and those that believe the district has an expenditure issue that goes way back.  Then there is the silent majority that has no idea what to make of it all and are tired of rising school taxes each year despite the cuts in school programs.  Paying more for less gets old very fast.  You can find me in the third group.

2).  There are also similar factions that have an ax to grind ever since the emotional closing of the George Washington Elementary and those board members who voted for it are slowly getting picked off at each election.

The result is an internet war between these factions and it has gotten beyond ugly with hate, vitriol, stupid cartoons, bigotry and baseless accusations.  I have considered an attempt at constructive discussion with participants on one blog but it seems that if my child was not part of the GWS closing, my opinion doesn’t mean anything.  The other seems to have its head in the clouds and I cannot deal with that either.

The feud has resulted in large signs recently popping up on Rt 43 accusing two board members of leading the school district to ruin (and yes, they voted for the closure of GWS) and accusations are flying as to who is responsible for putting up the signs.  One appalling, and public,  accusation is that a sitting Board member assisted in erecting those signs.  Yikes.

Last night there was a BOE meeting where the signs were publically decried and apparently names were brought up.  Amongst all of this craziness, I am still trying to figure out whether or not the Board adopted a budget!  Thankfully, this meeting stayed out of the media but it makes getting info a little difficult without resorting to consulting the feuding blogs of the McCoys and Hatfields.  Anyone??

My view from 5,000 feet is that it is both a revenue and expenditure problem.  Until some kind of compromise can be made and acceptance of what is reality, the district will continue to lose its programs.  And yes, the State is short-sided in hammering districts like ours who are not classified as High Needs but seriously lack a tax base due to its “Bedroom Community” structure.  Until we have representation with clout in the Legislature (I can’t believe I’m saying this but oh don’t we miss Joe Bruno now?) we will continue jump up and down pleading for more assistance with no one to notice us.

The expenditure issue is something we can somewhat control (unfunded mandates and mandatory expenditures aside).  The district needs to stop operating as usual because it is the way it’s always been done.  Things need to change, policies need to be re-examined and strive for more efficiency.   Apparently we can’t apply for the State competitive grants in administrative efficiency because we don’t qualify…why the hell not??

Fixing our revenue problem is a long-term issue.  The Town needs to bend and encourage bigger businesses to put down roots, and lobbying for mandate relief and an examination of the GEA cuts (see section on Gap Elimination Adjustment) for possible relief of this inequitable cut.

I’m going to try to examine different aspects of the battle beginning with an examination of peer districts and the size of their administration as compared to us.  Those screaming for admin cuts may be surprised to see that we are not spending lavishly here and we are pretty much on par.  Competency of those in these positions is moot…I can’t quantify that.

And when the final budget scenario is released, I will try to get that up here too.  The last one I saw was on April 3 and is posted here.  It ain’t pretty folks!

No Snow=No Snow Days

(Update on April 17 – It seems that the district will add a day off to the Memorial day weekend and school will be closed on Friday, May 25th.  So now we are down to four days to eat up.)

Last year, thanks to a relentless winter, the school district plowed right through their snow day limit and then some.  This meant the loss of two days during Spring Break and I think the loss of the Good Friday holiday, if memory serves.  In what was my opinion, a knee-jerk reaction, the administration tacked on an additional snow day to our allottment for the 2011-12 school year bring it to six built-in snow days to avoid this in the future.

Karma says…..Not so fast!  Mother Nature’s response to that was nary a snow storm this winter so we used one whopping snow day.  One.  That means we have five school days to eliminate because they are built into the school year.  Interesting problem, eh? (Ironically enough, the power outage from fall of 2011 did not constitute a snow day.  It was an “emergency day” and doesn’t count towards the allotment.)

The Troy Record posted this article today about this very issue how various area school districts plan to burn up their excess snow days.  Unfortunately, they either did not call Averill Park (which incidently the Troy Record is the OFFICIAL newspaper of the town of Sand Lake) or Averill Park didn’t give it up.  Historically they have always lopped off the remaining snow days at the end of the school year and I have no reason to believe that they will deviate from this plan.  This means FIVE DAYS will come off the end of the year.  Five.  So school ends…June 18.  Wow.

That is kind of a parent’s nightmare, and yes mine.  That is five more days of child care that we will have to dredge up until summer camps start up.  Couldn’t we spread this out around Memorial Day and Spring Break?  Or another long weekend here or there?  According to the article, that is what the majority of the school districts are planning to do, why not us?  My guess is that this is what is negotiated into the teacher’s contracts, which is good for them but a pain in the rear end for us.

Five unused snow days.  Ouch.

Watchful Waiting

I have been writing and editing a post regarding the school budget for a while now but it seems whenever I feel close to pushing that Publish button, something changes.

So that being said, I feel it is best to wait for the appearance of the School Runs. What’s that, you say?

The school runs list out the amount of State aid doled out to each district according to the formula. Each district run is broken out so you can how the formula works. It isn’t pretty.

You can find last year’s here. The Legislature is currently debating and voting on the bill that will set the formula into motion. I think once the bill is voted on, the runs will be released. Once that happens, the district will have set funding to work with and will be able to present solid scenarios that won’t contain moving target numbers. Until then, I will wait to opine.

Good News, Bad News

The bad news is that the school budget hole is nearly insurmountable this year. I seriously fear for the future of my child’s education in Averill Park, but more on that in another post.

The good news, in my opinion, is that the Sand Lake Day Camp will be operating and has restored the extended hours. Hallelujah!! And they kept the price flat. Double happiness.

Last year, due to school budget woes and the eventual enacted contingency budget, the camp’s future was in limbo thanks to limitations on using Sand Lake School. It did go on but with limited hours from 8-4:30…not exactly helpful for working parents.

BIG thanks to Sand Lake Youth for making it happen this year. It’s one less thing to worry about as we watch our District crumble under budget cuts.

Spring is in the Air

The calendar may say March 21, but it sure feels like summer this week.  Accordingly, I’ll bet I’m not the only AP resident looking around at our seasonal businesses and wondering when they’ll be opening up for the spring.

So here’s a roundup so far:

Kay’s Pizza – Everyone’s favorite lakeside roadhouse.  Looks like they will open on April 1st!  No foolin…

The Hollywood Drive-In – One of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in the Capital District.  They are hoping for April 6, but it’s not set in stone yet.  So get that bug spray ready…

Jiffy Mart Ice Cream – Their ice cream sign was on when I drove by on March 17.  Lucky indeed!  I’ll be stopping in for a FlavorBurst cone very soon….

Rocket’s Drive In – Not seeing any signs of life yet.  They tend to open later than most.

Hoffay Farm – I drove by the other day and their placard said Opening March 24.  Not sure if that means their playground is opening or if this is just for the Harvest House.  Guess you’ll have to stop in and check it out for yourself.

That is about it for our local town haunts.  (Did I miss any??)  However, there are some goodies in our neighboring towns as well.

Wynantskill:

Jack’s Drive In – You can smell the burgers up and down Main Street.  They beat most to the punch and opened mid-March.  Be prepared for long lines as long as this summer weather holds.

The Big Dipper – A yummy ice cream/food stand also on Main Street.  Again, not seeing much sign of life yet.   Look like they are open!   Yay!

North and East Greenbush:

Gene’s Fish Fry – Gotta love their website.  One big fish with the words…Opening Day April 28th, 2011.

The Oasis – They opened for mini golf and ice cream on March 18.

Funplex and Lickety Split – Nothing on the website yet and haven’t driven by lately.

And now a moment of silence for the late Wholly Cow in Nassau.  Bummer.

Sand Lake Restaurant Week!

Let’s start with something really positive!  This week is Sand Lake Restaurant Week.  Oh yum!  And the weather gods have accomodated us with deck-worthy sunshine and warmth as well.  You can’t lose.

It looks like all of the biggies on Route 43 are participating, such as The Arlington House, Uncle Marty’s, The Lakeview and the Towne Tavern are all offering special $20.12 menus.  Additionally, off of the 43 path, Paolo Lombardis and Villa Valente are in the mix.

Links to the menus and to the restaurants are all available at the above link.  We really do have some fabulous food offerings in Sand Lake and it’s nice to see them getting showcased.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have never been to the Arlington House except for an after work drink.  The bartender was best, so I can give kudos there.  I plan on getting there soon, if not this week.

Everything Old is New Again…

Welcome to my new (old) blog.  It used to be a random, never updated, load of whatever was on my mind.  After many years of neglect, I’ve decided to resurrect it and give it some focus.  I may leave some old posts from its former life but I will probably delete everything prior.  It wasn’t that interesting to begin with! (Note:  I did leave most of the Red Sox posts.  I am a huge fan.  Deal with it…nicely of course)

As you can see, it is now called Life in the Park.  Or more specifically, life in Averill Park.  It’s probably not that interesting to anyone that doesn’t live in the town of Sand Lake, but perhaps some might be interested in my City Girl-turned-Country observations.  I’m a native of Schenectady and I moved here when I got married.  It’s a tight knit town with a core of lifers who come from generations of Sand Lake residents and it can be a tad intimidating to an “outsider” that is trying to lay down roots.  I’ve been here for more than 12 years now and I feel that I’ve earned my right to an opinion finally.

There is plenty to talk about.  The small town politics can be a hoot, or downright scary, the school district budget woes have spawned several opposing blogs and Facebook pages that could be the fodder of a black comedy sitcom and I hope to occasionally opine on the “silent majority” that may be too timid to step forward (I know I am!!).  I’m not going to link to certain active (and opposing) sites on the issues of the school budget because I do not want to be affiliated with either side.  I will call it as I see it as a homeowner and parent…or you can just call me Switzerland.

On the flip side, the town boasts of beautiful lakes, restaurants and unique offerings that I hope to highlight.  Sure we live “in the sticks”, but our sticks has many hidden gems worthy of the spotlight.  Give me Kays Pizza, smoked Towne Tavern wings or sticky cinnamon buns from Pie Squared any day.

So welcome to my blog observations of The Place of Picnics, Porches and Progress.  Comments are most welcome here but I expect nothing less than respect of others opinions.  Argumentative conversation and name-calling will not be tolerated here.