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Wed., Oct. 7
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To The Editor:

Where have all our civic leaders gone? The two most important traits I expect from elected local officials are transparency (e.g. openness, honesty) and leadership. This week, our school and village boards have exhibited a lack of both traits.

While facing a very tough financial situation mostly created by Albany, the Massena school board spent many long and arduous hours trying to figure out how to best serve the student needs and stay within their means. If transparency were practiced, the recently proposed budget and subsequent staff cuts would have been announced weeks ago and made public for all to peruse and question.

As of April 24th, all we have is a ten minute Powerpoint presentation on this year’s budget made at Monday’s board meeting. No hard copies of this year’s budget or the Powerpoint presentation were made available and there still is no electronic version posted anywhere on the district website and the vote is less than three weeks away. How can the taxpayers evaluate this budget if we can’t see it and don’t have time to get questions answered? If transparency were practiced, the exit poll results from last year’s budget vote would be available to help everyone understand why it was defeated. The link on the district website for last year’s exit poll leads to nothing. Transparency? Hardly.

I am disappointed in several of the new board members. They were elected to look out for the student’s best interests and help find ways to lead us out of this educational and fiscal wilderness we find ourselves in. At Monday’s school board meeting, several audience members asked why more time wasn’t allowed for public input and feedback on the budget.

Mr. Fountain stated that the whole situation “sucks,” waved his hand at the audience and responded that in three months he had received two emails about the budget, implying that it was the public’s own fault if feedback wasn’t given. Leadership? Hardly.

Before I start on the Village Board, I must make a correction to an earlier editorial of mine. I wrote that Mayor Hidy had been in favor several years ago of eliminating the Village Administrator position.

That is incorrect – he was against that move that was passed by the rest of the board. That being said, Mr. Hidy and the trustees were well aware of the remuneration to be paid for their positions when they ran for office. No matter how deserving, since when is it acceptable for public officials to raise their pay while in office, especially by huge percentages? Maybe it’s legal but it’s certainly not right, especially in a town torn by skyrocketing property taxes and stagnant unemployment. Leadership and transparency? Hardly.

I prefer to offer constructive solutions to problems when I criticize, so here goes. I have finally become convinced that truly drastic measures are required of our local governments and entities (including schools) if Massena as we know it is to survive the 21st century. First and foremost, we must find a way to eliminate a layer of government, i.e. the village.

We simply can’t afford the dual costs associated with having both a town and village government anymore. Would it be easy to find answers to the many legal and financial challenges that would be presented? No. In the best interest of our citizens, should we elect local officials who are committed to finding a way to consolidating Massena’s two layers of government?

Yes. Second, since it has become apparent that Albany isn’t going to fix our school funding problems, consolidation of school districts is a logical solution. Again, it is not an easy fix but it will reduce the local financial burden and enable quality education for our children to be pursued. Consolidation of rural districts is one way those districts can survive in the current state funding system.

Can we find the leadership locally to help get this started, to look out for both the students and taxpayers?

Where is the leadership and transparency that we need to fix our problems? If our current village and school board members can’t provide it, let’s try some new ones. If you agree with any of this, let your local elected officials know. And at the next elections, vote for those candidates who exhibit leadership and transparency and agree with you.

John Acton

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