F-M Taxpayers: Frugal Or Cheap Bastards?

OK, despite the non-stop, breathless coverage in the paper and on the TV news, the F-M astroturf sports stadium issue isn’t exactly the most earthshaking issue in C.N.Y.  Even though I am an alumnus of F-M, the only time I ever think about the school is on the rare occasions that the Hornets may have a chance to knock off West Genny in lacrosse (and that usually turns out to be a pipe dream.)

The district has gotten much larger and much more affluent since I graduated in the late 1970’s.  The building boom in the eastern suburbs has turned F-M from the smallest participant in the “big schools” athletic conference, to a school that is solidly competitive with behemoths like C-NS and Liverpool.

The F-M I went to was only competitive in soccer and tennis–the rich kid sports.  Now F-M is even competitive in football, basketball and lacrosse, the big ticket sports.  So parents of interscholastic sports athletes want the district to spring for the modern facilities found at all the other big sports schools. I knew that this vote was going to go against the sports families as F-M has a history of voting down special tax elections. In the early 1980’s, F-M attempted to pass a tax levy to build a district swimming pool, open for community use. The pool was shot down in roughly the same 2-1 against fashion as the stadium.

The New York State Department of Education categorizes F-M as one of only two school districts with low financial needs in Onondaga County–the other being Skaneateles.  Other communities considered affluent, such as Jamesville-Dewitt and Cazenovia, are listed as districts with average financial needs, as are most districts in the County.

The popular conception of  F-M as a community that lavishes money on its school district is false. F-M residents are cautious spenders. According to the New York State Education Department’s Fiscal Accountability and Special Education Information Supplement – May 2007, low financial need public school districts, located in the most affluent communities in the state, spend an average of $9,936 per pupil.  F-M spends $7,613 per pupil.

Many schools categorized as average financial need districts in Onondaga County spend more per pupil than wealthy F-M: Lafayette ($10,657), East Syracuse-Minoa ($9,008), Liverpool ($7,994) and Jamesville-Dewitt ($7,768). These districts either exceed or come close to the statewide average for per pupil expenditures in districts with average financial needs: $8,006.  Other average need districts don’t come close to the statewide per pupil expenditure for districts in their need category, but still spend almost as much as F-M: Baldwinsville ($7,397), Westhill ($7,267), Onondaga Central ($7,110) and West Genesee ($7,101). 

It’s also interesting to note that Cicero-North Syracuse,  the largest school district in the county, and the proud owners of a brand spanking new turf stadium, spends the least per pupil of any school district in the area at $6,762.  It’s also the only suburban school district in the county with a school on the state’s non-performing list for abysmal test scores. 

I haven’t verified the figures, but F-M must have a very stiff residential tax levy given its small amount of commercial and industrial properties. This probably leads to the tax rebellions and no votes on “add-ons” to the budget like sports facilities. However, it also makes F-M the best buy in Onondaga County in terms of academic value per dollar spent. The student’s test scores and performance in extracurricular activities such as Science Olympiads, Model U.N. and music and art competitions clearly put F-M at the top of any survey of academic accomplishment. 

Of course, none of this is going to change the one thing that this alumnus cares about: when the heck are we going to beat West Genny in lacrosse?  

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