Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From Elwyn's diary, dated April 18, 1963:

O for the Good Old School Days of the 70's in Olive

In view of the current interest in school costs a comparison between the present and the school costs in Olive Township in 1879 (sic) may make you hold your hat.

Through the kindness of "Squire" Elwyn Davis of West Shokan we have an annual report submitted to the then Commissioner Horace W. Montross by the lone trustee of the West Shokan school of that time, Martin S. Crispell. Incidentally, Mr. Crispell was Elwyn's maternal grandfather. His address was Shokan postoffice.

For the school term ending Sept. 30, 1871, according to the report, the costs of the school, which had 90 pupils, was $365.33 with $2.30 left on hand. Receipts were $365.33 and payments balanced out for the same amount. In fact, it looks as if in those days they trimmed school costs to the amount of money available.

It may surprise many readers (as it did us) to learn that in those days the cost of the school depended largely on funds received from the state. In this case it was $109.98 from the state while the amount raised in local taxes was only $95.35. The balance for the costs of the school was raised in ways that we do not understand from the report.

Teacher salaries for the year were $335.33. They boarded around for the 40 weeks the school was in session. Their wages (they did not call them salaries in those days) ranged around $8.50 per week including "the expense of board." Apparently they didn't always get paid on time, either. The two teachers employed in this particular year (1870-71) were William A. Reading for 18 weeks and Mary C. Hill for 22 weeks.

Location of the school was not of the best. The site was one end of Main St. in old West Shokan, all of which is now, of course, under the reservoir. It was affectionately called "Swamp Academy" because of the swampy nature of the site. Value of the building and land was $450.00.

We hear a lot of talk nowadays about double sessions but the West Shokan school of those days was open nearly all year, with a winter term and a summer term. The winter term began Nov. 7 and continued until March 10 of the next year. The summer term commenced on April 3 and ended Sept. 28.

Cost of fuel and preparing for use (wood) was $23, and maintenance for the year was $3.20. The cost of repairing and insuring the schoolhouse for the year was $1.50. Transportation? Cost was zero. You walked, or sometimes got a lift on a wagon -- or in winter you might get aboard a bob-sled drawn by a team of horses.

A budget of $365.33 for 90 students is $4.06 per pupil. Admittedly, many things in school finance have changed since 1870-71 and 1962-63, so much so that it's hard to make an exact comparison. But I won't let that stop me! A reasonable estimate is that $4.06 in 1870-71 would have been about $28.50 in 1963 dollars or $71 today.

According to NYSED, the district of which Swamp Academy would now be a member had enrollment of 2,065, general education per student expenditures of $13,869 and per pupil special education costs of $36,699 in the most recent year of data, 2008-09. (For similar schools, costs were $9,645 and $25,558 per student, respectively; for all schools in NYS, expenditures were $10,874 and $26,551 per pupil in 2008-09.)

I wonder why the writer was surprised by the state contribution in 1870-71? It was only 30 percent. In 1962-63, according to Analysis of  School Finances in New York State School Districts 2006-07 (NYSED, 2009, January) the state contributed about 44 percent of school expenditures state-wise. Was the surprise that the state contributed at all? Or that local taxes did not make up a larger portion of the funding? The local share in 1870-71 was 26 percent.

Changing focus...Added to today's to-do list: Something that I forgot I have to do when I ticked off the items on the agenda before the three-day weekend and then semester beginning is one more round of negotiation with a company (and likely will need to devolve into borderline nutjob to get results). Stay tuned.

Last night we watched a movie that didn't impress me at all: Limitless. The premise sounded good and it was interesting at first, there was some suspense throughout - but I started to get skeptical after about 15 minutes, really lost interest after 30 minutes, tried to give it a chance but struggled to keep watching for an hour, then tuned it out. There were some elements that really irritated me, or required too much suspension of belief. It was too amoral for my liking, and too derivative. I didn't leave the room, I just played with my smart phone and laptop and stopped paying close attention. Bob thought it was fairly enjoyable. Not for going to the theatre, but as a rental. So it gets a paw two-thirds down, and a paw two-thirds up.

Speaking of limitless: I am childfree, but all three of my siblings have children ~ they are grown, the youngest is 21 and a senior in college. (And all three of my siblings have one or more grandchildren too.) They are all stunning, a bouquet of bright lights,  a next -- and next -- generation to be proud of. In the latest achievement, my oldest nephew reached the top of Kilimanjaro yesterday! Way to go Dean!

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