Friday, November 15, 2019

Advertising at NY schools would bring in much-needed revenues

Sometimes when watching the 6:30 national news you might catch in the background of stories about public schools in other states sights that seem completely foreign to New Yorkers – football field sponsorships and other means of advertising throughout the school grounds.

Such sponsorships have been a windfall to the districts that partake in it.

It could be the same for our local schools…if the State let them pursue it.

In September of 2019 the Empire Center’s Peter Murphy produced a white paper looking at this very issue.  He provided a stunning list of examples of successful partnerships between businesses and schools.  

The South Bend School District secured a $300,000 deal with a credit union for stadium naming rights and is in process of securing $3 million more in miscellaneous naming rights from numerous enterprises.  

The Prosper School District near Dallas got their local pediatric hospital to kick-in $2.5 million for naming rights at their football field.

The Morris School District in New Jersey brings in $3,300 per bus per year by allowing advertising signage on them.

Those represent a handful of literally hundreds of success stories across the country. In all cases, the sponsorships have allowed the districts to forgo tax increases -- and even decrease their tax rates -- while ensuring their students have the very best science, computer, and tech labs and access to the arts and athletics.

We could use a healthy dose of that here in New York.

Populations are on the decline and taxes are high. More revenues are being collected from fewer people, compounding the woes that have led to Upstate’s decline. This has caused many districts to consider what services, programs and teachers to cut in response to this fiscal stress, which will ultimately lead to bare bones education in many districts which would take away some of the niceties that families have come to expect and students need in order to be prepared for college and/or the workforce.

Since they can go to the well only so many times in their beleaguered communities, districts need alternative sources of income. Advertising fits the bill.

But, in order to reap those benefits, it would take some help from the State.

It starts with the State Constitution. Section 1 of Article VIII of our legal framework says “No county, city, town, village or school district shall give or loan any money or property to or in aid of any individual, or private corporation or association, or private undertaking…”

Numerous interpretations of the “giving property” language by the office of the state Attorney General through the years have stymied most attempts to secure funding because, in theory, the schools would be giving property, leased or on loan, albeit small, to the businesses sharing their name, logo, or brand.  

As if the furor of the AG isn’t enough, schools must also contend with standards put forth by the Board of Regents and the State Education Department.  To clarify their stand on the Constitution, the Regents prohibit schools from entering into contracts that permit commercial promotional activity on school campuses.

So, because of these interpretations, New Yorkers are denied the access to revenue streams that residents of other states enjoy, putting the entire burden on taxpayers.

There are some ways to correct this.

One would be the full repeal of the state’s prohibition of school bus advertisements. While most buses are not property of the schools (for example, Ridge Road Express operates the bus services in Niagara County), the owners thereof are not allowed to grant advertising. If they could, you’d see a marked decline in the rate extended to schools.

The Legislature would also have to pass legislation that would authorize commercial activity such as sponsorships, naming rights and commercial advertising on school grounds. If they did so, it would require an alteration of the Constitution through a referendum on the November ballots. Any legislative proposal must be approved by two successive Legislatures before being submitted for voter approval. So, even if they moved on this in 2020, we wouldn’t see results until 2022.  

But, getting the Legislature onboard might prove difficult. The Empire Center’s report notes that bills to authorize advertising were introduced in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017 yet they never advanced from the Assembly’s Education Committee despite passage by the Senate in ’15 and ’17.

So, what can you do as a parent who wants the best for your kids, a teacher who needs resources for your students, and as a taxpayer who would like your burden lessened?

Heading into the next legislative session that begins in January, reach out to your Assemblyperson and Senator and ask that they reintroduce such legislation and do what they can to champion it.

We’re faced with serious existential crises in our schools and this would certainly help weather the storm. If naming rights can be the difference between keeping or cutting orchestra or shop class it’s certainly worth the change in the Constitution and the change in our culture.

From the 18 November 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, November 8, 2019

Public safety under radio silence in the Adirondacks

If you’ve vacationed in the Adirondacks you’ve likely seen pay phones throughout. The economic viability of the quarter-eating telephones speaks to their absolute necessity – vast swaths of the 9,300 square mile Park are without cell coverage.  

As quaint as that may be for those who pine for the “good old days” and the lack of connectedness to the outside world, most of humanity has in rather short time (two decades?) evolved as quickly as our technology, finding absolute reliance on cellular to communicate with friends and work, be in the know about what’s happening in the world, and be connected when danger presents.

While one can certainly survive without the need to chat on the phone or browse the web (you are, after all, on vacation in a wild area), it’s that last point that’s the issue: When emergencies happen people need tools that have become a part of everyday existence – the ability to call 911, warn others, or receive text messages or app notifications from government entities.

You can achieve almost none of that in the Adirondacks, a place where Mother Nature can behave in extremes (extreme cold, snow, and terrain) and so can mankind (extreme sports like snowmobiling and mountain climbing) and there is always potential for extreme outcomes (natural disasters and injuries).

Under such circumstance, the silence afforded by the lack of communications technology can put people at risk.

Residents of and visitors to the Adirondacks saw that in spades recently.

From Halloween into November 1st, we here in Western New York had 60 mile per hour winds and over an inch of rain. The storms strengthened by time they reached the North Country and areas of the Park saw 3.5 to 5.5 inches of rain in short order. It was disastrous, wiping out hiking trails, flooding communities, and washing out roads. Things were so bad that the Governor declared a state of emergency and the DEC advised against hiking the backcountry for more than 2 weeks after the event.

Because of the inability of weather apps to warn people of the growing crisis and government apps to tell people of washed out roads and waterways exceeding their banks, numerous folks were trapped  -- you may have seen daring rescue footage on the Mohawk River just outside of the Park’s southern border. Others became veritable castaways, shutoff from access to civilization as portions of Route 30 ended up underwater and roads like Big Moose were washed out (in either case, to get around those spots could literally take you an hour-and-a-half to two off course).

While this was happening realize that those who do the saving, first responders, were faced with similar communications issues. Not only do they lack the cell access, but their two-way radios are have many blind spots.

That’s an especially pressing issue in the Central Adirondacks from Old Forge to Raquette Lake where firefighters and EMTs have complained about the inability to talk to dispatch and others on or around scene due to the mountainous terrain. In the past, this has made fighting structure fires very dicey and, in this recent event, it made it difficult to convey what was happening and where.

In response to all of these issues, public safety and town officials throughout the region have been, for years now, trying to secure a communications tower in Inlet that would allow virtually seamless public safety transmissions and at the same time afford cell coverage in previously unserved areas.

But, it’s been a tough go, as there have been two significant hurdles…funding and the APA.

Despite the glaring necessity of a tower, those communities have struggled to secure funding for the $500,000 project. Mind you, a state that throws $750 million at Elon Musk’s enterprises and millions at renaming the Tappan Zee bridge in honor of the Governor’s father somehow couldn’t find veritable pocket change to protect residents, tourists and their protectors. Those behind the project had to resort to Go Fund Me-style panhandling, private grant acquisition, and funding from the feds -- they’ve almost reached their goal.

At the same time, they’ve had to go back and forth with the Adirondack Park Agency which oversees development of the Park. While the APA is critical in maintaining the natural wonder of the Adirondacks, this is a case where they’ve gone overboard in devaluing the needs of the people. Under their auspices, towers need to be “substantially invisible” and not intrusive upon the environment and officials have been going back and forth with the APA about design and location for some time. And they need to because with the line-of-sight communications had by VHF, UHF, and microwave communications you need height on towers.

The struggle to put up one simple tower has served as a wake-up call for other communities throughout the Park, which now second-guess their interest and ability to eliminate radio and cell silence in their territories despite the harm it puts people in.

Could this most recent storm serve as a wake-up call, a catalyst for the State and the APA to change their ways and encourage and help communities to erect communications towers?

One should hope so, because property, infrastructure and lives have been in the past and will be lost in the future. And, in many cases, it’s all preventable by simply opening the lines of communications.  

From the 11 November 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News    

Friday, November 1, 2019

Venison: The other red meat

Many men and women of my generation are active participants and proponents of the locavore movement.

Locavores, in a nutshell, strive to purchase their foodstuff from growers and producers in their immediate geographic area in order to develop self-reliant, resilient, environmentally-sound, and economically-impactful food networks. They emphasize buying from local butchers, small dairies, and produce stands while also joining CSA programs (Community Supported Agriculture). It’s making a lifestyle out of farm-to-table.

One niche that a few locavores have tackled, which I strongly encourage others to, is the field-to-fork movement. Under this practice, the consumers focus on adding to their dinner tables wild game – the ultimate in all-natural, sustainable local food.

They might acquire it themselves through hunting, but many rely on others to do it for them. With the latter, it’s no different than buying eggs or milk from a local stand – they want the nutritious outcomes, but would rather someone else be the chicken farmer or dairyman. Having others hunt gives locavores the easiest and cleanest route to enjoying local meats, some of which diners in fancy urban restaurants would consider “exotic.”    

This is the time of year when I suggest locavores reach out to a friend or family member who enjoys a good hunt and ask them to harvest for you. Archery season for deer is underway and the firearms season opens very soon. State laws prevents hunters from selling their harvests to consumers, but they can freely give it away and many of them would gladly do so. Taking one or two deer can easily fill a freezer yet, after doing so, the hunter might find him or herself with more tags (many deer management units will see multiple doe tags issued to hunters) and a strong desire to go back into fields and forest. If you request your friend to fill their tag and give the meat to you, both parties get what they want.

Locavores who have yet to immerse themselves in local game would be well-served by dining on deer. It is healthy and delicious…and the harvest is good for the environment.

Because of deer having a more natural grass- and nut-fed diet, their meat is leaner and it features an abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids, the same healthy and essential fats you get from wild fish. When comparing the ratios of Omega-6 (essential, but unhealthy in higher volume) to Omega-3 in deer to that of grain-fed cattle, you’re looking at numbers of 2:1 for deer versus beef cattle’s which ranges from 5:1 to 13:1. Venison also tends to be far higher in niacin and iron than beef, and it is a good source of B12, B6 and riboflavin. This all means venison is far and away a healthy alternative when considered as the “other red meat”.     

It works for me. I consume a lot of venison. I might eat it 5 or 6 times a week. Despite that much meat, my bloodwork and other overall health numbers come in at impressive levels, especially for someone in his mid-forties. For example, my total cholesterol ranges from 110 to 140, my fasting sugar is below 90, my resting pulse is in the upper-50s and I take no prescriptions. I believe natural, healthy meats are critical to those and other outcomes and it’s highly doubtful that consuming that much beef, or questionable soy products, would be that good to me.

Those who have never or only previously dabbled in venison (a steak here, an occasional burger there) might believe that the meat needs some special attention to be edible. It doesn’t and I would make the case that the meat is tastier and more versatile than greasy, deeply-fattened cuts of beef. Through the years, my workplace lunches have consisted of ground venison in my chili or mixed with quinoa and peas. For dinner, there’s not much better than tenderloins, backstraps, or deer steaks cooked on the grill.

The consumption thereof would also satisfy a major goal of locavores – getting nutrition with a little bit of environmental consciousness. Many of them express a sort of guilt in what their food chain takes in terms of inputs (water, fossil fuels, land, chemicals) spread across the agricultural and distribution channels. They can eat venison guilt-free; it’s naturally-occurring and naturally-grown, all without Man’s influence. Plus, winnowing down the herd saves local forests: Many naturalists, yours truly included, know that the overabundance of deer in Western New York has destroyed our forests’ understories, wiping out vast stands of trilliums and rare orchids among other wildflowers.    

So, locavores, if you’re listening, become a hunter or reach out to a hunter. The deer harvest is upon us and there’s no better way to put some healthy and responsible protein in your freezer and your belly.    

From the 04 November 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News