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Ripley wants taxpayers in dark

July 9, 2017
Jeffery Buchholz , Westfield Republican

At a recent Ripley Town Board meeting, a book I authored, "Killing Ripley II," was discussed. The board wanted the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield to stop selling my book. The OBSERVER and the Westfield Republican newspapers covered and reported the meeting.

Apparently the board deemed the book critical of particular Ripley school boards and particular school administrators. I plead guilty. However, the positive response I've received from the community has been stunning and personally rewarding during the past year.

I'm guessing the Ripley Town Board may be the first town board in New York state to critique a book. Some members, not all, have actually read the book. Government is not supposed to censor or in this case recommend/thank for removal, because of something called the First Amendment.

If done as private citizens, no problem. But to use the banner of local government (which with some people gives it more weight) is beyond what voters intended when they put them in office and may be crossing a line.

Discovery Center Board President Patricia Hathaway had the book removed without her board's approval (despite being under contract with me and the censorship issues) and without having read it herself. Interestingly, Ms. Hathaway is also on the Ripley Town Board.

The book is a whistleblower book in which I detail a school board history of nepotism, cronyism and very questionable expenditures of taxpayer dollars. I also revealed the Ripley Central Elementary School, based on state test scores, to be one of the poorest performers in Western New York.

Quick examples:

Tax dollars - Ripley taxpayers (many who can't afford their own health insurance) are or will be paying family health/prescription insurance premiums - currently about $23,000 per family - for four administrators and a school board secretary in retirement for the rest of their lives. Retired administrators in the Hamptons don't get that kind of fringe benefit. That's more than $2 million if rates never go up. I suspect rates might go higher.

This past school year any full-time non-resident employee who wants their child (grades seven to 12) to go to Chautauqua Lake Schools, now or in the future, Ripley taxpayers get to pay the tuition fee for them. That's $7,500 per student for up to six years each. So, if you chose not to live in Ripley and not pay Ripley school tax apparently that's OK!

The school board - actually taxpayers - will pay for your child to go to CLCS anyway. This was not the result of a negotiated labor contract; this was done by school board policy. They (the board) will give a select group of people a lot of your money and those employees give back - nothing! Those two issues are just the tip of the iceberg on the school board's financial management. I think the school board spends taxpayer monies different than they spend their own. The book details much more.

State test scores - Ripley Central, last school year, spent more dollars per student than any other school district in Chautauqua County. It has a student-teacher ratio of about 8-to-1. Most classroom teachers also get an aide (helper). The taxpayer return last year was state test scores that ranked Ripley third from the bottom compared to all other county schools. Sherman, a community with a similar median income, social profile and poverty level, was ranked number one in Chautauqua County and 45th of 263 schools in Western New York, Ripley was 212, beating most Buffalo inner city schools, according to the 2015-16 Buffalo Business First breakdown. Why the difference? The book will explain some of those reasons.

The last three Ripley superintendents were hired in-house without a legitimate job search. Apparently the best administrative talent available in the state just happened to already work or live in Ripley. The book reveals much more.

Everything I wrote is documented by written evidence. Contracts, audit reports, board minutes, school laws and so on. Most people I wrote about were told I was writing a book, what I was going to write and given the opportunity to refute or defend. Only former Superintendent James Coon responded, said some nice things about me and acknowledged the accuracy of my issue.

The attempt by the Town Board to censor my book raises many issues that I won't address at this point in time but two that need to be understood by the Ripley Town Board and any other book censors, are these:

Intellectual freedom. That is the right of every individual to seek and receive true and factual information from all points of view without restriction. Intellectual freedom is the basis for our democratic system. We expect our people to self govern. But to do so responsibly they must be informed on issues when it's time to vote for the school or town boards. That's what my book does. The Ripley Town Board wants that right taken away. Why?

Censorship. It is the suppression of ideas and information that certain people find objectionable. The Ripley Town Board and perhaps others do not want the community of Ripley to be informed on how their tax dollars are wasted or why their kids aren't learning. Why?

Let me give you my opinion on the "why." The town board has as members, a former Ripley Superintendent (he earned a couple of chapters in my book), another gentleman who has six relatives mentioned in the book and the balance of the board have personal or family relationships with others I have written about. Their censorship, I think, is really all about protecting the reputations of themselves or their families or their friends. Concern for the town or school's image is, in my opinion, a smokescreen.

If they were really concerned about Ripley's image they would do this. Get my book, read my book, and then come to my house and I will give them all the supporting evidence they need that proves my points. Then that group should tell the school board this:

"We're trying to grow the community. Tearing down old buildings, expanding water lines, seeking grant monies and many other things. The school is still the keystone to the town's growth. Stop wasting our tax dollars and start educating our children. That or resign your board seats! We can't grow this community until you stop what you're doing. You're killing Ripley!"

But I fear they won't say that; I'll bet "friends, family and personal self-interests" trump their elected responsibilities. They want to ban my book not because it isn't true but because it is true.

For any censor police still after my books, they are for sale at the Sugar Shack on Route 5 in Westfield. I'd pay money to watch someone tell Gail Black what she should sell.

Jeffery Buchholz is a retired teacher, coach, union president at Ripley schools and a North East, Pa., resident.



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