Ever wonder why school levies always seem to fail, and yet school taxes always seem to go up, and never go down? It’s simple– the levies keep coming back, and coming back, until they pass. It is interesting, the levies lose, and lose, and lose, but then, due to low turn out, or bad weather, or just a weird turn of events, the levy passes, often by a number of votes that can be counted on one hand. And that settles it.
I first noticed this rather odd turn of events in St Louis, where they were trying to pass a referendum to allow riverboat gambling. The referendum failed during every election for over two years, and at every defeat those supporting the referendum vowed to bring it back again. Once the levy passed, they proudly declared “this has been settled once and for all.”
So, what makes it “once and for all” when one side wins, and not another? I think it is because those that are pushing for these issues are quick to try to shut down further debate. In fact, they often use draconian tactics to make their point.
One of my favorite responses from a school district, when their levy failed, was to not only take away busing, but then add insult to injury by coming out and announcing that if any children are injured by having to walk to school, that the fault would lay with the taxpayers who were “too cheap” to pass a levy. Yup–rather than find waste in their budget (and there was a large administrative staff that could have been cut) they went for the jugular, playing roullette with the lives of children for the sake of money.
Another school district said they would have to eliminate the advanced placement and honors classes. When pressed, they said they wouldn’t fired any teachers. Why not? Because they still had full classroom loads of students. So, this was another effort to lower the education of students, simply to “blackmail” the community into paying higher taxes.
So what would my solution be, for school districts? Let me say, my suggestions are focused not on how to defeat, or repeal, the levies, but rather on how school districts could do better without them. These suggestions at times may require a rethinking of what “public education” means, but that isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.
First, make students buy their own textbooks. College students have to do it, so why not public school students? I hear the screams now “but what about poor families that cannot afford the books?” Simple: we help them. If you are below a certain income level, then you get “free” books. If you aren’t, then you can also economize by purchasing used books, and then selling them back, just like the college model. The books in public schools now are often used for several years in a row. Requiring the purchase of the books would perhaps result in students taking better care of the books, since parents will have a direct financial stake in the care of the books.
Second, continue to require students to pay to play. Participating in sporting events and teams at taxpayers expense shouldn’t be viewed as a “right” of students. They should be required to take physical education classes, and that should be community funded, but anything beyond that should be seen as “above and beyond.”
Third, permits for parking (at local High Schools) should be purchased. This would perhaps reduce congestion (price it high enough so many would choose not to drive) and also help subsidize the busing system.
Fourth, identify any additional “above and beyond” programs, and charge fees that are appropriate for sustaining the program. If it is an event with spectators, then charge an appropriate fee for that program, and have that money go directly to support that program. Any money generated by a program should be used directly, and not subsidized a “lesser interest” program.
One quick aside on this point: If taxpayers subsidize a program, such as the football team, they should be allowed to attend for free. They already paid for it–they should get to see it!
One of these days, I want to see people insist that a referendum that passed be brought back just one more time. after 4 defeats, to finally win and declare final victory seems “odd.” How about “best two out of three.” Think we could convince people to go for that?
Don’t forget, the midterm exam is coming. Leave your homework in a pile on the desk on your way out, and make sure your name is on your work.