Monday, June 28, 2010

Reader Feedback: Lessons in Context

There were a couple of statements at the budget public meeting that stuck in my head like speed eating a sno-cone. The stated purpose of the Sun Prairie School Board Finance Committee Public Meeting Jamboree and Revival is to encourage greater participation in the process. The hope of the board and administration is that if they can encourage enough right-thinking people to show up and outnumber the fiscal party-poopers, then all will be right with the world and they will get the money they deserve. This sentiment was evidenced at the meeting by a couple of quotes:

-“…taxes we had earned as a district.” -Jim McCourt

-“taxpayers chose to lower last years’ tax levy.” -Phil Frei

Two points that should be painfully obvious to anyone not addicted to the sweet, sweet nectar of other peoples’ money:

  1. Schools don’t EARN tax money. Schools take money that formerly belonged to someone else. In Wisconsin, this must be approved by the very people you take the money from. If the people don’t like what you do with their money, you run the real risk that they won’t give you as much as you want next time.

  2. Taxpayers in Sun Prairie did not LOWER last years’ levy. Taxpayers chose to increase the levy. The fact that they did not CHOOSE to raise it up to the level that Jim McCourt and Phil Frei think they EARNED does not change the mathematical truism that the $44.2 million that taxpayers chose to give them last year(2009-10) is greater than the $41.1 million they chose to give them the year (2008-09) before (that’s 47>44 for those of you who paid attention in math class and understand that the alligator eats the bigger number).

Another thing that was evident at the meeting is that there will not be enough information made available before the October voters’ meeting for the taxpayers to make an informed opinion as to how much money the district really needs to run a good school. State aid, potential pay raises for Local 60 and administration, property values, and a host of other numbers may or may not be decided with enough time for voters to make sense of it all. Add to that the fact that much of the relevant data is being hidden from the voters by “necessity”, and the levy decision is looking to be based more on faith than fact. The problem is that the board and administration have done some things over the past year to shake the community’s faith. My guess is that they will do things between now and October to shake it even further.

I guess the takeaway from this exercise is that a more informed and involved public is only good for the board and administration if that public agrees with them.

SP-EYE comments:
We agree with the reader. A couple of points worth noting....

1. The 5 year AVERAGE increase in the tax levy is 8.3%. Any of you get even a QUARTER of that as a raise over the past couple of years ( district employees, hands down).

2. If the electors had not stepped in and told the school board to cut reduce the amount of DESIRED levy, the levy would have been an all-time high FIVE MILLION DOLLARS more than the prior year.

3. It is the JOB of our elected representatives--the school board-- to do what the electors did last year. In even a semi-perfect world, our elected representatives are supposed to serve US. Had the school board been serving OUR needs, they would have instructed Administration to cut $2M from the levy.

4. For all the complaints...cutting $2M did not result in the loss of a single job. In fact, the "reductions" made were not even permanent! No lessons learned here. 14% of the "permanent" cuts effected (a mere $3,000) was effected by charging teachers a ridiculous "personal appliance fee". You think a birthday KitKat (or granola) bar can counteract the morale buster that appliance fees caused?