Sunday, July 24, 2011

Blurring the Lines?

The scene:  last Monday's public hearing on the 2011-12 school district budget.

At issue: Increasing the tax levy beyond the current school board parameter of 3.5% tax levy increase to fund $600,000 in new educational initiatives.

The cost: We were told "about another 1%" increase to the tax levy (making it a 4.5% increase).

The fact-check:  We have been repeatedly told that each $45,000 of additional spending will raise the tax levy 0.1%.  Did these guys that make up the budget flunk basic math? If the additional increase to the tax levy were to be "1%", that would mean spending only $450,000...right?  You know ...10 times 45 = 450 and 10 times 0.1 = 1.0.  But...they're SEEKING $600,000 of spending!!!  That additional $150,000 will add another 0.33% to the tax levy.  So, let's be 100% above board, gentlemen...funding all those initiatives would raise the tax levy increase to 4.83%!!!!!

The secondary concern:  We sincerely appreciate the impassioned plea from the teacher who spoke in favor of the additional spending.  She spoke well, and she spoke convincingly.  Actually she's better at public speaking than a lot of the usual talking heads.  What deeply concerns us, however, is that she doesn't even live within the Sun Prairie School District!  How nice to put out a plea for spending additional monies when you won't have to bear the burden of the additional property taxes.  More to the point, you may even personally benefit from the move.  We do give her kudos for at acknowledging that she does not live within the district.

The takeaway: Isn't it enough that Troop Culver is quietly operating behind the scenes pushing parents groups (not to mention teachers and administrators) to "flood" the public hearings to speak out in favor of additional spending? Certainly, there are no flies on Timmy C!  He learned from October 2009 that he's gotta get his peeps to outnumber the seniors and other taxpayers who oppose runaway spending.

However, there's a very blurred line when it comes to public hearings on a budget. Those who speak have their comments become part of the record. That record theoretically could in turn influence the school board's decision whether or not to increase spending. That becomes a problem, when those who speak do not live within the school district and therefore are not affected by subsequent tax increases. It is against state statute for such people to vote at a public hearing. Shouldn't that extend to speaking at the meeting? Or even attending the meeting?

If you are a resident of the district, by all means, speak your mind, pro or con. But if you are part of the school district machine--and especially if you do not live in the district-- then you either shouldn't be there, or be part of the administrative panel in order that it's very clear that you have a conflict of interest.

Food for thought:  Does the school board EVER consider, before they vote, what the rest of the school districts are doing?  Read the papers people.  Phil Frei likes to point out that we're in the minority on many things spending-wise.  Well, for 2011-12, we're in the minority of districts that are raising taxes.  And those few that are increasing levies are nowhere near increasing them by 3.5% let alone 4.8+%.    Google "2011-12 Wisconsin school district budgets" and check it out for yourselves.