Tuesday, February 16, 2010

a school board, a tax, much drama

Last night I sat through 3 hours of a school board meeting--the one where the superintendent asked the board to tax to the legal ceiling allowed without a referendum in order to maintain operations. Even by doing so, our school district will run a projected $250,000 deficit. And ours is a district with increasing enrollment that has a long history of being fiscally conservative.

The old people were out in droves to protest "tax to the max." The board and the superintendent sat in very hot seats. Our PTA treasurer spoke first during the open floor to support the motion, noting that they've lowered the mill rate all but 4 times in the last 16 years and what the school was asking for was not anything extra, just essential. Immediately an old man sitting across from us stood and began verbally attacking her. The board president ran referee the whole night, reminding people to address the board, not the citizenry sitting beside them. It struck me that the violent outbursts during the health care debates weren't so far from what I witnessed. Personal attacks were made by the opposition, reasoned and researched arguments were made by the supporters (which did include some elderly folks--one gentleman made a stunning argument on behalf of education and not cutting programming). I was disappointed by the ignorance displayed by my compatriots--some accusing the superintendent of horrible things, some arguing to cut jobs that don't even exist, one man calling the district's four-year-old preschool "glorified babysitting." "Because the moms are at work!" this Neanderthal yelled. At that point I may have turned around and hollered back "And their dads are working too!"

It disappointed me that more parents weren't present to support the motion--it's this generation's children, after all, most affected by these budget decisions.

I thought about what percent of our income Mr. D and I pay in federal taxes (considerable) and the amount the school gets for abiding by federal laws (2%). I thought about the other programs that we've contributed to our whole working lives--like Social Security. I thought about how I'll probably never get my share of that. I thought about how this older generation digging in their heels (mostly--though some of them value education and spoke out to support the motion, and some young parents spoke out against the motion because they don't want their taxes raised) lives on fixed incomes and feels they cannot pay any more. And I thought how as a mom I'm not asking for more, just enough so that my kids can get a running start at a life in the shadow of a federal and state budget deficit the previous generations have been responsible for creating.

My friend whispered that she'd voluntarily pay these people's property taxes if they'd pay her Social Security and Medicaid. I stifled a giggle. She'd come out ahead on that bargain.

I spoke my piece, recognizing the shoestring budget the board has worked with and noting how the Happyland PTA spends money on essentials like construction paper and Xerox paper and wood chips for the playground. We don't use our money for frills--the classrooms have 25 students and annual supply budgets of $250. It's not enough. They certainly cannot cut any more. Our class sizes are as full as they can be and the current budget allows for nothing extra.

It was a long meeting while the board members listened and then discussed what lie before them. I empathized with their position. They don't want to raise taxes, but they have a duty to these kids and our community. They recognize the tight times citizens face, but they also see how we're not getting money from the state and federal governments to hold up this end of the agreement: a free public education for our kids. Ultimately that funding will have to come from the local coffers because the other two won't ante up.

They voted to pass the motion 4-3. Many angry people and some happy people stood up and left. I sat and watched the rest of the meeting from my spot in the front row. The board thanked me for sitting through until the end. I replied that the end was the best part--all the good news--the announcement of this year's valedictorians and salutatorian was at the end of the meeting. I thanked them for their courage and their service.

And reader? I am exhausted today.

19 comments:

  1. I feel for you. We're facing a carnival fundraiser this weekend that everyone wants to attend but very few want to volunteer time or money to support. And then they wonder why programs get cut...

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  2. I would not want to be in a school boards position right now..NO MONEY any where- And it is true - MOST don't come out to support a school. But good for you for going and speaking.

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  3. Amen..You are right in so many ways. We just got back from voting for school board members that want to be elected---many are people who want to cut, cut, and cut. Education is the most important thing we have going for our grandchildren.

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  4. My head is spinning and I'm exhausted just reading about it. Democracy is good and all, but sometimes don't you just wish some people would just shut up already! Good for you for going, participating, and staying until the end. Now, go and take a nap!

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  5. You must be exhausted. Good Grief. Bug so glad you are there speaking your mind and being there for your children. More parents need to do this.

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  6. Yikes. And my hubby wonders why I don't want him to get into politics! It is exhausting!!!!!!

    So proud of you for getting involved (and keeping your cool). :)

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  7. Bravo to you. Those things can be miserable and sometimes "the people" in our government "of the people" make me very tired. But I love the friend's idea to offer to pay their property taxes - ha!

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  8. It continues to blow my mind what a low priority American society puts on education. Don't they get that it's virtually the key to everything? I'll stop before I pull out my very tall soapbox and start ranting. I'm glad to hear your meeting turned out well.

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  9. Thank you for supporting the people who educate your children. It's true: the school funding formula is broken and has been broken since 1993 when the revenue caps became law. They're not saving anyone money; they're making educating our 21st century workers darn near impossible.
    Off soapbox.

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  10. GG, first of all I wanted to thank you for all the time & effort you put into your children's school & PTA. Many could but don't because they think someone else will but in reality not enough do so everyone thinks someone is doing when no one is doing and then they all wonder why nothing happened. It's a big circle and you are working to break the pattern. I've spent a few years in the circle and found it very emotionally taxing. Each year I still work behind the scenes to make one aspect better unbeknownst to many but that's okay ~ it's not about the recongnition ... it's about the kids. Truth be told sometimes it's easier to make things happen when you are out of the circle and meetings. Anywho, I spend many a night wondering if mine would be better off with the new virtual learning options for our state and may try it for high school. That's a whole nother can of worms though isn't it. What are your thoughts on virtual learning?

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  11. Oh man, a big glass of great wine is what I wish for you!

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  12. Our school board decided this year to close the oldest school in our town and sell the property to keep from getting deeper into debt. We were heartbroken. Our kids went to that school and so did Irv back in the 60's. There are 4 of the ball fields there as well and it will all be gone.

    I hate to see the schools struggling so much. :(

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  13. I get so angry with the knee jerk-no taxes ever reactions.

    Do you want my kids to get educated and pay taxes to fund your social security? Then you may need to pony up a little as well.

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  14. I'm exhausted by just the thought of sitting through what must have been an extremely stressful meeting for everyone. I admire you for being a vocal, visible, respectful supporter of your school district and of your children. I don't know what the answer is but we'll never find it by shouting at each other.

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  15. "a free public education"... there is no such thing as a free education, public or otherwise. One of the main reasons folks balk, why I balk, at default tax increases for education is the disproportionate spending within the the heirarchy - instead of 90% getting to the "field", for the students, the teachers, and a decent place to carry on the whole affair, the better portion is dedicated to the administrative level, with increasingly limited tangible return for the dollar (basing this on our experience when our kids were enrolled in ps and I looked at the budget - I couldn't believe my eyes). A larger conversation than you intended, maybe, but also a reason some of us will not necessarily protest but will question whenever tax increases are proposed. It's not knee-jerk, for many of us, it's math.

    And I hear you on the SS/Med v. property taxes issue. It seems impossible for anyone to be objective when it affects their quality of life. My VERY conservative FIL who is quite well off thinks there shouldn't be public schools, but of course Medicaid is the best thing going. It's all personal, isn't it?

    It's good to know you're there, protecting your investment. Good for you. Get some rest.

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  16. It is disheartening to sit through those conversations. At least the kids win this one, but most of the time that is not what happens.

    That is why I give my kids teacher's gift cards, so they can stop spending their own money on things they need for the classroom.

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  17. good for you. I vote and put my facebook statuses to the max about supporting my own school and my son's school. But giving up so much time? THAT is true dedication.

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  18. I love your blog and everything you write--but you could *pretty pretty please with a bright red cherry on top* use more paragrpah spacing?

    I am not trying to be ugly. Pinky swear.

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Spill it, reader.