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One citizen had it right when he called the district’s tactics at last Wednesday’s tax hearing a “shell game”.
It was obvious that local taxpayers never had a chance. Much like the mark who gets lured into this ancient con game, residents were duped into thinking their opinions mattered – that the school district might at least consider a small tax increase, or (gasp) no increase at all. But after listening to the verbal orchestration played out by the superintendent, administrators and even some school board members, it was clear that nothing would quench the district’s insatiable thirst for more money.
Embarrassingly, $21 million in federal, state and local taxes would not be enough to educate our 2,873 Spencer County children. The district needs another $292,000 in local property taxes or the instructional sky will fall. The tax increase approved by four out of five board members will bring the district’s local take to almost $5.8 million and the total school budget closer to $22 million.
How did this happen? By laying groundwork for this swindle in fear.
“There’s very little to cut at this point and that means laying off teachers,” said Superintendent Chuck Adams (The Spencer Magnet Sept. 1, 2010).
This scare tactic is frequently used for a reason: it works. Not only do teachers get worked up in a frenzy over the possibility of – if not losing their own job – taking on more duties with a reduced staff; but parents buy into the fear that their kids will be stuck in larger and less efficient classrooms.
Fear was also the purpose when one board member stated that not voting an increase would send a message to Frankfort that Spencer County does not need state funds (hint: also known as taxpayer money), and thus, send less.
With the foundation laid, the framework was built with threats.
“Don’t whine,” said Mary Ann Carden, board member. Warning the audience that if taxes were not increased, then parents would have no room to complain when the board claims poverty and denies any future requests. At one point during the evening, Carden said the district is “running on a shoestring budget.” I don’t buy it. Spending $7,300 per student may be below the national average, but it certainly does not sound like the definition of pinching pennies.
The problem with these tactics is that taxpayers cannot determine the validity of their statements. The paper labeled “Talking Points” provided by the superintendent had just enough information to make it appear that our school district is in a precarious financial situation. But is it really? And when the finance officer attempted to provide insight by rattling on about capital outlay, contingency funds, BG-1s, SEEK allocations and the numerous other headings used in the district’s confusing accounting system – eyes started glassing over. It is easy to understand how taxpayers could perceive that numbers are being shuffled about in a verbal slight of hand.
There is no doubt that providing our children a quality education is one of the more valuable gifts we can give them. But, at what cost? And in this situation, what are we really teaching them?
Greed for one thing. This situation teaches our kids that it’s okay to never be content with the amount of money available to them. They learn that more is the answer to any problem, and the act of aquiring more -- regardless of the means -- can always be justified (in this case, because it is “for the children”). Before long, that dependency on money becomes feelings of entitlement and we end up with a generation of takers, not makers.
I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the tactics the school board used to manipulate the emotions of taxpayers. This immoral means to achieve a desired outcome is, unfortunately, all too common today. But, I’m also disappointed that more people were not at the tax hearing to object. Letting our elected officials have free reign to do what seems best in their eyes makes us look foolish and lazy. Does that really describe you? If not, I urge you to call your school board member and demand to know why $21 million was not enough.