Saturday, October 20, 2007

Flaws in School Funding: A by-product of referendum research

Like most residents in School District 276, I've received much literature about the upcoming education referenda. I've read the literature, researched the SD 276 website, and listened to the board candidates answer the referenda-related questions at the candidate forums. I've come to this conclusion: It is very hard to make an argument for a "no" vote.

From a school funding standpoint, there is no doubt that the caliber of SD 276's education would suffer without sustained funding. These referenda don't create a cash infusion to the district -- they simply make the district whole after having state funding reduced to a trickle. While I appreciate the tax neutrality of the deal, I could live without that aspect. All debts must be repaid sooner or later, and I hope we aren't simply deferring more debt to later payment dates (something I have had a hard time finding succinct info on). If I need to pay more local taxes today to offset the state shortfall, I will.

In researching the referenda, I've learned something that I'm embarrased to say I didn't know before: The state has a cap on how much the district can levy, and we are at that cap (assuming all of the referenda pass). To me, this is the real issue rearing its ugly head in this funding equation. As someone who believes in local control of tax dollars, I am bothered that a centralized state government has set a limit on how much a locality can tax its people for a local service, especially when it would be decided by referendum.

I generally have a high degree of confidence that there is transparency and accountability tied to my local tax dollars: Police, schools, city government, etc. I have slightly less, but still considerable, comfort when it comes to county taxes. I'm really mixed on state taxes -- I see state taxes going to good causes and I like that they benefit those in my broad community, but don't always feel like they are used effectively. When it comes to federal taxes, all bets are off. Federal income taxes are the largest single expense that my family has, and I honestly can't tell you what it is being spent on or if it is being spent wisely. My whole point is that I would much rather pay local taxes than state, and state taxes than federal.

I was disappointed when I learned that not only does the state redistribute the educational tax dollar in a way that underfunds the western suburbs (as Rep. John Berns astutely pointed out in an Oct. 3 Commentary to the Star Tribune), and not only has the state been not keeping up with inflation in its recent funding of education in districts, but they completely tie our hands by limiting how much we can pay locally for the school systems we desire for our children.

In learning this, I feel like our founding fathers' vision of federalism has even failed on the most local level. I'm all for helping some of the poorer districts in the state provide their kids a better education with my tax dollar -- every child deserves a good education regardless of which neighborhood they happen to reside in. But if we as a district (and that really is who a school district is -- not the Superintendent, not the Board, but the community who funds it) want to provide our kids with educational opportunities that are above and beyond, and are fully willing to pay for it ourselves, why can't we?

1 comment:

  1. South Lake Blogger, you make a reasoned, researched argument to support your opinion. Perhaps your blog will be home to more of the same!
    I'm glad to hear you've attended a candidate forum or two. TonkaFocus will soon post summaries of the first three forums, with questions arranged by topic. It's not the same as being there, but is one tool voters can use to decide where their four votes for school board will go.
    VOTE November 6 - it matters.
    Judy Budreau, Co-Editor of TonkaFocus