“A nation under a well regulated government, should permit none to remain uninstructed. It is a monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support.” Thomas Paine (1737-1809), inventor, author, American Revolutionary, and one of America’s Founding Fathers.
As someone who was blessed with an excellent education, I dearly understand the importance in preparing our young people with skill sets to help them succeed in the world. Our country benefits when its populace is successful and independent. If our nation’s children remain ignorant and unchallenged, they will not know how to challenge themselves and will become easy prey for those that wish to make them dependent and powerless. I was blessed with teachers that filled my mind with knowledge, who forced me to critically think about what I learned, and helped me understand the consequences of taking the easy route. If we do not provide an educational system for our children that does this, we send them out into the world woefully unprepared and uncommitted to greatness. Schools are no place for personal agendas outside of the education of our children, either on the federal, state or local level.
It was because of these excellent teachers that I chose this topic today for my article. It is because of their tireless work with a shy young woman that gave me the ability and the strength that I have today to stand up for what is right. I have recently dug into the proposed new Athletic Complex that our School Board is getting ready to go out to bond for, and I went to them last month with the following concerns:
- If the penny sales tax revenue ($450k) could either be used to pay off existing debt or go towards facilities and equipment, why are we not choosing to pay off the existing $2 million we already have in school debt? That would free up the $250,000 annual debt payment that could be used for all those educational things that the school claims that they cannot afford to provide (plus it would also eliminate the need for the additional PPEL tax we pay)
- If we have the money in the bank to pay cash for a much-needed track right now, why are we choosing instead to take on $2.5 million more in debt, in essence doubling what we owe? Why not just get what we need (the track) now and save up for what we want (the full Athletic Complex) later?
- Why are we paying for an Astroturf football field, which costs (on the low end) $300,000, has to be replaced every 3-10 years, will damage our new track each time it is replaced (thus incurring additional repair cost), and requires specialized costly maintenance in both winter and summer (http://www.synturf.org/maintenancereplacement.html), when our existing field works just fine for now and is practically maintained for free?
- Will the increased water runoff to sewers, drains, streets, and sidewalks force the city to make improvements in order to accommodate the additional strain? If so, will that then put our city residents at risk of a new tax levy in order to pay for it?
- What needed facility or equipment items will not be getting maintained, improved or purchased because we have committed most of this money to paying off this new debt’s principal, interest & fees?
- Why are we taking on such debt, given the state of the economy, the fact that we have no control over the funds coming in to pay it off, and our governor has indicated they may be diverted by the legislature in the future for another purpose?
- What are we teaching our school children regarding saving, spending and debt by doing this?
- What are we communicating to student parents who have to sacrifice financially in their own budgets for the sake of their children’s education, in order to live within their means, and the school does not appear to do the same regarding this Athletic Complex?
While I do not have a child in our district Schools, over $1000 of my annual personal property taxes do go towards the school. I willingly pay property taxes so our students can get an education to either land a good job or get into college and make our country’s future brighter – I do not do it so our school can host competitions or make it to the State Championship. I have no problem with sports, mind you, as long as parents and teachers feel that the district educational needs are already met first. The question that should be asked before spending more taxpayer money is “how does this improve our primary objective of excellence in education?” and “are any educational needs not being met due to budgetary reasons that could be if we did not take on this additional debt?” Elected officials, paid or not, are not relieved of accountability just because they serve in education. We must stop treating taxpayer money – from any source – as if it was a blank, bottomless, check.
As someone who will now be part of the city council, I truly understand how hard it is to balance taxpayer needs vs. taxpayer wants. I will be asking these same kinds of questions as we prepare our own budget in the next coming months. Elected officials have a difficult task, and we will never make everyone happy. Even so, we still must not to forget the first priority the taxpayers have elected us to do, and be careful that taxpayer resources are not spent to further a secondary agenda. No amount of nice sports facilities will make parents come to our town if their child cannot get the education necessary to succeed. No amount of quality of life offerings will encourage families to live in our city if property tax rates are too burdensome. Since both the school and the city consume the bulk of the property tax revenues, we elected officials should always strive to work together, in the most open and balanced way possible, in order to best serve those who are our true bosses: the people of our town.
UPDATE 1/11/12: The new revised figures for the Athletic Complex are now higher, increasing to $3.06 million, before interest and fees.