We all have heard plenty of talk of late of the pernicious impact that "Big Oil" and "Big Pharma" (among others) have on our political process. These "special interest" groups use their money to influence the outcome of elections and seek to have policies implemented that benefit their members materially. It's described as an outrage against the very principals on which our democracy was founded.
Strangely enough, rarely do you hear people talking about the role that "Big Education" plays in politics.
In Robbinsdale School District 281, we were faced with two school financing levy referendum questions on this year's ballot. Both passed:
Nonpartisan YES 30083 55.12
Nonpartisan NO 24490 44.88
Nonpartisan YES 28552 52.42
Nonpartisan NO 25913 47.58
As a result, homeowners in the district will see a rather substantial increase in their property taxes:
The owner of a $245,000 home would pay an additional $18.50 in property tax per month ($15 for Question One and $3.50 for Question Two). The district would receive $632 in additional revenue for each student in the district.
Eighteen fitty a month doesn't sound that bad on the surface, but over a year that's $222. And in a tough economic time with people struggling to pay their bills, that's a bite that many will feel. That's $18.50 a month that won't go to paying the mortgage, buying groceries, or investing in your kid's college fund.
But as the Vote Yes for Robbinsdale Area Schools site reminds us, "Everyone Benefits." Not equally of course and as is usually the case when you're trying to figure who stands to gain the most, it helps to follow the money.
This week's New Hope-Golden Valley Sun reported on the campaign finance reports filed by District 281 referendum groups:
Campaign financial reports have been filed with Robbinsdale District 281 by the 281 C.A.R.E. Committee, which opposed the Nov. 4 referendum, and the Robbinsdale Area Schools "Vote Yes" committee, which supported it.
Ron Stoffel of Crystal, treasurer of the C.A.R.E. committee, reported $375 in contributions to that group between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26 this year.
The committee listed no donor names in its report.
It listed expenditures of $758 for advertising, $38 for postage and $10.69 for fundraising, for a total of about $806.
The group took in four hundo and spent eight. Truly a grassroots, shoe-string, citizen-lead operation.
The "Vote Yes" Committee's report, filed by John Heinrich of New Hope, reported total income of $22,613 between May 13 and Oct. 20 this year.
That's over SIXTY times as much as the group that opposed the referendum. And they put that money to good use:
The Vote Yes expenditures included $3,300 for database software setup and rental fees; $290 for banner, copies and post office box rental; $582 for T-shirts; $7,116 for lawn signs; $204 for phone bill; $75 for radio commercials; $500 for liability insurance; $57 for open house and phone bank expenses; and $3,622 for office rent in September and October.
But you say, if the citizens of the district supported the measure, shouldn't they be able to support it with their dollars? Of course the should. Let's see who those citizens are:
The largest contribution of $7,500 came from the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers, the 1,800-member teachers' union in District 281.
I guess the teachers' union cares so much about the children of the district that they dug deep and ponied up some of the precious money collected by their members' union dues. Their noble effort on behalf of the children almost brings a tear to the eye.
How is this levy money going to be used to help the children anyway?
Levy Question One--Asks voters to increase the existing $12.6 million levy by $7.6 million for a total of $20.2 million annually.
Passage of question one would reduce class size by rehiring 30 teachers, partially restore after school activities and retain valuable programs, including band and orchestra at the elementary level and some art and athletic opportunities at the secondary level.
Levy Question Two--This question can only pass if Question One passes. Asks for an additional $1.8 million dollars, bringing the total to $22 million annually.
Passage of question two would further reduce class size by rehiring up to 10 more teachers and support accelerated implementation and staff training for the Strategic Plan goal to enrich academic achievement.
Now someone of a more cynical bent might look at that and conclude that the teachers' union contribution to the vote yes campaign was nothing more than a self-serving effort to increase the group's membership, its power, and the amount of money that it will be receiving in dues from the additional teachers. But we know that this is all about the children and only a narrow-minded, anti-education, child-hating monster could thing otherwise.
The teachers weren't the only ones looking after their vested interests:
A contribution of $1,350 was reported from the District 281 Principals Association, as well as $1,000 from the Sunny Hollow Elementary School PTSO.
Donations of $500 each were reported from Sonnesyn Elementary School PTSO, Pilgrim Lane Elementary School PTO and Sandburg Middle School PTSO, while a $250 contribution was listed from Noble Elementary School.
It really warms my heart to know that these parent-teacher-student organizations could come together and voluntarily raise money that could be used to conduct a campaign whose end result will be to confiscate money from everyone else in the district that will then be used for their benefit. They really must care about the kids.
Others happy to contribute to a cause so that their neighbors can be taxed more to support that cause include:
School Board Member Tom Walsh of Plymouth donated $110; Assistant Superintendent Gayle Walkowiak contributed $300; and Jeff Dehler, the district's community relations program director, donated $150.
Residents listed as donating money were John Appelen of Plymouth, $400; Stephen Hagstrom of New Hope, $350; Steve Lear of Plymouth, $500; and Mary McKoskey of Plymouth, $500.
The great thing is that even though Mary McKoskey could only contribute five hundred dollars, thanks to the awesome taxing power of the government she has helped the schools reap millions of additional dollars. Her gift just keeps on taking and taking and taking.
Funny that the people who talk about taking big money and special interests out of politics never seem to mention the eight-hundred pound education gorilla rampaging through neighborhoods throughout the country.