Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Vote No

Reminder to residents of Independent School District 834 (Stillwater and surrounding areas), there is an election today. Or, I should say, a referendum, as there are no candidates up for office, only a series of ballot question about once again increasing funding for the government school system.

The campaigning on behalf of a funding increase has been quiet this year. We’ve only received a couple of expensively produced mailing pieces from the school district testifying to their extraordinary accomplishments despite their poverty level funding levels. As annoying as having my tax dollars spent for public relations pieces lobbying for more tax dollars is, this approach has been a pleasant change from the threats, vandalism, and violence perpetrated the pro-levy campaign just a couple of years ago, the last time a funding increase was on the ballot.

The only counter campaigning I’ve seen was a couple of hand painted signs, posted on telephone polls in the neighborhood, saying simply: “Vote no”. This message was contested within 24 hours, on the same telephone polls, with hand painted signs saying: “Vote yes”. Picture here, courtesy of Patch.com.

On Sunday I noticed the voice of a third constituency had joined the conversation, with another hand painted sign saying: “On what?” Given this level of engagement with the issues, I take these to be the noble independent voters who refuse to be categorized by simplistic ideological labels. As with all elections in America these days, it is on their votes that the fate of the referendum hangs.

The sample ballot is provided here. As a service to the “On what?” army, excerpts and expert commentary follow:


Note the term “Revoking”. That is a good reminder that the voters passed a referendum a couple of years ago greatly increasing funding, that was supposed to run through the 2014. I’m sure many voters took the time frame in consideration when they made their voting decision. The trade off of a tax increase for the chance to at least lock in the price for, in this case, 7 years. But it turns out the school district had an option to tear that up and demand more favorable terms. They're the CC Sabathia of school districts.

The board of Independent School District No. 834 (Stillwater Area Public Schools) has proposed to revoke the school district's existing referendum revenue authorization of $996.57 per pupil and to replace that authorization with a new authorization of $1,465 per pupil.

A request for a 47% increase in funding for an already rich school district is preposterous under any circumstances. But in the context of the supporting community over the past few years, with private sector wages declining and property values plummeting, this is one for the Chutzpah Hall of Fame.

The only saving grace is that this is a fixed amount and the education bureaucracy will have to live with a 47% increase and ONLY a 47% increase for the next seven years. Right?

The proposed new referendum revenue authorization would increase each year by the rate of inflation and be applicable for seven years unless otherwise revoked or reduced as provided by law.

Automatic inflation indexing? Social security recipients don’t even receive that. So the $1,465 per pupil is the entry level price, guaranteed to go up every year. Nice to know that if inflation takes off and we’re paying more for everything, the school district will be immune from any negative effects.

Shall the increase in the revenue proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 834 be approved?

Nice of you to ask. NO.

Next question.


The board of Independent School District No. 834 (Stillwater Area Public Schools) has proposed a capital project levy authorization of 1.25495% times the net tax capacity of the school district. The money raised by this authorization will provide funds for the purchase and installation of computers, printers, classroom audiovisual equipment and peripherals, interactive whiteboards, learning management systems, productivity and curriculum software, and staff development.
According to the outgoing Superintendent of ISD 834, the benefit of this increase is:

... it would provide more personalized learning and improved technology device-to-student ratios, according to Nelson.
Because nothing says “personalized learning” like more reliance on technology devices.

The proposed capital project levy authorization will raise approximately $982,300 for taxes payable in 2012, the first year it is to be levied, and would be authorized for seven years. The estimated total cost of the projects to be funded over that time period is approximately $6,876,100. The projects to be funded have received a positive review and comment from the Commissioner of Education. Shall the capital project levy authorization proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 834 be approved?

Let me think about that for a moment, NO.

Final question.


Shall the board of Independent School District No. 834 (Stillwater Area Public Schools) be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $18,375,000 to provide funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities, including the renovation of existing and construction of new science labs at the Stillwater Area High School and the Oak-Land Junior High School facilities; the construction of new Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) labs at the Stillwater Area High School and the Oak-Land Junior High School facilities; and the updating of the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems at various school facilities.

Let me answer this 105 word run on sentence with a single word answer. NO.

Before you condemn me for being hasty, let’s recall the real story behind this $18 million request, again from the outgoing Superintendent:

Nelson pointed out that science labs are presently inadequate, and the state is adding science requirements for graduation. “You’ve got lab stations built for eight students and you’ve got 12 students standing around with gas and fire and chemicals,” he said.

A mere $18 million to prevent the impending firebombing 33% of the student population? Tempting, but .... NO.

You citizens asking “on what?” now have your information. It’s time to do your duty. Polls are open until 8pm. Good luck and may we all live to see the morning.