Thursday, August 31, 2006

Advertising your own referendum on public property 

According to a poster on the SCTimes chat, Government School District #742 was passing out signs asking for a 'yes' vote on the referendum on Sept. 12 for a bond to build a new school. I'm not sure that's legal -- I don't think it is but I am not familiar enough with the law in that area. At any rate, it's unseemly regardless of your views on the referendum.

I've been struggling with the financing on this referendum. The selling point on the levy has been that it will only cost someone $3 more a year on $150,000 of assessed value. (Here's the calculator they use to show this.) But how they do this is to roll an existing levy into the new one. And the school district will have to renew its operational levy, which will be argued it has to do because of state legislative actions. Whatever debt remains to be paid -- which is quite low, looking at the data from the state auditor's office -- stretching it out means people in the future will be paying for the debt for the next 20 years. Moreover, if you had let the existing debt retire -- which as best I can tell would happen in 2007 (I may be wrong about this, but the school district doesn't put its full budget on its website) -- your taxes would have gone down by $99.

$25 million of this goes to a new school in St. Joseph. I have no problem believing it's needed out there (of course, I would rather see private school alternatives out there or another STRIDE Academy, but leave that argument for another day.) And $2 million in a separate question would be voted for a separate land purchase for the fast-growing SE St. Cloud-Haven area. But the school district went and muddied the waters by adding in $8 million for a passel of gifts for various constituencies from science labs and auditorium upgrades to maintenance work and pool covers to keyless entries and sinks and countertops for the home economics program. Why? Why isn't this something we fund out of operational expenses, since these types of expenditures are normal expenses? Why did the school board allow these special interests to attach an extra $8 million onto a bill to help out growing St. Joe? Perhaps to get them to hand out signs at a school open house?

UPDATE: Another thought about charter schools, this time from Joshua Sharf:
We did have one caller, Robin, a middle-school principal, who argued that charters need to upgrade their teacher certification standards, a typical claim from a union that would like to extend the close shop to beyond the shop. If charters are outperforming (or even matching) public schools using less restrictive teacher certification, that just says that at least some of the standards the unions have helped impose are either irrelevant or outright damaging.
Why not have a charter open up in St. Joe?