Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Columbians cut through the...well, you know

Columbia Daily Tribune’s Class Notes has a note about Columbia School District’s bank account. The story goes that last year, the district dipped into its reserve funds to the tune of $10.4 million, oddly enough the very same amount they now quote as a deficit and are asking taxpayers to replace. Janese Heavin says,

“It's almost like Columbia Public Schools bounced a $10.35 million check and now they need taxpayers to put money back into the account.

As most of you know, the district spent close to $10.4 million from reserves to add positions and increase salaries. Actually, the board spent $10,353,395 -- the exact amount the district is now calling a ‘deficit’.”

Judging by the comments in the article, Columbians are no longer buying the “increased spending equals student improvement” bit. And there is a slue of other lines they are refusing to swallow:

They understand that CPS spending is not nearly as responsible as it could be, and that increases from every angle aren’t making a dent in poor test scores. They see it as a trend of irresponsibility, and can quickly find facts that indicate the superintendent is making twice as much as teacher averages.

The tax increase would pay salaries for 70 new positions added to the district recently. There was a great deal of debate about the efficacy of those positions. They know the district projects $26 million in reserves, and they know they already pay an arm in taxes and want to know what they stand to win if they throw in a leg as well. There were plenty of questions about why they didn’t disclose some very important information about expenditures until it was too late, and questions about why the School Board was negligent with their oversight.

Comments asked to see the administrative cutbacks that had been made. They demonstrated a balance of thought about the tax burden to families in a down-shifting economy, and that a 10.4% increase in taxes per assessed dollar value is sure to be noticed when people go to pay for groceries. They noticed when CPS bought a $500K parcel of land for future use while in the middle of hefty expenditures for lavish new buildings.

They are aware that the more they spend, the more CPS gets, and that to raise a tax rate is to raise the share that the district receives. Even more telling is that some commenters were well aware that the school administration could scare them by threatening cuts to important classes and programs.

These comments speak for themselves. There is a groundswell of mistrust for the current administration that voters will get a chance to do something about. They can vote not to pass this bond, but it won’t make up for this period of fiscal mismanagement. I applaud these citizens for, at least online, demanding drastic changes on their terms; hopefully this will carry over into actions by angry taxpayers and parents who expect more from their decision-makers. I was delighted by their passion and knowledge about what their district is doing—but with such a strong, informed voice, it is even more disappointing that these follies continue to happen.

No comments: