There’s some discussion on the Snoqualmie Resident Yahoo! group on why the bond failed. Instead of just posting there I decided to post here and let the blogosphere enjoy the fruits of my time-honored wisdom.
I am normally inclined to rubber stamp any tax increase for education. Spending money on education is, in general, a worthwhile investment. After all, my wife and I spend $220/month to send Spencer to all day kindergarten (we fund Spencer’s additional day, not the taxpayers). However, it’s not a blanket rubber stamp, as I don’t always believe throwing money at education always has a positive return. The recent bond vote is one example.
This was a tough decision for me. Clearly I value my children’s education. And I acknowledge we live in a fast growing area, and a fast growing area for families. And I acknowledge the Snoqualmie Valley School District will need more facilities for schools. So why did I end up voting no? Lots of little reasons. I won’t go into that long of a diatrabe, I’ll just try to highlight the salient points.
First, taxes here are already high. $5000+ a year, and they just went up 10%. Part of that is due to rising market rates, part of it due to other bonds that were passed. Not that I can’t afford new taxes, but I do have ask – where is my tax money going? And, how is that tax money being prioritized? By comparison, my taxes on the same size home and land in Indiana were less than half what I pay now, and I get better and more services in return. And, if education is that important to the community (and it should be), let’s take a look at what the city/county is spending its money on that is not essential and eliminate that. Taxes should not be viewed as an endless asset that municipalities can tap whenever they need revenue. They should first look at optimizing what they have and eliminating spend where they can.
Second, I needed to better understand how the money would be spent. This breaks down into three parts: 1) what is the history of the school district in managing funds, 2) how is the proposed money going to be spent, and 3) what is being done with the money that is being generated from more residents and higher home values?. Overall, history is not on the board/district’s side. Several recent examples of poor planning (CVES needing portables the year it opened, the tennis court fiasco, etc) don’t give me comfort in handing a large check to the district. In addition, details were sketchy on where $209M would be spent (I won’t beat that horse to death). And, something that was never addressed… where does the new money being generated by community growth contribute?
Third, I’ve already learned in less than two years that the Seattle area loves to tax and spend. My lord every few months there’s an initiative to raise taxes, and this area (Seattle) loves to raise taxes at every turn. So, I assume that base tax rate increases in this area will continue to outpace cost of living and inflation.
Fourth, I need to understand what the alternatives are to what the board is proposing and why those alternatives were rejected. This was a big miss. For example, what would happen if we did grade level adjustments and turned the high school into 10-12 instead of 9-12? How would that buy us time? How would that change things? While this was considered, the documentation stated it was dismissed because “that’s an antiquated way of teaching” and “7/8 grade certifications is different than 9th grade certifications.” And those were the best two reasons. What? That’s the best we could come up with? Sorry, that rubs me the wrong way. Sure sounds like the task force was put in place to justify a large bond and not to find solutions to the problem at hand.
Finally, and probably most important, I need to trust that the school district is going to spend the money wisely and judiciously. This, ultimately, was the biggest miss, and was a result of the culmination of the above issues. The more I researched, the less comfortable I got. I just didn’t get a good feel that money spent would result in a return. I’d rather have the money in my pocket and I will manage my children’s education… which we already do anyway.
In a nutshell, I felt that the district simply asked the community to fund a wishlist of projects, without doing the due diligence to prioritize and look for additional creative avenues of funding (either cost-cutting or other revenue streams). I got this feeling from the docs they prepared and the informational packets they sent out. That turned my bias from a yes vote to a no vote.
Interesting enough, after the vote, I am concerned that despite the lack of data, the size of the increase, the lack of either effort or transparency in exploring alternative options, 58% of the people still voted yes on this bond. Granted voter turnout was 38%, and I assume that was biased to those who were inclined to support the bond, but it’s still a high number for my liking.
By the way, if the board wants a yes vote out of me, provide me the disclosure and information that Round Rock, Texas provide its community.