Voting on leeway takes serious thought
Since the beginning of December when I first found out that Carbon School District would be asking for an increase in property taxes, I have been personally struggling with whether to vote for or against the leeway increase.
I still haven't made up my mind. The problem I have is that there are good arguments on each side of the issue.
Up until now there has not been much public debate, largely because even though almost everyone knew the election was coming, they weren't sure what the school district wanted to use the money for. As of last week, that has become much clearer.
When I saw the first proposal in December, it appeared the emphasis would be on giving teachers raises. There were other things on the list, but that is what popped out.
However, nothing was official at that time and the Carbon County Board of Education decided to have a work meeting to clarify the issues listed on the preliminary document.
So I decided to wait to even write an editorial about the issues involved.
Now with only a week to go, I have some clarification. It's still mainly about teachers raises, or should I say about keeping them at least at the level they have been for the last few years.
With health care insurance costs increasing, district personnel have had to make up at least some of the difference out of their own paychecks. For many of them, who have received no raises at all for a couple of years, this has certainly been a step backward financially.
I worked in the state's public education system in one form or another for 17 years. I know the frustration of no raises or of having funding for programs cut back so supplies and materials are not available. I understand how public education employees feel when they are blamed for the failure of students or programs when their control over the situation is so limited.
But I also know what it is like on the private side of the workplace. In many ways, I've never had it so good as when I worked in education. Fairly fixed hours, lots of vacation and holidays and for the most part a very good guarantee of having a job for the rest of my life if I kept my nose clean. And most years there was a decent raise, even though in times of tight state budgets we lost a little.
In private industry we cannot have anyone vote to give us a raise. It's all based on productivity. During good times, if you perform, you get to keep your job and hopefully gain a little.
If times are not so good, like they are right now, you hope like hell the company you are working for has some pretty smart people at the top of it who know how to sell your product to other people who are not making much money.
As for health care insurance, I find myself to the be one of the luckiest people working for the newspaper because my wife is employed in one of the jobs in the public sector and her insurance is very good and costs us very little.
Others who work at the Sun Advocate or for many private employers in the Carbon County area would be extremely happy to pay $50 or $100 a month for health insurance coverage.
I have talked to people in many private settings who pay three or four times that for family plans. And then there are the people who are self-employed and who pay at least twice that rate.
There are other issues at stake in connection with the voted leeway, of course.
The board of education wants to maintain class sizes, restore a district position that was cut for gifted and talented students and put a reading specialist in every elementary school.
Admirable goals, all.
For me, the matter is not so much a personal thing. I figure my property taxes would go up about $150 a year on the holdings my family owns. Not tough to afford for me. But no matter how small the increase the leeway will result in, it would be hard for some people.
The school district has not had a voted leeway vote since 1956, primarily because state funding for public education has been fairly adequate.
The situation, as we all know, is changing due to budget concerns and the local district, as are almost all the school organizations in the state, is struggling.
I understand why the school district needs the money.
The board of education members' reasoning is logical and their purposes are legitimate.
However, I remember one time, when as the head of a department at a school district in Salt Lake County, I approached the district's budget committee about some real needs my people had.
I prepared a detailed report, gave a persuasive presentation and the school district officials seemed sold on my ideas.
At the end of it all, the assistant superintendent in charge of the committee looked at me and said, "You've done a great job presenting your view. We see the need and the purpose. But this year we just don't have the money to fund it, because of budget cuts from the state."
In the case of the proposed leeway in Carbon County, the public is the budget committee.
The money is yours and mine.
I know the argument from some local residents is that we can't afford not to do it.
Education is the basis for our economy, particularly as young people come into the job market.
We all want what's best for our kids.
There's an old adage about if you are handed a bucket of lemons, the best thing to do is to make lemonade.
But right now, at the present time, in Carbon County with the local economy, I'm afraid that all the juice has been squeezed out of the lemons and there just isn't any more left.