Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Monday, April 10, 2006

How Soon News Reporters Forget

Someone needs to remind Emily Heffter of the Seattle Times that the Seattle School District already benefits from a "lid lift" within Seattle. This new proposal by the teachers union is not a new idea:

Teachers try new funding approach
By Emily Heffter
Seattle Times staff reporter

Frustrated by a lack of state funding for schools, Seattle's teachers union plans to ask voters this fall for a citywide increase in taxes.

If successful, the initiative would pour as much as $40 million a year into the Seattle Public Schools budget, to be spent mostly on new teachers and staff. To approve the measure, voters would be agreeing to lift the levy lid and increase their property taxes.

The Seattle Times editors could perhaps search their online archives, if need be, and discover that the voters approved a property tax lid lift in September 2004 to benefit the schools and accomplish the same sorts of things this "new funding approach" purports to do:

$116.8 million, 7-year Families and Education Levy passing
By Jessica Blanchard
Seattle Times staff reporter

The Families and Education Levy, a Seattle property-tax measure that would renew funding for a host of school programs, community-based organizations and health clinics, appeared to sail to victory last night.

"It's nice to continue what has been a long history of support for kids and education," said Dana Robinson Slote, spokeswoman for the Families YES! campaign.

The seven-year, $116.8 million levy is the third such measure since 1990, and requires a simple majority to pass. This time around, the levy amount was boosted by nearly $48 million, and in unofficial returns it had won resounding approval.

The money would pay for preschool and child-care programs, work to close the achievement gap between racial groups and lower the dropout rate. The levy also included roughly $200,000 for more thorough program audits to increase accountability.

Seattle School District already has a much higher "levy lid" for their excess property tax maintenance and operations levies than most of the other 295 districts in Washington.

They may be the only ones using the city's property tax authority to get more funding through their "Families and Education Levy."

Now, the teachers union wants even more.

The union may have gone too far, since they have prompted the city's leaders to voice some opposition to relying so much on local property taxes that the state feels no pressure from the Seattle area to increase state funding for education:

Mayor Greg Nickels' spokeswoman called the idea "absurd"; City Councilman David Della said he's waiting on a legal opinion; and the president of the citywide PTSA said it's too early to take a position.

Della, who chairs the council's education committee, said he may support an initiative but that it would have to fit into statewide efforts to get money.

"It somewhat takes the state off the hook, as far as funding education in Seattle and in other parts of the state," he said.

Seattle School Board member Michael DeBell had the same concern.

"I'm reluctant to have Seattle do something alone on school funding," he said. "I would prefer to see the state do something for the whole state, for all school districts."

So would I, Mr DeBell; but legislators representing the residents in the Seattle School District seem to know that their schools already get a lot more from their relatively rich tax base so they don't seem to give a damn about the rest of the districts in the state.

What would cause the mayor and others to balk? Simple: Initiative 747 limits the tax increases the city can impose without the voters' approval, and the city will eventually want to ask the voters for a "lid lift" on its own behalf. If the city's unused levy capacity is earmarked for the school district, then it won't be available for the city's own lid lift request.

I had wondered what it would take to get some of the politicians in Seattle to notice that the state ought to be doing more for all school districts. It seems that all it took was for them to recognize that their own rice bowls are at risk.

This may get interesting. If the state increases funding for all school districts, a large part of the revenue must come from the Seattle metropolitan area. (That's why, I presume, the politicians over there moan about the school funding situation, but rarely do much about it. They want to keep those tax dollars in their own region, rather than helping the state meet its obligation to provide a uniform school system for all children in Washington.)


Post a Comment

<< Home