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Peter Meyer at EdNext chronicles his must-read experience as a school board member for a small town in upstate New York. Recently, his board voted 4-3 to impose an extra 10 percent in local taxes and cut 22 teachers to deal with a large budget shortfall against an overwhelming ballot-box defeat of the taxing measure by local taxpayers.
Of course, there were other options. The teachers union had adamantly rejected a salary freeze—which would have saved an estimated $300,000. To them, a tax increase was much more palatable. Why? A couple of Sundays ago, leaving church, a district official pulled me aside and whispered, “You didn’t ask how many teachers live in the district.” “No,” I said—and then I guessed, “fifty percent.” She smiled. “Try 13 percent.” So the vast majority had no qualms with sticking it to local property owners. In fact, many of these other teachers lived in districts that were increasing tax levies by just one and two percent (and where teachers were taking wage freezes!).
Meyer’s saga puts in a microcosm the politics of education and its backdoor maneuvers designed to centralize power away from parents and local communities. As he says:
How we got from a state constitution requiring that the legislature “provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated” to laws taking away the right of citizens to determine what they spend for that “free” education is a long and hard legal and policy road.
And Meyer’s little town isn’t the only jurisdiction far, far along that same road.
Image by Kim Scarborough.