Local government tax caps are designed to force consolidation
When it comes to this year’s school board elections, the truth of the situation can be stated clearly and quickly. It doesn’t matter which of the eight school districts in Livingston County wherein you may reside. The problem is universal. Your district is being squeezed out of existence.
Place three facts next to each other. First, the state has enacted a property tax cap. Second, the state has offered little in the way of relief to local districts on expensive mandates. Third, the state is going to cut your aid.
Mandated expenses go up. External funding goes down. You can’t raise local taxes even if you wanted to. That is the arithmetic of destruction. It seems crazy. It’s crazy like a fox.
You can hear folks howling, “How do they expect us to survive?!?!?” You have answered your own question. They don’t. They want massive consolidation.
This combination of policies is designed to force districts to merge. Such reorganization can be good or can be bad, that is to say, it can be done well or poorly.
Which brings me to the subject of the upcoming school board elections. What qualities are you looking for in a candidate when you go out to vote? Do you intend to vote at all?
I would look for three qualities in a school board candidate.
First, the candidate must have a broad knowledge of the history of your district, a familiarity with how things run, and the ability to build on success and clearly (and courageously) identify mistakes. Candidates for school board in this moment in history must have a keen sense of budget and a passion for making every dollar count.
Second, the candidate must have the creativity of an entrepreneur. This is not the time to dig in on old ways of doing things. Our schools must be willing to recreate themselves so they can prepare our kids for the world of the next generation.
Eighty percent of the jobs in the new economy are going to come from small business. Are we preparing our kids to start their own businesses? Can the candidate speak intelligently about where the nation and world are heading and connect that to the curriculum?
Third, candidates must be willing to do their homework. Some of the worst policy decisions that happen in government at all levels result from elected officials who are too lazy to do the research necessary to understand an issue in its complexity and pick the smart path forward.
A school board member should do at least as much homework as the hardest working student in the school. The times demand it.
It is possible to consolidate and not save a nickel. It is possible to screw it up. It is possible to design efficient programs for shared services and keep your identity as a community. It is possible to do it well. If we care about our kids, we must do it well.
Because of the perfect storm of fiscal forces pushing on our school districts, change is coming. During the next five years, your school district can either make history or become history.
Choose your school board members carefully.