To The Editor:
It’s disappointing that the district continues to send out biased information as it tries to convince you to raise the debt service levy. Let’s look at the same statistics in a little different way.
Yes, our debt service levy is 62 cents, the seventh lowest in a seven-county area. Since when is it a bad thing that we owe less debt on our buildings than those districts? A low debt service levy doesn’t mean our facilities are in worse condition than those districts, just that we’ve possibly managed our debt better. I think we should be proud that conservative board members in the past kept our levy low while building a campus that is equal if not better than most of those districts sporting a higher debt service levy. Yet the board is fine with jumping into the debt race with other districts and building something, even if it’s something we don’t really need. This discussion is no different than saying a family with a higher mortgage and house payment has a nicer house. The message we need to be sending is to avoid debt unless there is a true need. Moving a road in and out of campus isn’t a true need right now, no matter how many times they try and tell you it is.
Here’s a relevant piece of information they haven’t told you. That 62-cent debt service levy was based on about $100 million in assessed valuation in 2002, the year we passed an $11.5 million bond issue that was sorely needed and that I and other prior board members campaigned hard for. Today, the state’s website shows our assessed valuation is over $148 million, an increase of 48 percent. That increase is due in part to the county assessing your homes at a higher amount year after year. In effect, we’ve all been giving more each year and the district has been benefiting from that. The just released audit showed our debt service fund increased $120,674 last year, meaning your taxes more than covered debt payments. We can easily wait on these “needs” until our enrollment increases or we can pass another no tax increase bond issue, which doesn’t look like it’s that far into the future.
There’s one more fact that the superintendent doesn’t want you to be reminded of. In 2002, we had 2,115 resident students. That number increased to only 2,183 through the end of the last school year. Do we really need to spend $5 million to expand facilities because of enrollment? No, yet they insist on borrowing money to move science classrooms around for the same number of kids. Does that sound urgent to you?
Finally, this tax increase discussion is helping in one big way. It’s keeping the board from focusing on our falling ACT scores and annual performance measures, something I think they’ve failed to hold our superintendent accountable for. Back in 2004, the first year of Mr. Murphy’s tenure as superintendent, ACT scores averaged 20.5. Ten years later, they’re at 20.6 and have been falling for the past three years (it may be a coincidence but Vicky Enyart left around that time?). That large pay increase our superintendent received in the middle of a three-year drop in ACT scores doesn’t seem to have been based on our district’s performance, does it? What do you think the board should be focusing on at this time, higher taxes or student performance?
Boards have a tough job and I believe they mean well. However, they need to discuss all sides of an issue and always do what’s in the best interest of students and our community, not the superintendent.