On March 26 Alan Routh responded to a letter to the editor I wrote (also dated March 26). Rather than address the points I raised, he instead chose to discredit my opinions by labelling them as a “disservice.”
Mr. Routh would have done a better service to the public to address the valid problems identified with the bundled referendum rather than play to emotions by asserting that a volunteer board of education could never propose something less than prudent, because after all, they are volunteers.
I like many others are thankful to the Board for the time they commit to an unpaid task, and respect them for stepping up. I myself have volunteered countless hours over more than a decade at both municipal and civic pursuits, so I understand the sacrifice the Board members make.
But to declare that the public should not question a referendum that has shortcomings, developed without community input until it was already unveiled, because by doing so we are somehow questioning the dedication of the Board is sheer nonsense. Indeed, it appears to be a strategy designed to deflect attention away from the flawed referendum itself.
So as to the points made in my letter, I offer the following “clarification”:
There is no confusion as to how a referendum interfaces with an operating budget. Money borrowed has to be repaid. The debt service (or mortgage payment in Mr. Routh’s analogy) is paid mainly from an appropriation of property tax revenues. They are not repaid with fairy dust; they are repaid with property tax revenues approved each year by the voters.
So if one believes, as I do, that the PAC and the administrative offices are unnecessary, then the Operating Budget is unduly burdened with debt service costs related to those specific projects. Not having to pay these costs would allow voters the choice of redirecting the funds (through operating budget or second question approvals) to other educational priorities. On the other hand, raising taxes to pay debt service on unnecessary projects means taxes will need to rise even more to fund desired educational programs down the road.
In this regard the PAC does indeed constrain future program funding flexibility by using scarce tax revenues to pay for unnecessary projects.
The Board made it clear in public comments that bundling the various questions (many of which have merit), would enhance chances of passage of a referendum containing an increasingly unpopular Performing Arts Center. So in that sense the referendum certainly is a grab bag of
good and bad projects meant to appeal to a sufficient number of vested interests to ensure passage. That’s not how strategic capital planning is supposed to be done.
Mr. Routh makes the claim that “No referendum, no FDK.” That is patently false. Should the current referendum fail, the Board will have the ability to float another bond referendum in the near future to address additional classroom space for FDK and other meritorious projects separately without bundling them with a new PAC and administrative offices. The public does NOT need to approve THIS referendum to expand the elementary schools to allow for FDK, rehabilitate Cougar Field, or address other capital needs that a strategic plan would identify.
The benefits of relocating district offices, according to Mr. Routh, are “hard to quantify.” I rest
my case. If they are hard to quantify than why are they being considered? Only projects with quantifiable benefits should be included in the Referendum.
The debate that is unfolding in our community surrounding the April 21 bond referendum is a good, healthy thing. It is refreshing and frankly overdue in a community where only 12-15 percent of registered voters typically show up to approve school budgets each April. While some obviously see any questioning of the Board as somehow disloyal or offensive, open debate is the hallmark of American society. It is unfortunate that those who favor the rubber stamping of all Board decisions are trying to label residents opposed to the referendum as somehow doing a “disservice” to the Board, the School District, or the broader Chatham community.