Issue 5 does not solve the problemWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Life has a way of presenting us with decisions where there are no good choices. More and more frequently we see these situations facing us at every election. This year isn’t any different.
On the ballot is an expensive property tax that, once levied, will be permanent — as in forever. Therefore, we cannot hold Toledo Public Schools (TPS) accountable for how they use the levy proceeds. We are faced with making a decision to force reform and create acute short-term pain or acquiesce to coercion and hope we can still enact reform while slowly drawing out the inevitable pain. Both choices leave a bitter taste.
TPS has three new R’s these days: Reform, Rebuild, Revitalize. It is its bold slogan to promote Issue 5. But is it merely public relations or is it genuine commitment?
TPS Board President Bob Vasquez has set about establishing a “kitchen” cabinet of local individuals with backgrounds in politics, education, business and labor. Since a plan has not been developed, the promise of this committee and TPS Board support of its creation are the only basis upon which we can evaluate reform efforts.
In September, the TPS Board passed a resolution seeking to reinstate transportation and security officers if the levy passes. The language adopted does not commit the board to any action except to think about it. With TPS forecasting a substantial deficit next school year, adding back transportation only increases an already large deficit. Which programs and services must be cut to restore these items?
In their campaign literature and advertisements, TPS has made several claims to encourage levy passage including promoting job growth and protecting home values, as well as pronouncing the district’s academics to be in strong shape. All of these claims lack specific details.
Levy passage would preserve jobs at TPS, but claims that it would promote job growth beyond preserving TPS jobs seems far-fetched. Scores of TPS employees face layoff with or without passage of the levy — more if the levy fails. New tax dollars would leave Toledo through wages for employees living in the suburbs and payments for retirement benefits to Columbus. The resulting exodus of buying dollars from our community is likely to result in job losses — not gains — in Toledo while raising costs for local businesses.
Home values are already badly depressed with most of the buying attention focused on foreclosures. Raising property taxes won’t help in attract more buyers for Toledo homes. Good schools are important in the home- buying decision, but simply passing a levy, unless it results in substantial academic improvement, will not stabilize or increase the value of our homes.
TPS claims that academics are strong. Yet over the last several years, the best TPS could score on state report cards was a C- with incremental year-to-year increases, while a third or more of TPS schools continue to fail.
Levy passage will generate just shy of $22 million annually. TPS says the deficit is $44 million without levy passage and only $11 million if it passes. So where is the other $11 million? Because tax collections start six months earlier than the budget year, TPS will collect 1.5 years’ worth of taxes that can be applied against next year’s deficit. But in the following year the extra 6 months revenue is gone. Regardless of the outcome, TPS will need to cut at least $22 million over a two year period to balance its budget.
This levy appears at best a “stop gap” measure that will require new levies in the near future, significant employee wage and benefit concessions or both.
TPS has offered little substance to support its claims so it comes down to whether you trust and believe the promises TPS officials are making. What makes it more difficult is that past news accounts have documented a miserable track record by the board in keeping its promises and managing tax dollars.
Besides evaluating the believability of TPS claims, TPS is asking us to trust them with our money to solve a problem where they have not proposed any solutions except a new levy.
We all must vote our conscience and this is a painfully difficult decision that every conscientious citizen has to make.
Educate yourself and vote Nov. 2.
Steven Flagg is an education advocate and has been involved with education reform in Toledo for more than 15 years.