A tax I’m willing to support — paying for local school districts

Last night was back-to-school night at my daughter’s new high school.  I was deeply impressed.  The facility is beautiful; the classrooms are clean, bright and well-maintained; the teachers are engaging; the test scores are over-the-top; and the expensive extras (fancy computers, lab equipment, etc.) are all in place.  My daughter loves her new school.  All the other kids I know who attend the school, or have attended the school, love it too.

Throughout the evening, administrator after administrator, teacher after teacher, and parent volunteer after parent volunteer drummed into us a single message:  This November, Vote Yes on B, to renew the school district’s parcel tax:

A Tamalpais Union High School District parcel tax, Measure B ballot question is on the November 8, 2011 ballot for voters in the Tamalpais Union High School District in Marin County.

The measure, if it is approved, will renew the district’s existing parcel tax of $238.78 and increase it to $245.94 starting in July 2012, with a 3% annual increase every year thereafter for 10 years.

The existing parcel tax was first approved in 1989. It was renewed in 1997 and 2004. The tax generates approximately $8.5 million a year for the school district, or about 16% of the district’s annual school budget of $52 million.

You all know how much I hate taxes and big government. But you know what? I’m going to vote yes on Measure B, because it is a perfect example of the way in which government should work.

When I vote Yes on B, I will get a direct and immediate benefit from my vote:  My child’s school will continue to function at its same incredibly high level.

Of course, if only current parents vote “yes,” the tax measure, which requires a 2/3 supermajority vote to pass will go nowhere fast.  There are others who should be interested too, though.  People whose children are rising up through the school district should vote yes, as I did back in 2004.  People whose children benefited in the past from the school district, and have since moved on, should be inclined to vote yes as a gift to up and coming generations.  And people who have no children, or who feel no gratitude to a district that served their children well, should also vote yes, because Marin County’s high quality schools add tens of thousands of dollars to the value of their homes.  It’s not just the temperate climate that makes home prices ridiculous here — it’s the public schools.

My money, my benefit.  A vote Measure B is also the voters’ chance to advance their community values.  Another community might put a premium on sports facilities or on sewage upgrades or on enticing factories into town.  What’s important is the connection between the voter and the expenditure.  We express our values, and we get to see immediately whether our government is doing the work it should to implement our values vote.

This is all quite different from federal government taxation.  Somewhere in a small town in Georgia, someone is paying taxes to fund a terrible, wasteful, green energy initiative in California that is doomed to failure.  There’s no benefit to the Georgia voter, who had no say in the matter anyway.  And more importantly, there’s no benefit to anyone.  This was a political boondoggle of the type that inevitably happens when the federal government exceeds its mandate (to maintain a coherent country with good transportation and strong national security) and begins to meddle in the marketplace and in local matters. Local government has a harder time getting away with those shenanigans, because people get to see the money being spent.

I assume that some people at this point will argue that I’m spoiled, because I live in a rich community.  Huge federal and state governments need to be there, they would say, to ensure that poor people have good schools too.  After all, the taxpayers in Detroit cannot afford to do what the taxpayers in Marin can do.  I’ve got a few counter arguments, though:  First, all of the federal money pouring into Detroit doesn’t seem to be making a difference.  Not only does Detroit lack the bells and whistles that characterize my fancy Marin public school, it’s a failed school system.

Second, as the recession has shown, the fact that we have fewer rich people does not mean we have fewer poor people.  Leftist thinkers subscribe to the belief that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”  They therefore assume that the opposite must be true:  “If the rich get poorer, the poor get richer.”  After all, the rich have “stolen” money from the system.  What the current recession proves is that, in America, which is still a semi-capitalist marketplace, when the rich get poorer, so do the poor.  Take money out of the marketplace and no one has it.  The federal government, by regularly increasing taxes so that Joe Shmo in Georgia provides ever more support to failed federally-funded school districts in Detroit and Chicago and Los Angeles, simply sucks wealth out of the economy.  With no money, it’s impossible for people to make their own choices about school district funding (science lab or football field?).  It’s even worse when you consider that poor Joe Shmo is also funding Yale, which has a $16 billion portfolio.

Third, as always, there’s a moral component.  If the federal government steps in, local people check out.  Schools should be intensely personal but, if people have no skin in the game, they have no incentive to care.  Instead of being places of education, schools become giant babysitting facilities.  There’s no pride, no commitment, no ownership.

I have a hard time imagining myself ever supporting a federal tax.  I’d like to see less federal spending on just about every federal program but for the military.  As it’s engaged in two hot wars and myriad cold wars, it deserves maximum support.  I strongly belief that, if our federal taxes go down, we’ll have more money to make decisions about our own communities and fund them as the local majority believes they ought to be funded.

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  1. Charles Martel says

    Book, I’m torn about the upcoming parcel tax.

    On one hand, I know that the reputation of our schools is one of the reasons why property values are so high here, even for a scrawny worker’s bungalow like mine. (By the way, I live behind Redwood High School, so I can see daily what bonds and parcel taxes have bought.)

    Here’s my dilemma: The Tamalpais District exists to feed colleges, and the egos of parents, with fresh profit centers in the form of schooled—not educated—18 year olds. I have rarely encountered a district product who knows how to think outside the PC box. They are clever, bright, shiny people who are terrible readers when it comes to either desire or comprehension, and way too many of them go on to college to aspire to a life of employment in some parasitical non-profit when they emerge. (The kids who do go on to do something meaningful are usually the ones who sat in back for four years praying that God would make time go faster.)

    I’m happy that they are housed in decent facilities, unlike what black and Mexican kids get consigned to by their Democratic masters in the big cities, that there is no overt violence on the district’s three campuses, and that the huge drug problems are artfully hidden where the taxpayers can’t learn about them.

    But I’ve been asking myself more and more as the years advance, what the hell am I doing? Why am I paying for a playpen for the children of upper middle-class parents who despise most of what I stand for and hope that their tykes will graduate from college with just as intense a feeling? (By the way, condoms are available on the campuses for the little dears who need them. A discrete query at the nurse’s office scores plenty of rubber permissions to screw like a [responsible] bunny. Best of all, parents are not notified when Mackie or Brent get horny.)

    That said, I agree in principle with what you are saying about how the parcel tax represents everything that’s good about being able to say yes or no to paying taxes that have a direct effect on your life.

    I an prepared to be talked into voting yes for the parcel tax. However, for me to even consider it, it will require you to pick up the tab at any future lunch we sit down to.

  2. says

    Charles, you drive a hard bargain.  Oh, wait, never mind!  I love having lunch with you.  You’re witty, informed, and you flatter me constantly.  If I were famous, you’d be my entourage.

    But I’d still love to sit down one day soon and convince you that it’s your civic responsibility to fund my child’s education!

  3. NancyB says

    Dear Bookworm, It is NOT my civic responsibility to fund your child’s education. I homeschooled my child – that was my responsibility. I vote no.  But I don’t live in Marin county.

  4. Old Buckeye says

    I used to live in an affluent school district that asked for tax hikes nearly every year. The reason I voted against them was because of the layers and layers of administrators who were being paid lots more than any of the teachers. Or funding a glitzy athletic program while threatening to cut programs in the arts, languages, or other valid classroom subjects if the levies didn’t pass. The “doing it for the children” mantra didn’t stack up when I didn’t see the dollars going into true education but rather into paying for administrators who didn’t teach or paving the way for college athletic scholarships. And when parents were required to furnish the classroom supplies such as paper, pencils, crayons, etc. that the school district could no longer “afford” to pay for.

  5. kali says

    I vote against taxes that go to support the school district that half-educated my children.  This is not because I’m a scrooge or a hypocrite, but because whenever a funding source arises where the money can’t be diverted into the general fund eg, a parcel tax, or a lottery profits, or tuition payments, then the schools see their support from the general fund cut. *Any* money sent to a government entity, no matter how targeted, supports the general fund, and the general profligacy.

  6. Mike Devx says

    kali writes,
    > I vote against taxes that go to support the school district [...] because whenever a funding source arises  [...]  then the schools see their support from the general fund cut.

    It’s part of how the game is played, kali.  When you vote against the increase, do they *ever* focus on slashing administrative and regulatory costs?  Do they reduce administrative programs?  Do they reduce administrative personnel?

    Nope.  They slash where parents and children attending  the school district will directly feel the pain.  They never slash where THEY (administration) will feel the pain.  The administration and the regulatory bureaucracy somehow (ahem) manage to skate through untouched, or they even continue growing!  THEY are more important, you see, than any function of the school itself in educating the children.

    It’s not going to change until sober minded conservatives get on those school boards, and start directly carving into the administrations.

  7. says

    I have to speak up for my school district here. In the last round of budget cuts, they cut only administrative jobs, without any effect on the students. That’s the whole local accountability thing. And that’s the point of this post — local accountability, which allows tax payers to decide what best benefits them and their community.

  8. kali says

    Mike, some of those administrative jobs, no matter how trivial they sound, are mandated by law–or by fear of lawsuits In my day job, I do tech support for several departments whose sole reason for existence is certifying we’re in compliance with federal and state laws.

  9. NancyB says

    Why do you send your children to public schools where they are repeatedly and purposely exposed on a daily basis to
    anti-American and anti-Individual values?  

  10. Mike Devx says

    kali says,
    > I do tech support for several departments whose sole reason for existence is certifying we’re in compliance with federal and state laws.
    Kali, to me that’s exactly the problem.  You mention “several departments”, and then you state that their “sole reason for existence” is to ensure the quality of the children’s education – NO, STRIKE THAT, *not* to ensure the quality of the education… but rather to ensure compliance with regulations.

    Several departments, all to simply ensure compliance?

    To me, that is EXACTLY the problem…

  11. kali says

    And I agree completely. I’m just pointing out that the problem with administrative bloat can start at  a higher level than the school district, which means even a libertarian school board could have its hands tied.

  12. jj says

    I agree with Nancy.  It is NOT my civic – or any other kind of – duty to support your kids.
    Of course, I come from an entirely different universe, child of a father who held the values of the previous century.  He thought that his kids were his kids; his responsibility, and it was his job to support them.  ‘Support’ included feed, clothe, house, medicate, and educate.  If you cannot afford to do all that, then you keep it buttoned up, and you don’t have them until such time as you can afford the above.  (He was 48 when I was born, 52 when my brother was.  Neither of us ever darkened the door of a public school a day in our lives.)  There is no God-given ‘right’ to infest the earth with your progeny, especially if you’re expecting someone else to pick up the bills. 
    I think the whole school deal needs to change to some form of user fee.  I’m not a user, why it should cost me anything at all is somewhat beyond me.  How did this idea get started?  And – of course – I do not like or approve of the job the schools are doing.  They’re churning out good little liberals, of course – who can’t read, can’t write, can’t think critically (or often enough, at all), and can’t tell the difference between Kansas and Idaho on a map.  Without, I hope, excessive arrogance I can say that I have never met an English teacher in my life who remotely approaches my own level of literacy – something I am confidant is equally true for most of the regulars here in the Room.
    There is very, very, very little here worth paying for under any circumstances, and I resent every nickel of it – even aside from the basic philosophy that questions why anybody else’s kid is in my wallet.


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