Letters to the editor: School boundaries, District 833 referendum
Link neighborhoods in grade school boundaries
As parents of children in the Pinecliff II neighborhood (C-12), we have concerns about how they are being affected by new school boundary option. While we understand boundaries can change, we also understand that making a decision that can have major impact on the future well-being of our children must be decided only after much due diligence. Our neighborhood has researched how the potential changes could affect our children, leaving many of us greatly concerned. We are in elementary attendance quadrant C-12 and our children currently attend Grey Cloud Elementary. Our concern is specific to Option C. We believe that Option C does not meet the following expectations of the redrawn boundaries, as adopted by the School Board:
• Maintains contiguous geographic boundaries;
• Provides for a safe and efficient transportation system;
• Moves the least amount of students necessary to create lasting boundaries.
Option B better aligns with the School Board's expectations.
Option B is a more contiguous geographic boundary by linking neighborhoods immediately adjacent to each other to form a boundary for each school. Option B allows for continuity consistent with the greater district by creating boundary lines that follow 70th Street and Jamaica Avenue, which provides a more "safe and efficient transportation system" by eliminating busing children across higher-volume streets. Higher volume streets in general are a natural boundary and have obviously been a major consideration in creating all other school boundaries. Option B also aligns with the high school boundary lines, allowing the children who will eventually go to high school together the opportunity to begin those relationships in elementary school.
One of the expectations discussed in the decision-making process when redrawing boundaries was to "move the least amount of students necessary to create lasting boundaries." Option B would impact 132 students, whereas Option C would impact 182 students. By moving forward with Option C, there would be almost a 40 percent increase in student impact.
Most of the children in our neighborhood have been attending Grey Cloud Elementary since they moved here or will be prior to the new boundaries going into effect. The school our children attend means something to them.
No referendum renewal without public vote
It was with profound disappointment that I read the story "District 833 seeks more base funding, authority from the state" in the Jan. 11 edition of the South Washington County Bulletin.
Please understand that my concern is not related to the amount of funding necessary to provide the desired level of service to students. Costs go up, and education is no exception.
The concern I have is related to the method in which the district proposes to meet funding needs. As a public endeavor, funded by taxpayers, it is the district's obligation to be transparent with how, when and where the public's money is spent. While I understand that it may be inconvenient for the district and the school board to have to present facts, lobby the general public, and win ongoing referendum support, it is a basic tenet of its position and mission. The notion that referendums be quietly renewed without a new public vote is deceitful at best.
What is proposed involves taking causal liberty with assumptions about voter intent. It is dangerous to assume that just because the referendum was approved once, it therefore would be approved again five, 10 or 15 years later. Additionally troubling is the quote attributed to Superintendent Keith Jacobus: "And it's only fair." To use that basic level of thought as an argument is not an indicator of strong, sound leadership.
Whether by vote or by hire, the district and school board all have been entrusted with the leadership of our school district. As is often the case, leaders need to make difficult decisions. The choice of whether or not to enjoin our legislators in adopting legislation of voter deceit is not a difficult one. It is simply not an option to be considered.
Given the affront to key democratic principles raised by such proposals and the ethical lapse of going down this path, I can only conclude this wish list item was never meant to be taken seriously. That is precisely how I suggest you take it, giving this notion no further consideration.
Why schools need property tax support
Why are school districts asking our Legislature to allow locally elected school boards to renew existing operating referendums at least once for every voter-approved authority? Here are four points to consider in support of this request:
• The state provides only 75 percent of our revenue but they have lagged behind cost-of-living increases significantly over the past decade, seriously eroding our budget. We would need to cut nearly 20 percent, or $50 million, from our budget if we did not have support from local taxpayers.
• The state, however, is still our largest funder and we depend on its support. But the specific amount the state provides varies every two years, when the Legislature sets the state budget. That means we don't know year to year what our budget will be, and we truly count on the steady stream of revenue that comes from our voter-approved referendums.
• Unfunded mandates for special education services from the state and federal government accounted for almost $13.8 million in our last budget. Local taxpayer support is then needed to help subsidize these vital services.
• School districts are the only unit of government that does not have independent taxing authority. Federal, state, county and local governments can all raise your taxes to meet community needs without your vote — however, school boards must seek approval on spending increases to meet our students' needs. Therefore, the only way we can meet our funding needs over the 75 percent from the state is through voter-approved referendum.
One way to equalize the unfair situation that school districts face in this funding scenario, short of re-working the entire school funding formula in the state, is to allow us to authorize operational levies for up to 20 years, the same as we do for bond (building) referendum. Or minimally, 15 years, which ties to a full cycle of time a student spends in our district, from pre-K through graduation. Taxpayer support and transparency are still in place through the voter-approval process, and schools can better manage their budget to meet the education and service needs of our students and families.
Witte is a South Washington County School Board member