Tacoma School Board Recap 10/9/08
You know, the more I visit the Tacoma School Board, the more I realize how ceremonial it really is. From the perspective of an outsider it’s nearly impossible to determine what indeed is actually going on – video camera or not (the School Board’s website isn’t exactly the most transparent service either.) Nevertheless, this is more or less what I was able to gather from Thursday’s meeting.
Imagine that the economy is in shambles and everyone agrees it’s going to get worse. The lines dividing Wall Street and Main Street are rapidly beginning to blur (artificially or otherwise.) Unemployment nationwide is steadily rising and we in the Pacific Northwest can hardly expect to be immune. In fact, historically national economic downturns have hit this region harder than most do to our inability to diversify our industries. During the most recent recession that followed (and preceded) September 11, 2001 – Oregon led the country with an unemployment rate of over 10% with Washington a close second. As of August unemployment statewide had only climbed to 6%, placing us still below the national average, though current trends suggest that we will breach the 7% marker by the end of the month.
Now imagine you’re on the Tacoma School Board, and you’ve just been informed by Governor/Candidate Gregoire that some cuts to public education are almost inevitable at the state level – leaving local governments with the unenviable task of asking the cash-strapped voters to makeup the difference via bonds and levies to renovate a few middle schools and a couple of high school football stadiums and soccer fields. The District’s analysts project the final bill at being somewhere around $300 million. Since Washington is one of only a few states that doesn’t have an income tax, the burden of paying for this particular upgrade will fall to middle-class homeowners who remain frightened by the economy and upset about a recent auditing scandal that found – among other things – some school board members in other districts of the state indulging on $52 a plate dinners using tax-payer money.
That’s exactly what the Tacoma School Board considered on Thursday, whether or not to raise the total tax rate on assessed property from $4.77/per $1000 to $4.80/per $1000. Or, in other words, while last year the average homeowner in Tacoma paid $1,173.42 in property taxes – should this bond measure pass – they’ll be paying $1,197.21: a difference of $23.79.
Does this plan make sense? Probably yes.
As Superintendent Jarvis pointed out, during times of economic decline Government often becomes the chief provider of jobs. With unemployment on the rise and the construction industry going into a slow decline, the School Board has a golden opportunity to put its tax dollars to work by reinvesting them back into the community from which they were gleaned. Simultaneously, as School Board president Jim Dugan pointed out, the decreasing demand for construction jobs in Pierce County will result in lower bids from willing contractors.
Now the only challenge will be pitching this idea to the voters. And because what the School Board is proposing is a capital bond, it is still bound by the supermajority requirements that 4204 broke on levies last election cycle. That means 60% of the electorate or more must vote the measure up.
Related interview with President of the Tacoma Education Association Darrick Hartman: