"Voters antsy about taxes should not be confused. The levies are not new taxes, but a renewal of expiring ones."
And that's true but the district is asking for a lot more money. Last BTA was $178M and this is $270M. I asked the district guy who does the finances for the levy and he said:
"You are correct that the BTA III levy amount of $270M is more than the BTA III amount of $178M and that the entire city of Seattle will share in paying for this increase. However, because the total assessed value of the entire city of Seattle has increased even with the recent housing market crises, the tax rate per $1000 assessed value for an individual tax payer has remained steady."
"But the School Board must provide greater accountability and transparency of the district's capital dollars. Taxpayers deserve to know not just the projects planned but the schools designated and expected dates of work and completion. A place, perhaps a Web site, ought to be provided as a resource for citizens looking to follow levy projects."
A website? That will help? And dates and schools? The district will say they do that already except really, not in any clear, predictable way. No, I'd like to see where the money is spent. The starting budget for each project, its ending budget (did it go over or under and what happened in each case), soft costs, etc. We want to know how our money is spent. Like the fact that there are 28 FTE for just the BEX program. The head of BEX, Bill Martin, even says it's too much and is hoping, as construction goes down in the last years of BEX III, that the number will go down. (I have a public disclosure request in to see what these jobs are and the salaries.)
"Moreover, Seattle Public Schools has a $500 million backlog in basic maintenance; a sizable logjam that begs the question of how the district should balance long-term needs with desperate and immediate needs."
Well, we've been "balancing" the needs for over 15 years by neglecting basic maintenance and making taxpayers pay more for repairs than they should. That's how they do it. It's a false economy and we all get to pay for it.
I've done a few parent presentations so far and here are my observations:
- The school levies are like Mom and apple pie; of course you vote for them. It's odd because Seattle voters tend to be thinkers and generally give our levies, referendums and initiatives a lot of thought before voting so this puzzles me.
- Parents seem to believe that voters without kids will feel exactly as they do. I'm not sure that's true. Parents want the money because it will be doing something for some building somewhere. But for people who live near a school that's rundown and wonder where the money goes, maybe not. And, I'm not sure that people without kids buy into paying more for repairs than they should cost. It doesn't look that well managed and efficient to outside eyes.
- Parents get that the district has us by the throat but shrug and say, well, next levy we'll tell them to do better. I've heard that many times before and now I say, "If not now, when?" I had a Seattle Council PTSA Board member suggest that their Board might tell the district no, next time. Maybe even Schools First Board might do it. I had to laugh. That's not going to happen and she knew it but it sounded good.
- We can pass the BTA Levy, fine. But if you think the backlog will go away by itself, it won't. We cannot "levy" our way out of this problem and the Times' rubberstamping what is poor managment of our facilities tells you something. This is certainly not the last you will hear about it.