Support needed for District 51 ballot measure, even in tough economy

The omnipotent “they” say there’s never a good time to ask for a tax increase. “They” usually know what they’re talking about. And 2011 seems to be about as bad a time as any to ask voters to fork over more money.

The economy is in the tank. The naysayers, led by the newly ascendant tea party, are as noisy as ever. Voters are in a generally foul mood, about as happy as crabs around boiling water.

And along comes School District 51 and asks us to let them off the hook on TABOR for the next six years. The bottom line would be a $12 million tax increase for School District 51, and a piddling amount every year to the average taxpayer. The money will be spent to put 80 teachers back on the payroll, add five school days to the calendar and bring the district up to date technologically.

That the district is in the hole is primarily the result of the dismal financial condition of the state, which the district relies on for funding.

Those windmills with which District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz and Co. have chosen to joust are no imaginary enemies. They have a very real battle on their hands. We all should wish they had chosen another year in which to fight. But, as “they” say, there is never a good year. So why not this one?

A quick look at the predicament the district finds itself in only confirms the decision. Why put it off? Things can’t get worse, either financially or politically. It’s an uphill battle, a steep uphill battle. My heart might be with the district, but my head won’t let me bet the family farm on a successful outcome.

Let’s first dispense with the demagoguery. To those who always claim the district is top-heavy with administrators, as the antis do whenever the school district asks for money, we can only say: Horsefeathers!

District 51 has been blessed with good superintendents and some not so good. Paul Rosier comes to mind as a good one, as does Tim Mills, Schultz’s predecessor and mentor. The not-so-good ones names are better left unsaid. But not even Rosier or Mills came to work every day with the enthusiasm, dedication and fair-mindedness that Schultz brings to the job.

He has one goal and one goal only: He wants every kid in District 51 at the end of every school day to be a little better educated than he or she was at the beginning of the day, and he wants to do it as efficiently as possible. He’s acutely aware of the value of every dollar and he knows he has thousands of voters looking over his shoulder at every dollar he spends.

School District 51 is a big organization. Schultz runs it as lean as he can. There are 70 fewer administrators now than there were just a few years ago.

This is the reality of life in District 51 classrooms in 2011. Teachers buy their own supplies. It’s not unusual for a teacher to spend hundreds of her own dollars every year to buy supplies she needs in her classroom.

First-grade and kindergarten teachers don’t just teach elementary reading and writing anymore. I personally know a kindergarten teacher who had more than one student last year who didn’t know how to properly use the bathroom. Add potty-training to the three Rs.

Life in the classroom is anything but easy. This ballot issue won’t solve those problems. They only illustrate what we expect from our schools these days.

You might think of reasons not to support Referred Measure 3B. Maybe even good ones. But here’s one reason to support it.

There’s a good chance the district will face even more cuts from the state. If that happens and 3B fails, it means a couple of things might happen. One, the district may go to a four-day week. Two, it may cut varsity sports.

Maybe that’s Chicken Little scare tactics. Maybe not. Things are getting grim.

Do you really want to live in the community known around the state as the town where they only send their kids to school four days a week? Or the town that doesn’t have a high school football team? Or basketball team? Really?

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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