Joetopia

How not to oppose a parcel tax for schools

Sunday's column on the state of our public schools has generated a good bit of interest.

In between then and now, the Paso Robles school board got the chance to weigh in on the idea of a parcel tax ... and voted “no.”

(It was, however, by a narrow 3-2 tally with two board members absent, which leads one to wonder, how might they have voted? Could they have flipped the result?)

Despite that defeat, I thought it might be helpful to address some of the issues being raised, in response to the idea that we boost taxes a bit explicitly to help struggling local districts.

Here are the top five reasons some think a tax increase is a bad idea and what I think of that “reasoning”:

1. Schools need to live within a budget, just like the rest of us.

What a revelation this is.

Yes, I’d agree with that 100 percent if the budget could stay somewhat reasonable and not reduce by millions of dollars year over year while districts face the same demands on their resources.

In this economic climate, obviously we’re all expected to do more with less, or at least do the same with less.

But there is a point where this becomes untenable, and when it occurs in a system that serves the most vulnerable population in our society — children — we must pay attention with greater urgency.

2. Why should I give more money to a system that may not use it efficiently?

Several people have argued against an increase on the belief that the money will just get routed off to Sacramento, which will then absorb a portion for wasteful, unintended uses.

Let me make this clear: In no way do I believe more dollars should go to the state educational bureaucracy.

The idea is to generate local dollars for local classrooms via a parcel tax designed exclusively for that goal.

At the same time, the argument was posed that nothing good will happen until we cut teacher pensions, eliminate tenure, reduce the power of the unions, clean house in the administrative staff, and so on and so on.

That is not the point.

I am not here at this moment in history to reform education in California.

The big picture is a problem, but that is simply too large and squiggly a can of worms to open at this point.

3. If you take more money from me, I won’t be able to afford my bills.

I have a real hard time swallowing this one.

Yes, some families have lost their homes. Some have seen a principal breadwinner lose their job.

Yet I highly doubt that this is the situation for the majority of property owners in our county, which even through the worst times has had among the lowest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the state.

The simple fact is, most of you who can afford to own a home on the coast of California, can afford a few hundred bucks a year for a cause like this.

Go out to dinner one less time a month, see one less movie a month, buy one less mocha latte a month whatever. It’s a minor sacrifice.

4. If you don’t like it leave, pay more yourself, go to private school, etc., etc.

If you use this argument, you are immediately discredited and not to be taken seriously.

The “if you don’t like it, leave” refrain is a tool of the ignorant and intolerant, and anyone who employs it immediately reveals themselves as such.

Smart, talented and caring people who see a problem in this country will take steps to make it better, not throw up their hands and move to Sweden.

Meanwhile, some are floating the suggestion that, if I’m so hot to raise taxes, I should just go ahead and pony up the money and those who don’t want to can just sit on their wallets.

Or I should pay double to cover their share.

Yeah, you’re perfectly happy to take a slice of the benefits provided by others, but if someone calls your name, you’ll be the one walking around in circles, whistling and looking at the sky.

5. And, finally, teachers have it easy, they get summers off, they make good money, have huge benefits, etc.

Yes, and many also get annual pink slips.

Year to year, they don’t know if they’ll have a job.

They buy classroom materials out of their own pocket money so your child can have a better educational experience.

As for making good money? Please. For the headaches and challenges they face, they could make a lot more.

No, I’m not a big fan of tenure, but on the whole, teaching in the public school system is among the most noble professions out there.

Whatever arguments you choose to oppose this tax idea, kindly exclude slams on teachers. You wouldn’t last two seconds in their shoes.

There. Now that I’ve refuted all of these light-weight arguments, all opponents can now comfortably, logically join the right side of this fight.

Welcome aboard.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor at The Tribune and writes the Joetopia blog at sanluisobispo.com. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com

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