Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New school: A tax we can live with

The only good tax is a dead tax - yeah, that's not a bad policy.

But within a few months, I hope you vote for just the opposite - twice.

Because while there may not be such a thing as a good tax, there is such a thing as a necessary one. And if it is going to be necessary, the best kind of tax is one you aren't going to feel.

We can build a fine elementary school, we're told, for around $15 million, plus architect fees and some furnishings, etc.

That sounds like a whole bunch of Benjamins, and it is. But construction costs do not get cheaper when you delay. Neither does maintaining and heating old-time buildings.

Color me naive here if you will, but we have an opportunity to build the school we need, to hopefully last for generations, and not feel a twinge of extra pain in the process.

All we have to do is keep doing what we're doing.

Paying the same penny sales tax on the non-essential stuff we buy - which helps out all of our schools in the county nicely without putting an undue burden on anyone. No freeloaders - everybody pays their share in sales tax. And bonus - as AWAYSIS attracts new visitors to town, their spending will help power our topnotch education.

Who among us isn't willing to part with a penny a buck for the children of our community - our own future? Even if we weren't building a school, the SILO sales tax extension should sail through the polls. And when it does, it will just continue what we've been doing for some time - we won't feel a difference.

Voting in favor of a property tax levy of about $5.5 million may be a little harder for us to do with a smile on our face, but it needs to be done, and it can be done without a hardship. Just keep doing what we are doing.

I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence with the "no new taxes" baloney. That and three bucks will buy you a cafe latte.

Sure it's a new tax. It's money, our money. But - the situation is such that we can approve it without feeling the sting just now.

As we finish paying off the middle school in about three more years, we retire that property tax asking. School officials say they can get what they need to complete the new elementary by putting a new, smaller property tax asking in its place.

Yeah, we pay, and for a good long time, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we pay less on the property tax for the schools than we have in past years, and get the warm fuzzy of having supported the elementary school we need in the process. Again, taxes bite, but we don't feel the teeth sink in this time.

Normally, asking people to willingly tax themselves, twice over, would be a longer shot than the Cubs sweeping the World Series. But our situation today is such that we can - and I think we should - just suck it up and get it done.

I've yet to hear anyone suggest that we would be better off denying our children a modern school. That they would do better in those outmoded relics of another age that have more than served their purpose. Or that we as a community are served better by paying close to $100 grand on utilities for three old buildings we can close, or by having to pay for four different after-school academies, by shuttling teachers and staff around between buildings and not having a counselor or nurse on hand where they may be needed in an emergency.

Remember all the fuss over the middle school project? You would think people were being asked to give up a kidney and their grandmothers, they kicked and fussed so hard. And all that accomplished was stretching the job out over several votes, allowing building costs to rise, and nitpicking down the project until the building we came up with was full the day it opened.

That modern school has served us so tremendously that I don't think anyone regrets the investment - and you don't hear those people who voted against it initially whining any more, either.

The elementary school is perhaps an even more right thing to do, because we have so much efficiency and potential for classroom benefits here. It's more than just trading an old building for a new one:

It is trading teachers having to work with children in a closet or at a table in the hall of a prison-looking place designed in three cases for teenagers in an era long past... trading for a bright, welcoming place where modern team teaching and intense reading and technology offerings are designed into the space.

If anything can convince people to tax themselves, it is that choice. It speaks to all we are as a community.

What would we do if the sales tax or the bond issue were defeated? Say the need has gone away? Limp along? Try again in six months when costs are that much higher? Cut needed classrooms out of the plan? There's no good alternatives there.

As long as we can get the project done for the cost of a penny sales tax and a bond issue that is equal to or less than what we are already used to paying, I'd say the stars are nicely aligned to do this, and do this right.

In fact, as a taxpayer, I wouldn't kick if the school board asked for a bond issue of the same amount that the middle school costs us now, banking the excess beyond the elementary school construction toward a fine arts auditorium. It is almost as basic a need. That would sure beat the cost of building it separately down the line, funded entirely by another bond issue.

School officials, however, are leery of doing anything that might hurt the chances of a positive vote for their first priority, the elementary school, and that is surely understandable.

The plan for that school is progressive, but not lavish. It has already been trimmed down to what we need, with reasonable room for growth, from the architect's original suggestion. The school board has been thorough and practical in its planning.

All that is left is the hard part. Swallowing hard and saying three of the hardest words in the English language: "Tax me, please."

In this case, it does make sense.