Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Local option gets hammered

Sisters' Local Option levy for schools got hammered at the polls yesterday, going down by a 52-48 margin. (UPDATE: WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 12:30 P.M.: Not hammered exactly. The numbers posted by the county clerk after midnight last night were not final; the margin narrowed down to 26 votes. TWENTY-SIX).

It's not a disaster for the school district — yet. The school board can go out again next spring, but they'll have to do a better job of convincing voters like this one:

"I will be voting NO on the local option tax. No more money being thrown towards the system that blantantly and consistantly mishandled and mismanaged money. Education is moving towards the internet.Why are we being asked to buy more books ? The current hi-school is poorly designed and heat bills soaring..we live on a limited income and need that money for our fuel costs." (blog comment received 11/3 re: "Off to the races," September 16).

There you have it — the two major problems facing the district. They've lost taxpayers' trust with the $1.2 million debacle of the payback to ODE and with administrative turmoil over the past several years.

And people are so nervous about the economy that they are willing to see severe cuts to education in order to hold on to what they've got. Some feel they've got no choice.

UPDATE: If the district has to shift only a couple of dozen votes, that economic argument can be overcome. The trust problem will still require some work.

Both of those problems will not go away by spring and the board is going to have to fight to overcome them. And they must overcome them. Local Option funds make the difference between quality and mediocrity.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Let's get the math right -- based on the unofficial returns. With 1 "yes" and 2 "noes" in Jefferson County, the results are are 49.71% "yes" and 50.29% "no".

  2. I have an idea !! Lets put the option on EVERY future ballot until we get what we want !! Seriously, we have a situation where MORE than 50% of the vote says no and this is with incredible marketing efforts put forth by the "yes vote". I am not sure what part of no you don't get but as the years drag on and the board continues to act as they do, this measure, in my opinion will see a widening. Bring it on in Spring !!

  3. Comment number two about his/her vow to keep voting no is saddening to me. Yes, the district has made mistakes in the past. We have new members on the board and a new superintendent since that debacle. (The only key player in that who remains is the current high school principal.)
    26 votes is close enough to reconsider another vote, considering the stakes. Think about it. A vibrant school like ours costs a little more. Right now our class sizes are ideal. Losing over a million dollars will show up first with cuts in staff. Instead of four teachers covering 100 fifth graders, it will probably be three. There's a tremendous difference in quality of education between having 24 or 25 students in a class and 33 or 34. To argue that is folly. And that would be just the beginning. I am very familiar with our school system and there is not "fat". The writer certainly has the right to vote no over and over, but I hope he/she is not truly so silly to think that saying no to the local option will somehow make up for mistakes from the past. In fact, I am willing to say that the reason the 1.2 million happened was because the superintendent at the time was trying to find dollars to keep the schools excellent. I do not suggest what happened was okay, but I firmly believe that he thought he was doing something legal that would benefit all students in Sisters.
    The vote on the local option is about doing good things for our young people. it should not be about getting revenge.

  4. Well actually if you back into the archives of the Nugget you will see the original "three year, $400,000 tax/levy" was to fund "text books and badly needed repairs". Gee ... Looks like its morphed into something quite different !! I agree, there is no "fat" in the budget, just allot of salaries and benefits (what 90% plus of the budget?).

  5. "(The only key player in that who remains is the current high school principal.)"

    Two of the five Board members were involved in the $1.2M State School Funds debacle, as well as the double spending of the interest income during the building of the new high school, as well as the $350K cost overages in the Admin Bldg remodel. They also voted to increase salaries far above the state-wide average increases when they negotiated the teachers union contract. They knew that they risked losing the goodwill of the taxpayers, and therefore the local Option, when they made those decisions. They spend every dime they get, and then they borrow more, even without the voters approval, hence the Morgan lawsuit. Good, conservative financial stewardship is lacking at the Board level. Blaming just the HS principal seems misplaced.

    You are correct, we do have a new Superintendent, and she should be judged on her own merits. One concern I do have is how much 'ending fund balance' and contingency fund she and the Board built into the current budget. We have very little rainy day fund. Given that the next two year state budget will be $0.5B to maybe $2B short (09-10), we would have had to cut the Sisters School budget back anyways. Without the Local Option, it is only going to get worse. It will be interesting to see how the Board and Superintendent react to the recession economy, given how poorly they managed the finances in good economic times.

  6. Perhaps we should ask all the local relators who have sold our schools in their printed media ads and television commercials to contribute a percentage of their incomes towards the schools "shortfall" of cash.