Sometimes Saying No, Really Means Saying Yes
The headline says it all! Earlier this year as it became clear that the biennial Jackson County assessment was turning into a debacle, the KCPS school board and district administration began discussing modeling the potential impact to the district (read: kids), based on a series of assumptions.
Many phone calls and meetings occurred, not just among the board and the district, but with the county assessor, the county executive as well as legislators in Jefferson City. The idea was to triangulate how a variety of decisions outside of our control would affect the districts budget both this year and in years to come.
For those who aren’t aware, 70% of our revenue comes from local sources, the largest chunk of that is property taxes. With that realization comes the obvious concern – Any reduction of property taxes will negatively impact the districts ability to continue the upward trajectory of KCPS as a result of the leadership of Dr. Bedell, his talented administration, dedicated teachers, principals, and the hardest working group of all, kids (read: our future).
As the modeling exercise began, so did the lobbying of school board members. Local organizations, citizens, fellow politicians, and other stakeholders (including the KC Star Editorial Board) all had an opinion about whether the largest taxing jurisdiction (read: KCPS) should reduce our levy. This is where the work gets hard! And when things get hard, a persons character gets tested.
Honestly, I was a NO vote from the start. That said, being a vote of any kind right out of the gate doesn’t lend itself to thoughtful dialogue. So there was a point in which I tried to wrap my head around some logic that would have the district reduce the levy by a marginal amount to illustrate we understood the impact the poorly planned, executed and messaged assessment was having on the most undeserved communities in our city.
However, the more I thought about that, the more political it felt, and by extension, the less meaningful.
Reducing our levy by anything less than substantially would not have any real impact on those families who were hurting, much like the overtly political $3M “giveback” attempt by the county exec would not have moved the meter for the overwhelming majority of people.
Once I came to grips with the fact that there was no other vote than NO in reducing the levy, it was a decision that made sense for the following reasons:
* KCPS had not had a bond initiative for 67 years! What does that mean? It means that the public has not been asked to step up their financial support for public schools in 2.5 generations. Note: We currently have over $450M in deferred maintenance for our facilities. In essence, our kids are going to schools that are in some ways falling apart during a time in which we should be modernizing our schools to create learning environments that support a rapidly changing global economy!
* KCPS has LOST $147M in revenue in the last decade due to declining property values. See the above deferred maintenance point and + to that starting salaries for Missouri teachers are 48th in the country. Let that sink in for a bit. We are educating our kids in buildings badly in need of repair and/or modernization while simultaneously paying the most important personnel to our city’s future (read: kids) at nearly the bottom of all teachers in the country.
Side note: On the teacher pay point, we need to do better here! The governor has indicated he wants to change that, I hope he is genuine beyond the rhetoric.
* There are significant unknowns (lasting at least through April 2020) about where the assessment appeals will land and whether the state legislature (not friendly to public education, particularly in the urban core of KC, STL and Springfield) will create some unwise legislation capping tax increases. If this happens, our ability to continue the momentum we have today in KCPS will be significantly hampered, and for purely political reasons. So, the ask to reduce our levy, not knowing what future impact the assessment appeals will have on revenue doesn’t seem prudent.
All of that being said, one can’t help but think about the likely additional inequity the tax assessment creates in our city! We need to continue to grow leaders across the city and county who have the best interest of our kids (read: communities) at heart.
I voted no to a KCPS tax levy reduction, but that vote was a YES for our kids!
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