The local school levy has failed three attempts at passing, and the fourth failed attempt is coming up in March. It will fail again because the same tactic is being used this time around as the other three: threats.
"If this levy doesn't pass, we'll be forced to remove all the plaster from the walls. Your children will freeze. You don't want that, do you? We've already had to stop providing toilet paper. And washroom soap."
Ohio's school funding system (via property taxes and voter-approved levies) is probably a mess. Then again, it was a functioning system, and no one thought to call it mess until a state supreme court justice decided to apply the word, declaring the system "unconstitutional." Before, we had funding. Now we have mess. The judge got swell headlines, Ohio got a mess to clean up. This was more than a decade ago. No one has hit on the right grade of Windex(tm) to clean it up since.
There seems to be a dumpster around here someplace that has a large supply of reasons for voting NO on school levies. The thing is, it's a pretty strong cache of reasons. The economy isn't so hot (I write this as The Analysts And Pundits are throwing gas on the stock market fire this week). Property taxes are high, and have just this year doubled for most people. Doubled, due to property reappraisals. Said doubling comes before any additional levies might be passed. Many people feel tapped out and school levies represent the one easy way families can say NO to losing an even larger chunk of their paycheck before they ever see it.
Then there are the things people see in their daily lives that they interpret, rightly or wrongly, in a way that makes them want to fail a levy. The parking lots where teacher's and administrator's vehicles spend their days are full of rather new, rather large, rather pricey cars, trucks and SUV's. No one begrudges an educator a good living, but appearances can still cause the occasional wince in those who do not have a car, truck or SUV that is new, large or pricey.
The salaries of administrators and their assistants, and the assistant's assistants, are often discussed in the Walmart checkout line. "Did you hear that the grounds keeper is paid $65,000 a year?"! Then there's the fellow who retired, then was hired back. Pension payout, paycheck payout. Double dipping. Or the school board's decision to make cuts, not to classes like cooking, or web design, but to French and German, while not taking advantage of distance learning opportunities to replace them. Students headed for college must take Spanish, or Spanish. And maybe web design.
These are the perceptions voters have in their heads. Valid or not, they are the hurdles to success. The very true adage is that perception is reality. Dealing with perceptions and getting around negative ones is a matter of politics, and a task for politicians. The guy at the bank with the Lexus who likes to be on committees? Not so much.
Last week, my kid's school began pushing an upcoming "Celebration Night!" A night for your family! Performances by the choir! The band! Ours is in choir, so we had to have her there by 6:30. And she insisted we had to come, because it was a Big Family Night Celebration! The night before, we got an email from the school principal urging us to come out for The Big Night of Fun. So we went.
The gymnasium was packed with parents and grandparents who'd come out for the Big Celebration! The gym floor was carpeted with kids, all eager to perform. So we had a song from the choir, and a song from the band. And then, the principal had the lights dimmed, saying "I have a little powerpoint for you..."
Bait and switch. Invited to my kid's school to hear a concert, I was getting a goddamned lecture. With slides. Ungrammatical, badly executed, threat-filled slides. Wow, you'll have to cut reading next year? That seems harsh, doesn't it?
I felt spammed, like I'd clicked an email promising me a prize of $10,000, only to find it was another pitch for Viagra or a Rolex. Or like someone who wins a free weekend at a "spa," only to learn that it's a weekend of brow-beating to buy a time share.
I vote for all school levies. It's the right thing to do, and I feel heavily my responsibility for funding other's education, just as others funded mine.
But you pulled an underhanded sneaky, and wasted two hours of my time. AND made me sit through threats from the guy at the bank with the Lexus.
I'll vote Yes. But it will really grate my butt.
And maybe this time, when it fails, you'll ask people who know how to talk to voters to help get the thing passed. But I got a full year's property taxes right here that says you'll be right back at it with the threats and whining and tricks and Lexus Man. Good luck with that, though.
At least, next time? Don't tell me you're going to have to cut reading. See, we're not that damn dumb, and it's rather insulting.
Update: The levy passed. I am hearing that people just wanted to get it off their plates.