The role of school board member for Alpine School District (ASD) comes with an amazing fiscal responsibility. 100% of our state income tax goes to education. Approximately 67% of our property tax goes to education, and in this area, with a very small amount excepted, that property tax goes directly to ASD. None of this is a bad thing, but it underscores the great responsibility that comes with so great a trust. Since, by law, the school board approves the district budget and appoints the superintendent, the school board is the final decision-maker on those large percentages of your state and local tax dollars.
At a recent board meeting, it was outlined how well, fiscally, the district does. We spend more than other districts in Utah on teacher salaries and compensation, but less overall, per pupil. This indicates a good "bang for the buck".
At the same time, the district is going to request a new bond in 2011. The discussions have centered on population growth, and whether or not to bond a little bit at a time and ask for bonding more frequently or to bond for a lot of money less frequently. The board has decided that more money, less often is the approach they want to take.
The bond appears to be a foregone conclusion. In all the discussions, there hasn't been any specifics as to why the bond is needed. There are implications (with the growth) that there will be new schools built and older ones refurbished, but what the bond will actually provide has been sketchy.
Because of the fiscal soundness of the district, it is easy to just accept things with complacency. However, we are in a recession, and tax revenues have plummeted, as has the employment rate. The idea that people will be able to accommodate the additional burden associated with a bond isn't a foregone conclusion. This brings us back to why we have a school board. At all levels of government, we have a check and balance. The board is there to represent and advocate for the interests of the community at large. They are not there to agree and support the district's initiatives. The board members are to weigh the pros and cons of these fiscal decisions, not just on the district, but also on the individuals that make up this community. I would suggest that the board should present voters with a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A is with the bond, Plan B is without. Give the voters a clear choice, not just a plea for more money.
Since tax money, by definition, comes from the labors of others, it is a solemn duty that the school board undertakes as it approves and votes on these fiscal matters. It is important that every aspect of this be open to public scrutiny. I have seen recently that part of the benefit of public comment is that school boards, and city councils cannot possess enough knowledge and wisdom to cover all the possibilities and aspects of the major issues impacting the population they represent. Giving the public information and allowing them to do the research for you, benefits everyone. Those who are interested use their expertise to advise the governing body. In effect, the research arm of the school board is made up of the residents. Ideas and options unimagined by the board can be presented and, possibly, used when the people are given the opportunity to help find our solutions. Public comment is invaluable, not to lead the public where you want them to go, but to obtain the necessary information from those with the additional knowledge that 7 members of a school board cannot possibly have on their own.
Finally, it is important to understand the impact of our fiscal decisions on both the children in our schools as well as the people who pay for those schools. It has been and always will be a balancing act. No one thinks that 100% of one's income should go to public schools. At the same time, there is always the opportunity of what could be done with more funding. In short, there is no "perfect" balance. This is why board members are just people in the community--there to represent the interests of all: balancing the needs of our schools with the needs of the people. George Washington said of government, "It is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." The fiscal responsibility of a school board member is to keep the balance between what the schools need to operate and the burden imposed, by force, on our community.