"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Friday, July 29, 2016

Feds and Bonds: Summer Happenings

There are two items of importance for your consideration and action: ESSA public comments (the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind has a set of regulations open for public comment.  Hint: They are the textbook definition of overreach and federal control) and the proposed Bond for 2016.

The ESSA public comment period has a deadline of Monday, Aug. 1, 2016.  The bond will be voted on by the Board Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.

ESSA Regulations
In December, 2015, Congress passed the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), nicknamed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  At the time, I said I was opposed to it, due to the 1 step forward, 2 steps backward attempt at 'removing' federal control in education.  I still believe ESSA to be a net negative (Yes, as bad or worse than NCLB).  However, those members of Congress who voted for it, generally, see the regulations that the US Dept of Ed have put out on ESSA to be an egregious overreach of the law, itself.  (Find the Regulations here: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/index.html?src=essa-resources)

The biggest area of concern (and there are many) is the recommendation that schools with high opt-out rates of  Common Core testing be penalized.  See this article: http://longisland.news12.com/news/us-education-secretary-john-b-king-penalize-schools-with-high-rates-of-common-core-opt-outs-1.12031057  In June, I attended a training session on ESSA presented by the National School Boards Association (aptly titled: A New Federalism).  The presenter, an attorney, recommended that we work with our legislators to remove the ability of parents to opt their kids out of state testing.  The consequence, she said, would be to jeopardize our federal funding under ESSA.  So, the one avenue parents have to protest and to protect their students is under attack by the 'new' supposedly kinder, gentler, less-federal-encroachment law.  Additionally, I asked how they would be able to do this when some states, like Utah, for example, have opting out codified in state law, the state law predates ESSA, and under the 10th Amendment, the states would have jurisdiction in this area that the feds clearly do not.  Her response, paraphrasing, "Since the monies in ESSA are 'voluntary', you will not be able to get someone to challenge it on 10th Amendment grounds."  In short, by taking the federal monies from ESSA, we are subverting state (and natural) law--voluntarily. 

Also, the ESSA includes the 'Family Fixing Policy' as it is described by education blogger Peter Greene.  I wrote about this at the end of last year: http://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/2015/12/jan-4-2016-deadline-to-support-family.html  Nothing we want taking place in our state.  The concern is that if the Feds have the ability to (which it appears they do) to force states to do what they want, then the State Board will have no options (other than rejecting federal funding) in creating their 'Family Engagement Plan'.  It will have to come very close to what the US Dept of Ed has proposed. 

Incidentally, the NSBA presenter mentioned that the regulations overseeing how Special Education students are dealt with under ESSA were, to put it bluntly, a nightmare.  She said they were not out for public comment yet, but they were on the US Dept of Ed website.  I haven't found them yet, but if you do, please let me know. 

Take Action on ESSA:
1. An organization, US PIE (US Parents Involved in Education) has as its goal the elimination of the US Department of Ed.  They have drafted a letter to send to Congress.  You may add your name by emailing afew@uspie.org and asking to be added to the letter.  Include your name and title and state.
2. Comment on the US Dept of Ed regulations BY AUGUST 1 (MONDAY)!  https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=ED-2016-OESE-0032-0001
3. Contact your members of Congress and make sure they know the Dept of Ed is over-stepping it's bounds.
4. If you like twitter, use the hashtag #ReignInTheKing and #StopFedEd

ASD 2016 Bond
The Board will vote on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016 on whether or not to place a bond on the ballot for your consideration in November.  This bond is proposed to be $386 Million and cover projects over the next 4 years.  There will be no projected tax increase for the average $250,000 home, due to the interest rates, project schedule, and retirement of existing bonds.  For more information on the bond, go here.  (The 2011 bond was $210 Million.)

Originally, there were many items included in the bond, like technology infrastructure and key-card-security access, but they seemed to take a back-seat to the growth and maintenance of schools.  As such, those items were removed and the proposed projects can be found here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BzUjUSlTes-4TjhBQXUtQlFjdjA  I would appreciate your comments as soon as possible on these items, as there is not much chance for public feedback at this point.  You are welcome to come and comment on the 16th, but by then, it is mostly a done deal. 

Personally, while I like Clear Creek, I think we should focus our resources on more school buildings instead of Clear Creek. I believe the parents who have kids in overcrowded schools would prefer more day-to-day school buildings than the benefit of Clear Creek. Additionally, I think we could probably get funding from other sources (corporate and personal donations), to determine the exact benefit our parents find from programs like Clear Creek.  (I, personally, enjoyed Clear Creek with my daughter, but I think when it comes to prioritizing our bond projects, more schools outweighs the benefits of Clear Creek.  You may disagree, but that's why I'm asking for input.) 

My take:
I will, most likely, vote to put the bond on the ballot.  There are serious growth concerns in Lehi and the West that I can't see being able to fund in the short-term without bonding.  Our district has a great track record of keeping its promises on bonds, getting the best interest rates, and keeping tax rates low.  So, if you must use a bonding model, I think Alpine School District and our Business Services Department do a great job!

However, in the Highland, Alpine, and Cedar Hills area, bonding is probably not a logical choice.  We have a few minor items that are included in every bond, but we are essentially paying for building and maintenance in the other areas across the district.  (For Alpine/Highland/Cedar Hills: 2011 bond: 1% of the bond.  2016 proposed bond: 1% of the bond.)  I've been told that not wanting to pay for others' buildings is selfish.  But, my response is simply this.  Property taxation should not expand beyond those who are receiving the benefit of the property tax; otherwise, any meaningful checks and balances on property taxation are lost.  So, like in this instance, there are enough people in the rest of the district that want/need what is being proposed on the bond they can force those in the other areas to pay for those needs.  (And I remind you I don't think those buildings are a bad thing.  They are truly needed.  It just goes back to self-sufficiency, and the need for checks and balances on government processes.) This is one of the difficulties in bonding over a large area, like our district.

The other possible downside is in the high-growth or older areas that require more building, the bond dollars have to be spread around in order to have broad support.  If you are in Lehi, it would probably take much less time to get all those buildings done because you wouldn't have to pay for Orem or AF or Eagle Mountain..., and the question is whether or not the cost to Lehi would be significantly more than spreading it over the entire district.  Since Lehi is a high growth area, arguably, the increased property values in that area might equal the increased need in buildings.  These are questions I don't have the answers to.  But they are questions we should be asking. 

So, as an example, take Highland City.  It seems every year the City Council raises taxes to fix the roads, and every year, the residents pass a referendum to prevent it.  It's the check and balance that is needed.  If residents prefer to drive on lousy roads in order to keep their property taxes low, then that is their right.  If, however, Highland residents could expand their tax base out to Alpine and Cedar Hills and make them pay for Highland's road construction, there might be less resistance from Highland residents.  But would that be right?  Property tax exists to allow residents of a particular community to tax themselves for a particular benefit.  They pay the price, but they also receive the benefit.  If you are paying more than you are receiving in benefit or vice versa, then the checks and balances are misaligned.  And you will find people voting to take money from others to pay for their needs, instead of bearing the burden themselves.  If we want to help other areas of the district, in the long term, I believe working with the legislature to do the following would be better governance than bonding across the district every 4-5 years.  (Note: these items might not eliminate bonding, but they are better models for government and the bonded amounts would be smaller and more targeted, I believe.)

1. Change the law to allow impact fees to be used for school buildings.  (Impact fees are charged to developers for things like sewer lines and water.  15 or so years ago, the legislature, when the Senate President was a realtor, banned the use of impact fees for schools.  This means we don't have a way of getting more funding to build school buildings in growth areas other than property taxation and bonding.  We don't get to plan in advance and assess monies for schools to be built as cities grow.  And the growing areas are dependent upon the rest of the district for funding/bonding, as well.  The argument against impact fees is that it increases the cost of new developments.  However, to me, that's like saying we can't charge impact fees for water because it would increase the cost.  If you are building, we are obligated to provide you with water.  If you are building, we are obligated to provide schools. Without impact fees, we are reacting to growth instead of being able to plan in advance and prepare.)

2. Remove (or reduce) 'special programs' like technology grants and so forth that limit what funding can be used for at the local level.  Special programs and state grants turn the legislature into a super school board--dictating what projects are of most value in their eyes.  If we had the chance to get money for technology or for school buildings, each district might choose differently, but that is why you have a locally-elected school board--to decide how the money should best be used.

3. Reduce or eliminate the amount of income tax money funding higher ed.  Once upon a time 100% of our income taxes went to K-12 education.  The legislature changed this to allow a portion to also go to higher ed.  Over time, the percentage going to higher ed has successively increased, and reduced K-12 by the same amount.  We are obligated under our State Constitution to provide a free, public education for all our students K-12.  We are not obligated to subsidize higher ed.  If we want to subsidize higher ed, the money should come from outside the income tax amounts and should probably be reduced.  If we can't provide places for our K-12 children to learn, but we are subsidizing higher ed, we have our priorities backward. 

Please share this information with your neighbors.  Ask them to comment on the ESSA regulations, as well as on the bond, and any proposals to deal with growth and maintenance issues going forward.  Our district can represent you, but only if you are willing to weigh in on the things that matter to you!