Friday, March 1, 2013

Orlando George, Appo, and Colonial--what does it mean?

Ever since Del Tech President Orlando George (a man who makes--I'm not kidding--a higher salary than the President of the United States to run our community colleges) came back to the General Assembly with his perpetual proposal that Del Tech have its own dedicated property tax ...

And ever since (for about the last couple hours, really) I found out that both school referenda at Appo and Colonial went down to inglorious defeat ...

I have been ruminating on exactly what both of these things mean.

George (who keeps hoping that having his own daughter on the Joint Finance Committee will help him pull this off) is arguing that Del Tech needs a steady source of income for future expansion and operating expenses.  Of course the fact that the state's other two institutions of higher learning--UD and DSU--have to manage by playing the state game every year and courting private donors does not (for whatever reason) impinge on George's thinking.  Del Tech is different, and Del Tech alone out of every education institution in the state needs to have predictability in its finances and (above all) exemption from any oversight by voters or the General Assembly.

Ridiculous.  And dangerous.  But (one must admit) ultimately possible for him to achieve if he is persistent.

Meanwhile, Appo, which has earned a reputation for being one of the best-managed school districts in the state, fails miserably at a referendum.  One can cite multiple causes:  the bite they asked for was too big; many important names in the area (like Joanne Christian) did not support it for that reason; there was an organized opposition with signs and websites; and--frankly--in the middle of economic downturns people are unlikely to raise their taxes over middle school sports.

To be honest, however, referenda in our districts are usually a two-step process.  The district loads up the first one with all the chrome and bonuses that anybody in the central office wants, and the public says NO.  Then the district whittles down the request to something more reasonable, and the public (which is generally not averse to supporting education) says YES on the second go-round.

This is legitimate public stewardship of taxation in support of K-12 education, and might be a good lesson for Del Tech President George.

As for Colonial's failed efforts, from what I can tell they appeared to be running the old "stealth referendum" strategy.  That's when you put out the referendum notices and try not to talk about it much.  Then you have band concerts at all the schools and drag the parents in to vote.  This generally avoids having to deal with buses coming in from the retirement communities to vote against you.  Apparently that didn't work this time because people are better focused on what the government is trying to take out of their wallets.

But there is a clear message hear, both for Del Tech and our school districts.  Voting against a property tax for Del Tech or a particular referendum for a school district does not make one inherently anti-education.  It may mean (and I hope it does mean) that the voting public is taking its job seriously to manage the growth of spending without creating disaster.

We could only hope that Congress and the President someday get the same message.

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