WENDY HART KEEP EDUCATION LOCAL

Fiscal Responsibility

For your own good, for the good of your family and your future, grow a backbone. When something is wrong, stand up and say it is wrong, and don't back down.”

― Dave Ramsey

 

The Alpine School District is the largest school district in the state of Utah.  In 2013-2014 we are educating over 73,000 students. The budget is $588,855,993. The numbers are staggering. The good news is, the administration is doing a commendable job. You know I would tell if that were not the case.  Overall, I am impressed with the fiscal responsibility the administration provides.

 

But lets talk about how we can improve on something that is already "good."  Brace yourself.  There is not going to be any finger pointing at bureaucrats this time.  It's time we look in the mirror if we want to leave our children a better system than we inherited.

 

9% of the budget goes towards debt service.  Where does that debt come from? Mostly growth.

 

Utah County has been growing rapidly. Building enough schools to keep classroom sizes "We may have to bond for the high school now, but if we would reject pork barrel projects to pass a bond, we could pay off our debt, quit rotating bonds and our children would have a completely fiscally sound school district when they become adults."reasonable costs a lot of money. Average cost for a high school is about $60 million and elementary schools about one-fifth as much.

 

The Alpine School District tries to maintain a "pay as you go" strategy with the exception of capital expenditures on building schools.  The district proposes bonds which the public can vote on.  Bonds historically are passed in this area. The pitch is we have to have the buildings.  And then, just to make sure it passes, additional projects are thrown in to make sure everyone gets something.

 

We, the people, are raising our own taxes and prolonging paying off debt. We end up paying extra for our schools, in the form of interest, over the life of the bond.  Most bonds are 15 year bonds and we have multiple bonds we are always rotating through.  When one gets paid off, we get another bond.

 

As a result we paid $53.5 million dollars last year in interest.  That is the cost of one high school or a few elementary schools. Students will have the opportunity as adults, to pay the debt off on the schools they attended as children. Some may see that as fair.  I see it as burdening future generations with our debt and teaching them a poor lesson of the responsibility of managing money.

 

The district is doing exactly what the stakeholders want.  I cannot fault the district in the amount of debt it services yearly because it is the result of what the taxpayers have appropriated via bonds.

 

It's not that I'm so unrealistic to assume we cannot have any debt, I simply believe we should do it as a last resort. In many circumstances, going into debt to build a school is the only viable option.  It's the additional projects that are thrown in that makes me call your attention to the issue.

 

In order to rally support for bonds, the district puts a little bit of sugar in the bond for every area of the district.  In congress they refer to these as pork barrel spending. Add a weight room on one particular high school or some other project at another school.  These capital expenditures should be part of the regular "pay as you go" budget instead of part of some bond our children will be paying on as adults.

 

The end result is always a minimal increase of a few dollars on our property tax. The mental equation goes, "$15 more per year in property tax and my school will have an awesome new weight room...absolutely I'm for the bond."  Any sage advice about the dangers of debt, morality of burdening future generations with our spending, is lost in that simple mental equation.

 

I don't fault the district in using this proven strategy.  We, the people, go for it every time.  The district wants the money to work with.  We give them all the money they ask for and pass on the debt to future generations to pay off.

 

We may have to bond for the high school now, but if we would reject pork barrel projects to pass a bond, we could pay off our debt, quit rotating bonds and our children would have a completely fiscally sound school district when they become adults. Imagine how our district's example would serve as an example to other districts and state leaders.

 

Collectively, federal, state, city and school tax increases of $15 here and $15 there starts to add up over time  It is those who are living on the edge that are most vulnerable.  The wealthiest among us don't worry about such seemingly small tax increases and only focus on the pride of ownership.  But it  truly affects average people and those on fixed incomes.

 

It also perpetuates the tax and spend mentality we claim to not like in other levels of government.  And yet, every time, the bond passes.

 

We, the people, should reject the notion of putting our children in debt for things we can pay for today.  If we need to bond to accommodate growth, so be it. But lets give future generations the benefit of having learned from our mistakes. Let's pay as we go for everything we possibly can.  Let's value fiscal responsibility over having our vote bought off with debt on something we could have paid for out of pocket or postponed for a few years.

 

This responsibility begins and ends with you and me.  This isn't the school district's doing.  We need to become the kind of people who demonstrate our highest ideals with our vote.

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