I was recently contacted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution to give my opinion about SPLOST IV (see article here) and before I knew it, I was in the middle of controversy. I guess voicing your own opinion and then backing it up with what you know to be true can sometimes be unpopular, especially when there is money involved. But, I still stand by my position and there are a lot of people out there who agree with me.
I don't expect everyone to speak out, but I do hope that more people will get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8, so your opinion will actually count. Like all elections, the biggest contributing factor in the upcoming SPLOST IV vote will likely come low voter turnout. Since SPLOST IV is viewed as relevant only to parents of public school children, chances are fairly good that a large portion of voters who could make a difference either do not know about this issue or do not care. And that means they do not intend to vote.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that
matter. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But, if you are concerned about high taxes and mismanagement of your money, it might be time to start paying attention because a good school system can make or break our county. And right now, we need all the help we can get. So, thanks to the Internet, it does not take much time to get caught up on the issues concerning our school system. And, if you really enjoy controversy, I recommend you check out The DeKalb School Watch blog or the website I moderate on behalf of our schools that were selected to receive cell towers courtesy of T-mobile and the DeKalb County School System (DCSS): Get the Cell Out - Atlanta Chapter.
Think "Yes" (to education), but Vote "No" (on SPLOST IV)
The reason I am comfortable with the "No" on SPLOST is precisely because we know that they have other ways to get the money, such as repealing the homestead exemption for property owners. This option has been positioned very cleverly as being a negative effect of a "No" vote. But, if you consider your options, you might find that it really would not be so bad. For every homeowner, the cost of losing the exemption would be about $57 flat.
(If SPLOST is not approved then we would lose the $2500 extra homestead exemption that goes against the school levy that we get in DeKalb. The school millage rate is 22.98 mils. 22.98 times $2500 is $57 and change. That's the same no matter the value of your house because the exemption of $2500 is the same for every homeowner. This amount would change only if the millege were to increase.)
So, if you want to look at it on a strictly personal level, do the math. Can you afford a penny on every dollar you spend for a year on everything except food? Or is a one-time, flat cost of $57 per household a better bargain for you?
This could be the wake-up call we need!
And, if you wonder what will happen if you decide to vote "No." The biggest difference is not whether they will get the money. It is only about how they will do it. A "No" to SPLOST IV results in a repeal of the property tax exemption. And that will do one very important thing - it will notify a lot more residents in our county about how bad the problems are in the school system these days. And since property owners are probably more likely to vote as well, these are important people for us to reach so that they might help us elect responsible school board members when it is time to cast our ballots next November.
A continuation of a tax that is already in place without even a short gap of interruption will not only send a message of approval to the current board, but it will also be passed without the majority of our county even realizing that anything has taken place. The current SPLOST funds extend through August 2012 and the tax can be revisited again if we do not pass it on November 8.
I think it is better to give the new superintendent a clean break from the past while she completes her plans. We should enable her to provide more input into the list of items where the money should be allocated so the money will go to back her plans, not require her to work within the confines of a plan that hasn't worked for us in the past.
Think Ahead if You Want Real Change
Without bringing attention to the education downslide we are on, we (the parents and teachers) will not be able to influence the other voters when it is time to try to vote out the incumbents who have failed to listen to us and have pursued their own agendas. It is a fact that voters who are unsure of how to vote will typically vote to preserve what is going on now because, even in difficult times, people are inherently afraid of change. We have to motivate them to WANT to change.
Yes, it might take a short adjustment period where some pain is felt, but it is temporary. If you are concerned about the conditions of the schools, then perhaps you could consider volunteering your time to help. Maybe the PTA or the community at large could help raise funds and organize clean-up or repair days with local volunteers for the most pressing immediate needs that have been neglected by our school board. Our money can be used to directly help the schools, rather than collected and then wasted by administrators who pay their own salaries first before paying teachers and beautify and improve their own surroundings before considering the needs of our children.
We are giving away so much money that it is literally bleeding us all dry, and for what? Our schools are a mess, our board is corrupt and our children are failing. Money is not the only way to show support for the children. In this case, the good intentions of the public to help our schools has resulted in litigation that must be paid by the fund that would normally pay our teachers. So, by giving more money to SPLOST, we actually took money away from those who are directly responsible for teaching our children.
Congress will not pass a new law if there is one single line in it that they cannot agree upon. Instead, they will deny it and wait for a better version to come across their desks. If the money is really needed, we do not have to worry about them finding other ways to ask... that is exactly what they will do.
Don't accept something that is not clearly defined or does not meet your expectations. Do not settle for less than what we deserve. Do not take the abuse of those in power without at least attempting to put your foot down. Because a leopard doesn't change its spots, but a great city and a great county can certainly decline into poverty if we do not speak out now while we still have something left that is worth protecting.