District 15: Let’s Talk About Tax Dollars and School District Priorities

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District 15: Let’s Talk About Tax Dollars and School District Priorities

By Anthony Wang, District 15 School Board Candidate

Let’s talk about YOUR tax dollars.

The current board (including incumbents who are seeking re-election: Jim Ekeberg, Peggy Babcock and Gerald Chapman) have continually demonstrated a resistance towards fiscal accountability, and failed to utilize zero-based budgeting. These serious decisions have left our district in an ominous place. During a time when these school board members should have been building surpluses to rebate taxpayers, they instead issued $24M in new bonds, extending D15’s long-term debt to nearly $70M. When these same board members should have been paying for building improvements and upkeep of our schools, they instead approved a 10-year teacher contract; failing to even participate in the negotiations. A budgeted 7% increase in health benefits has actually resulted in a 14.26% increase year-over-year, as evidenced by D15’s Audited Financial Reports. It is clear that our current school board members have been inaccurate in regards to financial forecasting, and not accountable for repeated poor decision-making when it comes to our tax dollars.

So, what should a fiscally responsible school district do to avoid these pitfalls? A priority would be to do a better job of managing administrative costs. We need to make sure that the maximum amount of public school funds is spent on classroom instruction for our children instead of non-instructional overhead. Next, we need to ensure that we are taking advantage of all cost-saving avenues by opening up bidding for non-instructional services. Most school districts find they can either improve the quality of the services, save money on comparable services, or both. It is also imperative that we manage employee health benefits more effectively. Despite the fact that health insurance costs have been rising faster than inflation nationwide over the past decade, these costs can be controlled through effective management techniques. If not forecasted correctly, as mentioned above, it can and will have a profound effect on the school district’s financials for years to come. Lastly, we need to structure capital costs more effectively. Facilities age and depreciate, and do so at a faster rate if operations and maintenance has been cut back, much like we’ve seen in D15. We need to be proactive and take thoughtful care of our facilities, and if the need for more space arises, we should explore the options of re-utilizing what we have or expanding if necessary, before running to taxpayers asking for blank checks to build new buildings. Continuing these types of practices is a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem, which will have no end if righted now with new and positive change on our school board.

The accompanying graphic is a year-by-year CAFR comparison that I put together to see where district costs have fluctuated over the past four years. Transparency with our community is one of the best things we can have.
By voting for positive change in our district, we can and will get D15 back on the right track financially. I appreciate your time and look forward to your questions and comments! Please email info@EngageD15.com.

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