Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Maybe you are solidly convinced that the local board and administration of the Vermillion School District isn't doing enough to control its spending – despite cuts and revenue enhancements of over $1 million in the general fund since the 2001-02 school year.

Maybe you've ciphered how the requested $600,000 annual opt-out of the property tax freeze, requested by the school board earlier this year so that it can, in its words, maintain quality education here, will effect your pocketbook. And you've decided it's just too much.

We know we could argue until we're blue in the face and it wouldn't do any good. We know if you're unwilling to pay additional tax dollars, you'll probably vote against the opt-out Tuesday, no matter how hard we try to convince you not to.

If the opt-out fails, could the Vermillion School Board make additional cuts? Probably.

Will we find them adequate and agreeable?

Probably not.

There's a certain danger involved when we start demanding certain public services without expecting to pay for them.

We'll either lose those services permanently, or we'll find those services transforming into something we find unacceptable, such as classrooms with too high a student/teacher ratio, or a gutting of staff numbers and a spread of the workload among fewer educators in an attempt to save a few bucks.

No one likes to pay taxes, and we're assuming that may be one of the leading reasons people may oppose the opt-out request.

We've reached a point, however, where we must ask ourselves this: If we decide as a community not to try to financially support our school district, hoping all along that state government eventually may fix the problem, where do you think the state will get the money?

State government is no different from local government entities. Its revenue stream comes primarily from taxes.

If we expect the state to do a better job of funding public education in South Dakota, we better expect to pay for it, in the form of more taxes collected by Pierre.

We agree philosophically with South Dakota's decision to grant citizens, through referendum, a chance to say yea or nay to an increase in property taxes.

Leaders in Pierre recognized that any steps that help school districts maintain local control of their fiscal affairs likely would help those districts offer a quality education to their students.

We've had some personal conversations with individuals lately who've told us that they simply can't support the opt-out.

We know we can't change the minds of these people. Yes, we realize an opt-out will impact all of us economically, but we're disturbed by the attitude some opt-out opponents have toward the school district.

These people are, unknowingly, forming an unhealthy economic clique that is increasingly withdrawing from our local society.

We hate to see members of the Vermillion School District wall themselves off from the community. Maybe, however, we're all a bit guilty of that. We so easily turn our backs on our own city, putting up hardly any resistance, for example, to an opportunity to spend our tax dollars outside our community.

Opt-out opponents don't realize it, but in voicing their opposition, they send a rather ironic message: Cheerfully send your hard-earned dollars not just to local politicians but to politicians elected by other people. Let's not solve our fiscal problems by ourselves. Let's hope the state will do it.

If you believe the Vermillion School Board should have the ability to retain its flexibility over the expenditure of the funds collected from local taxpayers, we suggest you vote for the opt-out. If you believe the school board is not merely local government, but a body we elect to keep watch over the day-to-day operation of our schools, we suggest you vote for the opt-out.

If you want to watch local control of the school district slip away while education programs are being cut, if you want to wait patiently for state government to solve the problem (probably by taxing you) we suggest you vote against the opt-out.

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