Did Frank Lasee Tell the Truth?

Jimi Hendrix, “If 6 was 9” (click to listen or download)

In the June 10, 2008 edition of “Lasee’s Notes,” State Assembly Member Frank Lasee (Republican, 2nd district) sang the praises of our current system of keeping taxes down by starving education and requiring referenda to address the structural faults in the revenue caps. In the paragraph reproduced below, Lasee cited questionable polling data:

The school referendum system has worked reasonably well and has helped to control property taxes (click for recent news that statewide property taxes have increased 3.8% this year). There aren’t many state elected officials willing to talk about removing these revenue controls (one of WEAC, the state’s teachers union’s top priorities) or taking away these spending controls (with voter override approval). This is because they enjoy 70% approval ratings when citizens are asked. Once citizens get the right to vote, they don’t want to give it up.

I was intrigued by the 70% figure, so I wrote Rep. Lasee to ask where this number came from. Four days later (June 19), I got an email asking that I provide a home address, but promising “If I have your address, I will respond regardless of where you live.” I responded that day, with the requested information. Ten days latter, I emailed again, with my address and asking about the polling numbers. On July 18, I wrote again. I haven’t heard from Rep. Lasee or his office since the initial request for my address. It appears he doesn’t want to answer my question.

Lasee is an embarrassment — it could be that like another embarrassment to the Wisconsin political traditions, Joe McCarthy — he just makes up his numbers.

I’ve done some digging and the closest polling I can find was a news story on a survey commissioned by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) and released in 2001. The 70% figure isn’t there, the results are full of contradictions and we have had seven more years of struggles under the state school finance system since then. Here are some highlights from the story:

  • “Nearly two-thirds of taxpayers support state-imposed limits on local school districts’ spending” (no number cited).
  • 78% of those polled said the balance of financial power should shift toward the school boards and away from state government.”
  • “Majorities of respondents also said that in almost all cases, a school board should be required to seek voters’ approval before raising spending.”
    • More money for a new building – 90% wanted a referendum.
    • More money for teacher salaries or school security – 66% wanted a referendum.
    • For athletics – 64%. For computers, desks and classroom equipment – 63%.
    • For an unexpected increase in health insurance premiums – 58%.
    • For routine maintenance or for art and music programs – 55%.
  • “Only in the case of an unexpected increase in fuel costs did a majority of those surveyed, 56%, say a school board should be able to spend more money without holding a referendum.
  • A WASB backed proposal to allow school boards [to] spend an extra $148 per student each year – about 2% of the average revenue limit statewide – without holding referendums was supported 52% or respondents at the start of the survey and when asked again at the end 59% backed the “2% solution.”

So 78% favored more local control and over 52% to 59% of the respondents favored a measure that would have allowed major increases in school funding. If the 2% solution had been enacted in 2001 (at $148 per year) and renewed, this would have meant over $24 million more in the 2008-9 MMSD budget.  Hard to spin support for a change of that magnitude as support for “the school referendum system.”

After seven years of cuts and conflict, I’d guess the numbers in favor of big and small reform have grown considerably.

Whatever changes may have happened, the only poll I can find does not back Lasee up.

I’m still waiting for an answer from Frank Lasee, but I’m not expecting one.

Thomas J. Mertz

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6 Comments

Filed under "education finance", AMPS, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Did Frank Lasee Tell the Truth?

  1. Michael Saltz

    Obviously voters don’t trust school boards since most members are
    simply former teachers, i.e. open your wallets and “trust us” since we are
    all smarter than you dumb tax payers. When voters learn that 80%
    percent of the school budgets are salaries and benefits, and that you always
    seem to want MORE, they resent it and vote ‘No’. I wish I had the QEO
    to “bargain” with. What a ripoff scam.

  2. Michael

    Line-by-line.

    “Obviously voters don’t trust school boards since most members are simply former teachers.”

    The best source I can find says that only 13% of Board members are professional educators.

    Like Frank Lasee, yo seem to throw around falsehood as facts.

    It should also be remembered that Board Members are elected by the voters and that other elected bodies, including the one that Frank Lasee is a member of have much freer taxing authority.

    “When voters learn that 80% percent of the school budgets are salaries and benefits, and that you always seem to want MORE, they resent it and vote ‘No’.”

    About 50% of referendums pass.

    I wish I had the QEO to “bargain” with. What a ripoff scam.

    the QEO was enacted by the legislature to limit teacher compensation and property taxes. WEAC has pushed for the repeal of the QEO.

  3. Michael Saltz

    Of course weac would push for the elimination of the qeo. How much
    would our property taxes be without it?! Come on! Tell me most school
    boards are not pro teacher and “open your wallets” advocates?! Why does
    weac/mti fund insane amounts of money to get certain members elected?
    I have had kids in Madison schools and absolutely do not subscribe to
    this blind teacher worship you do. I’m appalled at the number of
    “off” days teachers receive during the year. For example, in-service. Is
    this in-service required to attend? No. Every year there seems to be
    more and more down time but you demand more and more wages! These “off”
    days and any “work” you’re doing during these days should be
    accomplished over the summer. Period. Also, if you think you have it soooo bad
    and you’re sooo underpaid with mti, go work for another district and see
    how bad you have it in Madison. I’m sure they can find other teachers
    to take your place! And how many referendums pass on the first
    attempt?
    Some ultimately pass because they keep getting rammed down our throats.
    People are hurting because of property taxes in Madison and quite
    simply when we see our property tax bill and the ratios provided, we get
    sick. Enough already! Make do with what you earn, the rest of us do!
    Instead of cutting programs, cut your wages for once. Unheard of.
    Another thing, when you have clowns like Beth Zurbuchen announcing that
    anyone without kids in Madison doesn’t have the right to vote ‘No’ on a
    referendum, your fueling your own demise. What an offensive, arrogant
    statement she made!

  4. Laura Chern

    I think it might be in all our best interest to be pro teacher. And I
    think the current MMSD school board is pretty good. As for property
    taxes, the amount I pay for schools has gone down.

    That said, I do agree that these days off during the school year are a
    hardship for parents who work, regardless of income level. Much harder
    for low income parents. And they don’t seem too great for the kids
    either. The district has really tried to provide activities for the days
    off but I wonder how constructive the activities are.

    As for teacher wages going down, why would you wish that for anyone? I
    think we can agree that a more flexible system than the QEO is
    desirable. I think, and maybe TJ will correct me on this, that the cost of
    benefits alone was close to the 3.8% cap during the last negotiation.

    Anyway, thanks for posting. I hadn’t seen the Beth Zurbachen quote and
    I can see why that might make someone mad.

  5. Michael Saltz

    Pro teacher is fine as long as there is some accountability. Respect has to be actually earned, not blindly granted followed by immediate demands to open our wallets. And most importantly, simply throwing money at any employee doesn’t immediately guarantee the best tangible result/s.

    The part I’ve heard from Madison teachers that aggravates me most are these direct and indirect style of statements, “it’s all about the kids but we’re going to take it out on the kids if we don’t get our wages increased and the best and most costly benefits package available”, seems quite contradictory to me. I think teachers and mti need to remember who’s serving who. They are here to serve the public, not to simply threaten, take, and make what they want. Wages: teacher wages/benefits are paid for by who? Do you mind property taxes going up way beyond inflation? Maybe your property taxes went down. Most didn’t. And, if they did go down, ask yourself why? What other pot of money did Doyle raid (again) to donate to weac? The dept. of Transportation has taken big hits during the last few budget cycles. Have you noticed auto registration going up? There are reasons why your single property taxes went down temporarily, just wait for the “fees” shortfalls to soon show up in other areas of your life. Other government employees are making do with less, why are mti teachers expected to be exempt? Also, if benefits can be had for a lower rate or for a better deal to save (taxpayer) money, why isn’t that change implemented? Because Matthews has his conflict of interest hands in the pot and its not really about saving taxpayer money and its not all about the kids, like were told come referendum time.

  6. Jerry Eykholt

    For the median home in 75% of Madison’s neighborhoods, school property
    taxes have actually fallen in the last 5 years. For the other 25%, the
    median home value in the neighborhoods have grown by $250,000 or more.
    Check your own bill. It’s the total property tax that has increased,
    but the schools get plenty of blame and little of the credit. Madison
    remains an attractive city, and having a good school system is, in my
    opinion, part of the draw.

    As for comparing school property tax mil rates with neighboring
    districts, Madison comes in around the middle. Several surrounding districts
    are paying starting teachers more. And, compared to the state average
    rate of increase in per pupil spending since the QEO, Madison’s rate of
    increase has been less – enough so that if we would have kept at the
    state average – we’d have about $9 million more this year. The state
    formula has steadily punished MMSD property taxpayers. Throw in promised
    federal support for special ed – and we’d be in great shape. We’d have
    avoided some nasty cuts, and we’d have 4-yr old kindergarten and more.
    No referendum.

    The main issue, I think, is missed. What you are calling for isn’t so
    fiscally smart for Madison. It’s like having the infrastructure and not
    enabling the human interactions that stimulate education. Punishing
    teachers would probably lead to less special opportunities and a passion
    for learning. Greater pain for the schools likely would mean erosion
    of support and engagement within the schools and by the community. We’re
    struggling with the hard realities of the financials, and not getting
    a fair share from the state, but we are on a steady course and many
    teachers are still putting in long hours and doing special things.

    Part of the real fight against property taxes is that they are hard to
    avoid. Many people can avoid income taxes with a bit of creativity and
    re-structuring – but property taxes are simply proportional to
    property value. The critic’s way to attack this fact is to say that the money
    is wasted and the teachers are spoiled. It’s a tactic that’s old and
    a bit rotten, in my opinion.

    Minus health care, real wages have fallen, and work demands on teachers
    have increased steadily. Staffing cuts means that more has to be done
    with fewer people. This is affecting morale, our ability to retain our
    best young teachers, and, ultimately, education. That’s not value for
    the taxes we do pay, whether it is more or less.

    This is not just about the kids (while they remain our focus), it’s
    about our community.

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