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.
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