SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
The Tuesday Boise school bond election passed with 70% of the voters saying “yes” to 30 years of taxes for $94 million worth of new buildings and improvements. The campaign provided some interesting insights into political strategy.
Former legislators Jim Auld and Rod Beck made the media talk show circuit calling for fiscal restraint and giving their assessment of school needs after making “fact finding” visits at some of the schools. The pair represented their “Ada County Property Owners Association.”
School District officials refused to appear with the Property Owners at any venues. The school bond supporters then enlisted about 20 former legislators of their own to appear for a photo op at the aged Franklin School.
When Auld and Beck presented “facts” gleaned from newspaper interviews with the school superintendent, the school spokesman called the information “lies and misrepresentations.”
The District never did offer any corrections or clarifications.
In a move the GUARDIAN has not previously seen, the bond supporters sold their cause as “Neighborhood Reinvestment,” that would make the older areas of Boise more appealing to rich young parents. Who could vote against a neighborhood clean up?
The schools offered the bond at “no increase in the tax rate.” Who could vote against $94 million that wouldn’t raise taxes?
They offered recreation centers–facilities Boise residents cited in a Park Department survey as a top priority. Voters turned down a library bond six weeks ago that included rec centers.
The school plan calls for combining some schools and developing the vacant sites into high density residential areas with an appeal to young married couples of child bearing age. They picked up support of the city council, religious groups, and housing contractors with that one.
When the Property Owners ran radio ads against the bond, the supporters countered with “fact sheets” distributed in a mass mailing. Some school “friends”–parent groups–sent material home with the kids. Complaints of dragging kids into a political race came across as “mean spirited”.
In a move borrowed from Meridian Schools, Boise District leaders mandated that every school sponsor some type of event on election day–and evening for most– to attract voters (read that GRATEFUL PARENTS) to the schools which were all designated polling places.
To their credit, Auld and Beck conducted themselves in a civil manner at all times, but with a coalition as broad as the one they faced, the money they spent would have been better spent on hearing aid stock. Their anti-tax message fell on DEAF EARS.
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Mar 15, 2006, 9:43 am
This is an interesting analysis of the “campaigns” for and against the 70% “yes” vote. But I think there are a couple of factors that were much more important than media campaigns.
First, local public schools are the glue that hold most neighborhood communities together. School District patrons spend time in their neighborhood schools (and do so without school sponsored events on election day). They could easily see the conditions of their schools and realized the need.
Second, Boise voters were able to watch first-hand as the Legislature continues to abdicate its Supreme-Court-mandated responsibilty to provide an adequate state wide system for funding school construction. They understand that as flawed as the current process may be, there is no alternative now, nor will there be one in the immediate future.
Your analysis characterizes the voting public as passive consumers of political campaigns. I think the bond election is an example of voters believing what they see rather than what they hear from politicians.
Ed NOTE–We agree with you Doc.
Mar 15, 2006, 10:08 am
Lets see…. You vote at schools, while all the little kids are running around because of a “scheduled” after school program. The school district sends out mailings with the kids,and in the mail…. and then the school district counts the votes. The only thing missing at the school I voted at was Girl Scouts selling cookies. How could they lose?
Maybe next time hold the vote during the Nov. election, while the kids aren’t running around while you are voting, and someone else counts the votes! Just a thought.
Mar 15, 2006, 11:34 am
I’m not surprised at all. Most Idaho voters support George Bush and belive whatever Republican spin is shilled out to them. They think we are in Iraq “fighting for democracy”. Most Idahoans don’t even know what “deficit” means, not to mention “inflation”. Why should they not believe that the bond would not raise taxes? Idaho has one of the poorest records for scams per capita of any state. Heck, they rolled out the carpet for Bill Agee and wife, and remember when Larry Johnston arrived, he was hailed as a “great community asset” by chamber of commerce cheerleaders. We get what we deserve.
Mar 15, 2006, 11:38 am
Right on, Guardian.
It’s very difficult to counter the “Do it for the children!” argument. (If only that same argument could have a positive impact on [federal] deficit spending, urban sprawl, resource consumption, etc.)
Like you, I was baffled at the School District no-show at numerous public forums where the bond was set for discussion. (What does Dan Hollar do, to earn that $94,000 salary? And where were the faster-on-their-feet spokesmen, like Rory Jones?) It was as though their entire message was “Trust us, and don’t listen to those other guys.” And 70% of the voters bought in.
All of us – even the miserly Beck and Auld – agree that some schools have physical needs. But when I think of replacing a rock-solid, functional building (South) with an $18 million plasterboard cookie-cutter school, it makes my head hurt. (I say if they spent 1/3 that much on a classroom/gym annex, and an extreme makeover, South could be the nicest school in town. Exhibit A – Boise High School.)
The “Ada County Taxpayers” were lambasted in the media, letters to the editor, etc. They weren’t willing to “Do it for the children!” without asking a few questions. I, for one, would like to sincerely thank Mr. Beck and Mr. Auld for their involvement, and for making a few of us look at both sides of the issue.
Mar 15, 2006, 12:35 pm
I voted for the bond at Highlands Elementary and they DID have a bake sale going on as you walked to the voting station. You had to go past a table filled with cookies, cakes, donuts,and, even a coffee pot was there. Great planning on their part. I was pleased to see the people of Boise step up and look to the needs of the future and not just their pocket books. Golly, could the electorate be moderating somewhat? Perhaps a few more open minded members in the legislature this fall to make the session a little more interesting?
Mar 15, 2006, 12:58 pm
I am not really inclined to believe the stated intentions of a group of people who claim to be concerned about fiscal responsibility at the school district level but not the national. Now, I don’t claim to know who Auld and Beck voted for in the last Presidential election, but given their history I’d be willing to make a Jackpot NV bet they’re Republican all the way.
How these people can claim to worry about paying this off over the course of 30 years but support a Republican President and Republican Congress who are amassing bills that won’t be paid off for hundreds of years is beyond me.
Honestly, their concern falls on deaf years, you can only talk out of both sides of your mouth for so long until people stop listening.
I’ve got to say, I agree with Dr. Blue up there who eloquently points out the most likely reason people voted yes.
For me, I think it was something that was needed, and fortunately, 70% of Boise’s residents felt the same way.
Thanks as always though Guardian, it is always enjoyable to read your analysis of all things Boise, we may not agree on everything, but I for one, am glad you’re on the job.
ED NOTE–Thanks Chris for your kind words. As for Auld and Beck I think you will find they probably view G-Dubya as a tax and spend liberal!
Mar 15, 2006, 2:28 pm
Well all I can say is they marketed it well, especially to those at ice cream socials and pizza parties going on at the same time as the election. It will be a miracle if the amount the schools levy property owners doesn’t rise. The school levy RATE may stay the same , but I’ll bet the general revenues don’t stay the same! And when the assessor raises your property VALUES, they sure will have more of your money. Why can’t they save some for future development as they go , without bonds and interest payments? They are like a teenager with his first credit card!
Mar 15, 2006, 3:33 pm
There is no question the School District played musical classrooms to show the quantifiable need for more space, especially when they just finished a whole media blitz on declining numbers of students. There is also no question that both Beck and Auld are notorious for getting wires crossed when trying to make their point.
The only thing that REALLY bothered me because it went directly to the credibility of the District, was their claim that all the social extravaganzas HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ELECTION. Face it folks, we live in a climate where there is No room for apathy. If you want it, you better get out and vote for it. If you don’t want it, you better get out and vote no. The old days of leaving it to those with more time, are over. The District figured that out and loaded up the schools with patrons who were a ready and willing constituency. I doubt they realize the accountabiliy that will come with this bond. It may have been lacking with past bond measures.
Mar 15, 2006, 4:13 pm
Idaho Legislators are wiping their brows and pleased they dodged a bullet. Had the bond vote failed, the pressure for property tax reform would have heightened. With Boise and Twin Falls schools succcess in bond elections, legislators will think they can skate by for another year.
Dr. Blues is correct. The campaign was won in the trenches and not exclusively through the media or blogs. And it was more than the school social functions and information sent home to mom and dad. An unseen force behind the yes vote were the efforts of the BSU football fans who want the track moved to East Jr. High so the field can be lowered and additional seating constructed. The bond money makes it possible to move East to Harris Ranch. Some of these folks spent time and money on door to door work in west Boise. I would like to reward them with a cold one at their next tail gate function.
ED NOTE–Osprey, I forgot to include the BSU angle. You are spot on…Go Broncos!
Mar 15, 2006, 5:14 pm
At the risk of digressing a bit from the topic… I don’t know about Auld and Beck, but I DEFINITELY think of Dubya as very UNconservative, when it comes to fiscal matters. The current body of “elected public servants” in DC are spending like there’s no tomorrow! He may not be a “tax liberal,” but he’s got the “spend liberal” covered! (Teenager with his first credit card, indeed!)
Mar 15, 2006, 5:49 pm
I don’t believe we are seeing the big picture here. We have just approved the biggest bond issue in the history of the district. This in a city that has FEWER students this year than last, and FEWER still projected in the future. Given that most of these projects are not due on line for 2-7 years, we seem to have just spent a boatload of money on shrinking class sizes.
If the school board honestly believes these projects will change the exodus to the suburbs, it’s time they share some of that stuff they have been smoking.
Mar 15, 2006, 6:54 pm
“My money! my money! my money!”
I’ve got a five year-old attending whitney elementary whose teacher is wonderful but whose facility is a disgrace. Our children deserve better. It’s refreshing to see Boiseans voting for community rather than: “my money! my money! my money!”
Mar 16, 2006, 7:09 pm
Now that the bond has passed, I have a single word in mind. Oversight. Who’s going to make sure the Boise School District, now flush full of cash, isn’t going to spend frivolously, to put it mildly.
I can see it now, $5000 toilets with built in bidets. $3000 latest and greatest ergonomic desks etc. etc. Or am I just being cynical?
Mar 17, 2006, 4:50 pm
I know the bond passed and it is a done deal, but take a look at what some innovative school districts are doing. I just want to share some highlights I ran across AFTER the election:
Many districts desperately need funds to rehab old schools or build anew and can’t or don’t want to hit up local property taxpayers for more $$.
–Installment financing. Greenville, S.C., created a nonprofit
that sells its own tax-exempt bonds, which are backed by insurance and the buildings themselves. Equity builds up as bonds are paid off. The plan let Greenville renovate 70 dilapidated schools in five years.
–Renting space to YMCAs and others during nonschool hours.
–Selling ads. A Washington school district sold naming rights
for a performing arts center to Ikea for $500,000. An insurance firm in Wis. got its name on two high school field houses for $650,000.
–Ad space on school buses and a middle school roof are for sale in one Texas school district. (Bake sales are just SO last century!)
Mar 18, 2006, 4:53 pm
Add to the $94 million in bond funds, the annual property tax levy (the highest school district levy in Ada County), the supplemental levy from which the $3 million that Auld and Beck spoke about comes from, an uncommitted reserve fund in excess of $10 million, and recent annual budget surpluses that range from $5 to $8 million and, yes, the District is awash in cash. Do we need oversight? Absolutely!
Financial accountability and overall management of the District were the points that Auld and Beck were hammering away at. The fact the District avoided those issues dealing with their opponents leads me to believe there is credibility to the issues raised by Auld and Beck.
Now is the time for district taxpayers to increase their oversight of District activities and demand better accountability. Trust the school district? Not really. Do your research. Ask hard, thoughtful questions. Don’t take the pat answer if it sounds funny to you. Ask to see the documentation – it probably won‘t exist.
Mar 19, 2006, 6:52 pm
Shades of GW Bush and Katherine Harris!! I have never dealt with so much dishonesty in any local political campaign in the USA as the one run by the boise school district on this bond issue. Libel,slander,disinformation, collusion of many city officials in what was really another developer’s dream plan to use the ” feel good” issue of schools to enrich themselves at Homeowner’s property -tax expense.
The dishonesty in holding bond friendly events in every polling place during voting and handing out pro- bond literture at the same time is an insult to voters. I asked both the city attorney and State A. G’s office to look into this illegal electioneering practice with no response.
Mar 19, 2006, 10:59 pm
What do you want to bet the teachers union will demand raises and the admin staff will do the same with the Board…..bet they do!
AND bet you we still see “repairs” that do not get done over the next 10 years. Somehow there is just never enough money to get everything fixed. Go figure.