Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Taxation By Litigation

Get ready to have your taxes increased by a judge.  Normally that is a power that those on the bench do not have--but State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers is raising the possibility that those served by some public schools in Wisconsin will go to court to increase their funding.

Evers brought up the subject over the weekend on Upfront With Mike Gousha while discussing more potential budget cuts from Madison for public schools.  Evers believes that the current system of school funding--with revenue caps that can only be exceeded through referendum approval of residents will create a system of "have and have nots" across the state.  Districts that win referenda and spend more on schools will have an "advantage" over districts that are either unable or unwilling to convince voters to pay more in taxes.  And anytime you have an "advantage", someone is going to come along and sue to take it away.

Now you may think that Superintendent Evers brought up this subject to serve as a "warning to taxpayers"--but we all know that Evers doesn't give a rats behind about taxpayers--or else he would be working with schools to provide the most efficient educational system possible for what we are willing to pay--instead of spending every waking second complaining about school funding.  I think the Superintendent brought up the possibility of litigation as a suggestion to those who feel--like him--that any amount spent on education is never enough.

Evers is planting an idea in the minds of WEAC members in hard-line districts for a way to work around the will of the majority of the people living there.  Now they can bring the idea of suing the schools to their PTO's and their PTA's looking for that one "concerned" parent willing to take on the up-front expense of funding a lawsuit demanding "equity" for their schools.

And it is far easier to convince one person in a robe with a gavel that schools should be given more tax money than it is to convince 50% plus one person of the district's population in a referendum.  That's why you don't see big school referenda on the same ballot at the races for President or Governor--but they are instead held in April or even the February primary--fewer people to convince to vote yes--they learned that lesson the hard way after the new system first went into place.

Then the big question becomes what is "educational equity"?  Does the Taj Mahal of Wisconsin High Schools--the new Bay Port High in Howard-Suamico--become the standard by which all other buildings in the state are compared?  Will tiny Stockbridge have to add a Solarium to their building so that it's kids are "equitable" with the Bay Port students?  If the Oshkosh School District provides iPads to all of their students does the Wabeno and Laona Districts have to as well?  And so those tablets can be used at home, does Forest County have to fund rural broadband projects like Fond du Lac County is?  (Of course, it is possible that a judge could decide to institute "equity" by going the opposite direction and ordering the iPads and the wi-fi out of the schools and requiring everyone to go back to slide rules--but that is highly unlikely--especially when you consider that these lawsuits will end up in front of "friendly" judges in Dane or Milwaukee counties--and besides, the majority of voters here approved buying the iPads so their will should be done.)

It looks like Wisconsin schools are going to have to add a fourth "R" to the old adage: Reading, 'Righting, Rithmetic and Rule of Decision.               

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