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Opinion

At a recent school board meeting I asked the board to please not repeat the deception of last year when they told the voters the tax increase would be between 9 and 13 percent. At the very time they were telling us this, they knew the average tax increase for all classes of property was going to be 12.6 percent. I have no problem with stating a range, since they didn't know the precise state aid or allocation between classes of property. But since they knew the average increase was, as best they could tell, 12.6 percent, then the range quoted should have been centered on this - and they should have estimated something like 11.5-13.5 percent. Instead they quoted 9-13 percent. Past history shows that residential increases are just as likely to come in above the average as below, and the picture for increased state aid was poor. All of this pointed to an increase close to 12.6 percent. But the school district, in an attempt to get the budget passed, decided to understate the range at 9 to 13 percent.

Two weeks after the vote, I filed a complaint with the commissioner of education to invalidate the vote because deception was employed in deliberately understating the range to voters. If my best information tells me the average increase will be 12 1/2 percent, it is dishonest to quote 9-13 percent. The commissioner dismissed my appeal essentially because I had not proven there were hundreds of voters misled by the deception (I needed 200 or more affidavits to that effect).

When I recently asked the board to be honest this year, Supt. Inserra was shaking his head, suggesting they did nothing wrong last year. I called Dr. Inserra the next day to ask why he was shaking his head as if what I said was incorrect. He told me they did not know the increase was going to be 12.6 percent. I asked him to pull out the report he himself issued last year and pointed to the evidence. He had to admit they did in fact know the average increase was estimated at 12.6 percent. I guess he forgot what really happened. By the way, the actual residential increase came in at 13.15 percent. It's bad enough to see such increases, but to see the district play games with voters is even worse.

Be aware also that the total dollar increase in school taxes for last year and this will be four times as much as the proposed 19 percent increase in county taxes. The basis reason school taxes have increased since 1980 far more than all other taxes combined, in spite of lower enrollment, is twofold. First, school board members consistently face parents at board meetings asking for more of everything. Rarely do people attend who want school costs controlled better. And even good board members are only human, and so faced with constant pressure from parents wanting more and more, they fold under the pressure. Second, most people either forget about the budget vote or are too busy, and so only 1 in 5 actually vote. In a way, we deserve what we get. Voter apathy leads to runaway spending and taxes. Last year it also led to deception by our school district fearful of telling us the truth - that the increase would be around 13 percent. Please vote on May 21.

Frank J. Russo, Jr.


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