April 24, 2005

School Closures In Seattle

The chickens come home to roost. Seattle residents decided last year that they really, really, really didn't want a $0.01 school tax on each cup of coffee sold here in the city. And now, when the school district is facing a $20 million shortfall and the state is facing a $2 billion shortfall, city residents are furious to discover that 10 schools will have to be closed to cover the gap.

Granted, somebody miscalculated on how well that cute little idea would go over, but I can empathize. They were probably concerned that a general increase in the sales tax would have been begging for a 'kick me' sign, and they couldn't have expected the exhibitionist barista brigade. Nobody expects the the exhibitionist barista brigade. Still, what the hell were people thinking when they marked their ballots last November?

Yeah, it's your money, you hopeless Eyman propaganda victims. (Oh, I know good Seattle liberals loathe the man uniformly and correctly, but where's the demonstration of that conviction?) And your money can either go to pay for your schools, or you can lose a few schools and save enough in the process to maybe pay for one extra grande mocha per year. Presuming an outside average of a purchased cup of coffee every day, which almost certainly overcalculates the savings to the consumer.

Don't get on a bullhorn on the morning news and tell me how fabulous your soon-to-be-closed neighborhood school is and how many languages are supported in your glorious local learning community. Do something useful and yell to the hilltops that you'll volunteer to shell out a few extra bucks a year to pay for it, which is even deductible from your federal taxes now, so the money stays in the state.

There's no level of taxation that more directly equals noticeable services than local taxation, and people need to wake up to that with a quickness.

Posted by natasha at April 24, 2005 08:06 AM | WA News & Trivia | Technorati links |

For the record, consolidation of the existing schools in Seattle has been an ongoing battle ever since enrollment began to decline. And part of that goes all the way back to when some neighborhoods like Ballard, for instance, were actually independent of Seattle until incorporated in the early 1900s. They had their own schools and were very loathe to let them go.

The schools being closed now aren't going to result in endless bus rides, for the most part. Alki Elementary, for example, which my daughter almost went to, has at least two other elementary schools that children can easily transfer to. Real pain will come when the school district fesses up to the fact that the need to provide more servies "south of the cut", where the population of school-age kids are growing and are typically minorities, than "north of the cut", which are mostly white neighborhoods with declining enrollment.

In the meantime, you get what you pay for, and while people love the image of the little red schoolhouse a block or two away from home (I had that privledge myself throughout three different neighborhoods and all of elementary school (though I had to cross an Interstate to do it for three years - another story, and tough school crossing guards), people have to decide, eventually, what matters most. For me, it's getting a good education rather than a convenient neighborhood school, and given that the technology levy last year passed while the "latte levy" didn't speaks to the issue and how most folks in Seattle respond to it.

Posted by: Palamedes at April 24, 2005 08:28 AM

First of all, I have no qualms about exhibitionist baristas; I fully support them.

Second, it's obvious that there is NO tax people are willing to pay for ANYTHING, so it's easy for Republicans to label something a "latte tax" and get away with it.

Of course, now that the schools are closing no one but you remembers the latte tax even existed (I forgot myself)...and so it goes.

Posted by: the bachelor at April 24, 2005 11:14 AM

Well, I don't have anything personal against exhibistionist baristas either, but... a penny was really too much?

palamedes - It may not be that the school closures are so very terrible. As long as there are reasonable substitutes available, I don't actually have a dog in the fight about where that substitute is located. My point was simply that if people don't want to pay for things, and then they don't get them, they shouldn't come over all Claude Rainesish on the rest of us.

It's when you pay for them and don't get them that's the real outrage.

Posted by: natasha at April 25, 2005 12:42 AM

> Yeah, it's your money, you hopeless Eyman propaganda victims.

Hey natasha, up yours.

I'm a parent of children in the Seattle School District. I donate money and lots of time at the school.

But, I voted against the idiotic coffee tax and told everybody who asked that they should too. The school district did and does not need nor deserve gimmick funding. Any more than Washington State needs or deserves gimmick "tax cuts".

Posted by: Mark at April 25, 2005 09:47 AM

Mark: The schools didn't need or deserve "gimmick funding"? I don't understand. Are you saying that the schools are receiving enough money? That seems to not be the case.

Posted by: Ab_Normal at April 25, 2005 03:46 PM

I'm sorry, the idea of a coffee tax was dumb. Bad public policy; would have given Eyman a constituency in Seattle; very easy for Starbucks to comply with; very hard for little one-person stands to comply with. It would be unfair in its application, very expensive to collect, very easy to cheat on, etc. Worst of all it would be ridiculed, like if Los Angeles tried to fund the LA Unified School District with a tax on poodle-grooming.

But the whole thing would be pointless even if it had passed. If the coffee tax agency announced that it expected to raise $65K or $70K in its first month, the City Council and the Mayor would immediately make "adjustments", which would result in cutting the school's funding by something like a million dollars for the year. State legistatures do the same with money from state lotteries, which were originally justified as "helping the schools".

You want to pull off some kind of end-run around the politicians, but it won't work. There's no short-cut.

Posted by: PhilK at April 25, 2005 09:43 PM

Mark - Well good for you. It's nice to hear from parents who decide to give back to their schools and community. But maybe, when you were engaged in your little mini-campaign against gimmick financing, did you stop to think even once that it was the only option on the table to provide funding that was in fact very much needed? The Seattle school district came to the community hat in hand begging for just a little extra slice of pie, hoping that if they asked for little enough, they wouldn't be turned down out of hand. Clearly a miscalculation on their part.

If your dignity is offended by the thought that your district might get funding from silly sounding sources, your pride stung by association, why don't you come up with a better plan and try to get it passed. See how a non-gimmicky across the board sales tax hike would go over. You could even lobby for a very serious and responsible sounding state income tax to repair the need for many of these ludicrous, piecemeal taxes in a stroke. But I bet you won't.

Here's a surprise: I thought the coffee tax was stupid, too, and shouldn't have been so narrowly targeted. But again, it was the only thing on the table. The choice wasn't between gimmicky funding and sensible seeming funding, it was a choice between some new funding and budget deficits. And in light of that, anyone who's now shocked that cuts in services are following a shortfall in revenue is worthy of a good mocking.

Maybe you didn't care about cuts, in which case you actually fall outside the scope of my initial snark. Still, if you want to be insulated from criticism for doing your part to contribute to a multi-million dollar budget gap in your own school district because you contribute the spare effort of one family to one school, that doesn't cut any ice with me.

Private charity, no matter how necessary and helpful, has never had the reach and scope to replace government services. Palamedes made a good point above about there possibly being some argument to be made for consolidating the schools regardless of the budget issues, but that discussion has pretty much been taken out of the hands of the neighborhoods that had the most at stake in the fight. Now your neighbors have to yield to the big gaping budget hole, no matter which side had the right.

Phil - It's possible they would have turned around and done that just as California's government did with the lottery proceeds in the initial years (maybe they still do, but I haven't looked into it), the perversity of politicians can't be taken out of the equation just as you say, but I think they would have had a hard time covering their behinds after getting extra cash and then deciding to close schools anyway.

Posted by: natasha at April 26, 2005 01:35 AM

Guys like Mark never seem to offer solutions, only obstructions and objections to solving a problem they refuse to acknowledge.

Posted by: howieinseattle at April 26, 2005 09:11 AM