October 2018 Editorial Contest Winner

SQ801 a bad idea
Mike McCormick, Tri-County Herald

Voters will decide five state questions in the Nov. 6 general election.
One of those, State Question 801, concerns funding in local districts, but it won’t necessarily impact them one way or another.
It does not increase the amount of taxes school patrons will pay annually if it passes. It doesn’t mean there will be additional money to use. It’s not all of a sudden creating a new source of revenue.
What it provides is a means for voters to allow school districts to expand the permissible uses of ad valorem tax revenues to include school operations.
If the question is approved, it will give school districts more discretion on how they utilize money from its building fund.
The state Constitution limits the rate of ad valorem taxation. However, it currently permits voters in a school district to approve of up to 5 mills, that is $5 per $1,000 of assessed value of taxable property over this limit for the purpose of raising money for its building fund.
Presently, building fund monies are restricted to their use. They only can be utilized to build, repair, remodel school buildings and purchase furniture. State Question 801 would amend the Constitution to allow voters to approve the 5-mill levy to be used for school operations that districts believe are necessary in addition to those already permitted.
Most school districts, if not all of them, no longer have to vote a 5-mill levy for their building fund.
Years ago voters agreed to allow school patrons to approve a measure one time that eliminated them having to approve certain levies each year. It made the 10-mill local levy, 5-mill building fund and 5-mill emergency fund all kick-in annually.
Voters should reject SQ 801. It sounds really good on the surface. It does provide more discretion on how school districts could utilize building fund money. But remember, this measure doesn’t provide more funds for a district.
Even the Oklahoma Education Association came out early against this proposal.
As Dale School Supt. Charlie Dickinson said during a recent board meeting, “It won’t hurt us if it passes, but it won’t help us either.”
He indicated the district should collect about $84,000 for its building fund this fiscal year. He added, “the district doesn’t have enough money in the fund to go spend $40,000 for a teacher and take care of other needs.”
He also warned, “It won’t open up all kinds of money for teachers.”
This proposal isn’t going to provide money for hiring a bunch of new teachers or to give them raises. The only source of additional pay for teachers necessarily would come from more taxes approved by the Legislature.
To think SQ 801 will provide a windfall for teacher pay hikes is foolish. Legislators put this measure on the ballot so when teachers come to them seeking more money for education, they can put it back on them.
That’s the real reason for the proposal being put before voters so they can decide the issue.
School districts are foolish if they fall into this trap and squander their building funds on teacher salaries or other operations not permitted previously.
This state question doesn’t deserve voters' approval.

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