Friday, February 10, 2012

Florence 1 opposes privatization, vouchers, 1989 funding

The Florence District 1 Board of Trustees voted unanimously last night to oppose three proposed bills that, if adopted by the legislature, would devastate the small district and those like it.

The bills in question happen to be ones favored by Governor Nikki Haley, Superintendent Mick Zais, and the Florence legislative delegation. One privatizes the state's school bus transportation function, passing responsibility to local school districts to maintain or to privatize. The other two are competing voucher and tuition tax credit bills, taking public dollars away from public schools to pay for private education.

The school bus bill raised the board's collective temperature.

A major stipulation of the bill would require the district to replace buses older than 15 years. Rabon said if the bill were to pass it initially would cost the district $10 million to replace all buses, a number chairman Porter Stewart calls outrageous.

“We worked hard at this table to be financially responsible,” Stewart said, audibly agitated in comparison to his normal calm demeanor. “We’ve done what we’re supposed to do and now we’re getting our pockets picked — yeah, I’m upset.”

The bill has support from area legislators Rep. Chris Crawford and Rep. Phillip Lowe, State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais and Gov. Nikki Haley, who mentioned it in her State of the State address in January.

“We’re not interested in mandating bus choices down on our locals — what we are interested in is giving them options and getting the State of South Carolina out of the school bus maintenance business,” she said.

FSD1 superintendent Dr. Allie E. Brooks Jr. says the bill would be devastating not only to his fiscally sound district, but those smaller ones that are squeaking by.

“The bill that’s introduced to shift bus operations from state to school districts is going to adversely impact the school districts,” Brooks said. “Depending on the financial status of the district, it can run anywhere from severe to devastating.”

After discussion, Stewart passed a resolution, with full board support, to oppose the bill. Board member Willard Dorriety Jr., a stated proponent of privatization in general, said the bill doesn’t make sense.

“Privatization works if it does two things: improves services and cut costs,” Dorriety said. “But this means we’ve got to pick up the costs, in a way, to save their (the state’s) budget.”

The money, Stewart said, would have to come from the district’s building fund.

See, that's the trouble with supporting right-wing notions like privatization; it comes around to bite you in the end.

So long as it's something else's ox that's getting gored, well, life's unfair. But when it's your own ox getting the worst end of the deal, something must be done to avenge the injustice.

And the other two bills that Florence trustees opposed?

Other bills on which the board passed a resolution of opposition were House bills 4547, regarding tuition tax deductions, and bill 4576, regarding a tuition tax credit.

And why do Florence trustees oppose them?

Both bills would severely cut general fund revenues.

Again, it comes back to the man in the middle. Families in Florence expect their government to provide services to them, and the government in Columbia is so far away. So it's the Florence board of trustees -- the man in the middle -- who bears the brunt of local anxiety when services get cut. And right now, thanks to the Haley-Zais cabal leading the government, the trustees are getting bled dry of options and resources.

Passing a tuition tax credit bill, as the Florence trustees aptly observed, will drain dollars from the general fund that would otherwise go to public education. It's a lawyer's trick to get around the Constitutional prohibition against supporting private schools with public money, but the effect is exactly the same: Public schools get less money.

In terms of the 2012-13 budget year, Rabon says the state economic outlook is stable.

“The last three years have been awful. We’ve lost about $10 million in revenue,” Rabon said. “I think 2012-2013 will be stable, we didn’t receive an official budget cut this year or last year.”

Although, one major area concern for Rabon and other district officials is the base student cost (BSC) staying at the same rate as last year, or possibly lower, according to Haley’s executive budget.

The BSC for the current year is $1,880 — which is what it was in 1989. The current BSC should be at $2,790, a number that Rabon and others know is not attainable, especially since Zais asked for the same BSC in the 2012-13 budget, a move he defended on Wednesday.

“We asked for the same budget as last year, as a minimum,” Zais said to the state board. “And we had that in bold and underlined.”

Maintaining that level will cost an additional $15 million, Zais said, because of student population increases.

“We’re presently around the 1989 level and our expenditures are at the 2012 level. We need to get the BSC around $2,100 to get it at a level it should be,” Rabon said.

Brooks echoes Rabon’s feelings on the BSC, saying it’s hard to be progressive with such outdated funding.

“The sad thing about it is the state is responsible for educating its citizenry,” Brooks said. “Those of us in public education are not getting encouraging signs for advancing the opportunities for our students in the 21st century.”

Did you catch that?

Zais asked the legislature this year to fund a base student cost equal to the base student cost of 1989.

Remember 1989? It was the year George Herbert Walker Bush and Dan Quayle took office. The Exxon Valdez ran aground and dumped oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. Rain Man won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Protestors rose up in Tiananmen Square until the Chinese government massacred them.

It was the year Seinfeld and the first full-length episode of The Simpsons premiered on television. Nintendo released its Game Boy. Lyle and Erik Menendez killed their parents in Los Angeles. Pete Rose was banned from baseball. Hurricane Hugo attacked Charleston and cut a swath of devastation across South Carolina. Germans tore down the Berlin Wall.

Daniel Radcliffe and Taylor Swift were born that year. Lucille Ball, Bette Davis and Sir Laurence Olivier died that year, and serial killer Ted Bundy was executed. The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

And that year, the base student cost in South Carolina was $1,880 -- the same base student cost that our current superintendent of education says will be sufficient this year.

Not only did Zais say that to lawmakers, he bolded and underlined it in his budget request.

The Florence trustees' anger is understandable. They want the best for Florence's public schoolchildren, and their state superintendent of education doesn't.

1 comment:

  1. Here are the top ten reasons why parents,school administrators, and legislators should think twice about school bus privatization:

    1) There is no going back. Once it is discovered that the state run bus system was pretty good, in spite of the OLD buses provided by the will be too late. The cost to buy back in will be prohibitive.
    2) Safety will suffer. The private company currently maintaining state school buses in Mt. Pleasant is way over budget....the state ran it cheaper and safer....and over 40 bald tires were found on the contractors buses.
    3) Service will suffer. Once privatized, state laws governing bus stops and service areas will be void. The contractor will be able to require students to walk a mile to their bus stops as it is in many states in the North.
    4) Complaints will increase. The school will blame the contractor and the contractor will blame the school.....but school administrators will still be the targets of the ill will, hate mail, and anger.
    5) The contractor will initially "low ball" the contract that is pitched to the district. It's kind of like Little Red Riding Hood, the contractor will say anything to get inside the house, once inside it's too late, the gleaming white teeth will be on the districts throat.
    6) It will cost more. Just ask Charleston County. Their contractor promised to save them money. What started out at $4 million a year now costs $8 million a year.
    7) Bus drivers will make a couple dollars an hour more but will have little or no benefits.
    8) The contractor will build a 30% profit margin into their operations because they are a "for profit" company. The state has no profit margin.
    9) Over 400 state employees will lose their jobs, a few may be rehired by the contractors at less money, and many will go on unemployment increasing the burden on the state.
    10) Taxes will go up. The taxpayers of every district will pay more because only school districts can raise the millage to pay for the higher costs of student transportation under privatization.

    Student transportation is now staffed by people who are a part of the local community and who care about "our" kids....they will soon be replaced by people who are all business and motivated by one thing....profit.

    I hope it works out....but I am not optimistic.