Saturday, September 21, 2013

WalkingBy Nancy Thorner –

Property taxes, of which a large percentage is used to support our local school systems, are getting out of hand in many districts across Illinois and throughout this nation.  While a large percentage of assessed property taxes go to fund school districts, unfortunately the extra spending to operate schools has not improved the quality of education in the past twenty years. Why? For in looking at any school budget the majority of spending goes for salary and administration costs, not particularly to benefit students.

Although taxes are high in my own school district, Lake Forest #115, the issue hasn’t been bought front and center as it now has been in the Barrington School System #220 in western Lake County by Thomas Banfield, a resident of the Garlands Retirement Community and Chairman of the Garlands Members Advisory Committee.

Having first met Mr. Banfield when I attended a lecture sponsored by the Barrington History Museum in Lake County at the Garlands Performing Arts Center in Barrington, Illinois, on August 26, Banfield was introduced as a retired Commander U.S. Navy and Nuclear Submariner.  Subsequently, Mr. Banfield spoke about the U.S. nuclear submarine program under Admiral Rickover and the tragic loss of the USS Thresher over 50 years ago.   My two-part writeup of Banfield’s lecture was posted at Illinois Review on Friday, August 30th, and Sunday, September 1st.

Recently I had contact with Thomas Banfield in a role that was a new one for me.  As Chairman of the Garlands Members Advisory Committee for The Garlands of Barrington, Mr. Banfield shared with me the concerns of Garland residents over the escalation of real estate taxes as they apply to Barrington School District #220.

Below is Mr. Banfield’s letter which, in all probability, is not unlike the tax burden some property owners and residents are experiencing in your school districts.
220 District School Board Public Hearing
Presentation By
The Garlands of Barrington
September 17, 2013

My name is Thomas Banfield. I am a resident of the Garlands Retirement Community and I am the Chairman of the Garlands Members Advisory Committee.

I would like to preface my comments by stating that we at The Garlands understand the benefits of the fine Barrington school system. We are proud of it. As taxpayers we pay for the cost – which is fine—as long as we think that the expenses are cost efficient and that the tax is fairly distributed.

When we received our real estate tax bill this year we saw that it was about 15% higher than last year. In looking into the reasons, we found that it was because the Lake Co. Tax Rate went up 15.3 %. So we examined the tax bill to see how much of the Lake Co. increase was attributed to each of the taxing bodies. We found that the tax rate for the Barrington 220 School District went up 17.2 %.

This caused us great concern, so we met with the Superintendent of Schools and the President of the Board of Education. They were very helpful in explaining the multiple elements making up the tax calculations and how the Board operates in preparing the budgets.

We found that School Districts are allowed to increase the Tax Levy each year by the amount of the CPI-U and new growth. This then allows the Board to increase costs by similar amounts each year.

The planned increases in total expenditures as detailed in the 220 District 2012-2013 Final Budget as of 4/13/2013 are:   FY 2012 $2.0 million, up 1.6%; FY 2013 $4.7 million, up 3.7%; FY 2014 $5.5 million, up 4.2%; FY 2015 $5.8 million, up 4.2%; and FY 2016 $6.7 million, up 4.7%.

This brings me to the main thrust of our comments. Being able to increase costs each year creates what we call a “mindset” that it is OK to increase costs each year by 1, 2 or 3 %. This is an inflationary mindset that, in view of the troubling overall forecasts of assessment evaluations and government funding, is not a sustainable mindset.

The total assessed valuation in Lake County decreased last year by as much as 10% in some areas. One out of seven households in the area suffered loss of employment or under-employment in recent years. School District 220 did not reflect any recognition of these two facts. According to the US Government, wages and salaries increased by 1.7% last year. Thus the income of our citizens is not keeping pace with inflation and is not able to afford the rate of increase in taxes of School District 220.

We believe that instead of increasing costs each year by 1, 2 or 3 %, the School Board should be looking to decrease costs each year by 1, 2 or 3 %. How can the Board bring this about?

Changing the mindset:

1. When someone wants to adopt a new and necessary program costing $1,000, $10,000 or $50,000, they need to eliminate an existing program(s) that is no longer vital to the school that costs $1,000, $10,000 or $50,000.

2. When the Board first meets to work on next year’s budget, ask each Board member to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.

3. Ask the Superintendant to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.

4. Ask the PTO to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.

5. Ask the teachers’ union to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.

6. Ask the teachers to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.

7. Ask the Student Advisory Council to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.

8. Put out a suggestion box asking the students to come up with ways to cut costs.

If carried out, these suggestions have the further benefit of stimulating all the named parties to become more cost-conscious than before.

In summary, we are concerned that the current mindset of the School Board is inflationary and unsustainable. While we have presented ways in which the private sector would try to cut costs, we ask the School Board at least to hold expenditure increases below the cost-of-living.

This concludes my comments. Thank you for your consideration.

Thomas Banfield

Barrington, IL

Local school districts must be held accountable.  Without citizen interest and action school districts basically do what they wish and get away with it. They also are not immune to corruption.
Thomas Banfield is to be applauded for his work on behalf of The Garlands in Barrington.  It is up to each one of us to challenge our school districts whether it be on taxes, on issues of transparency, or on other issues that demand attention.

Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 04:34 PM | Permalink

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By Ed Ingold and Nancy Thorner –

For months, President Obama’s campaign committee has tried to define Mitt Romney with slurs, accusations and outright misrepresentations. Many of these were “straw man” attacks, after the medieval practice of creating a straw effigy, imbuing it with the sins and misdeeds of the past year, then burning it in order get better luck in the future, which falsely claimed Governor Romney has one position or another, then attacking that position.

Well, on Wednesday night, in the first presidential debate, the “straw man” had a chance to speak. Predictably, President Obama repeated his accusation that Governor Romney’s tax plan would give tax breaks to the wealthy and raise taxes for the middle class.

As Governor Romney explained in his response, he never proposed anything of the sort. He would keep the so-called Bush tax cuts for everyone. In time, he would reduce the tax rates for everyone, but reduce the deductions and tax breaks in order to keep the same effective tax rates while simplifying the tax code and compliance.

Accused of not being specific, Governor Romney explained he would set the guiding principles, then work with both parties in Congress to fill in the details.

Per Obama, Governor Romney would continue the practice of giving tax breaks to companies for exporting jobs to foreign countries.

Romney rightly countered that in his 25 years of business experience, no such tax breaks had ever been given.  If they were available, perhaps he needed a different tax lawyer.

One of Romney’s better debate lines was in describing Obama’s position that government was the solution to everything, calling it the “Trickle Down Theory of Government.”

That was a clever (and accurate) way to preempt the Democratic rant about “Trickle Down Economics” of Milt Friedman (and Reagen).    useconomy.about.com/od/Politics/p/Trickle-Down-Economics-Does-It-Work.htm

President Obama’s “Nixon” moment, referring to the famous 1960 debate with Jack Kennedy, was a consequence of the split screen, which showed both candidates’ faces simultaneously.

Governor Romney paid respectful and intense attention to President Obama when the latter spoke (One learns in business that it is important to listen, and not concentrate on your next chance to speak.).

When Romney was speaking, the President was seen to look down, mutter to himself, make faces, and to look like he wanted to be somewhere else.

Perhaps the most significant accomplishment for Governor Romney was that the debate, face to face with the sitting President, gave him official standing.  Before the debate, he was just another Republican contender (admittedly the last one standing), barely worthy of a ten second sound bite on the evening news.  In contrast, Obama’s speeches were often broadcast in their entirety.

Small wonder that most people had no idea what Romney stands for, except as defined by his opponent.  Governor Romney was polished, polite and most important, prepared.

The President was none of these. For more than four years, Obama has been coddled by the press, asked such probing questions as “What do you find most exciting about being President?”, while surrounded by advisors who are afraid to speak their minds.

Reaction to the debate in the liberal media was a combination of disappointment and anger – anger with the President that he didn’t bring up the issues thought embarrassing to Romney, and anger with the moderator, Jim Lehrer, for no particular reason.

According to Politico, for example, Romney wants to fire Big Bird.  In fact, Romney said he wants the government to stop funding anything not critical enough to borrow money from China to support, including PBS.

The Governor qualified this by stating he liked PBS, Big Bird, and you [Jim Lehrer] too, but it’s not government’s responsibility to support them.  It’s not likely the big yellow bird will be called to the office the day after Romney is inaugurated.

The next day, in Denver, Obama, a  chastised but re-energized President, said he didn’t know who was on the stage with him, but it wasn’t the real Romney.

“The real Romney,”  he went on to say, “is in favor of giving tax breaks to the rich, paid for by the middle class.” “He wants to give tax breaks to companies who ship jobs overseas.”

This shows that the President, despite appearances, was actually paying attention during the debate.  President Obama must have heard Governor Romney’s remark about how people repeat distortions in the hope they will eventually be believed in this Romney remark:  “I raised five sons, so I’ve heard all that before.”

The first debate on October 3 on Domestic Policy from the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/politics?feature=etp-gs-ype

The President got it half right, anyway.  Obama’s misstatements about Mitt Romney are now unraveling.

As it turns out, the strawman is real, and the emperor has no clothes.  In contrasting to the Wizard of Oz, Obama’s protective cloak has now been removed.