Share |

Tip Your Children’s Teachers

We’ve Got a Lot of Kids

Our kids all attend Vashon schools, Chautauqua Elementary. Two are going into first grade next year. Our older two will be in third and fifth grades.

Like many families, we live on Vashon in part because of the schools. The Vashon Island School District provides a great education to children of any family that wants it, plus it’s a nice-sized school system with a well-mannered school board, mostly free of creationist agendas or embezzlement scandals.

Like most school districts in the State of Washington, our school district is funded primarily by property taxes. Schools are often funded by property taxes because a well-funded and well-run public school system makes an area attractive to families and real estate more valuable, and conversely a poorly-run or poorly-funded school district makes an area less attractive, and property less valuable.

It’s like the Wild West of the late 1800’s: frontier towns sought families to put down roots, because strong families (of all shapes and sizes) tend to take care of a place, work hard, and create social structures that benefit the whole community, which in turn builds a place where more people want to live. A great school system brings great families, and great families help create great communities.

Because of a speculative housing bubble that burst in early 2008, everyone’s property on Vashon is worth less, something like twenty percent less than the peak in early 2008. Because property taxes are based on the assessed value of the property, and property values all have gone down, the only really good part of the real estate debacle is that everyone’s property taxes are a little lower in 2011.

The bad part is that because everyone’s property tax bill has gone down, plus precipitous drops in new construction fees and sales taxes which also help fund local schools, the school district has a lot less money with which to run the schools.

Lower taxes are a good thing, especially during a recession. Economists say lowering taxes can result in a faster return to prosperity, because more investments are spurred by less taxation, and more investment means more jobs, and more jobs means more spending, and so on.

I’ve talked with a few good friends in the lower-my-taxes-now crowd who’ve eyed the school district’s budget hungrily, wishing their tax burden weren’t so large; well, they’ve got their wish, in some small way. Our friends often insist that schools don’t need all that money and instead simply need to correct their priorities; here’s the test of that theory. Vashon schools will have the better part of a million dollars less next year to fund the school system.

But rather than simply tighten belts, face hard facts, cut the fat and run leaner as my friends in the lower-taxes-now club expected would inevitably happen, in fact, it’s clear that instead of cutting fat in the district budget, meat and bone will necessarily be cut in the face of such drastic shortfalls of cash.

When my brothers and sisters and I were growing up on Vashon, island parents supported the schools; they stood in the rain holding cardboard signs at the four-way stop uptown asking voters to approve the yearly levies, they got new buildings built, and hired the best teachers they could find to live and teach on the island, and we got a great education.

So now, we’re those island parents. Our family supports Vashon schools by being active and engaged school parents, by paying taxes and donating time and money to our island schoolchildren, and holding cardboard signs in the rain asking for financial support of Vashon schools. It’s the right thing to do from lots of angles, not the least of which is to help pay back what the families of a generation ago did for us and the community of Vashon.

As home owners, this year we’ll pay about $3500 in property taxes. A couple of years ago it used to be higher; and how one counts it is really complicated, but through a series of failures including a massive international real-estate investment scheme that went horribly awry, today our house is worth a lot less, and we pay a lot less property tax to fund our school’s operating budget.

To restore the funding that has been lost, we can write a check directly to Vashon School District for ten percent of that $3500, that’s about $350. It’s complicated, but we calculate that’s roughly the drop in revenue from the Pottingers that the school district will otherwise do without next year.

If you own your home, and ten percent to make up the difference is too steep for your family this spring, give as you should, as we will. Be sure that you give something. I’m sure our school district would be happy with a couple crisp fivers rather than nothing. Tip your children’s teachers.

It’s for the kids you see in Thriftway, or washing your car in the parking lot, or your neighbor’s kids waiting for the school bus in the morning. It’s for our kids, but more importantly it’s for Vashon Island. Dig deep.