I argue against the Issuance of the $170M in School Improvement Bonds. The Tooele County Board of Education is asking voters to approve the issuance of $170 million in General Obligation Bonds on Nov. 3, 2020. If approved, the bond would pay for the following; a new high school in Tooele, a new junior high school in Stansbury Park, a new elementary school in Grantsville City.
Supporters highlight that if the bond is approved this year, they “expect” no “net” tax increase to property owners. Property owners, rest assured that there are enough other tax increases on your doorstep aside from these bonds and there will be plenty more in the future. Proponents of the proposed increase claim that this is “the right plan and the right time” when in actuality we no longer have a valid plan and it is the wrong time. Those that labored to create the best possible plan have done so in good faith but have been blindsided by our current situation, as we all have; we need additional information before making a $170M — yes, million — commitment.
Attendance continues to drop at public brick and mortar schools and has certainly dropped since this study. We are not even on firm enough ground to determine what our physical occupancy requirements will be one year out let alone three to five. Even now Tooele High School is closed. If/when COVID is corralled, there will be many parents who will never let their children return to a physical classroom, and perhaps in particular a public school classroom. I make this stipulation because many parents feel that they do not have enough say about the safety and protection of their children in a public school. Others having survived the initial hurdles of homeschooling will choose to continue to do so. We need to know not only current physical occupancy rates of our schools, which I am sure is available, but valid projected rates as well. I suggest that the latter is impossible to predict in our current chaotic situation not knowing when and how a legitimate vaccine will be available and if the public will be receptive enough even to take it. We do not have “the right plan” due to severely changing and incalculable situations; neither is it “the right time.”
Supporters suggest that this is the right time for this initiative but the timing is actually poor and not just because we do not have a current plan, which is cause enough to reject it. Proponents claim that the timing is favorable because property owners will not experience that “net” increase which I alluded to earlier. They also claim that we need to jump now to take advantage of low interest rates. A major reason the interest rates are so low is because our economy is failing under the sheer number of unemployed and underemployed. Tooele County residents are not immune to this crisis. Additionally, at unprecedented rate, those fortunate enough to remain employed are trying to support less fortunate extended family members and/or friends. Unfortunately it is not “just” the loss of income which is so crippling, but of health insurance. Utah’s rate of uninsured children is increasing at an alarming rate and is now the sixth highest in the nation. Perhaps at no greater time are families one broken limb away from economic collapse. Families who cannot afford health insurance often lack other necessities as well.
We hear report after report of food insecurity for the preponderance of our schoolchildren and their families. Children without a substantive healthy diet cannot focus on the task at hand. Additionally, foreclosure rates are high and many renters are being evicted for not being able to scrape together rent money. School age children of homeless families are couch-surfing and do not have a stable sleeping, living, or learning environment. Many have no access to the technology required to access online learning platforms when schools close. People who cannot feed, clothe, educate, or shelter their kids now are generally not concerned about beautiful brick and mortar schools a few years out. But it is not just our private citizens who are being weighed down; our remaining businesses are suffering as well.
Our businesses are essential to a healthy community and most of us are well aware of many that have not survived the pandemic. Healthy businesses pay healthy taxes to support the community in which they thrive and they have a payroll. The Tooele County School District recognizes that we have a dearth of businesses even now; why would we not want to extend every tax incentive possible to help those that remain afloat? Businessman, businesswoman, or private citizen, who among us could not use a break this year? At this point in our history, with the chaos that is weakening our economy and forcing business closures and many people into the unemployment line, we are all due for a tax break. No, 2020 is the wrong time. I urge you to vote no Nov. 3, 2020 to the $170M in School Improvement Bonds. Let us revisit both the plan itself and the timing; we cannot afford to make a mistake when it concerns education.
Karol L. Ripley