After the smoke has cleared, elections often provide lessons to be learned by those directly affected by the results. Last Tuesday’s outcome provides a good example of this.
Nationally, the surprise victory of Donald Trump underscored serious flaws in the political polling process and the inability of the Democrat party to measure correctly the desire of voters for change.
Locally, the Fairbanks School District learned a hard lesson by misjudging what people would support in the $35.5 million bond issue to add a new building, enlarge an existing structure and renovate another. The vote of more than three to one against was an unexpected result – 831 for (23.57 percent), 2,695 against (76.43 percent). Although some predicted its defeat, few saw that the number opposed would be so large.
Fairbanks district voters made their feelings known without a doubt – the increased taxes they would have to pay was far too much, especially considering that the county property tax had been raised shortly before the election.
Now, school officials and the board will have to start anew on developing plans to prepare for the future and a growing school system. In order to be successful the next time an issue is put on the ballot, it is obvious those involved in making the decision need to involve the voters to a greater extent. The issue needs more discussion and interaction than just at school board meetings and a couple of public sessions. Focus groups should be formed to provide the opportunity for citizen feedback from those both for and against the issue.
Transparency is crucial. When the people are paying the bills, they have a right to know what’s going on even though they may disagree. This lesson not only applies to school districts but also to other governmental entities.
A firm foundation for a quality education system is not just bricks and mortar … or parking lots. Excellent teachers and community support have to be ranked at the top.
The Marysville School District is reportedly considering an operating levy within a few years. Its superintendent and board should learn from the Fairbanks experience and take steps to avoid such an unfortunate result. It’s important to bring the citizens into the planning stage by providing honest information to them up front, not after a decision is made. It’s their taxes that largely pay for the school operation. Hopefully, any ballot initiative will be better thought out than the parking lot paving project fiasco, the total cost of which now appears to be in the $2.3 million range with extra work required and problems recently uncovered at the site.
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