Despite Richard Leib’s suspicions, I have to argue that the superintendents of Concord and Elkhart Community Schools, along with all referendum supporters, surely, were fully aware that tax revenue does not come from thin air — that the referenda approved May 6, to use Leib’s words, do not constitute “found money” (“In Elkhart and Concord, an apparent lack of understanding,” May 18 Elkhart Truth). The money comes from those who voted for the referendums and those who did not. The superintendents know this. They know they come from those who can readily pay them, and others who might feel a pinch when the time comes.
What they also knew was that public fiscal policy was becoming unsustainable. With the community, they worked within the legal parameters of our beloved democracy to make the change they wanted to see. They saw our children were tied to the train tracks with tax caps, they rapidly and efficiently organized, and they freed them from the tracks.
Both superintendents — Robert Haworth in Elkhart and Wayne Stubbs in Concord — were gracious winners and grateful for the public’s support. Had they lost, I assume they’d have been gracious about that, as well. I never for a minute would have expected the opposition to take the win and then begin the business of licking the wounds of the schools. It is a hard position to imply that because Stubbs and Haworth did not specifically address the concerns of those who lost that they are not caring and concerned people.
If genuine concern about people living in the Elkhart area is the crux of Leib’s velvety smooth critique of the referenda, then everyone nodding their head at his article should be elated that it passed. In Concord, 5,186 students were given a new lease on education. In Elkhart, it affects 13,070 students. The needs of 18,256 of Elkhart’s children have been met thanks to a functional and participatory democracy.
Let’s be honest with each other: 50 years ago, this conversation would not have even happened because schools were adequately funded. End of story. Today, it appears as though no funding is sacred. While I understand that some people will inevitably wince at the increase in immediate tax payments (be it directly or indirectly through rent increases reflecting increased burdens on the landlord), I understand that those genuinely hurt will be a number much smaller than the number of students who would have been hurt by the failing of this referendum. The decision was weighed, discussed, and a vote was taken. America!
If people will be affected in a way that harms their standard of living, it will be easier to address their needs as a community than it would be to address the aggregate needs of the schools. For example, it is far easier for a community to assist in the good work of Church Community Services to get meals to a family which is short a cart of groceries during tax time than it is to get materials and labor donated to put a new roof on Elkhart Central High School.
It was enough that we had to distract the leaders of our school systems from the business of running the schools so they could scramble to undo the financial damage brought upon them from the shockwave of public fiscal policy that blew their legs clean off. It’s a greater stretch to ask them to go beyond being supremely gracious winners in a democratic process so they may individually or even generally appease the delicate sensibilities of people who sought to allow them to wither away on the vine and die (many of whom, I would gather, never had their public education experience put on a chopping block in such an egregious manner).
I don’t believe the schools have forgotten or will forget where the money came from. It comes from the same community which charged it to educate our children, and they are now asking for many of its former students to do as countless students before them have done: Pay taxes to ensure we can continue to churn out sharp business owners, coworkers, philanthropists and more. They did it with class, hard work and the support of countless recipients of their works – their former students.
My message to those who lost the referendum? I am sorry that you have to pay more than you feel is needed to educate our children. Just don’t forget that your community had to dig deep to finance your education, too.
Jason Moreno is a community organizer for LaCasa Inc. and lives in Elkhart. Email: email@example.com