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School board should be ashamed of itself

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Hyperbole, scare tactics beneath elected officials

By BEN CARLSON

Column as I see ’em …
As hard it might be to believe, the least objectionable thing the Anderson County Board of Education did last Wednesday was raise your property tax rates.
The most objectionable? Blatant dishonesty, bordering on outright lies.
In a remarkably unconscionable and despicable display, school board members actually used the threat of a “state” takeover of the school system to rationalize raising your taxes.
And in the process, attempted to frighten a group of mostly older ladies who had the temerity to question the need for higher tax rates.
During a public hearing, several board members claimed that if the district’s contingency fund — the amount of money it has in reserve — falls below 2 percent, the “state” would seize control of the school district.
Hogwash. We contacted the “state” and were told that simply isn’t the case. The only way the “state” would take such drastic steps were if the district went into default.
That didn’t stop members of the school board from using such a threat to, in essence, tell a group of unhappy taxpayers to shut the blank up.
It got so bad at one point that board member Scott Brown declared that the “state,” by which I can only guess he means the state department of education, has the ability to levy taxes.
Of course it doesn’t, but that didn’t stop him from saying the following: “If the state takes over, they’ll raise your taxes and you won’t have a say.”
Not only did board members spout off dishonestly about that law, they also appeared thoroughly ignorant in what they were trying to do.
To listen to them, only a significant rate increase would keep the district above the state-required 2 percent cushion, yet had the board taken the so-called compensating rate, that cushion would have been 2.4 percent.
If they knew that, they should be ashamed for not saying as much. If they didn’t, they should be replaced for being so ill informed.
One could argue that the board is simply a group of caring people trying to pitch in and run the local school district for a measly $75 per meeting.
Perhaps, but they’re also the ones who voluntarily placed their names on a ballot and asked voters to be hired for the job of overseeing tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue and spending.
That’s big boy and big girl, stuff, folks, which requires more than a “aw, shucks, I just want to help,” attitude.
In return, taxpayers deserve better than hearing those they elect make dire predictions and outlandish statements.
Before they open their mouths and start spouting off about the law, perhaps they should actually get their facts straight or, to use their own tactic, shut the blank up.

Speaking of deserving better …
The board’s superintendent, Sheila Mitchell, has done a remarkable job over the past several weeks in dealing with controversies ranging from having to replace the high school softball coach to dealing with a meddlesome ACLU bent on imposing its will.
Through it all, Mitchell has taken the lead and performed admirably while knowing full well that her decisions, while correct, wouldn’t be particularly popular.
Most telling is that when faced with these difficulties, Mitchell could have deferred to the school board but chose instead to make the decisions, put her name on them and deal with whatever fallout came her way.

Speaking of facts …
About the only one who seemed even remotely interested in facts during that meeting was Mitchell.
Yes, she mixed a little spin into her presentation when she requested a higher tax rate, but her job is to advocate on behalf of staff and students and get her bosses — the school board — to see things her way.
In fact, when she brought up the contingency issue during her presentation, she never even hinted of a state takeover.

Speaking of the hyperbole …
Brown wasn’t alone in his. Board member Donna Drury got into the act, too, claiming that not only will the “state take over the school district,” but that unless the district gets more money students are “going to freeze to death” next winter.
Then there was board chairman James Sargent’s attempt to relate to people on fixed incomes by recounting his own trips through the unemployment line, etc., before unleashing what may have been the best example of hyperbole of the night.
In lobbying for the highest increase allowed by law without being subjected to a voter recall, Sargent harped on the school system’s importance to the county but took it to the next level when he claimed that, “if we let the school system fall, our county will fall apart.”