Why we teach math the way we do: For when things just don’t add up

Craig Hall, Publisher
Craig Hall, Publisher

I’m beginning to believe it isn’t worth saying much when it comes to our local government and schools. Particularly when it comes to disagreeing with some folks who’ve resorted to the guilt and shaming of people who aren’t in favor of approving the upcoming ballot measures, or worse, for folks who simply have questions.

Put me in the latter category. I have a lot of questions. Questions I believe are basic, logical questions that seem almost impossible to find an answer to outside of a general talking point from the backers of the ballot initiatives or, sadly, as more and more the questions about the school initiative are answered with such responses as, “Why don’t you care about education?” or “The kids are our future!” or “We’ve been underfunded for decades!” or “The numbers just don’t add up when it comes to funding education.”

My responses to those are simple. I do care about education as I have two kids in School District 51. The kids are always the future, and the ones running things now were part of this education system that was allegedly much better in past decades. Government is ALWAYS underfunded — in confiscation, which is different from “revenues” as it loves to call tax money. And lastly, mostly because of who creates the numbers in Denver and a little because of Mesa County.

I’m about to write about things many folks and business leaders are thinking. And it could be to my business’ detriment not only because it’ll fall on ears that won’t really inquire about what I write. It will also be because I’ll be labeled anti-school when it’s simply not true. But I feel compelled to write so informed decisions can be made. All of this relates to something I’ve seen happen when it comes to the messengers on government-related topics. Most of us are to the point where we don’t want to shoot the messenger, but we sure as heck don’t trust them.

Finding District 51 budget spending from a source outside District 51 should be a simple search. However, most results take you to the district website, which only shows dollars on money spent and only percentages on “revenues.” Additionally, try finding old numbers on the number of students, previous years’ spending and debt. Not as easy a search, I can tell you that. And the results tend to be confusing.

So here’s some things I’ve found out. The school district’s budget has remained pretty flat at roughly $180 million — yes, there was a high of $190 million for a few years to start  — the past decade, right along with the number of students. This makes sense in one way since funding is based on the number of students. But it doesn’t make sense when one considers growth in population and home values over the same period, both of which have gone up from 2007. If one goes back 20 years, the district’s budget was only $102 million in 1997. So the budget has grown, considerably, along with our population and home and property values. I wonder if the student population has gone up the same percentage? Is that a valid question? What I don’t see is it being answered — as it should be part of the argument for the measure.

Did you also know that our district only budgets .05 percent, roughly $900,000, for buildings and maintenance? Odd, considering that number gets lower and lower and buildings keep getting older and older every year. So why wouldn’t we ask the district what percentage of the budget has been allotted to buildings and maintenance every year since 1997? Or perhaps one could inquire why that part of the budget is so low if having quality facilities is of the utmost importance? These answers would be telling and a positive to bring to the initiative if there’s good reason.

I also keep hearing the district has had $200 million cut from its budget over the past decade. But at the same time, this district’s borrowing has maintained steady to cover much of that, and there was plenty of borrowing before the decade as well.

And the mantra of we get $400 less on average per student than the state’s average is constantly played. That one I see. Then again, it isn’t surprising given the amount of property tax dollars we put into the system and the negative budget limitations and craziness that is Denver. And if you really took the time to look into per student funding, you’d find much greater gaps and they don’t all result from mill levy overrides.

Finally, I shake my head when I see politicians supporting the initiative saying how it’s important we help the kids, yet they divvy up the dollars unfairly. As always, one entity gains and one entity loses when government is making decisions. My experience since moving here is that Mesa County always loses. As a political bonus, this also puts the onus of the funding problem away from them and on to us.

Do our schools need more money right now? Yes. Are constant mill levy overrides the ongoing answer? No. Perhaps this ballot initiative would garner more support if it put out more facts and started blaming Denver instead of shaming Mesa County taxpayers.

A vote for this will help kids today, but it won’t fix future problems.