DeKalb writer Rick Diguette just sent me this piece on SPLOST, and it seems appropriate to run it now since I posted a letter to voters from the DeKalb school board member earlier today.
According to figures compiled as of Oct. 28, 2011, there are 445,250 registered voters in DeKalb County.1 Seven percent of those voters, or 33,114, have saddled everyone else in the county with a one penny hike in the sales tax.
I happen to be one of the 53,255 voters who went to the polls on November 8 to vote on the SPLOST proposal. Along with 20,140 other DeKalb County residents, I voted against it. If you are into percentages, we represented only five percent of the county’s registered voters.
Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, DeKalb County’s new public school superintendent, had this to say after the election: “We are very pleased the voters of DeKalb County are supportive of our efforts to provide the best facilities and resources for our students.”
To be a tad more accurate, a very small percentage of DeKalb County voters supported this initiative at the polls. And whether SPLOST will actually result in DCSS providing “the best facilities and resources for our students,” only time will tell. If only Dr. Atkinson could guarantee that fraud and financial mismanagement in DCSS are things of the past, I would feel much better. But she can’t make that guarantee. No one can.
If the past tells us anything, fraud and mismanagement will continue to be part of the funding equation in DCSS. Indeed, just as retailers must factor “shrinkage” into their pricing equations, we apparently must be willing to factor fraud and mismanagement into the cost of operating our public school system.
It is worth noting that before the election we were assured that if voters didn’t agree to extend SPLOST for another sixty months, property taxes in DeKalb County would go up—would go up, not might go up. At the same time, however, we were not assured that DCSS would be a better steward of tax revenues going forward.
If we truly get the government we deserve, this is probably why we get it. Our elected officials give us ultimatums bearing directly on our pocketbooks. If we don’t do what they want us to do, then we can expect to feel the pinch. So we go to the polls and vote for something like SPLOST. But all this means is that the pinch will be put off until some time in the future when those same elected officials, or new ones who look and sound very much like the old ones, again threaten us with an increase in our property taxes if we don’t do what they want us to do.
“And,” to quote Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.”
As far as I can tell, fraud and mismanagement are unlikely to disappear from the surface of the earth any time soon. Big piles of public revenue invite itchy fingers, nepotism and backroom deals. They always have and they always will, and not just in DeKalb County. Knowing that, however, never seems to matter when a proposal like SPLOST comes along.
Maybe if more voters exercised their right to make their voices heard at the ballot box, things would change. But as long as seven percent of the county’s voters can impose their will on the rest of us, I’m afraid it will be business as usual for a very long time to come.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog