by Tim O'Brien
On April 27 people in the Southgate school district will be forced to trudge to the polls for the fourth time in less than two years if they wish to express their opinion on a millage proposal.
The first version -- a $68 million wish list that included not only structural refurbishing of the district's eight schools but everything from new administrative digs to a multi-million dollar gym and swimming pool upgrade -- was trounced by a 3-1 margin in June of '97.
The second attempt the following February basically reconfigured the same proposal into four separate requests: $48.7 million for infrastructure and technology, $9.7 million for expanded gym and fine arts facilities, $6.2 million to renovate the pool and $1.1 million for new administrative offices. But subdividing the tax grab bag was unavailing. All four proposals failed.
The third try last September kept the $51 million for infrastructure and technology, and reduced and combined the gym and swimming pool upgrades into one $10.3 million proposal. The voters answered: "No," and "No."
The latest incarnation is limited to a mere $48 million to replace roofs and boilers and to make electrical upgrades to accommodate putting computers in the classrooms.
Superintendent Stanley Mazur describes the current proposal as a "bare-bones plan."
It is hard to imagine how a proposal to spend an average of $6 million apiece on the schools could rightly be called "bare-bones" when one would think this sufficient funding to build all eight from scratch.
It is even harder to imagine a Southgate voter applying that description to a tax increase that will cost the average homeowner $4,264 (assuming no increase whatever in property values over the life of the bond).
But what weary voters are finding just plain impossible to accept any longer is the relentless "We won't take 'No' for an answer" tactics by school district officials.
The Gibraltar schools -- to cite another example -- lost a 5-mill tax increase proposal last month and immediately scheduled another election for a few weeks from now.
That school district didn't even bother with the ruse of revising their proposal before Superintendent James Vollmar, admitting the day after it was rejected that he didn't know why the plan lost, shamelessly stated that the purpose of scheduling another election only 90 days later was so that they might "do a better job of getting 'Yes' voters out."
The Gibraltar officials might wish to take a lesson from my old hometown of Harper Woods.
Several years ago school bureaucrats there, after having lost on tax increase proposals several times in row, came up with the perfect solution to their problem. They simply fulfilled the legal minimum election notice requirements by posting an announcement on the City Hall bulletin board and running a tiny classified ad in the local newspaper. Then they sent individual notices home with every student in the district to make certain all of their parents would turn out and vote.
The Michigan legislature could put an end to these kinds of shenanigans by simply removing the authority of school districts to schedule separate elections at all.
Districts would then have only one opportunity every other year -- during regularly scheduled elections (which would also save the cost of all of these special elections) -- to bring a proposal to the voters. With such a limitation it would, of course, be in their own best interests to make the proposal a realistic one because, if it failed, they wouldn't get the chance to make another for two years.
We are all familiar with the ringing words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. But the part that many of us could almost recite from memory is actually just the prologue to a recitation of 27 specific grievances of the American people of the eighteenth century against the British king.
The fourth of these reads: "He has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures."
Obviously, government tactics haven't changed one whit in the last two centuries.
Perhaps we can prevail upon our state legislature to remove the authority of school districts to call elections at all and end these incessant millage increase proposals made repeatedly by officials for the sole Purpose of fatiguing us into Compliance with their Measures.
Tim O'Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.