Saturday, May 6, 2017

“Something for everyone”

There are two competing approaches for how to design a school bond proposal that can appeal to the voters. The first is to create a proposal that identifies compelling needs and then convince the voters of the importance of the projects. The other is to create a proposal that contains “something for everyone,” so more voters will have a personal stake in some part of the proposal. The first approach appeals primarily to the voters’ public-spirited instincts; the second approach appeals at least as much to the voters’ personal interests.

When our school board was deciding how to structure its bond proposal, the second approach prevailed. It was important, the argument went, that the bond contain many years’ worth of projects spread throughout the district, so it would have broad-based appeal.

I’m much more comfortable going to the public with a list of compelling needs than with a larger list that is more geographically distributed. I believe this district’s voters will support projects that benefit other parts of the district when the need is clear. This was true, for example, in 1995, when 70% of the voters supported a bond to build an elementary school in Coralville.

Moreover, there are several problems with the “something for everyone” approach. One is that by pursuing it, the board is essentially admitting that need is not the driving principle. Second, the throw-it-all-in approach drives up the cost—which creates its own counterarguments, both public-spirited and self-interested. Third, bond elections bring out many voters who don’t have kids in the schools, and who thus don’t have the same degree of self-interest in school projects, but who might be persuaded by a smaller set of projects with more compelling need.

There is also a risk involved in encouraging voters to approach the bond by asking “What’s in it for me?” The bond proposal is big, but it has to stop somewhere. As a result, the district now has a list of “future needs” that will not be covered by the bond; those projects will need to secure funding some other way, such as with a future bond proposal. Yet a look at the list shows that those projects are not geographically spread out at all. Under the “something for everyone” philosophy, why would the east side of Iowa City—the part of the district with the greatest number of voters—ever support a bond for those projects?

Over the long term, it would make more sense to cultivate the voters’ willingness to support necessary projects regardless of where the needs arise.


Anonymous said...

The bond is a welfare project for developers, home builders, realtors, banks and credit unions. Those who can least afford it, like our district's low income families who have to pay more taxes or higher rent will suffer its impact disproportionately if voted in.

The ballot language the district emailed this weekend is so broad the district can do whatever the h*ll it wants to if it is approved.

As the song goes, "What were they thinking?" and the answer is "oops, they were not."

Vote no.

- said...

That's still only part of the problem, Chris. I know you want this to be a strictly-budget affair, but there's a reason why they credit-check you when you go for a loan: they want to know something about the kind of person you are, whether they're likely to get their money back from you. The major proponents of this have shown themselves to be eminently untrustworthy. One's a perjuring lawyer who isn't even on the board anymore, but did help develop the bond scheme, and the other went moonlighting for a school-district defrauding scheme that sent its leaders to prison for seven years apiece. Why anybody would hand either of them more than the price of lunch to take care of I don't know. That's something the board hasn't wanted to talk about, and as far as I can tell the papers haven't talked about it either, but it deserves discussion.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Steve Murley say he'd get his PH? I believe the district at some point was paying for his tuition for such degree? How many years has he been here now, and still no phd? I can care less what degree he holds. But if he said he would do it, and doesn't, after being given these many years, that makes him a liar and a loser.

Anonymous said...

Chris, the fact of the matter is this district is totally divided and while in theory your idea of what the bond should be is nice, it's not at all realistic. Your 1995 example is way too long ago to accurately reflect the current situation. The fact is if this bond doesn't have something for every part of the district, it has zero chance of passing. You didn't get what you wanted in the bond language and I'm sorry that it didn't work out for you. But you have a responsibility do what's right for our kids and your lack of support is not noble or gutsy or whatever other nonsense you're telling yourself. You need to go out there to the schools and tell students face to face that you're going to vote against air conditioning and for more overcrowded schools. I'm sorry but we don't live in fairy tale land, and in the real world you do what's right for the kids. A vote against the bond is a vote against the students.

Chris said...

Anonymous (2:36 pm) – I think your comment is a good summary of the approach the bond supporters have chosen to take, as I described in the post. I disagree that the “something for everyone” approach is what maximizes the chance of passage, but I can’t prove that I’m right about that or that you’re wrong.

The board majority is perfectly within its rights to pursue whatever approach it thinks best. But of course if the proposal doesn’t address people’s reservations, people will continue to have those reservations. I’m a little puzzled by the argument that people have an obligation to vote “yes” even if they think the proposal is unwise.

If you’re right that a bond can’t pass unless it has something for everyone in it, what will happen if it turns out that the North Corridor needs a second new elementary school?

amy said...

Yeah, I'm not too happy with this "vote against the bond is a vote against the students" nonsense and the rest of the propagandafest. If you're concerned about the size of the bond and the planning leading to it, not to mention who's going to look after it and how, then a no vote is a vote for the longterm welfare of the district, meaning in the end the students and the region.

The "do it or you hate the kids" approach reminds me of the student you haven't seen in weeks who emails you during finals week and insists that if you don't hand them a passing grade, it's your fault if they don't graduate and their parents wind up disappointed.

We've had many bond votes, some of them pretty recently, and they've all been pretty reasonable up till now. Which is why they mostly pass. This one doesn't look at all reasonable to me, so I'll vote no on a school bond for the first time in over 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:36, you said "...tell students face to face that you're going to vote against air conditioning and for more overcrowded schools..."

OK, so I get it now, we are going to spend about $20 thousand to get your new air conditioners, and oh, by the way, give us another $190mil to do these other stuff. What other stuff, you ask? I am not going to tell you. Say what? You are not going to give me the $191mil? Then you don't get the $20 thou big shiny ac!

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:36--your response to this blog post is one of the big reasons why I will be voting no on this bond. My main reason for voting no is that the bond as it is now, is a mixture of needs and wants. I would have preferred to see an order of projects based on needs first. I would be more than happy to vote on a bond that is needs based rather than needs and wants all mixed in together. The order of which projects are scheduled to be done doesn't make sense at all.

Back to your comment though, I feel like for any of us who are skeptical of the bond, question anything about it or have anything negative to say about it, are instantly told that we are against children and education. The same group that's spearheading the one community one bond BS is the same group that were all for the bussing for balance scheme that went down last year. If we spoke up that we didn't want our child to unnecessarily ride a bus for 2 hours when they could walk to school or that we didn't like that the majority of kids being affected by this scheme were predominantly low income and that it would create undue hardship on the student and their families, we were told that we wanted segregated schools and we did not believe in giving our children the best opportunity to learn. It’s bullying behavior no matter how you look at it.

Anonymous said...

2:36 : Thank you, it's nice to see "the elephant in the room" finally described in writing - that the bond proposal has little to do with what our kids need and far more to do with public relations and propaganda.

I wonder what the results would be if we went to the students and asked them what projects would best serve the kids if we obtained $75 million from a lowered bond amount? I think we would likely get a far better list of priorities than asking their parents what they wanted and giving them an unlimited budget, which is what happened in the past in the FMP planning sessions.

Vote No to the Money Grab said...

Anonymous at 2:36 your statement "The fact is if this bond doesn't have something for every part of the district, it has zero chance of passing." doesn't show any faith in the voters of this district. Sad.

Voters can be for kids and vote No on this bond because passing it will divide the district even more as different areas of the district fight over the $$$$. It's also going to cost families and small business owners $$$$ they can't afford.

Weird how the pro bond PAC isn't addressing Chris' facts on capacity.

Vote No.

Anonymous said...

I have heard that Murley is emailing school PTO's asking them to help gather the required signatures for the bond petition and asking to support passage of the bond. I think that there are laws in place such that PTO's cannot monetarily support the bond. I personally would find it to be a conflict of interest if my school PTO was spending time and potential resources to openly support a bond that I do not support. I know for a fact that there are other parents and teachers who do not support the bond and the PTO would be speaking for them as a collective. I have no issue with PTO members expressing their support as individuals. If this is true that Murley is asking this, at a very minimum it would be unethical practice. Chris, can you comment on the legality of PTO's supporting bond passage or school board candidates?

Anonymous said...

I don't support the DPO or PTO or PSTOs taking a position on the bond. I believe parents are members when they pay dues and there is NO way these organizations can support or not support a political position on the bond and get all members to agree.

It's bad enough teachers are getting leaned on. How to vote is a personal choice and no one's business but your own.

Anonymous said...

If they are asking PTOs to help get signatures then this may indicate that they are having a hard time even getting enough signatures. I think they only need like 1400 to get it on the ballot if that is what this is for. Should be no problem and shoun't have to rely on PTOs.

Anonymous said...

There are way too many completely unnecessary things on this bond for me to vote yes. The group pushing the bond are acting like a bunch of bullies. For the first time in my life I will be voting NO to a school bond for a list of reasons too long to possibly write here; but many have already been summarized by Chris and commenters.

They need to listen and be responsive to all legitimate community feedback/concerns from ALL municipalities, use the money for needs, and then come back with a better bond proposal. It appears the only way this board/administration/bond committee will do that is by forcing them into it with a strong NO vote.