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May 20, 2013

Make sure you vote in school tax election

School superintendents have it anything but easy in these challenging economic times. In addition to dealing with myriad day-to-day and semester-to-semester issues, they have to have Solomon-like political acumen and management skills.

Usually the way the process goes it that the superintendent will get together with his or her department heads to gauge their needs for the next fiscal year. Then, working in conjunction with the school district’s business manager, the superintendent will judge which department can get by with fewer people or supplies or other things that cost money.

The political aspect comes in when the superintendent attempts to determine what kind of tax hike the voters would go for. Too high an estimate, and the budget is likely to be voted down. Too low, and you’ve left money on the table that could have spared a teacher from being laid off.

That’s probably why most superintendents make salaries in the six figures, which come under fire every time taxpayers start to gripe about what they’ll have to shell out in the coming year.

The recommendations made by the superintendent to the board of education usually get passed. The real challenge comes when the schools have to persuade the voters to raise their own taxes … for the good of the students, of course.

Around here, the magic number is usually about a 2 percent tax hike. Stay around that number, and your budget will probably be approved. Go over it, and no matter how many bus trips for cheerleaders and after-school programs have to disappear, the voters are likely to revolt.

Finding that perfect balance has become something of an art form. The School Superintendents Association offers advice, and there’s even a book called “School Finance Elections: A Comprehensive Planning Model for Successful School Bond Referenda,” Don E. Lifto and J. Bradford Senden.

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