Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Was your voice heard?

Last weekend my community voted on a few items that will have long-lasting effects for us as homeowners and residents, and for our children as they attend the local schools. On the ballot were two items, one with a three-year effect, and one that will be with us for decades. The shame is in how few took the time to make their voice heard.

The first ballot item was electing individuals to fill two open spots on the school board. These individuals will serve a three-year term; according to the DSISD web site, the Board of Trustees “has final control over all major decisions regarding school policy, curriculum, expenditures, and building programs. It is the Board’s responsibility to provide tax monies for maintenance and operation of the schools, to submit bond issues to the District’s voters for construction of school facilities, and to hire the Chief Executive Officer for the District. Board authority is defined by federal and state law and by regulations set by the State Board of Education. Trustees act officially only as a group in duly called and posted Board meetings.”

As important as this is, the second item has much more far-reaching implications. Dripping Springs ISD Proposition 1 asked voters to approve a $92 million dollar bond initiative. The proceeds from this bond would pay for a new elementary school, a new middle school, a multi-purpose competition stadium, a baseball and softball complex, maintenance improvements and repairs to several existing schools, and technology upgrades across the district. Based on home values in the district, the net effect would be on average about a $130 annual tax increase for up to forty years.

Of approximately 28,000 individuals (including nearly 5,500 students) living within the boundaries of the school district, a mere 2,860 voters made a decision affecting the rest for many years to come. According to unofficial results posted by the county election authorities, the bond passed by a vote of 1666 in favor, 1194 opposed.

I was in favor of the bond, and voted for it. Our elementary schools reached 100% capacity this year – with another 400 students expected in September. Our lone middle school will exceed capacity within 2 years. Our fantastic girls’ softball team (which just played in the area tournament last weekend) plays on a field leased from the city. Ditto for the boys’ baseball team. The football team plays on an aging field located at the middle school. Technology ages and requires replacement every few years to stay current. 

With the exception of the elementary and middle schools to be constructed, none of this is absolutely required – but to not invest would be to relinquish the very thing that makes Dripping Springs such a desirable place to live. Many of us that live here came first for the exceptional school district, and only after we arrived did we discover the exceptional quality of life and the wonderful people. Dripping Springs consistently is ranked among the very best school districts in the state – consistently faring well in statewide academic competitions, among the highest in proportion of graduating seniors that continue on to advanced education, among the highest in statewide standardized testing. This year the district was honored in a national ranking of top schools. It is a fantastic place to raise a family, in large part because of the emphasis we place on investing in our children’s future.

All in all I was pleased with the election results. I know two of the individuals that were running for school board positions personally; one won a spot, while the other fell short by a mere nine votes. I am glad that we are investing in continued excellent education for my children, and for the children that will join the community in the years to come.

But that is beside the point. My point is that the decision to invest here and now was made by 1,666 voters. One school board position was decided by nine votes. You think your vote does not matter? I could fit enough people in my van to have changed the outcome of this election! When 1,666 voters can make a decision affecting 28,000, and that will affect our grandchildren, it’s not the system that is broken. It’s a sign that we as a community have become complacent, satisfied to just watch.

The next time a local election takes place in your town, be it the big city or a small country town, take the time to make your voice heard. It's your privilege as a member of the community. If you don't speak up, someone else will choose for you, and you'll have no right to complain about it.

Update I have a number of friends in the community that were not in favor of the bond. I in no way mean to disparage them. We do have a relatively high property tax burden, and not everyone agrees with spending a quarter of the bond on athletic programs. Our differing views (shared civilly!) are what make us strong. The beauty of the democratic system is that we each get to voice our opinion.

Do you have something to add? A question you'd like answered? Think I'm out of my mind? Join the conversation below, reach out by email at david (at) securityforrealpeople.com, or hit me up on Twitter at @dnlongen