Tax-hike advocates use school holiday programs to push bonds

Tax-hike advocates use school holiday programs to push bonds

by
Dustin Hurst
December 16, 2016
Dustin Hurst
Author Image
December 16, 2016

We wish you a merry tax hike.

Deck the halls with taxpayer dollars.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, hike your taxes in March.

Though catchy tunes for some, none of them have the same ring as the originals.

Yet, Friends of Boise Schools believes it entirely appropriate to invade and politicize school holiday programs with pro-tax hike messages. Two parents contacted IdahoReporter.com and  noted advocates delivered pro-bond pitches at two separate Boise schools before student-led holiday programs this week.

One parent heard the pitch at East Junior High, and the other at an elementary school.

The pitches are part of a larger effort to encourage taxpayers to pass a $172 million bond plan at the polls in March. The bond, approved by school district trustees just weeks ago, would upgrade existing schools and build a new elementary in the Boise Independent School District.

IdahoReporter.com obtained an email written by Stacey Stewart, a Friends of Boise Schools volunteer. The message encouraged volunteers to spread the pro-tax hike message this week at an elementary school’s holiday program.

“Is there a parent from your school who would be willing to give a brief speech about the bond before the performance?” Stewart asked in a Dec. 13 email. “The attached script is about 2-3 minutes long.”

The script Stewart sent with her plea for help cited talking points pro-tax hike folks could use to advocate for passage of the school bond. Some of the highlights, including fill-in-the-blanks for specific schools, were:

  • Our schools are overcrowded, outdated and inefficient - one line about your school’s needs here
  • At our school, it allows us to address XX issue with XX improvement
  • We need a supermajority to pass this bond which means we need every parent and advocate to vote Yes
  • Take action: yesforboiseschools.com Volunteer, inform parents at your school, donate, endorse, like us on FB, vote Yes!

Note: See all the group's talking points here.

District trustees were aware pro-bond advocates planned to politicize the holiday shows. Minutes from the Dec. 2 trustee meeting reveal that Friends of Boise Schools leaders briefed school officials on the plan.

The minutes read, “Pam Solon and Carrie Hastriter from ‘Friends of Boise School District’ reported to the Board on the bond committee meetings, their visits to the school staff meetings, music programs and holiday programs.”

BISD spokesman Dan Hollar didn’t answer a request for comment on the issue.

Rory Jones, a Friends of Boise Schools leader and former trustee, defended the politicization.

“It takes a lot of work to pass a bond issue like this,” he told IdahoReporter.com Thursday.

Jones denied the group used a public resources to press the issue. “It’s money raised by people interested in passage of the bond,” he said.

Yet, money isn’t the issue here. The group took advantage of a structural benefit schools provide: lots of parents -- voters -- in one space with their attention focused in a single place at a government school.

IdahoReporter.com asked Jones, would opponents of the bond ever receive such a government-supported platform? Jones replied, “No.”

“There’s no need to provide equal time,” he said.

The way Jones sees it, the state has stacked the deck against schools by limiting their access to taxpayer dollars. He noted, Idaho is one of four states that requires schools to pass bonds by a supermajority, so BISD uses all of its tools to make up ground.

He insists the effort is simply an educational campaign aimed at informing parents how their kids’ schools might fare should the bond pass -- or not.

“There are very few times during the year when parents come into the schools on an organized basis,” Jones said. “Those are the times when information is provided. That’s part of the job of the trustees.”

It appears the group might use even more venues to push it’s tax-hike message on unsuspecting parents.

“There isn’t enough we can do do to advocate for this,” Jones asserts, though he added no details about future marketing plans. “It’s an inherent part of the process.”

This is hardly the first time pro-tax hike advocates have used government resources to plead for more government resources. This year, the College of Western Idaho spent $370,000 to, in part, push a $255 million bond measure of its own. That plan lost last month, having failed to clear the two-thirds approval threshold at the polls.

 

CWI pulled the cash to run the campaign from the school’s strategic reserve fund, which was once funded by student fees. The school no longer charges students that fee.

Ahead of the November election, Meridian City Mayor Tammy DeWeerd used a city-funded utility bill to carry her pro-bond messages to town residents.

After learning of DeWeerd’s act, Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, called on governments to end the practice. “Government officials need to stop using our own money — yours and mine — to convince us to raise our taxes,” Hoffman wrote. “It’s endemic. It’s improper. And it’s getting worse.”

Note: The original version of this post characterized the CWI marketing campaign as taxpayer-funded. This article has been revised to reflect the use of student fees to fund the campaign. IR regrets the error.

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