Submitted by Paul Miller
The STMA Feb 7th Referendum: Vote NO $36 Million (Facebook group) is a growing bi-partisan group of STMA citizens opposed to our school board’s Feb. 7th bond referendum.
In league with other active citizens, we seek to defeat this referendum for the purpose of demanding that A) the STMA school board schedule this and any future referenda during the regular November election cycle so as to maximize visibility and turnout, and B) the board split this into two questions: one for non-controversial academic needs, and one for the more controversial sports facilities. This release is intended to clarify and justify our position.
The STMA school board has long been under immense pressure to fund new ice. In 2016, the STMA school board debated and planned an $8 million “abatement” levy – meaning a new $8 Million tax without voter involvement. The blowback was intense, so the board shelved the abatement plan.
The opposition to abatement was clear: $8 million is overkill; It’s a massive subsidy for a relatively tiny percentage of STMA families; The district already has $200,000 million in debt; We should pay down our debt before taking on more; The district does not have the retail/industrial tax base to justify this kind of expense; Other municipalities have built new facilities for less than proposed; voters should decide district funding priorities…
Fast forward to this current bond. What is the district’s response to citizens resisting an $8 million ice arena? A $10 million ice arena PLUS $11 million in other sports facilities, including a domed practice facility at the high school!
What makes the STMA school board believe that an unpopular $8 million dollar facility would not be accepted, but that $21 Million in new sports facilities will, with a $2 Million increase toward new ice to boot? The answer to that question brings us to the crux of our VOTE NO campaign.
The STMA school board has decided that the community “needs” these things the majority doesn’t want, and since citizens aren’t in agreement, they have decided to get it done anyway, while making it look as if we’re doing it to ourselves. Their solution? A February referendum (guaranteed low turnout), with popular academic needs held hostage to a controversial sports wish-list, in an all-or-nothing bid to force voters to swallow our sports medicine, or risk delaying academic improvements that are not viewed as controversial.
If you doubt this, listen to the words of Board Member Drew Scherber at the STMA School Board candidates forum:
“Each board member – six of us – decided it would be better served by the community if it was one question. Two questions won’t pass I don’t think. It’s very tough to have two questions pass. I know some people are against that. But that’s the reason we went for it.”
~ Board member Drew Scherber
If you need more evidence that academic improvements are being used as leverage to acquire sports improvements, look at the percentages, from the district’s own numbers:
Basic maintenance: 1.19%
Energy Efficiency: 3.48%
Classroom addition: 26.8%
Activities/Sports (over 50% of this for hockey arena): 60.34%
The school board and supporters of the bond are dutifully touting the needed academic improvements, but we can see what this is all about by looking at their actions, and at the numbers.
Another issue we have with the school board is its continuous tap-dance on the line of advocacy for this referendum, knowing that full-on advocacy is illegal. They have presented incomplete numbers, colored commentary to influence voters, incomplete information when the whole truth was less than helpful to their cause, and biased literature that assumes “need” when they already know that many citizens do not agree with that characterization. The district even sent out a flyer to every household that did not mention the proposed new sheet of ice. They corrected it on their website, but by that time, thousands of people who will not visit that website were given a flyer without the most controversial item included.
One such instance of the board’s incomplete information was the “$45/year per $200k household” controversy. Our sister group “STMA Voices” did their own analysis of those numbers, and released a yellow flyer in voter newspaper boxes revealing the truth: $45/year is a projected interest-only payment for the first few years of the bond, and that number dramatically increases (roughly triples) when we begin paying principle.
So how was the district asserting $45/year through the life of the bond? They did so by hiding the increase over time inside reductions of our currently existing debt as we pay it off. The whole truth is, they plan to increase taxes on a $200k home by $45/year in the beginning, AND wipe out a tax cut that is scheduled to kick in right about the time the bond payment skyrockets. They portrayed the numbers to give the appearance of relatively stable cost per household, rather than address the truth that this bond will eventually cost each family roughly 3X what they claimed.
And in fact, it wasn’t until the very day after STMA Voices released their findings to the public, that the board addressed the whole truth of this on their website. Now Superintendent Foucault is claiming our numbers are incomplete, when the truth is, we just provided the information the district was withholding. Why was the STMA school board unwilling to tell the whole truth until we compelled them to do so?
It is our position that the STMA school board’s agenda to see this bond over the finish line has clouded their judgment, their decision-making, and their ethical compass. As committed as we know they are to our children, we also know that they are committed to a course of action that has them saying and doing some things that many find questionable.
Thus, we ask you humbly to VOTE NO on February 7th. Demand that the STMA school board hold all referenda during November election cycles, and that they split the academic agenda from the sports agenda so that voters have the ability to prioritize the way WE see fit, and not have our votes coerced by manipulation.
Miller is an STMA resident
Abatement discussion was 2015, not 2016. My mistake was not noticed until after publication.
The reference to $200,000,000 of debt has also been questioned. This reference is to the discussions that were taking place back in 2015, not the current debt level, which, depending on wo you listen to, is between $150-$180 Million.