Jim Clark: Margin tax is bad for Nevada
October 8, 2014
Here's an interesting tidbit. In a private poll conducted for the Coalition to Stop the Margin Tax, voters were asked two questions: had they studied, analyzed or even heard about the business margins tax initiative proposed by the Nevada teacher union and appearing on the November ballot as Question 3; and do they support or oppose the initiative.
Of those respondents who had studied, analyzed or heard of the proposal, 80 percent opposed it. Of those unfamiliar with the measure, 50 percent supported it. That's scary.
It appears that this "do it for the kids" feel good measure which would devastate Nevada's business and entrepreneurial community could possibly pass solely because of voter ignorance.
Recently, the Reno Gazette-Journal published a superb column by Frank Partlow, former executive director of the Northern Nevada Network and a retired US Army general. The piece, "No, it's not about the children," was startling because of Partlow's long history of support for the Washoe County School District including actively campaigning for its school bond proposals.
Partlow starts with the proposition that the recent dust up about our school board trying to fire Superintendent Pedro Martinez proves conclusively that K-12 education is not "all about the kids." Instead, it is exemplified by the political dysfunction, arrogance and financial waste exhibited by six school board members over the incident.
He then paints a broader picture: that K-12 education both locally and nationally is "operated to please adults rather than help their children." He cites school rezoning, a process to maximize efficiency in the use of facilities, as political suicide because it is adamantly opposed by parents for selfish, not educational, reasons.
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Partlow points out that start/end times and school day length reflects parents' convenience rather that the health and wellbeing of students. Even the school year, he says, is based on an agricultural economy and parent vacation schedules rather than "learning retention capacities of our kids."
And although it is clear, he continues, that student performance is 100 percent correlated with productive and competent teachers, yet the educator reward system is characterized by teacher tenure, time on the job, and advanced degrees in any discipline because of demands by public employee unions.
The reward system is even further corrupted, Partlow concludes, when lack of parental support drives good teachers to "become ineffective or superfluous administrators — educrats, who fail kids by leaving the classroom, then adding to the waste and inefficiency of (the US) K-12 system that is demonstrably one of the world's worst."
Clearly our local schools fit this mold. When Superintendent Martinez identified 10 underperforming high poverty and English language learner schools, he did the right thing by replacing their principals, but then buried them in district headquarters instead of laying them off.
When the highly visible dispute between Martinez and the majority on the school board erupted, the public found that trustees had not only been micromanaging but were jealous of the positive publicity Martinez got as a result of improved graduation rates.
Then when Martinez understandably took legal action against board members for their unlawful breach of his contract, trustees voted themselves unlimited amounts of taxpayer money to cover their legal expenses. In the end they wasted an additional $525,000 in public funds settling with Martinez.
How do we fix things? Certainly not by throwing huge sums of money at a broken system by supporting the margin tax proposal. Politically government-run K-12 education is virtually impossible to restructure by legislative fiat.
What has worked in places like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Florida and, to some extent even in Nevada, is to provide publicly financed alternative educational choices … charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, etc. Then good old fashioned American competition will bring pressure for reform on so-called government schools.
Why not give it a try.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates; he has served as e member of the Nevada and Washoe County Republican Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.