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Letter to the Editor - Mark Farmer

Article Date: 
14 June, 2013 (All day)

I am a Morgan County resident and taxpayer, a father with children currently in Morgan schools, and a recently-appointed member of the Morgan School Board.  I will vote in favor of the Voted Local Levy as I believe it is the best option for our current situation.  
My support of the levy is not due to any tremendous new insight to the district finances gained since becoming a board member.  It really comes down to my belief that the need is real, and that we have good people with high integrity on the Board and in district and school administration.  I believe the information presented in the various public information sessions was well-researched and accurate.
We have all seen a large quantity of different facts and figures from different official sources.  I think this attests to the complexity of school finances.  The fact of the matter is; there are good and intelligent people on both sides of this issue, who I believe to be honest in their intentions, and who have spent countless hours researching this issue and have individually come to very different conclusions.   I willingly put my trust in the professionals who have experience dealing with school finances.  To ensure compliance and good fiscal management, the district undergoes an audit each year in accordance with principles set forth by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.  The resulting audited financials are available to the public.
I believe that it’s likely that anyone with good financial sense, let alone professional financial experience, could probably go through the district finances and find something that could be cut or done more efficiently.  I think that is true for just about every business or organization.  But I think we are talking about finding dollars here and there, and not the meaningful figures that can make an impact on class sizes and other opportunities for our kids.  School and government finances are also different than business finances.  Fortunately in business we can make cuts most of the time based on profitability, with some restrictions based on regulation and good corporate governance.  In a school profitability is not the driving factor.  Don’t get me wrong—fiscal responsibility is crucial—but the overriding goal is excellence in education.  
It has been brought up in probably every information meeting that the district should operate more like a business, and in difficult times businesses need to make difficult cuts, and so should the district.  First - the district has made difficult cuts, and a lot of them.  In addition to all the other cuts, last year we had two administrators give up significant compensation.  When leaders of businesses look to cut costs, they’ll scour their organizations thoroughly for savings before they cut their own compensation packages.  Voluntarily giving up compensation shows me that the need is real, and that these impressive administrators really care for the kids.  The administration and Board have solid track records of fiscal conservatism and aggressive cost control.  Second - in difficult times, good businesses make strategic cuts, and avoid cuts that would negatively impact their bottom lines.  They don’t make cuts that result in inferior products or services that they are unable to sell.  I don’t personally believe that cuts that reduce the quality of our education should be made.  It is a competitive world.  Morgan needs to provide quality schools to attract the type of families that we want as residents of our community.  Reducing the quality of our education starts us down a path we don’t want to travel.
If the levy does not pass, the sun will still rise the following day.  The Board and administration will do our best to support the teachers and staff that will do their best to provide meaningful educational opportunities to our kids.  But personally, having had the good fortune to grow up in schools where there were many opportunities, I would like to see us focus on finding fiscally-responsible ways to better the schools, instead of figuring out which cuts would do the least amount of damage.  Let me again be clear—I do NOT see the successful passage of the levy as providing the Board with a blank check, but rather a tool to help balance the district’s budget after all other reasonable options have been considered.  
I believe that any legitimate and reasonable idea needs to be considered by the Board.  Several ideas worth exploring were brought up in the information sessions I’ve attended.  The growth of business and second homes in the county would be a boon for the tax base, but I also understand and respect the reasons why many residents oppose such growth—another difficult topic.  Some of the ether ideas expressed include the need to improve Morgan’s representation in the legislature, increased lobbying for Morgan’s interests, looking at how funds are allocated to the capital fund, utilization of volunteers, and attracting and keeping good businesses in Morgan through tax policy changes.  I think we need the combination of many solutions, and many supporting hands and creative minds working toward these solutions, to better our schools in meaningful ways.  I don’t believe we have heard any ideas that will meet the current pressing needs facing the district.  Should the levy pass, the development of effective and creative solutions to the district’s various needs should serve to keep the levy at low levels.
In my interaction with the other board members, I believe that we individually and collectively feel that we have committed to responsible application of the levy, should it pass.  I think we would each like nothing more than to have the levy tool sit unused for years as we employ other solutions to the fiscal problems.  From my expectation for the short-term economic future of our county, state and country - I don’t expect an unused levy to be a likely outcome.  But I do think that the Board will be very careful in the application of the levy, again should it pass.  I understand that the Board is asking for the public’s trust, but this is nothing new.  This is the same public that places their trust in their representatives by electing them to the Board.  Abraham Lincoln said “It is better to trust and be disappointed once in a while than it is to distrust and be miserable all the time.”  I believe that the Board’s history of cutting costs should inspire the trust it requesting.
I hope the turnout for the vote is high.  I hope that residents have open minds and research carefully the issues surrounding the levy.  I hope the levy passes.  But regardless of the outcome, I hope that civility is maintained by individuals on both sides of the issue throughout the process.  Those opposing the levy don’t hate kids and teachers.  Those supporting the levy aren’t tax-loving socialists.  In the end, I hope that we are all good friends and good neighbors before and after June 25th.