COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | FRED SCHNAUBELT
School daze

You may soon be paying a new property tax

San Diego Unified School District is seeking a new property tax, a tax on every parcel of land in the district. No matter how much money it receives for school districts it's never enough, a throwback to John L. Lewis's acerbic response in the heyday of the labor movement when asked what do union members want: "More!"

Whenever speaking about schools I remember my fourth grade class. The teacher told little Johnny to write his name on the chalkboard. He said, "Hey teach, I ain't got no chalk." Correcting him the teacher said, "It's 'I don't have any chalk, he doesn't have any chalk, she doesn't have any chalk, they don't have any chalk!'"

Johnny blurted out, "What the hell happened to all the chalk?"

Every year or two it seems we vote on bond issues for new schools, old schools, bigger school budgets or bigger salaries. Like Johnny would say, "What the hell happens to all the money?"

California spends 46.9 percent of its general fund on education and San Diego County allocates 43.3 percent of property tax revenues for school districts. Now San Diego Unified wants to additionally tax, tax, tax, every parcel of land. No matter how much money's collected, school districts want "More!"

"When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children," said Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The Mission Statement of the California Teachers Association pretty well confirms Shanker's proclamation. Teachers are everything -- students de Minimis (mentioned once in 13 goals). Unions claim they are simply advocates for children, but is more tax money really for "the children" or the teachers?

According to the Teacher Portal Web page, becoming a teacher in San Diego ranks No. 1 with the highest paid teachers per hour in the country, collecting an average salary of $59,825 for a 184 working-day year. (They can earn up to $99,864 teaching high school) Teachers earn more than construction workers, nurses, police officers and accountants, according to "Becoming a Teacher in San Diego." (teacherportal.com/salary)

The U.S. Department of Education reported California spent, in 2006, $7,571 per student. The district says it averages 18 students per teacher, which comes to $136,000 per classroom. However, a lot of employees are categorized as teachers who aren't assigned to classrooms, such as vice principals, and actual student/teacher ratios may vary. Individual schools report class sizes up to 30 students, which would generate over $227,000 per classroom. (Every classroom is practically a small business). You'd think this would guarantee a world-class education without a new property parcel tax.

If you deduct the teacher's salary ($59,825) from $136,000 it leaves about $76,000 for each class of 18 students and up to $167,000 for classes of 30 students. Where in the world does all the taxpayer money go?

Teachers frequently deflect criticism by telling us they also pay taxes. However, Democratic Vice President John Calhoun (Under Andrew Jackson) observed that (regardless of forms submitted) government agents and employees pay no taxes. Since taxpayers pay the public employees' salaries it's "incontestable" that they also pay the public employees' taxes.

That said, the highest honor we can bestow upon a person is to call him or her a teacher. That rare person, who by the sheer power of his or her ideas is able to draw others near to listen, learn, understand, think and perpetuate ideas that benefit all of mankind. Teachers' importance in helping form the minds of our children cannot be overstated.

However, to be frank, much of what passes for teaching today is merely schooling and babysitting. In the 1960s San Diego lead the country in education. But just as the labor unions brought low the railroads, airlines, steel industry, and now GM and Chrysler, they are doing the same to education. In 2005 and 2007 California ranked 47th of 50 states in national tests, despite having the highest-paid teachers in the nation.

San Diego County schools collectively have streams of money, rivers of money, oceans of money; plus $2 billion in their reserve pool without a parcel tax. Collecting up to $227,000 per classroom, they, like the rest of us, must find ways to do more with less in harsh economic times. School districts shouldn't even be dreaming about a new parcel tax. They need to concentrate on raising student test scores and cutting lavish administrative and nonteacher costs in half. A parcel tax is unwarranted and indefensible.

A phone survey is being conducted to determine whether to impose a parcel tax on your property and to be voted for on the next ballot. Please keep these points in mind, when asked.


Schnaubelt, president of Citizens for Private Property Rights, has been a commercial real estate broker for 35 years and was a San Diego city councilman from 1977-81.

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