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  • Last modified 2259 days ago (July 12, 2012)

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Schools could use a civics lesson

Hillsboro’s school board and superintendent of schools may be models of governmental efficiency, but they appear to need a refresher course in civics and democracy.

By publishing for public inspection a budget that they know does not reflect what they actually intend to spend, they are delivering an unintended insult to taxpayers of the district and turning their backs on some of the most cherished traditions of American democracy.

The purpose for publishing budgets in advance is to allow concerned taxpayers an opportunity to see how the district actually plans to spend their tax money and an opportunity to express their support or concern before the budget is finally enacted.

By setting their published budget at the maximum tax allowable, then planning to trim it back later, the school district is depriving taxpayers of the opportunity to meaningfully participate in determining how their tax dollars will be spent.

Equally disturbing, it represents a bureaucratic mind-set of automatically assuming that the starting point of all budget discussions is not what the district actually needs but rather the maximum that it can afford to spend without incurring wrath by raising taxes.

Whatever became of zero-based budgeting, in which every expenditure had to be justified every year instead of simply assuming it should continue as it has in the past?

Yes, it’s true that if, at the last minute, the district were to find some additional project it wanted to fund, the district might have to republish its budget. But that’s a small price to pay for fostering community input in the budgeting process and ensuring that every single tax dollar spent is justified on the basis of actual need, not merely allowed because it fits within what was spent in the past.

Publishing an actual budget would require that the district do its homework more quickly and not wait until the last minute to decide how it wants to spend taxpayers’ dollars. But giving the people who pay the bills more of a chance to meaningfully participate seems to more than merit the additional work.

Treating publication of budget notices as a financial burden rather than an opportunity to inform and engage citizens is a slap at democracy and one of the surest methods known for keeping taxes and public spending as high as possible.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 12, 2012

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