I intend to vote for the school millage increase in Fayetteville on September 21. I know that my supporting a millage increase seems as likely as pigs flying, but both can happen — I support local taxes that are well-spent. I also believe those Razorbacks will soar this year.
I opposed the previous millage effort, but I did so because it seemed extravagant and wasteful. Much of the current high school is adequate and there was no need to demolish it entirely and replace it with a new Taj Mahal. Besides, there is no evidence that fancy buildings improve education. Buildings don’t teach kids, people do.
But the voters soundly rejected the previous millage by almost 2 to 1 and the school board got the message. They scaled back their plans, found clever ways to economize by keeping much of the current structure, and they took full advantage of federally subsidized loans.
Now the school board is asking for a more modest millage increase to take even more advantage of those federal loan plans and save $29 million in interest. Voting for this millage is a no-brainer. The only effect of rejecting it would be that we would pay$29 million more in interest payments on the same school construction loans we are going to take out anyway. We’ll have to pay that $29 million someday with a larger millage increase or force $29 million in operational cuts, which could be done but certainly won’t be comfortable.
I have to confess that I hesitated for a few moments in supporting even this no-brainer. The current school board has not earned my trust or confidence with their past bumbling on plans for the high school, their embrace of 21st Century Skills nonsense, and their phony public input cheer-leading events. I don’t even like the name of the pro-millage group, Smart Fayetteville Committee, since it is obviously manipulative and not-at-all smart to dub whatever you support “smart.”
I also have to confess that if I had my druthers we would have two, smaller high schools rather than remodeling one big one. I would gladly pay an even higher new millage for that. But that option is not on the table. The school district has moved forward with its remodeling plan and now our only choice is whether to pay more or less in interest payments. I prefer paying less in interest even if it means having a higher millage for a while.
Speaking of elaborate school buildings, I’m reminded of one of my favorite professors back in college who immigrated from Cameroon where his K-12 education was received under a portable tent in a village school run mostly by Christian volunteers. As might be expected, today he teaches economics and is a firm no-excuses libertarian, but definitely a “happy warrior” like Friedman was. With every Taj Mahal proposal, I always think of the PhD that emerged from his tent.