Richard Koonce for Sandusky school board

Unfortunately for Sandusky residents, there are not enough challengers to sweep out both incumbents, Tom Patterson and Faith Denslow.  Though you are permitted to vote for two candidates, you may want to consider casting a vote for just one: Richard Koonce.  By voting for only Koonce, you don’t add to the vote totals for Patterson or Denslow, thus increasing the chance to get Koonce elected and thereby decreasing the chance that both incumbents will be retained.

If you really can’t resist casting a second vote, then Denslow is the lesser hazard.  Patterson absolutely needs to be purged from Sandusky school board.  Absolutely.  Unequivocally.  No doubt whatsoever.  Patterson must go.

Koonce, I believe, is a little naive when it comes to the issues, so I’m not overly optimistic that he’ll be able to work miracles in Sandusky if elected, but Denslow is delusional, and Patterson is evil.  Strong words, I know, but the Sandusky Register has the video proof of what I’m talking about.

Watch the video of the school board candidates at a forum moderated by Register editor Matt Westerhold if you have a strong enough stomach.  I will attempt to interpret the proceedings for you, if you don’t want to suffer through the video.

During the first 30 minutes of the video, I told myself, “If I had any kids in Sandusky schools, I’d pull them out and send them somewhere else,”  the dialogue was that depressing.  No, I’m not talking about opting for a charter school.  The open enrollment offered by the Perkins school district would be very tempting, though.  The remainder of the video becomes really alarming, as the pathology of the Sandusky school board is exposed for all to see.

I am alarmed that the incumbents feel the need to spend money on a marketing campaign for Sandusky schools to “toot our own horn.”  What a misplaced priority.  I’m sure some marketing firm is happy to absorb the dollars that the school board is so eager to part with.

Results.  Positive academic outcomes.  If Sandusky school students were achieving desired results, no tooting of horns would be necessary.  The word would get out.  On its own.

Register columnist Rufus G.W. Sanders also viewed the candidate forum and posted an op/ed with his observations. I’m often at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Sanders, but this is another one of those occasions wherein we largely agree.  He didn’t have quite the same reaction as I did, as he didn’t advocate pulling children out of Sandusky schools, but he did announce his intention to vote against the school levy, which he says he hasn’t ever done before.

Koonce says it was a mistake to get rid of Madison School.  When asked what he’d do to more fully utilize a school where attendance had dropped, Koonce had the beginning of a response, but not a full response.  I have a hunch that Koonce might come up with some additional answers what to do about Madison School if he reads my blog entry about “School Enterprise Zones.”

Koonce would open up school board meetings for public comment.  This is necessary. Both Denslow and Patterson are opposed.

Denslow made it clear that she’s on the board to protect the unionized employees, as she explained her opposition to public comments, so it’s easy for me to see which constituency group in Sandusky has been supporting her in past elections.

Patterson is on the board to have his ego stroked, so public comment tends to irk him (in fact, he nearly became unhinged during the course of the forum).  For his part, Patterson will only take responsibility for hiring the district’s superintendent and the district’s treasurer.  For anything else, Patterson passes the buck.  He dodges accountability at every turn.

Denslow has champagne taste, but the schools are on a beer budget.  She utters a mantra about the field of education being a continual work-in-progress, constantly upgrading materials and technology to bring to the schools the best innovations that the 21st century can offer.  Let’s be realistic.  Vendor$ love Den$low, I’m $ure.  Also, several administrators use Denslow’s mantra to justify the existence of their jobs.  As an alternative, the schools could keep an ear to the ground through contact with education professors at our state universities for improvements in pedagogy which can be communicated to teachers at inservice meetings.  This is the approach that Sandusky can afford on their beer budget.  Cut those administrators and save some money.

I’ve taught school in South Korea.  Asian students are not beating American kids at academics because of classroom technology.  I saw kids as young as 4 years old memorizing their multiplication tables up to 20 times 20 by rote.  Using very ANCIENT technology, the abacus, can often yield greater math proficiency than cutting-edge calculators and computers.  Teachers in Asia are typically not as well paid as they are in America, yet their students outperform American students.  The most competitive schools I saw also had the least amount of administrators.  The Asian students are not born with a silver spoon in their mouth.  In South Korea, they are just one generation removed from being a Third World nation.  Many Asian nations that are making greater strides than Americans in education still are Third World nations.  Many neighborhoods of Sandusky are impoverished, yes, but those same neighborhoods would be a utopia for someone from rural China.  Why doesn’t poverty hold back the academic achievements of Asian students?  Actually, it does hold them back.  They could be beating American students at academics by even wider margins if they could afford better.  They don’t even have a beer budget.  They have a tap-water budget.  Expectations of the community, the educators, and the parents, combined with the desire of the students are the factors that fuel the drive for academic excellence in Asia.  It’s not all about the money.

Patterson has the gall to say that his priority is securing funding for Sandusky schools, and then turns around and passes the buck to Governor Strickland and the Ohio General Assembly.  That’s counter-productive.  I believe, as I interpret Ohio’s Constitution, that the state does have more responsibility for funding than they currently undertake, but Patterson won’t address the funding and expenditure issues that are under the control of the school board.  When faced with criticisms of how he fulfills his own fiscal role, Patterson dodges and evades responsibility at every turn.

When Denslow is given the opportunity to freely express her campaign message, it is full of platitudes that sound really lofty, noble, and optimistic, as she did her opening and closing statements.   When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, and fielding tough questions, there is a HUGE disconnect between her terse and convoluted responses and her flowery stump speech.  So, calling her delusional is giving her the benefit of the doubt, as it assumes she honestly believes everything she is saying and doesn’t grasp the inconsistencies of her statements.  If I don’t give her the benefit of the doubt, then I’d have to downgrade my assessment of her from delusional to dishonest.

While I’ve identified one of Denslow’s core constituencies as being the school district’s unionized employees, I want to be fair to Patterson by identifying one of his core constituencies.  He’s supported by the “good old boys,” as is plainly evident from his statements at the forum.  There’s no doubt that he’s on very good terms with Dennis Murray, who is among the ringleaders of those who sought to oust Kim Nuesse as police chief.  He clearly relishes his role in cutting back-room deals for prospective businesses who want to hammer out TIF agreements.  He loves rubbing elbows with VIP’s in the various positions he holds on boards and committees, and name-dropping is one of his penchants.  His message to voters is that if you re-elect him, he’ll kiss up to state-level VIP’s like Strickland and Murray sufficiently to secure a tidal wave of funding that he can divvy out to vendors to make sure the district always has the cutting edge technology.  He wants to continue to have a finger in the pie.

Koonce is trying to carve out a constituency among concerned residents who are outsiders.  Whether he succeeds in galvanizing such a constituency will not be known until after the election.

With Denslow’s emphasis on equipping teachers, Patterson’s emphasis on greasing the wheels to increase state funding, and Koonce’s emphasis on building unity in the community, all fell short of where the emphasis needs to be:  the children and their academic achievements.  That’s why we have schools in the first place.  Of the three approaches, Koonce’s is the most benign and Patterson’s is the most malignant.

Because they failed to identify the children’s academic progress as top priority, that’s reason numero uno for pulling kids out of Sandusky schools and schooling them elsewhere.  Reason numero dos is that the disappointment that Denslow and Patterson express over decreasing enrollment is based upon the toll it takes on the district’s $$$.  If they had children at the heart of their platforms, then they’d be happy for the kids who were able to find a school better suited to advancing their academic pursuits.  They’d be striving for Sandusky to be the school district best suited to advancing the academic pursuits of Sandusky’s children.  But that’s not their focus.  They see dollar signs attached to each student instead of seeing the academic potential of each student.

There is a racial component to the dropping enrollment.  Patterson refused to address this issue.  Either he’s too uninformed or he’s too cowardly.  At any rate, he dodged and evaded a discussion on the matter.  He claims to be uninformed.  However, as someone with a penchant for networking, as Patterson clearly is, it’s hard for me to buy into Patterson’s plea that he really doesn’t know.  I suspect he’s being cowardly.

Here’s my own honest perception of the racial component, and this would be why Koonce’s emphasis misses the mark:  If I’m sending my child to your schools, it’s because I have confidence that you’ll foster my child’s academic achievements.  As I’ve already noted, Patterson and Denslow don’t see my child’s academic potential, they only see the $$$ that my child provides for their funding scheme.  Koonce, however, wants to use the schools to build unity in the community.  I think that’s a worthwhile goal, but it’s a SECONDARY goal.  My child’s learning comes FIRST.  My child’s primary purpose in attending school is not to be a guinea pig of some social engineering experiment.  My child’s primary purpose in attending school is to obtain the best education possible under the circumstances.  Therefore, to the extent that the academic goals of the district take a back seat to social engineering goals of the district, I’m going to be inclined to send my child elsewhere, to a school that puts academics first.  That, dear readers, is my own take on white flight from Sandusky schools.  If you’ve got another take on it, feel free to express your comments here at Buckeye RINO.

All three candidates place way too much faith in the Ohio Democrat Party and politicians such as Strickland and Murray.  I’m afraid that the ODP, Strickland, and Murray, will continue to disappoint.  But don’t fret too much about what you can’t control.  Instead, step up to the plate more for what you, yourselves, can deliver on.  For the incumbents, they’ve delivered too little.  Elect Richard Koonce.

Bonds and my opposition to Issue 1 explained

As a rule of thumb, I take a dim view of state bond issues.

We’ve seen several bond issues on our statewide ballots in recent years, championing majestic causes from cleaning up brownfields, preserving green space, raising venture capital for Ohio’s high-tech startups, and, this year’s Issue 1, showing our appreciation for our military personnel.

Keeping our environment clean is worthwhile.  Shifting our economy to high tech is worthwhile (though I don’t think the state should assume the role of venture capitalist).  Assisting our troops and their families is most definitely worthwhile.  These issues reach our ballot with broad, bipartisan support from the politicians.  Issue 1 is favored by a number of Democrats and Republicans serving in the Ohio General Assembly.

Former GOP Governor James Rhodes (deceased) loved bond issues.  During his tenure, inflation was rather high compared to the interest rate paid out on the bonds, so paying back the principal and interest on the bonds was rather easy when inflation was high.

Are we in an inflationary market at present?  The federal government announced that social security monthly benefits to be paid out (and social security withholdings) for 2010 will remain the same as 2009 because the cost of living fell this year, so, no, we are not in an inflationary market at present, so we can’t work Jim Rhodes’ magic on our bond repayments.

Our state budget must be balanced in every biennium.  If the state is not permitted to run a deficit, is it wise for the state to carry a debt?  I’d think not.  No thanks to bond issues that have passed in the past, Ohio does have a burden of debt.

If we don’t have the money in our budget to pay for worthy causes on a pay-as-you-go basis, then it makes no sense to commit the state to paying a chunk of money it doesn’t have and then combine it with interest payments.

Money for repayment of bond principal plus interest comes from the state’s general fund.  Money for education and Medicaid also comes from the general fund.  Many, many, many other expenses also have to be paid out of the general fund.  When faced with budget cuts, the legislature dares not cut the money to repay bonds, or the state’s bond rating would plummet.  Therefore, everything else from the general fund is subject to cuts, while political agendas funded with bonds are spared from getting cut.  Of course, Governor Strickland doesn’t want to make cuts, which is why he’s sold his soul to the devil for flipflops on gambling and taxes in an effort to raise more revenue for state government.  If we, the people, are to slam the door on the state government from reaching into our pockets for bigger money grabs, then the state MUST cut its budget, since the tax base appears to be shrinking.  As you can tell, though, some worthy causes, like education, can find its way to the chopping block if state revenues continue to drop.

So, is farmland preservation more important a priority than education?  No.  But will farmland preservation receive funding cuts?  No, because farmland preservation money comes from bonds, not the general fund.  Education comes from the general fund.  Education is at greater risk of getting cut.  This is how issuing bonds skews the state’s priorities.  If bonds had never been issued, and money for both education and farmland preservation came from the general fund, we’d be able to align priorities so much better.

So why is it that politicians from both parties love bond issues, even in the current economic climate?  It’s all about patronage and pleasing core constituencies without having to justify the expenses during a blistering biennial budget bill battle.  (Can you say “blistering biennial budget bill battle” five times fast?)  Anything funded directly out of the general fund (except bond repayment) must be scrutinized and fought over by the rival caucuses in the General Assembly.  Patronage to reward core constituencies for supporting incumbents would be endangered if exposed to the budget bill debates.  Bond funding allows safe haven for payback.  As an example, because of environmental bonds issued in the past, incumbents of both parties find themselves in the good graces of environmental lobbies, thus insulating themselves from being out-“greened” by challengers when they face re-election.

The mood of the electorate is surly.  Have you noticed any “tea party” action of late?  How do incumbents hold on to office in such a “throw-the-bums-out” atmosphere?  Issue 1 is a gimmick tailor-made to rally support for incumbents.  This is for the troops.  Even the “tea party” activists who are fed up with politicians can’t resist opportunities to support the troops.  Issue 1 is designed to placate the “tea party” bunch.  It’s also designed to allow the incumbents to ingratiate themselves on military families, who are probably more inclined to vote and be politically active than non-military families.

I can think of a much better way to show appreciation for the troops.  Just like our state income tax forms and drivers license bureau offices allow you to check a box to willingly donate to a wildlife fund or an organ donor fund, let’s add a “support our troops” donation option.

So, I see no reason why the state needs to obligate itself to pay more interest by taking on more debt and crowding out other funding priorities.  That’s why I’m against Issue 1.

Are there bond issues I could conceivably support in the future?  Possibly.  But here’s the criteria such a bond issue would have to meet:  The bond money must go toward a cause that grows the tax base so that the state receives a big enough revenue windfall as a result of the bond issue that the repayment of principal plus interest is all too easy.  As I said, I don’t think the state should take on the role of venture capitalist, so more “Third Frontier” bond issues would not likely pass muster with me.  Perhaps the bond issues that would have the best chance of garnering my support would be for infrastructure upgrades.  Upgrading infrastructure could definitely grow the tax base, if done right.  I’d have to be convinced that it’s the right infrastructure project, and not just a patronage project.  I’d expect the infrastructure project to be a game-changer and not just a cosmetic facelift.  If those conditions are met, I might be persuaded to get behind it.

Issue 1, though, would not do a thing to increase the tax base, and would therefore generate no additional revenue with which to pay back the bond principal and accompanying interest.  Vote NO on Issue 1.