For the first time in over a year, I agree with the Lakota School Board. They should not put a levy on the ballot this November for the 2012 election. At this time, the current board president Ben Dibble is giving indications that they will not pursue a levy request on the fall ballot. This is a good thing in that it respects the wishes of the voters in the last three elections, and recognizes the economic conditions of the community. To put the community through another dog fight in a year when weary home buyers might not wish to purchase a home in the Lakota district because our campaign fight has been on the radio and in the papers both locally and nationally each week would not be wise.
It was nearly a year ago when I attended a school board meeting and everyone was getting along for the first time in a long time. I spoke openly with several members of the board, and key administrators prior to their last levy attempt. Lakota seemed to be on the mend, and a new superintendent was coming to help balance the budget.
When Superintendent Mantia came from Pickerington, she sat down with me and the members of No Lakota Levy and attempted to tell us what we wanted to hear, which kept the peace for a few weeks. But behind the scenes, there was scheming going on, which of course got back to me. Another election came and the proposed tax increase was defeated by over 18,000 votes. Some of the credit for that loss could certainly be given to those of us who brought information to the public about how ridiculous much of the current Lakota spending was. But much of the loss can be attributed to the declining housing market. Residents used to be generous with levy increases because the values of their homes were well outpacing the taxes. Now that taxes are high, and prices are falling, people don’t have the extra money to throw away at a public school, and many businesses are barely hanging on by a thread. A tax increase just might do many of them in, with an economic climate that by all indications in hindsight will be called a great depression.
After that November 2011 defeat a small band of pro levy supporters decided they were going to get me back for “hurting” their children’s lives by denying more tax money to the school. The belief was that if No Lakota Levy could be talked out of working with me, the tax opposition would be removed. What these agents of seduction did not know was that it was the members of No Lakota Levy who approached me after I did my own independent work in fighting the levy in the spring of 2010 to join forces and help them. My behavior was the same as it had always been, I brought my supporters with me and expanded their efforts. When Superintendent Mantia and other board members attempted to befriend members of No Lakota Levy who they assumed were the leaders, they left me out of those conversation because they rationalized that I was just the radical “hired” lobbyist that could be fired if the leaders of No Lakota Levy could be convinced.
While this politicking was going on behind closed doors, and through emails and phone calls, several of the radical pro levy supporters still upset at me due to the November 2011 election began a smear campaign against me, some of them going to the Kroger Store on Cincinnati-Dayton road during Saturdays in February and conducting a survey against my name, attempting to slander me publicly in the doorway as people went into the store. Some of my anti-levy friends were giving me word that this was going on publicly and within the school itself and that Mantia was stoking the fires personally. Politically I could see why she would do such a thing. After all, she was paid a quarter of a million dollars a year to come to Lakota from Pickerington to pass a school levy and I was her primary opposition. So she figured that by removing my credibility through constant attacks, and trying to divide and conquer my friends in the No Lakota Levy, that she could remove the tax opposition since she knew that many of the property owners in No Lakota Levy were very concerned about another public battle over a levy.
Seeing all this going on, and hearing the kinds of things that were being said infuriated me and I went on my now famous rant which I fully intended to weed out the instigators who were causing me so much trouble. I had my suspicions, but I had to know for sure who was responsible for what in the smear campaign against me and how they all connected. Sure enough, after I put up a tempting post here at Overmanwarrior’s Wisdom it was Julie Schafer the Vice President of the Lakota School Board and my political rival over the tax increases who posted my comments on her Facebook page to enrage the fires, as predicted. Behind the scenes the superintendent solicited community support from big time liberals like West Chester Trustee Cathy Stoker in an attempt to bring down the wrath of the community on me. But in essence it was only about 70 to 80 hard core levy supporters and they had come out by name in their online comments in the Enquirer and Facebook pages giving me the information I needed to use in the next levy fight.
Predictably, my friends in the No Lakota Levy wanted political distance from me, because for years they had been victims of threatened boycotts from those same 70-80 hard core levy supporters who profess to speak for over 100,000 Lakota school district residents. The backlash in the media was considerable and conventional politics would have dictated that I was finished. If I had a conventional life, I might have lost my job, my family, even my nerve with the offensive that the pro levy group at Lakota attempted. But I do not have a conventional life, and my reputation is so well known and respected that my core supporters never wavered from me for a second. The desired hope was that by removing me from No Lakota Levy the websites I ran would all be shut down, and I would drift off into obscurity. What the levy supporters did not know was that my support base had only increased as a result of their actions, not decreased. In the chess game of politics, you might call that a “checkmate.” I’ve played a lot of chess, so most of these moves were planned way back in August of 2011, anticipating the move of the opposition, even baiting them to make the moves desired. Sometimes it’s one thing to consider the strategic options, it’s another to actually see them do it, and once they did, it did infuriate me into a rage that I still feel.
It is sad that the whole ordeal must be looked upon as a game of winning and losing. Sadly, the losers of this game have managed to punish the parents of the district with extremely high fees for extracurricular activities and busing costs which should all be included with the high taxes we already pay. Ben is right that the budget from the state is not yet set, so there are unknowns. And it’s difficult to tell how much more homes in the Lakota district will lose in further value as a result of the economic conditions. Finally, some Lakota administrators are starting to learn that they can save tremendous amounts of money by combining jobs. This summer there are two assistant superintendents who are retiring, and Lakota is only planning to replace one, which will save a six figure salary, which is significant. If they did that 10 more times to 10 other positions they would save a million dollars. If they did it 20 times, they would save 2 million dollars, then Lakota could afford to have busing, free sports and many other things just by asking the employees to do more, which is quite appropriate under the conditions.
But ultimately, not putting a levy on the ballot in 2012 prevents me from unleashing the mountain of bad PR I am holding to unleash during the next levy attempt. I have not done it yet because I don’t want to scare away potential home buyers. But I also don’t want to see a levy increase ruin community businesses and push people out of their homes. For those in the Lakota district who brag about their $5,500 property tax bill each year and their ability to pay it, they do not understand that $20 or $30 extra in monthly taxes will end many property owners mortgages, because many don’t have the extra money to pay higher taxes due to many economic factors.
The people who have written to me, and campaigned against me who do brag about their ability to pay $5,500 tax bills are typically young. They typically have young children and have been fortunate enough to have good jobs that pay salaries which enable them to have a lifestyle that disregards such a high tax. Since they are young parents they are chemically induced to give “everything” to their children without question, so their decision making skills are greatly lacking and they have a lot of growing up to do. For the rest of us in Lakota, the “old timers” the people who have raised children and understand the costs, and appreciate the value of things, we know that a higher tax will destroy our community, so we are opposed. We also know that circumstances do change in the course of a long life, and many of those $5,500 property tax payers will lose their jobs within the decade and will find they are not so well positioned in the future to pay such a high tax. The radicals of further taxation do not have a blank check to attack those of us with logic. They cannot dish out such aggressive advances without expecting to be attacked back. That is simply not how the game is played. Most of the people I know who have been around for a while think such well paid young parents are fools because they are tossing their money away cheaply, without consideration, and we know there will come a time within the next couple of decades that they will pay dearly for their lack of vision. Such people will not be allowed to destroy our community with their short-sightedness.
But I am personally glad that at least Ben sees the logic of the situation, and it is my hope that the school board will finally begin to manage the money we give them, and not put the community through another bloody levy battle, because there are homes that need to be sold, and leases that need to be signed. Lakota just graduated a lot of students, and there are not more students coming in behind those, so Lakota is looking at a whole decade of declining enrollment and the layoff of hundreds of future employees. A new tax will not be needed for many, many years. Hopefully, the school board will now listen to the 18,000 who voted against the last levy attempt and not the 80 crazy radicals who make a lot of noise, but not much sense. Because the fate of our community will be determined by what happens in 2012 and 2013, and a tax increase would send our district into the category of Princeton, and Evandale, instead of Indian Hill. The choice is always structured around tax rates, because that is the blood of an economy. And it takes leadership to see that blood flow, and be willing to do the hard things to preserve the future with the least restriction to the economy as possible.
There is of course more to the story, which will be revealed soon. But for now, there may be a small period of peace before Lakota seeks again to ask for higher taxes in the form of a levy. If Lakota does good things, I’m happy to report those here as well as the bad things. But Lakota has to give me good things to report, like turning two six figure salary positions into one, to help balance the budget as they did with the assistant superintendent positions. So we’ll see what the future holds, but it’s a good start to hear Lakota talking about managing the money they already have instead of trying to solve their management problems with higher taxes.