The "bait and switch" is a well-known but unethical marketing technique. The seller baits the buyer with something desirable, but after luring the customer in, he switches to a higher priced and/or inferior product.
Unfortunately for voters, this is the technique Clark County School District officials are using to try to sell their $669 million property tax increase proposal, which appears on this year's ballot as Clark County Question 2.
Everyone wants to increase student achievement, and district officials have insinuated that raising property taxes and spending levels will do so. Numerous studies, however, conclusively show there is little to no correlation between spending and student achievement - especially spending on buildings. One particularly striking example is the district's own 1998 bond campaign, which ended up totaling $4.9 billion and was one of the largest school-bond campaigns in United States history. As we can all attest, however, spending nearly $5 billion on buildings didn't increase CCSD's student achievement or graduation rates.
As a result of that building campaign, and contrary to the bait offered by district officials, CCSD's school buildings are relatively new. The average age of a school building in the United States is 50 years. In New York, it's 80 years. In CCSD, the average school building is just 22 years old.
If you needed a new school building to learn to read, the entire East Coast would be illiterate and CCSD would be one of the top-performing school districts in the country. Instead, most other states' students outperform Nevada's, despite the newer CCSD campuses.
Earlier this fall, air conditioning units at several schools broke down. At Diskin Elementary, the failure was so complete that Diskin students spent two days at Decker Elementary. District officials rushed out a news release touting the outages as evidence that a property-tax increase is needed.
That was the bait. And to parents concerned about their children going to a sauna instead of a classroom, it's very tantalizing stuff.
The switch comes to light when you examine the district's list of proposed projects and see that Diskin Elementary and other schools that had publicized air conditioning issues earlier this year aren't scheduled to get one dime of this tax increase.
When you have 357 schools, things will break. That's why CCSD has a maintenance budget - not why it needs a new $669 million slush fund.
As we've seen with the district's spending of the 1998 bond moneys, once taxpayers have been successfully lured in with cries of "It's for the children," wasteful spending abounds. For example, CCSD gave $5 million from the last bond to The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and $2 million to the city of Henderson for a swimming pool. In August, trustees even approved spending $6.6 million to build a new gym at a high school that already has one, in a move that appeared motivated more by a desire to get Trustee Chris Garvey re-elected than a desire to steward taxpayer dollars wisely.
Costs also rose rapidly during the last bond. The first five elementary schools cost an average of $13,434,000, or $16,376,260 after adjusting for inflation. The last five elementary schools built under the bond cost an average of $27,782,000. That's a 69 percent increase. Without adjusting for inflation, the costs more than doubled.
Several other arguments against the ballot question are worth noting. Charter schools get by with no capital funds. Overcrowding at a couple of schools could be relieved by returning to year-round schools. "Equity" is a constantly moving target that distracts from what should be everyone's goal: educational achievement.
Amid the arguments, numbers and bait-and-switch tactics, what must be remembered are the parents who will face more financial stress if this tax increase passes. Many who've struggled to pay their mortgages will find this tax increase to be the straw that breaks their budget's back. Consider the pain this will mean for them and their children.
For some families, a child's favorite extracurricular activity will have to be sacrificed. Or an enlightening, educational trip to a national park.
Remember, too, the seniors on fixed incomes: They'll have less money for medication or gifts to their grandchildren.
These people will not be featured in any CCSD news release, but the stress this tax increase would mean for them and their children is real - just as real as the $2 million CCSD officials wasted on a city of Henderson pool.
The CCSD machine is, once more, waving the bait.
Victor Joecks is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org.