GUEST COMMENTARY: Columbia School Board needs to take stand against EEZ

Tuesday, October 9, 2012 | 11:30 a.m. CDT

These are comments Mary Hussmann made at the Columbia School Board meeting Monday night that she shared with the Missourian.

I don’t have any children, and I never attended public school. However, I am a former schoolteacher, and I have always believed I should pay to provide a good education and advantages for our public school children.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you about an issue that will not only affect your ability to serve Columbians, but challenge Columbians’ ability to trust your commitment to our children. I know that is a strong statement. I say this because what I’m about to ask you to do will be difficult and require courage.

Just last April, your plans and budget were enhanced and stabilized by Columbian’s “Yes” vote on a 40-cent tax levy and a $50 million bond.

We, the voting public, give you school funds to assure that our children get quality educational opportunities. We want our money to be used for books, and computers, and labs, and the best facilities and teachers. This is the money we entrust to you for our children and we expect you to not only use that money wisely, but protect the funds strictly and legally earmarked for education from being shortchanged and redirected for other unrelated purposes.

Given these prerogatives, I feel that you should oppose the Enhanced Enterprise Zones — put another way, it is wrong for you to stand by and allow the State EEZ program to siphon off our city taxpayer funds to large private corporations.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development does not know the facts, information or statistics that would give us any idea of how many corporations will take advantage of EEZ tax credits or how much money will be lost to our school funding by EEZ business. This is because the Missouri EEZ law failed to require that the Department of Economic Development track the economic impact or keep statistics in any of the participating cities or towns. This hard-to-predict loss of funding would create uncertainty in your budget and ambiguity regarding the quality of our educational system.

Consider the consequences if such a funding loss creates shortages for you — forcing you to seek another bond increase from the voting public. How will you justify this request if you allowed entities like EEZs to use money the public had a right to believe would be exclusively designated for public education?

If the EEZ program is passed by the Columbia City Council and you choose not to take a stand against it, I would be hard-pressed to follow my lifelong consistent leaning toward voting for all school bonds. In fact, I believe that if the School Board does not oppose the loss of funding to EEZs and allows funding to be passed on to EEZ tax credits, I and many others would “Vote No” for any future bond.

I respectfully ask you, our School Board members, to take seriously this draining of educational money to EEZs and that you work to stop this from happening. I request you to publicly urge our City Council to “Vote No” on joining the state EEZ program.

Mary Hussmann is a Columbia resident and an organizer with GRO — Grass Roots Organizing. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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