Gaming the District 95 Vote
The Carbondale Times is reporting on next week’s budget vote, which is expected to include a vote on the controversial District 95 summer reading and math program. I find this especially interesting because I expect the current council to approve the funds, but I think the council that will take office in May would reject the program. Here’s what I wrote earlier this month:
Councilwoman Mary Pohlmann said if the District 95 program is in the final budget, she’ll vote against it. Councilman and mayoral candidate Joel Fritzler also expressed opposition. Councilwoman Corene McDaniel pledged her support for the program, and Mayor Brad Cole said someone has to step in and do something about the schools.
That’s two in favor and two opposed. Councilmen Neill and Wissmann didn’t say definitively whether or not they will support the program. Councilman and mayoral candidate Steven Haynes didn’t stake out a firm position either.
I expect some version of this to pass. Wissmann may have tipped his hand when he pointed out that this program would cost $150,000 in FY ’12, just .375% of Carbondale’s $40 million FY ’12 budget. If Wissmann is in, the proposal only needs the support of one more council member.
We’ll see what happens, but I still think Wissmann will support the funding. I’m betting Haynes will support it too. In his race for the mayor’s office, Haynes supported continuing the city’s support for community organization. During his two terms on the city council, Haynes frequently took the lead in defending the Eurma C. Hayes Child Care Center. Supporting the District 95 funding would be consistent with Haynes’s past actions.
What if I’m right about Haynes and wrong about Wissmann, or vice versa? That would make Michael Neill tie breaker. Neill was appointed last year to replace Lance Jack. I have no idea how Neill will vote on this. He was on the council for a few years in the late nineties and early aughts, but I don’t remember him very well.
As I recall, Neill usually voted with then Mayor Dillard and then councilman Cole. They formed a majority because the council had only 5 members then. If my admittedly spotty memory is accurate, and if past actions are a reliable indicator of future behavior, I’d expect Neill to vote with Cole for the District 95 funds.
Last month I described myself as agnostic on the funding issue, but I’ve turned against it. The winning mayoral candidate (Fritzler) and two of the winning council candidates (Adams and Monty) are on record opposing the funds. That’s three members of the new council. Since there will only be six council members until Joel Fritzler’s vacant council seat is filled, the measure wouldn’t pass a vote in May. The lame duck city council should not commit future councils to funding this program.
I do think it’s worthwhile for the city to work with the school districts. Right or wrong, the perception of poor performance in District 95 drives some potential residents to other districts outside the city. Carbondale’s municipal government has access to sales tax money and District 95 doesn’t. If the district and the city can work together to design a full time mandatory program that would last most of the summer, why shouldn’t the city kick in some funds?
The problem is that too little is known about the current program, and what is known isn’t good. The program currently under consideration would last only one month, would only offer half-days, and would be voluntary. It seems hastily designed, and there is no escape clause. The council should refuse funding for the District 95 program on Tuesday. The new city council would be free to work with District 95 and city staff to develop a better program and consider funding it in FY13.
I’ll just add that one of the many disadvantages with segregating each government function into separate units of government is that it makes it difficult to achieve a unified, comprehensive approach to the city’s problems. We should seek more communication and cooperation between local units of government. Ideally we’d roll all these functions into the municipal government, but that’s a different post.
Comments are welcome.