From both sides, the message became muddied. I kept staring at the facts presented and tried to do the necessary calculations to figure out who was right and who was wrong. This might have been a big part of the problem.
Somewhere during the past seven months — and heck, it might go back more than three years — the Platte County R-3 tax levy proposal seemed to veer away from the actual issue and started to become about numbers. Specifically, what numbers could be thrown around to cast doubt on the message.
Organized opposition, which surfaced during a similar failed proposal in 2012, continued to question the ethics and findings of the Platte County district officials, who in turn did what they could to prove their facts as flawed. Really, the whole process became tiring for me as an objective reporter, and I’m sure for voters, too.
You know, the people actually tasked with making this $29-million decision.
You could easily lose sight of the big issue at hand, namely does Platte County have capacity issues in its buildings and should the money be spent now to try and address those. Looking back, it seems really simple, yet the process of coming to an answer — a resounding 55-percent approval from voters in Tuesday’s election, which you can read more about starting on the front page of this week’s issue — required exhaustive work.
From district officials. From those in staunch opposition. From me, to be quite honest.
I don’t have a straight-party view to issues in the political world. Believe what you want based on what’s been written in these pages since I took charge of this fine newspaper last summer, but I’m truly on the side of objective facts.
I hope that readers can let go of any preconceived notions from stances taken under the previous regime. I wanted to build my credibility from the start, and I’ve really tried to do that.
In the leadup to this election, I provided factual news stories that contained information from both sides of the tax levy — for and against. I did my best to interact with outspoken district critic Kirby Holden. I spent a lot of time with Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik.
From the information gathered, I formed opinions that I shared in this space when I deemed it necessary. I tried not to overload, you the reader, on this one issue because I know there is more to Platte County than just the district with a high school in the county seat.
Yet, I didn’t always feel like my message was received fairly.
I became the victim of a somewhat personal attack from Holden last week on his Facebook page set up to provide an outlet for his research into the school district.
I don’t mind that. I have to put my name behind these words in a very public forum, and others can call me out when I mess up.
What did bother me was that the merits of my hard work and research came into question. But not for the overall message but an interpretation of two paragraphs in a 1,000-plus word opinion story that contained a lot of facts and polished opinions.
That became the downfall of this campaign.
We stopped talking about education and needs of children and started arguing semantics. That’s when it really started to become taxing.
Now we can stop talking about fiscal responsibility, debt per student and “flawed studies.”
Platte County has a population issue.
This can not be denied. Could some space in the current schools be used a bit differently? Perhaps. Will this problem continue to worsen? Yes.
That’s why the votes cast have so much power. The work can start now to try and realign some of the pieces to the district’s jigsaw puzzle, which has been put together during a period of rapid growth the past 20-plus years.
Reik didn’t want to make an excuse leading up to the election, but I brought up the idea of how hard it must have been for district officials in the past to foresee and fund the growing needs of the district.
Taxpayers are probably still paying the inconvenient growth in students that has forced creative solutions to packed classrooms.
After all, starting from scratch can be a very expensive proposition no one wanted to consider.
So Platte County added a middle school here, a couple of elementary schools there and combined buildings over time. This district is still growing, and we can argue the merits of the current education system and whether the government has bloated the budgets of schools.
Like I said last week, that goes well beyond Platte County R-3’s current needs and won’t be solved by voting down needed building projects. The by-product of these larger governmental issues gave us this: a lengthy campaign with too much negativity coming from both sides.
“I am disheartened by the amount of partisan politics that now seems to be a part of our school district elections, and I’m not just speaking about Platte County,” Reik said. “That is not a good development in my opinion for kids. We aren’t taking care of a party; we are serving our children.”
Well said. Just like most of Reik’s message that resulted in approval of this tax levy.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.