It's time for real research
Rooftops 'n Taxes
Editor's Note: Before reading my rants about rooftops and taxes, I thought I would share some email exchanges between myself and the City Editor at the Chronicle. I submitted this letter to the editor and it was felt necessary, by them, to edit the letter before it was published based on input from the school district.
I received your telephone message. I must have written some letter. I didn't mean to add to your work load.
I don't take it personal that you would "take their word over mine" regarding the growth percentage of low income students. It might be an affront to journalism but not to me. I wouldn't take my word or theirs, I'd look at the numbers.
If you feel like you need to put a postscript to explain my position with the DCBDA that's fine but be certain of this, the letter is not written on behalf of or for the DCBDA. The price for 40 hours of my time for a month: $1,200... my opinion? Priceless. I submitted the letter to express my opinion as a private citizen.
If taking the word of a school district as to the number of poor students it has in its schools — or taking the word of a city when it says what its budget deficit is, or taking the word of a park district when it says how many people use its parks, etc., etc. — is an affront to journalism, then all us journalists, and all those city, park, school, etc. officials, should probably just hang it up. I suppose I shouldn't believe you — a representative of a homebuilder's group — when you tell me the average price of a new home.
The school report cards for the district for 98 and 02, the two years you are comparing, are in different formats when I download them. 98 is all jumbled. Finding the number of poor students in that mess was not possible.
For the record, I know of few papers that print virtually all of the letters they get in their entirety. I know of no other papers that print letters containing detailed statistics about an organization the letter writer is not even remotely affiliated with. Opinions pages are for opinions. College classes are for research papers. That's why you submit your sources with the latter. How about you give me your reference list the next time you write a letter like the one that will run today? That would be helpful.
Not including your position with the developers group would be an affront to journalism. An employee of Planned Parenthood can write a letter about birth control; he's still an employee of Planed Parenthood. A lawyer for Enron can write a letter about corporate regulation; she's still a lawyer for Enron. Both should be identified as such, assuming the editor knows. You've taken a public pro-development stance so many times that I'd be surprised if regular readers don't already know you work for the developers.
I'm not criticizing the Chronicle. It's my hometown newspaper, my former employer and despite the daggers that are sometimes thrown at me I will always have a soft spot for it.
I do take exception to your changing the 25% growth in low income students to the 21% number the school district told you. And its not about who you would rather believe or why you would rather believe them. I suspect that you use an old browser because the student report cards are in .pdf and will open for viewing without downloading if you use a current browser.
There are 832 new students from 1998 to 2002. 291 of those new students are classified as low income. In 1998 there were 1161 low income students. That represents a 25% increase. If the school district wants to dispute those numbers perhaps they should amend the IL School Report Cards.
Its a cheap shot for you to suggest that I did not want you to identify my association with the DCBDA because I've "taken a public pro-development stance so many times that I'd be surprised if regular readers don't already know you work for the developers." I was not trying to hide that the DCBDA is one of my clients. I don't want to confuse the public by thinking that my opinion is that of the association, because it is not.
I just might be trying to be an active, informed good citizen.
No further correspondence
And here is the letter in its unedited form:
Are the new rooftops appearing on the local horizon the reason taxes are so high?
It sure seems that way. Many among those who spend those tax dollars says so. DeKalb School District President, Tom Teresinksi, says it costs roughly $23,000 per student to build a new school. The school district spends a little more than $7,000 per student in operating expenses. Those numbers appear to support the position that residential growth doesn't pay for itself.
The average selling price of a new home in DeKalb is around $215,000. The average new home pays in the neighborhood of $5,000 each year in property tax, plus impact fees. The average existing home in DeKalb is selling for about $145,000 and is paying about $3,000 in annual taxes.
Could it be that neither residents of new construction nor existing homes are paying for themselves? If so, perhaps it is just as plausible to think that tax-spenders are simply spending too much money.
As a volunteer member of the DeKalb Growth Summit I was in complete agreement with the majority of the committee who felt research was needed to determine what the impact of development really is. I encouraged those members who were in the government sector to use real, local numbers in that research. I believe determining the impact of growth on our community is too important to rely on philosophy, politics, national/regional statistics or what other communities do.
According to the Illinois School Report Cards from 1998 through 2002 for the DeKalb School District there has been steadily increasing enrollment. There has been an increase of almost 25% in students classified as low income. Dr. Ali told the growth summit that there has been a sharp increase in the number of students who are now living in rental properties. Eleven-percent of the school district's enrollment are apartment residents.
Those numbers don't appear to support placing the blame for increased enrollment on new construction. Perhaps too many of our seniors decided they could no longer afford the taxes on their life-long residences and have moved, to be replaced by young families, in our older homes that are selling more and more to investment buyers and converting to rental properties.
From 1998 through 2002, according to the school report cards, the average salary of a full time teacher rose from $40,800 to $45,500. Administration salary (average) rose from $67,400 to $79,100. District enrollment grew 16% over that period. Teacher staff size grew by 26%.
Real research might prove that we need more tax-payers to support those salaries. If actual demographics were compiled it could be revealed that empty-nesters are buying those new rooftops, and if so, it would seem that we need more of them.
If actual local statistics were considered then we might discover that the average selling price of even existing homes, along with their tax bill, is close enough to being more than the average citizen of DeKalb, who lives here now, can afford.
Objectively looking at the impact of new construction could also reveal that it has generated rare growth in local higher paying non-government jobs. If so, it should not be overlooked considering the loss of manufacturing jobs experienced by almost all of Illinois nor in this area's growing dependency for the government to provide most of the decent paying jobs.
Real numbers provide real solutions. Spin of numbers produce rising taxes but they do not provide solutions to the problems we really face.
Give us the facts. And let's work together to intelligently seek solutions.
Pulitzer must be rolling with disgust in his grave concerning the Daily Chronicle. Pulitzer has been a name coveted for excellence in journalism and to see how the Chronicle has slanted its view has to be an embarrassment to real papers and reporters everywhere that accurately report both sides so that their readers can make an educated decision for themselves. To actually change someone's letter to the editor is absolutely wrong. If they had a problem with your letter, they could have made a notation below questioning the content, or, let someone else write in to make the correction if there needs to be. How many others letters have been changed by the Chronicle's editorial staff? Is that why more readers do not write in?
I was just wondering if you are running for a political office or if you are just committing suicide.