Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"Fluid" CCSD Budget Encourages Cynicism

Oh, wow! Look! Magically, the $28 million projected deficit in the Charleston County School District has become just $11 million, less than half of what it was two months ago. In case you think that the federal government has come to the rescue, let me assure you that playing with numbers to fool the taxpayer is all that's been going on here.

The P & C reports that CCSD's chief financial officer realized that errors were made in initial shortfall estimations used to hammer home the closing of five schools in the district. [School Budget Outlook a Little Brighter], or as Bobby puts it, "There's a tremendous amount of fluid information."

Nonsense. "Officials" made a calculated decision to pump up the deficit by deliberately underestimating tax revenues. That old game wasn't invented under Mike Bobby's watch; it's been going on for years. And Superintendent McGinley & Co. now trot out their dog-and-pony show with "eight budget hearings across the county this month to give an overview of next year's budget and to solicit feedback on what should be their top priorities." Oh, yes. They want to listen to you. Well, some of you.

CCSD officials believe they can bamboozle the public once again, and they probably will, due to what I would call "number fatigue"--the way CCSD presents its arcane budget is deliberately constructed to confuse all but the most conversant with accounting practices and accounting sleight-of-hand. William Safire calls this a "MEGO"--as in "My Eyes Glaze Over." Take, for example, the following observations by one watcher of the numbers:
"In a word, the CFA, just like the one before him, has presented erroneous data within a misleading context in order to prepare the public for a 5 mill tax increase. My charges are serious and they go to the heart of why our public institutions have eroding public trust. [. . .] CCSD officials have long counted on the public not being able to make heads or tail out of the budget. They are depending on the public wanting to support anything that sounds like it's good "for the children". I'm long past that when there has been no change for well over a decade."
"[Bobby was] using a lower 4% assessment when saying how low a "typical" taxpayer increase would be if the 5 mill tax increase [CCSD wants] is approved. Almost 2/3 of all properties are assessed at 6% including all rental properties. No 4% properties pay GOF school taxes. So why else would he have used a 4% calculation unless it was his intention to deceive the public? He had just explained the recent changes to state law diverting GOF taxation away from owner-occupied homes, so mis-statement was no accident."
Should we give Bobby the benefit of the doubt and assume that he must keep his job in order to feed his family? Otherwise, well. . .

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