Covington, Kentucky

Guest Editorial: The Most Important Election You've Never Cared About

The following is a guest editorial written by Mark Young who more recently appeared in RCN stories as a potential candidate for the Covington Board of Education in a case that was ultimately decided by a Kenton County Judge who declared there was no vacancy for Young to seek electorally. 

by MARK YOUNG

For years I only payed attention to the "bigger elections". I figured the smaller elections didn't matter that much and I thought that things like the local school board weren't really my concern anyway because I didn't have kids. Then, of course, I had often heard cynical politicians calling school board races, "minor".

Well, the politicians couldn't have been more wrong and I had it backwards. Not only does the "small" school board election matter, it is possible that your school board can more directly affect your quality of life and your financial well being than any other local elected official.

How?

Well first, at least in Covington, the schools wield more economic power than the entire city government--with a budget nearly $10,000,000 greater. Additionally, the school board determines how much you're paying in taxes on your home and your car. In Covington, 65.7% of our property tax bill goes to our schools and the board can raise that amount without prior voter approval. That's not a trivial amount of money, but that's still small potatoes. Here's why:

In any community, some demographic groups spend a bit more money in or bring a bit more money into the community than others. Retirees, for instance, spend somewhat frugally. Younger single adults spend a good deal more. Dual-income middle class families, on the other hand, just hemorrhage money into a community. All demographics are desirable and beneficial to a community, but some are likely to be much greater drivers of job growth and economic activity.

It stands to reason that when a family has school age children, they will look at the schools in a given community before they decide to move in. If the schools are good, they attract higher income families, as well as those families who are engaged and committed to creating a good environment to raise children. If the schools are bad, not only do these people choose to move into other communities, but many of the good families in the community will also move out.

How much does this matter? Well, in looking at national spending patterns, I estimate that an average two-income family of four in Covington might spend as much as $24,000 locally. That means that roughly 3 families moving into our district creates at least one new job and 3 families that move out will cost us at least 1 job, PLUS, the loss of that family will rob us of involved, safety-conscious, responsible neighbors and community leaders.

If a city has poor schools, you can expect lower property values, fewer families, falling population, less jobs, and more crime. In fact, the greatest predictor of criminal behavior is educational attainment.

But, if a city, say OUR city, has good schools it's like moving the fulcrum on a lever closer to a large stone that needs to be moved. Everything gets easier. Suddenly, families aren't moving out, they're moving IN. Property values go up because there's more demand for housing. Derelict buildings get renovated. Jobs are created. Incomes rise. Tax revenues increase. Individual tax burdens decrease. City services improve. Neighborhoods are safer. Suddenly those big problems aren't such big immovable obstacles any more.

This isn't going to happen on its own, however. It's not going to happen because you elect the "right" mayor. The City Commission can't do anything about our schools, either. Only YOU can make sure that our schools are effective and a draw for our community. You need to learn a just little bit about how our schools are doing, and keep an eye on who's running for school board. Not just in this election but in future elections. You don't need to become an educational expert, either. Just check out our test scores and spending levels on-line, and check out your school board candidates, and maybe talk to a couple parents with kids in the schools or a teacher or two. It's also perfectly fine to ask board candidates and board members questions if you have them.

The hallmark of a good school district is an involved and attentive community. All it takes is for you to give your school board race the attention you would give any organization controlling $58,000,000 in tax payer money. Oh and don't let anyone tell you it's a "minor" election.

Mark Young has lived in Covington for 20 years. He is a rehabber, an investor, and a student of economics as well as educational issues.