Monday, October 30, 2006

Referred Question 1A - Preshool Plan a Dog

It's beginning to appear I'm my own little Media Matters watch on Susan Barnes-Gelt. I didn't intend for that to occur; it's just that Barnes-Gelt has been so vocal with regard to "iconic" architecture and "eureka moments" relative to Denver's skyline, that her words simply crystallized the polemic for me.

However, this past Sunday's Post provided, in part, this from Ms. Barnes-Gelt. Since I'm not sure when the Post will archive this piece, here's a bit a what she said in opposition to Referred Question 1A, a .12% raise in Denver's sales tax to fund a pre-school program.

Ms. Barnes-Gelt begins by asking, "...why not vote for Mayor John Hickenlooper's Referred Question 1A...? Here's why not:

Denver has a whole menu of unfunded new and deferred capital needs, perhaps totaling $1 billion or more. They range from serious structural problems with the Botanic Gardens' historic Boettcher Conservatory and long-deferred new libraries and parks improvements to the city's inefficient, obsolete irrigation system, vulnerable tree canopy, roads, bridges and antiquated public building systems.

...Is now the right time to increase Denver's sales tax? Or should voters be presented with the full picture of the city's needs?

...The Denver Preschool Program must adopt an evaluation protocol to measure the quality and accountability of early childhood programs. There is not yet a statewide, metro or even Denver program that evaluates all preschools, matching family needs with school quality. Setting up a comprehensive program will be costly and time-consuming. And though 1A touts language limiting administrative costs to 5 percent, will a projected $600,000 cover the cost of designing and implementing a program or even contracting with an expert?

...Denver Public Schools offers 4-year-old preschool in all but three of its elementary schools and serves 4,000 Denver children. The program is free to kids who qualify for reduced lunch according to federal guidelines (a family of four earning about $35,800 annually). Families earning more than $100,000 per year pay $195 a month for half-day, weekday preschool.

DPS contracts with other Denver providers to serve families needing all-day preschool, meeting the needs of nearly 500 of these families.

There are waiting lists at numerous DPS schools. Why didn't 1A supporters expand this program instead of re-inventing the wheel? There are advantages:

* DPS is governed by an elected board that is fully accountable to e taxpayers.

* DPS can blend a variety of funding mechanisms - tuition, federal Head Start funds, private grants, etc. - to meet the diverse needs of Denver families.

* DPS has administration in place, already funded with public dollars.

Preschool for 4-year-olds is a noble idea. The benefits are well-documented. But however well intended, Question 1A is not the right approach.

Preschool is not part of the city's basic mission and a daunting list of infrastructure improvements is a higher priority. The regressive, Denver-only sales tax portable to metro preschools is inappropriate. Like all school funding, the preschool tax should be property-tax-based, applied to the region and available to all metro families.

Finally, there are too many unknowns. Who are the private citizens administering public dollars? What are the governing rules, policies and regulations? How will preschool programs be fairly and universally evaluated?

Too many questions and not enough answers. Vote "no" on Denver's Initiative 1A.
Ms. Barnes-Gelt has a remarkable record with regard to community activism and as an advocate for the poor, the disenfranchised. If I did not already have a very strong opinion against this ill-conceived boondoggle, her words alone would convince me that Referred Question 1A is a dog.

P.S. The use of the word "dog" is, of course, used to indicate " investment not worth its price," as provided by Merriam-Webster. Since "Dog Is My Constant Copilot," I thought I'd just clarify the use of that word. This dog, Sarah, is well-worth the investment, the price.

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