Members of the Davis County School Board started gearing up for their fight against the tax limitation initiatives with a Thursday morning "boot camp" session presented by the Taxpayers for Utah.
The board members gathered to receive prepared speeches and a litany of facts to use in opposing the tax limitation initiatives. Board members met with the Citizens for Responsible Taxation at the school board offices. The 14-member committee has been operating for about six months and has the primary focus of spreading information about how tax cuts would effect education in Davis County."The tax protesters are extremists in moderate clothing," Cheryll May, assistant state chairperson for the Taxpayers for Utah, told the board members. She explained how to counter most of the positions offered by the Utah Tax Limitation Coalition, the group supporting the tax initiatives.
The preparation comes two days after the board passed a resolution to "work for the defeat" of the initiatives.
"We are talking about the most devastating and catastrophic consequences. We have to be able to convince the public whether the consequences are real and reasonable and likely to occur. The Tax Limitation Coalition has said we are using scare tactics. We have to help people understand whether these are scary facts or scare tactics," May said.
May told the board members they have to hit hard at how far-reaching effects of the initiatives would be, and how it would devastate local services and hurt education. She also told board members how to explain the differences between tax-cut measures in California and Massachusetts and the proposed initiatives in Utah.
"Utah property tax rates before the initiatives are where these states are after the initiatives," she said.
After the session, school officials met to plan their strategy including regional meetings to give out information about the tax limitation initiatives. Those meetings are likely to involve school board members and principals at local schools and are expected to start near the end of this month, board member Henry Heath said.
"We are pushing the facts as we see them," said board member Louenda Downs. Downs voted against the resolution to work to defeat the initiatives, but said she does not support them. She said she supports only an opportunity to give out information and let people make up their own minds.
At present the school district has pledged it will not use taxpayer money to oppose the initiatives, but Board President Sheryl Allen said that they could reconsider that in light of a recent decision made by the Granite School District. Tax dollars could be justified if there is a threat to the school system, she said.
The district has already approved funds to print a school district report that will include an interview with Superintendent Richard Kendell about the initiatives. Kendell said the report will simply present the threat to schools as he views it. Officials also plan to use school facilities after hours for information meetings.
Presently, the district's non-profit foundation is accepting money to fight the initiatives. Kendell said the foundation has collected almost $1,000 that will be used to print brochures and buy ads explaining the $13 million in cuts the district expects it will have to make if the initiatives pass.
Initiative supporters have said the cuts would be closer to $5.1 million.
Greg Beesley of the Utah Tax Limitation Coalition said it's inappropriate for the school district to include anti-tax initiative information in a school-funded publication and for the district to be used to fight the initiatives. He says he wants equal time in the publication.
"I think that they are one-sided by not presenting both sides of the question," Beesley said. "The people that have not heard both sides are in the dark, and those who are not sure get scared by these facts."