An anti-tax group will mobilize itself to school board meetings this fall.
Nobody has to twist Lawrence resident Tom Scott's arm when it comes to watching his wallet.
After former school board member Tom Murray delivered a speech on school budgets Tuesday night, Scott didn't hesitate to sign up to fight rising taxes.
"I didn't come here tonight to be convinced," he said. "What motivated me to sign up was that in all the time (Murray) sat on the board, he failed to impress another member. Obviously, it takes more than one man. You can't just sit on the sidelines."
Scott was one of 23 people who pledged to attend Lawrence school board meetings beginning in September and scrutinize how its seven members spend taxpayer money. About 10 people will attend Baldwin and Eudora school meetings.
They are members of the Douglas County Property Owners Assn., a growing grassroots group dedicated to reducing property taxes -- from pushing for property valuation reform to voicing concern at local budget hearings.
As of Tuesday morning, the group had 171 dues-paying members. More than 200 people, mostly retirees, attended Murray's speech in Building 21 of the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Murray compared the school budget in 1967, just after districts in Kansas unified, with the latest draft budget. He said:
- In 1967, the district spent $3.9 million to educate 8,000 children. In 1995-96, the district will spend $63.4 million to educate 9,350 children.
- The percentage of expenditures that goes toward teachers has dropped from 77 percent in 1967 to 34 percent next year.
- Since 1991, the first year Murray served on the board, expenditures have grown by 50 percent, or $22 million. According to district enrollment figures, student population has grown 400 students since then. That works out to $54,000 a student. Murray's term ended June 30.
"I voted against every budget while I was on the board, not because I had a picky quibble with two or three things I didn't like," he said, "but because as a whole, these budgets were and are completely irresponsible, and I mean completely."
Lawrence school board president John Tacha said today that Murray went too far.
"That budget has 2,000 items that could be looked at. Out of those items, I remember two things that Mr. Murray brought to us in the form of cuts," he said.
Most of the budget increase this year would be from teacher salaries -- $1.3 million -- and a voter-approved bond issue for new buildings. Tacha welcomed participation and suggestions from the grassroots group.
"But I don't welcome suggestions that we can just do better, and nobody gives us concrete suggestions," he said.
He said he would have to know more about the numbers Murray cited before commenting on them.
Craig Fiegel, assistant superintendent of administrative services, said his analysis showed that the district dedicated 62 percent of its budget to teachers, not 34 percent. An analysis of administration also shows that there was one fewer central administrative office than there was in 1985.
"You can make figures say probably anything you want figures to say," he said.