Thursday, April 22, 2010


The following op ed will be published in today's Emporia Gazette.  I'm hoping Professor Peterson reads it and agrees to pay our taxes next year.

Well, they’re done. Our taxes have been filed. My wife depressed the “enter” key and that was that. All that’s left now is to wait for tax independence day, which I think will come just in time for a bit of Christmas shopping.

Each April of my adult life I’ve been afflicted by a seasonal disorder. It’s become so familiar now that I’ve given it an acronym – M.S.A., which stands for Monetary Separation Anxiety. There’s no known cure for it.

I suppose an attitude change might help. A month or so ago John Peterson wrote a piece about how delightful the whole tax process is. I read it three times to be sure it wasn’t satire and I’ve concluded there was nothing tongue-in-cheek about it. He’s dead serious. He really enjoys paying taxes.

I learned some amazing things. I never realized that taxes are solely responsible for our culture. Does that mean we’ve got the tax man to thank for Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Hemingway, Louisa May Alcott, Gertrude Stein, the Metropolitan Opera, Van Gogh, Vermeer, El Greco, Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Andy Warhol? Apparently so.

I never knew that if I gave more money to the government I could own that Swiss chalet I’ve coveted for years. But, if the Swedes can do it, so can I. And, if we all pony up another twenty or thirty percent to the government we may eventually own Europe, making us new age imperialists on a grand scale. Can you imagine?

Of course, none of it costs us a dime. The government just gives and gives and gives…and gives. It’s like the old Dire Straits tune – “Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.” What a country!

I can’t recall the last time we got any money back. In fact, that might be the mother of all non sequiturs. The government isn’t giving anybody anything. Generally speaking, people have just overpaid during the year, allowing the government to use their money as float, without interest. Even greedy bankers give better rates of return.

It doesn’t work much better at the city or county level. I’ve never gotten a tax return check from either of them. If they’ve sent the moolah it must have gone somewhere else, like Forrest Gump’s million dollar wound, because “I ain’t seen a dime of that money.”

I used to think that death was a way of escaping the government’s clutches, but age and experience have shown me otherwise. Someone (I think it was George Will) recently observed that death itself, under our current system, is a taxable offense.

But, maybe Professor Peterson is right. There’s got to be a silver lining or a pony buried in the manure that I’m missing. Maybe I should spend some time lobbying on behalf of the government. I could lobby for a new state motto, to be emblazoned on our license plates – “KANSAS – Our taxes are just a smidge lower than Sweden’s.” I might be able to talk the city commissioners into erecting a new sign near that Taliban vintage tank that guards exit 127. It would read – “EMPORIA – Even the Sheriff of Nottingham would be a piker here.” Maybe we could have a parade. We could all play kazoos, wear red, white and blue party hats, toss confetti, and watch marching bands and floats pass by for hours. The parade meisters could instruct the bands to play “The Tax Man” as they pass in review. It could start an annual tradition, rivaling December’s “seasonal parade.” In time our commissioners could levy some sort of celebration or parade tax against participants and spectators. Oh, joy!

This kind of joy could spill outward from Emporia, like ripples on the water. In time they’d get to Europe, particularly Sweden where things are so swell. Maybe we could get them to pay for our national defense, and while we’re at it, we could get the French, the Dutch, the Italians, the Spanish, the Taiwanese, the Japanese, and others to chip in their fair share. That way, I’d get to concentrate on paying for my grandchildren’s college educations while “old Europe” and “new Asia” protect me and my loved ones from Osama and other enemies who are lurkin’ about.

I see what Professor Peterson means. Taxes can be a real hoot. It’s a bit late this year, so I’ll have to bite the bullet. But I think next year I’ll send my tax bills to him, care of the Gazette. I want give him an additional opportunity for joy. In fact, I recommend that Gazette readers who are so inclined also forward theirs to him. It’ll make his April, 2011 a real barrel of monkeys.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


The following op ed is being published in today's Emporia Gazette.  The local school board and superintendent are not happy with me.  They're dragging out the heavy ammo (statistics) to prove they are absolutely essential to the well being of every Emporia family. 

I'm not buying the party line. 

The op ed follows:

At a recent eggs and issues forum I was asked if I was going to behave. What else could I do? I behaved…. grudgingly. I did have question or two or ten, but I just sat there, rehearsing the lyrics from an old “Kiss Me Kate” tune:

“Oh, why can’t you behave?
Why can’t you be good?
And do just what you should?”

I understand the Board’s displeasure with someone like me. No one likes being around a guy with a pin in has hand, particularly when they’re carrying a string of balloons themselves. I get the message. Why afflict the comfortable when what they’re really looking for is comfort and assurance?

But, it’s about two weeks past Eggs and Issues, and I’m in a misbehavin’ mood again.

What have I learned? If I’m to believe the Excel spreadsheets, line charts, and bar graphs there is a direct correlation between money and quality of output in education. Test scores here have improved and, until recently, funding levels have also increased. About the only way to complete the syllogism would be to conclude that more money means a better education or that less money equals an inferior education.

I suppose I should blindly trust the data.

Mark Twain was fond of saying, “There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.” I think he was right. Numbers can be used to prove almost anything. I suspect that, given time, I could offer convincing proof that Jell-O is one of the prime causes of death in this country. After all, most of us will die in hospitals and most of us will ingest an inordinate amount of Jell-O while we’re there. What other conclusion could one draw?

Every time I hear some expert tout the numbers I get a sick feeling in the pit of my gut. The Board of Education cites numbers. Well, two can play that game. For every number they present I see scores of others that lead down a different path. For example, the most recent (2006) assessment tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) seem to indicate we have a serious problem. Over 400,000 students from 57 countries were tested. In the area of science, students from Finland had the highest score, an average of 563. The Estonians weren’t far behind, at 531.Slovenia did pretty well (519), as did the Czech Republic (513). Where did the U.S. rank? Statistically tied with Latvia and a couple of points better than Lithuania. The results in mathematics were every bit as alarming. Finnish students averaged 548. Estonians averaged 515. Slovenians averaged 504. American students averaged 474, a bit better than the Croatians.

What do these results say? Do the Finns have more money to throw at education than we do? Are the Estonians and Slovenians cookin’ the books? Are their kids just naturally smarter than ours? The answer to all of the questions is a resounding “No!”

I realize that education is not a cost-neutral venture. But, I think it’s eminently fair for taxpayers to ask where their education dollars are going. In 1993 Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institute asked where the money was going and found what most of us intuitively know. “A study of education expenditures in New York City found that less than $2,000 reached the classroom out of more than $6,000 spent per pupil.” Where was the money going? “Educational bureaucracies, both at boards of education and in the schools absorb much of the money spent to educate students.” This past Sunday the Kansas City Star revealed that while Missouri spends about 48% of its state budget on education, Kansas spends 65%. Further, Missouri spends far fewer dollars on its administrative costs of education than Kansas.

Of course, we all know that Emporia is a world away from New York or Missouri. There’s no rigid, top heavy bureaucracy here. Right?

I’ve been told that I have personal axes to grind. Not true! This is only personal to me because I care. I can only imagine how much more personal this is to the parents, students, and teachers of USD 253.

Is there a way out of the wilderness? Not without fundamental change. Things will never work as they should here until we scrap the top down, self-congratulatory management model we’re currently using.

Can we get there? I think so. It could begin by inverting the organizational pyramid, adopting a silo busting mentality, developing a lean staff structure, and finding ways to put that money directly into the classroom.

Granted, these seem to be small gestures. But, they would be steps in the right direction