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Spin Control

That’s 2 for the school campaign

The people supporting the ballot measures for the Spokane School District seem to be intent on proving that the community needs to be spending more money on education. It seems they would not last long on that FOX-TV game show, “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”

They keep making the mistakes that would earn students in the District 81 classrooms a failing grade.


First, they described the effort to pass a $288 million bond issue as a “bond renewal”, when in fact the district plans to sell new bonds, not renew the ones they have. Oh, well, said one of the leaders of the Citizens for Spokane Schools campaign, we were really asking people to renew their commitment to the principle behind the bonds that they approved in 2003…but that doesn’t fit on a yard sign.

OK, but it would fit in a newspaper ad, where the campaign continues to use “Yes Bond Renewal”. And let’s face it “Yes Bond Issue” takes up about the same space as “Yes Bond Renewal” — and has the added advantage of being, you know, accurate.

One could argue — and perhaps convince some of the voters all of the time — that this is just semantics, or that campaign supporters are not Wall Street financiers, and this is just a small offense that could be waved off as “no harm, no foul.” And you probably wouldn’t get an F on a fifth grade English paper for improper use of the word “renewal.”

But then they created commercials and newspaper ads that say the ballot measures will not raise rates but will lower current rates. This is flat wrong, and can be proven by some basic math, which was taught when my children attended District 81 schools — and presumably is still in the curriculum.

Here’s a bit of fifth grade math: Let’s assume that X is the amount you are paying now and Y is the amount you will pay in 2010. What the supporters are claiming can be written in a math formula as X ≥ Y (read as X is greater than or equal to Y).

In math, one sometimes is given the value of one variable and asked to solve the equation for the other variable. Other times, one is given values for variables and asked whether the equation is true. We’ll do the latter:

The 2009 amount for the bond issue per $1,000 of assessed value is $1.48; the 2010 amount per $1,000 if the ballot measure passes would be $1.96. Were one to write $1.48 ≥ $1.96 on one’s 5th grade math paper, one would likely get a big red circle around that answer.

Similarly, on the school levy, X for 2009 would be $2.86 per $1,000, and Y for 2010 would be $3.56 per $1,000. Were one to write $2.86 ≥ $3.56, one would not get credit for that answer. Do that repeatedly, and one would be headed for remedial math class.

And you probably wouldn’t get a passing grade on the test by saying something like “that mistake was unintentional, and I thought X was a different number and I was trying to get a lot of information into that answer and I left out a critical phrase, and anyway, I didn’t intend to get it wrong.”

Back in fifth grade math class, you pretty much get graded on what you wrote not what you intended to write. Because once the test is handed back and you see the answer is wrong, you can say anything you want about what you intended..


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

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