Friday, June 8, 2018


If Texas school funding discussions seem to bury you in acronyms (see the headline above), or terminology (recapture and "golden" pennies and "copper" pennies), or worst of all, dense spreadsheets, I feel your pain. The simplest thing to do, and actually wisest in many cases, is to elect good school board trustees, hold them accountable for doing their due diligence, then trust that their decisions are in the best interest of children, parents, teachers and homeowners.

The Richardson ISD board of trustees called a tax ratification election (TRE) for September 4 to ask voters to raise the district’s operating tax rate. You can find out all about the election, and why there is no good alternative, on the district's website.

Before the trustees acted, there was a public hearing at which the public had their say. Only a couple dozen people attended the public hearing. Pitchforks and torches were not in evidence. Only a half dozen or so of those people chose to speak.

The only speaker against the TRE said taxes are "going crazy." That may be true (or not, the speaker didn't define "crazy"), but the forces behind it are not as simple as blaming the school district. As RISD collects more money from local taxpayers due to rising property values or rising tax rates, the amount of money the state contributes to RISD goes down. Because of the state's failure to reform school funding, local school districts have to run faster and faster just to stay in place and twice as fast as that to get anywhere at all. The speaker also claimed that Frisco voted down a tax hike without ill effect. I don't know where he gets his news. Because of Frisco ISD's TRE failure, that district delayed the opening of four new schools that were already built because the ISD lacked revenues needed to hire teachers for the new schools. The schools will finally open in the fall of 2018, but district-wide class sizes have grown (from 22 student two years ago to 24 this last year for grades 1-4), and the number of waivers for exceeding state limits on class size nearly tripled to 260 this year.

Another speaker for the TRE, a former Richardson HOA president, said the state legislature is denying school districts meaningful discretion in providing tier 2 enrichment. He recommends passing the tax hike, then driving to Austin to lobby state legislators to fix the root problem.

A third speaker, a former candidate for the Richardson City Council, said he was the biggest skeptic for a tax hike before, but after studying the budget he now sees no alternative. It's as simple as pass the TRE or continue to lose teachers.

The last speaker, a former candidate for the RISD board of trustees, also called for a YES vote for the TRE.

Then it was the board's turn. Six of the trustees said they supported the tax hike. Of the six, trustee Karen Clardy gave the most eloquent and compelling explanation of her YES vote, validating my decision last year to endorse her candidacy. Not that that mattered to anyone but me but still, it matters to me, so there.

One RISD trustee, Eron Linn, voted NO, saying the tax hike is a "bailout" of the state legislature. I don't think I even understand how Eron Linn's strategy is supposed to work.
  1. The state squeezes public education by capping taxes.
  2. School districts say, "We'll show you. We'll cap our own funds even lower."
  3. ????

Eron Linn said he could support a 6 cent tax hike, not 13 cents. He didn't say what he is willing to sacrifice, but claims that a six cent hike would still support teachers' raises. Charts shown by Superintendent Jeannie Stone indicated that a 6 cent tax hike wouldn't cover next year's expected expenses. A 10 cent hike would, but only for next year. Revenue would still fall short in the four years after that. Only the full 13 cent hike (to a $1.17 rate) that the TRE calls for provides enough revenue to meet RISD's expected needs for the next five years. Nevertheless, Eron Linn voted NO on the TRE.

All in all, a very civil discussion of a topic, taxes, that all too often results in heated words. More like this please, everyone.

P.S. I'll be voting YES.


bryan holland said...

as a die hard fiscal conservative. i will vote yes.

Euan said...

Taxes going crazy was defined with an example I believe. $1800 in ISD taxes 5 short years ago, to $3700 in taxes to the ISD if this is passed. If it isn’t then it will still be $3100. That is crazy!

Mark Steger said...

Euan, thanks for your reply. I apologize for not catching the example you gave. I was working from memory, not notes. I know everyone's situation is different, but in my case, my school property taxes have gone up 12% over the last five years. And as near as I can figure, the RISD's operating budget has gone up 30% over the same time (from $247 million in 2012-2013 to $321 in 2017-2018). I'm probably misreading or missing something but it seems like it's possible that my taxes aren't keeping up with what it costs to run this school district.

Unknown said...

Euan. I feel your pain and you know you and I are of one heart. Here is why as a fiscal conservative I will back the rate increase. Risd was in a downward spiral from 2010 when it was rated higher that 80 percent of Texas schools, until 2015 when it bottomed at 52 percent. We are now at 72 percent waiting for 2018 numbers. This is due to the resignation of the super, the CEO, and the athletic director and all 3 have been replaced. We seem to be on an upward trend again and repairing the damage of the previous management team. If we can close the opportunity gap and get risd back above 80 percent and even 90 percent our home values will far outpace the rate increase.

Financially it's the right thing for us. We don't have an economic choice imo.

Mark Steger said...

Press release from RISD: "At its called meeting July 13, RISD Trustees agreed to move the previously-called tax ratification election date from September 4 to the general election date of November 6. Based on feedback from community members, trustees made the decision to provide more time for voters to become informed about the reasons for the TRE and also encourage the higher voter participation that comes with a general election. In addition, the move is expected to save RISD a significant cost compared to the cost of a September election."