This is a tale of two North Texas school districts, both victims of Gov. Rick Perry’s educationslashing policies and his Tea Party allies’ backwardthinking ideology. Each has laid off dozens of employees and taken other costcutting steps because the governor and the legislative majority have abdicated their constitutional responsibility to adequately fund public education.
But one, the Keller ISD, one of the fastest growing districts in the state, is trying to stem the bleeding and preserve what’s left of its educational quality by asking local voters to approve an increase in property taxes. The other, the Plano ISD, which sits in one of the wealthiest communities in Texas, is resisting higher local taxes, even though its tax rate for school operations is well below what could be imposed with voter approval and its overall tax rate is lower than Keller’s.
Keller ISD, which has scheduled a tax ratification election for June 18, is battling the Tea Party, the same folks who assured Perry’s reelection and gave Texas a legislative majority that slashed $4 billion from the state school finance budget. This is a loosely knit, ideological group intent on shrinking government, including the public schools, regardless of the impact on school children and the state’s economic future. Some Tea Partiers mistakenly believe that millions of dollars can be cut from school district budgets without harming the classroom. Others simply don’t care.
Plano ISD has fired more than 300 employees this year. The district recently sponsored an employment workshop for the dismissed workers but is shying away from asking some of the wealthiest voters in Texas, on average, to pay higher local taxes to offset state budget cuts. Plano apparently would rather risk damaging educational quality than take on the Tea Party, which was instrumental last year in at least one legislative race in that community.
Both Keller and Plano have tax rates for basic school operations of $1.04 per $100 valuation. This is the maximum districts can impose without local voter approval. With voter approval, districts can increase the rate by another 13 cents per $100 to $1.17. This is what Keller ISD is asking voters to approve in its tax ratification election.
Keller’s total tax rate is $1.53 per $100. That includes 49 cents, previously approved by voters, for debt service. Plano’s total tax rate is $1.35, including $1.04 for operations and 31 cents for debt service.
Suburban population growth has prompted Keller to build 22 new schools since 2000, according to the Keller Citizen, and local voters have approved bond packages in 2000, 2005, 2006 and 2008.
Before scheduling next week’s tax election, Keller already had cut more than 200 jobs, increased class sizes, reduced the number of athletic teams and taken other steps to save about $16 million. Now, it is asking for higher taxes to cover the remainder of an anticipated $31 million shortfall for each of the next two years, according to the newspaper article linked below.
The 13cent increase would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an extra $22 a month.
Is that too high a price to pay for educational quality? No.
Many of those local Keller voters who think it is can blame themselves, because I suspect most of the Tea Partytypes who bothered to vote in state elections last year voted for Perry. These are the choices Perry gives them – higher local taxes, more erosion of public schools or, in some cases, both.