Trustees need to let taxpayers decide whether to increase DISD’s budget or not


One of the biggest unanswered questions in Dallas is whether taxpayers are willing to pay more to improve the quality of the Dallas school system.

On Saturday, trustees have a golden opportunity to find out. They’ll decide whether to let residents vote on a 6-cent tax hike, which would raise $70 million a year that school leaders sorely need to help boost achievement.

We support this tax ratification election, or TRE, and hope it passes. Strong public schools are essential to improving the health of this entire city. The money would go to items including reading programs, teacher training and more specialty schools throughout the district.

And with the state Legislature’s chronic underfunding of public schools, it’s clear that if this district is going to maintain its successful programs and offer new approaches, it will have to fend for itself.

Trustees have been here before. Last year, a 13-cent tax increase election never made it to the ballot, falling one vote shy of the required super-majority (six of nine trustees). Trustees Lew Blackburn, Joyce Foreman, Bernadette Nutall and Audrey Pinkerton opposed raising taxes and wanted the administration to scrub its budget for savings instead.

That’s just what Superintendent Michael Hinojosa did. He found $60 million in cuts so that DISD could continue signature programs, such as expanded pre-K and the early-college high schools, that are proving successful.

But there’s only so much cutting that can be done; last year’s cuts even included librarians.

We recognize the real burden that tax hikes bring to property owners. Appraisals are already going up, causing them to dig deeper to pay bills even without an increase in the tax rate. If the TRE passed, taxes would go up $111 a year for the owner of $184,574 home, the district’s average. Less, obviously, for lower home values.

But even with that increase, DISD’s combined tax rate of $1.34 per $100 valuation would be one of the lowest in the area, despite the expensive challenges of educating a student population that’s 89 percent poor.

Saturday’s vote doesn’t even raise taxes; it simply allows voters to make that call. And there are signs that residents would support a bigger investment. A survey of more than 2,000 residents by the pro-TRE coalition Strong Schools Strong Dallas revealed that 60 percent would be willing to contribute more on their property taxes to support district initiatives. And that group was pushing a 13-cent hike, not the 6-cent increase currently on the table.

We agree with trustees that it’s not enough to just provide more money; it’s imperative that these initiatives are tied to outcomes. DISD has improved on this score, and we’ll be watching for public accountability measures.

Still, it’s time for residents to decide what kind of school district they want. They deserve a chance to vote on how much they’re willing to invest.

DISD’s low tax rate

  • Grand Prairie $1.59
  • Lancaster $1.54
  • Duncanville $1.52
  • Cedar Hill $1.51
  • Coppell $1.49
  • DeSoto $1.46
  • Garland $1.46
  • Mesquite $1.46
  • Irving $1.44
  • Sunnyvale $1.42
  • Grapevine-Colleyville $1.39
  • Carrollton-Farmers Branch $1.39
  • Richardson $1.39
  • DISD (if tax hike passes) $1.34
  • DISD (currently) $1.28
  • Highland Park $1.15

SOURCE: DISD/Dallas County Appraisal District

This story originally appeared 8/2/2017 in The Dallas Morning News.

Bill limiting out-of-school suspensions for young students signed into law

student suspensions

Out-of-school suspensions will be limited for young Texas students, starting this coming school year.

State Representative Eric Johnson’s bill, HB 674, was signed into law June 12. It will limit suspensions for children in prekindergarten through second grade.

“HB 674 will ensure that school districts in Texas find real hardcore solutions for misbehaviors, instead of pushing them out of school through suspensions,” a representative for the Texas Organizing Project said at a press conference Wednesday.

Johnson explained Wednesday that students under third grade can only be suspended or expelled for extreme cases of misbehavior, such as bringing guns or drugs to school, or excessive violence.

Academic studies have showed that young students who are suspended or expelled from school are more likely to drop out of school or face incarceration than students who are not removed from the classroom in their youth.

Dallas schools trustee Miguel Solis is clear that one of the goals of the bill is to aid African-American children.

“The data are really clear,” he said. “In the state of Texas, if you are particularly a young black boy, you are more likely to be caught up in the discipline system but particularly to be out-of-school suspended.”

The bill will go into effect September 1, 2017.

This story originally appeared June 21, 2017 on FOX 4.

Advocates Celebrate Passage of Legislation Limiting School Suspensions


DALLAS (WBAP/KLIF) – State Representative Eric Johnson joined local education advocates Wednesday, at his former Dallas elementary school, to celebrate passage of HB 674 which he authored. The bill limits out-of-school suspensions for students in pre-kindergarten through the second grade.

“A school district can not allow students below third grade to be suspended out of school for something other than extreme violence, assault, or carrying weapons to school,” said Johnson.

Rep. Johnson said academic studies have shown that young children who are expelled or suspended from school are more likely to drop out of school, face incarceration and repeat grades than students who do not face classroom removal during early childhood.

“We have a better chance of avoiding incarceration if we work on correcting behavior,” said Johnson. “Other than punishing them and their families by telling them to go home.”

He said HB 674 seeks to prevent the criminalization of young children, particularly young children of color and children with disabilities. A similar policy was passed locally by Dallas ISD in February. The Texas Organizing Project, Texas Appleseed, and the ALCU helped Johnson support the bill.

This story originally appeared June 21, 2017 on WBAP 850 AM.