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

DISD

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.

TOP praises the indictment of Balch Springs Police Officer in killing of Jordan Edwards

Jordan 2

The following is a statement by Brianna Brown, deputy director of the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), in reaction to a Dallas County grand jury indicting former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver today in the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards:

“Today’s indictment of Roy Oliver in the murder of Jordan Edwards is long overdue. It was completely inexcusable for Oliver to shoot his rifle into a moving vehicle that was traveling away from him and another officer. We need a shift in how law enforcement agencies across the country train and hold their officers accountable.

“The issuing of this indictment further serves as a reminder that racially-motivated police violence has no place in Dallas County. On a daily basis, Black and Brown residents throughout Dallas County face verbal and physical abuse, and potentially lethal violence, at the hands of officers who have not been trained to deal with their implicit biases against people of color, especially Black men.

“To secure the necessary justice in the deadly shooting of Jordan Edwards, and to help prevent such unjust use of deadly force in the future, TOP again demands that Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson aggressively prosecutes Mr. Oliver and the other officers who were with him that day, commits to using independent prosecutors to investigate cases of alleged police brutality, and requests an investigation of unequal and discriminatory policing in Balch Springs by the U.S. Department of Justice. This is long from over, and the community will be watching to make sure D.A. Johnson does her job.”

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Texas Organizing Project organizes Black and Latino communities in Texas’ three largest counties with the goal of transforming Texas into a state where working people of color have the power and representation they deserve. For more information, visit organizetexas.org.

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.