A collection of public-interest and education-focused groups is trying to get a tax hike for Dallas ISD back on the table.
The ‘Strong Schools Strong Dallas’ coalition announced its launch at a news conference Thursday, with Dallas’ Holland Elementary School as the backdrop, calling for renewed push for a property tax increase that could provide DISD with as much as $100 million in additional funding.
“Our public schools are the lifeline for our children and the lifeblood of our neighborhoods, our economy and our democracy,” said Allison Brim, the education campaign director for the Texas Organizing Project. “Dallas ISD has been making important progress, despite already facing budget cuts that will likely become even more severe. And because of the general under-funding of public education, especially from Austin, we must take action locally.”
Together, the 16 groups — including LULAC, NAACP, education non-profit Commit and teacher organization Alliance AFT — are asking DISD’s trustees to call a tax ratification election (TRE). If approved by trustees and passed by voters, a TRE could raise DISD’s maintenance and operations tax rate past the state’s cap of $1.04 per $100 of assessed value, to as high as $1.17.
A 13-cent increase would cost the average taxpayer in the district about $220 per year. While many other area districts have approved similar measures, DISD’s M&O tax rate has been the same for the past decade. Its combined tax rate of $1.28 is one of the lowest in the area.
In August, the district’s board of trustees failed to reach a six-vote super-majority needed to put the issue to voters — despite support from various civic leaders, including Mayor Mike Rawlings.
DISD administration was pushing for a 13-cent increase, earmarked to its efforts with early college high schools, early childhood education and strategic teacher pay. The proposed measure also baked in provisions that would have eliminated the tax hikes if performance benchmarks weren’t met.
It’s unclear whether the group’s final recommendation will be tied to similar benchmarks or will give the district wider latitude.
For example, one group member, Alliance AFT, didn’t support the district’s earlier effort. Alliance AFT was against more funding for DISD’s merit-based teacher pay system, which it opposes.
But when president Rena Honea recently asked her membership if they wanted “to be at the table, to try and help shape this to get what they need for the kids they are in front of every day, [the answer] was overwhelmingly yes.”
“If no money is coming in, and the district is losing enrollment — which takes even more money away — we have to find a way that our kids in Dallas get what they need,” Honea said.
DISD is planning $60 million in cuts — including removing trained librarians at 11 of its campuses — so that it can afford similar initiatives in the 2017-18 budget.
According to Rob Shearer, Commit’s director of communications and marketing, the coalition will cobble together its recommendations over the next four to six weeks, holding a handful of community meetings during that span. The coalition also has a survey for taxpayers on its website (strongschoolsstrongdallas.org).
“There aren’t many bright spots within the community for students to go to,” said For Oak Cliff founder Taylor Toynes. “The district is underfunded. … But now we have the power and the potential to do something about it. It’s important that we listen to what the community says and what they want.”
Members of ‘Strong Schools Strong Dallas’
Alliance AFT, NAACP Dallas, LULAC, Hillcrest High School Community Foundation, Leadership ISD, Texas Organizing Project, Faith in Texas, Commit! Partnership, Trinity River Mission, Stand For Children Texas, For Oak Cliff, Dallas Kids First, Our Communities Our Schools, West Dallas 1, Children at Risk and CAMP.
This story originally appeared 4/20/2017 in The Dallas Morning News.