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.