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.

“A Tale Of Two Schools: Which Path Will You Choose?”

Texas currently ranks 38th among the 50 states in average per-student spending.

On top of that, our state legislature is providing fewer dollars to school districts, shifting more of the burden for school funding to the local level.

Dallas ISD has been making important progress, despite facing recent budget cuts that will likely become even more severe. And because of the general under-funding of public education, we must take action locally. As a community, we need to step up to ensure ALL our students, particularly students of color and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, receive an excellent education. That’s why a diverse group of more than 16 local community organizations, including TOP, announced the launch of the new Strong Schools Strong Dallas coalition in April 2017.

Currently, the coalition is engaging with community members to support a Tax Ratification Election (TRE), which if approved could generate more than $100 million in additional funding annually to advance educational outcomes for Dallas ISD students.

Join us Thursday, May 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at St. Mark AME Zion Church (2311 E. Illinois Ave., Dallas, TX 75216) where we’ll provide more information about the TRE and give you the opportunity to voice your ideas about how we can improve Dallas ISD schools. For more information, contact Empress Lindsey, (469) 203-0496, mlindsey@organizetexas.org.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Strong Schools Strong Dallas.

TAKE THIS SURVEY to share your thoughts on Dallas ISD schools!

16 community groups call for higher taxes to improve DISD schools

DMN TRE

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.