Before we start, let me say that as a homeowner, I’m about as excited about a potential property tax hike as I am a yearly Pap smear.
But I also know that, like a Pap smear, sometimes things you dislike you do anyway because they’re good for you. It’s uncomfortable, you have to worry for an indeterminant amount of time regarding the results, and sometimes you have to go back to discuss them because they’re not quite right.
No. Nobody wants their property taxes to go up. But I will go on record as saying since the Texas legislature won’t adequately fund public education, I’ll gladly pay more.
OK, no, I won’t gladly. That was a total lie.
I’m peeved, but not at Dallas ISD, who is the second largest urban district in Texas and has the task of pulling to the surface the gifts of students who are often the products of extreme poverty and other adverse childhood experiences — on a budget that grows smaller every legislative session — despite hard evidence that indicates spending more on education improves outcomes.
I resent like hell having to pay more, but I also know — and I’m hoping you do, too — that the people you need to resent are likely going to be on a ballot come November as incumbent legislators.
If the conversation regarding Dallas ISD and a potential ballot measure to increase property taxes (often called the tax ratification election, or TRE for short) seems familiar, it’s because it came up before. But you didn’t get to vote on it.
And you still may not get to. It all hinges on a Saturday board meeting, where the school board will discuss how to raise the money needed to run the district — possibly by holding an election to determine whether voters would support a slight hike in their property taxes.
Last time, the board asked Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and his staff to tighten their belts and shave costs. And he did, finding $60 million by making cuts so that things like pre-K expansion and early college programs could continue their demonstrable progress.
This time, the board will vote on a potential 6-cent hike instead of 13 cents, which would raise $70 million a year for things like specialized schools that will both improve potential enrollment numbers (which in turn could mean more funds per pupil) and address community needs.
It will go to training good teachers to be great teachers, and great teachers to be excellent teachers. It will go toward reading programs because an early focus on literacy helps the district get closer to ensuring that students achieve that often make-or-break benchmark of reading at grade level by third grade.
Yes, I know our property taxes are high. But please remember that your Dallas ISD is only a portion of your tax bill — it’s not the only entity levying taxes on your property. Currently, Dallas ISD’s portion is actually much lower than most every other district in the area with a combined rate of $1.28 per $100 in valuation.
Currently, Dallas ISD has the fourth-lowest property tax rate in the 55 school districts found in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. If you want to check for yourself, here’s a pretty good rundown on the property tax rates in the area.
If the TRE passes, the district’s combined tax rate would be $1.34 per $100 valuation — still one of the lowest in the area. Taxes would go up $111 a year for the owner of a $184,574 home — the median home price in the area.
Let’s crunch some numbers on where that money goes, though. This is a recent fact sheet on Dallas ISD by the National Center for Education Statistics. According to this snapshot, total revenue per student is $10,648. Total expenditures per student are $12,061. If we break down the biggest chunks, it looks like this: 59 percent goes to instructional expenditures (i.e. the classroom), 11 percent goes to student and staff support like counselors and aides and such, 11 percent goes to administration, and 20 percent goes to operations and food service.
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, the average instructional spending across the education landscape is about 60 percent, which is just a percentage point more than what Dallas ISD spends per pupil. However, per TEA data for the same year, 63 percent of the district’s spending went toward instruction. For comparison, Southlake Carroll spent 64 percent.
But how does that compare to other districts? Check out this table, which shows the instructional spending for large school districts in the U.S., broken down two ways. You can see that Dallas ISD is in the middle of the pack, hovering around 62 percent to 53 percent, depending on whether you factor in extraneous costs or not.
And we haven’t even gotten to the part where we talk about recapture — where because of rising property values, the district could be faced with returning hundreds of millions of dollars to the state. If you want to know what that looks like, see what Austin ISD faces.
Last week, I was part of my son’s school Campus Improvement Plan committee. We spent two hours going over all the things just one school does for students and their families on a daily basis, tweaking the way we could deliver those services along the way. I’ve seen where the money goes, and how far it doesn’t.
But this district is making strides. And it has teachers in place that want to bring out the best in every student, every day. Last year, my kid’s teacher came to our house twice. How often do you hear of that happening in urban school districts? And we’re in a school with a poverty rate that always hovers somewhere between 90 to 95 percent, where this kind of dedication is paying off in increases in test scores, but even more — increases in morale on campus with teachers, parents, and students.
And my child’s school isn’t an outlier. This magic happens every day all over the district. But it can’t continue to grow without some kind of give.
Listen, I don’t like this any better than anyone else. But anyone who reads this space regularly knows my mantra: Education is infrastructure. Without an educated workforce, we have little to offer potential businesses looking to move. Without solid, innovative public schools, we have little to offer the employees that might move with them.
Education is infrastructure, just as much as water, streets, electricity, and buildings are. And it’s high time we start treating it like it is in this state.
And if the state won’t, then we may just have to roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves.