It took three tries, but a 13-cent Tax Ratification Election (TRE) was passed by the Dallas ISD board of trustees in a special called meeting Thursday night.
The vote (which was seven for, one against, and one absent) will place a measure that will increase the district’s maintenance and operating tax rate from $1.04 to $1.17.
There has not been an increase since 2008.
A cheer from the gallery went up as what various advocates had been asking for — a chance to put a potential property tax increase on the ballot — finally passed after three tries over as many years.
If voters approve the measure on Nov. 6, it will provide an additional $126 million every year to support early learning, racial equity, and choice school programs, as well as compensation.
“The median market value of homes in Dallas ISD as determined by the Dallas Central Appraisal District is $184,574,” a statement from the district said after the vote. “If voters approve the TRE, the 13 cents increase would raise property taxes on homes at the average market value by $0.65 cents per day or $20 a month—less than the cost of a tank of gas.”
Before the vote, all seven trustees in the room and one who videoconferenced in — board president Edwin Flores — spoke about their reasons for their stance on the TRE, beginning with Audrey Pinkerton, who was notably absent from the previous vote last year. This year, Lew Blackburn, who was heard calling in prior to the meeting but then was unable to stay connected from his hotel in Washington DC, was absent. He had been expected to vote no.
“One thing that’s clear to me is that the state has really failed to keep up with the increasing cost of education,” she said, adding that the board also needs to keep in mind the long-term financial health to the district.
Trustee Joyce Foreman had a 10-point list about why she wouldn’t be voting for the TRE. She said new revenue will send millions to the state. She also questioned why the district needed to raise taxes when the city and county wouldn’t be.
“Taxpayers who think they will be sending their tax dollars to Dallas ISD will be fooled,” she said, and added that some of that money will go to the state’s general fund via recapture.
She also had concerns about the racial equity plan, and said she felt that there was not enough transparency when it came to district spending, and not enough checks and balances.
“I am a firm believer that DISD can do well with the budget it has,” Foreman said. She was the lone no vote.
Flores said he would be supporting the TRE. “I think it’s long overdue, long overdue for our students, to be able to have the same kind of revenue suburban school districts do when they raise their taxes,” he said.
“A vote against the TRE is a vote for the charter schools,” he added.
Unsurprisingly, the district’s newest trustee, Justin Henry, was also for the TRE. After all, the board’s failure to place the measure on the ballot last year played a huge part in his decision to run for the District 9 seat, and many saw the runoff election between then-incumbent Bernadette Nutall and Henry as a referendum on a potential TRE.
Henry cited the recent successes of Dallas ISD, and the promising programs the increase would help fund, including the racial equity program he helped craft as a volunteer. He said he knew the board was committed to making sure all students in the district had access to International Baccalaureate programs and other innovative programs, but that would take funding.
“History has its eyes on us,” Henry said, quoting the musical Hamilton. “People are going to look back on this — what do we do when the state didn’t provide adequate funding. What did we do locally?”
Miguel Solis said that the hard work of swaying the voters would begin by dispelling myths. He then took to dismantling some of Foreman’s assertions, including the question of why the district needed to raise the rate when the county and city did not, explaining that those two taxing entities also had other means of raising revenue that the district, which is dependent on state funding formulas and property taxes, does not.
He also countered her assertion that most of the funds raised from the rate increase would end up going to the state’s general fund via recapture, saying that if the district could fund the programs that are already attracting and retaining families on a smaller scale, they would be able to attract more families back to the district and retain more of their per-pupil funding.
But most of all, he reiterated Pinkerton’s point that the state legislature has been proving unhelpful when it comes to adequately funding public education.
“Session after session after session, they have failed us,” Solis he said. “It’s time we take matters into our own hands.”
Trustees Dustin Marshall and Jaime Resendez both pointed to the fact that the district’s successes were reason enough to try to convince voters to vote for the rate hike.
“DISD has been on a roll, and we need to do everything we can,” Resendez said.
Marshall said that parents, schools, and the district have been celebrating stellar A-F scores (more on that next week) from the state all week, but to maintain or even better the district’s B score, they would need to adequately fund the programs and teachers that brought that about.
“Just think what we can do with an additional $126 million,” he said. “The only way we can continue the trajectory we are on and invest in programs we know are working, is by a tax ratification election.”
Marshall said he felt voters would want to invest in continuing the successful track the district is on.
Trustee Dan Micciche recounted the successes of the district, pointing out that the district has one of the highest child poverty rates, but last year outperformed the state and major charter schools in the area in reading gains. It also has one of the largest dual language programs in the country, magnet schools that are among the best in the country, 23 collegiate prep academies, and has experienced a 10-fold increase in vocational programs. The latter two contribute directly to college readiness and/or workplace readiness goals.
“What we are doing is working,” he said, adding that all those initiatives require additional funding.
Since 2006, more than 500 school districts in the state have called a TRE. Two-thirds of the 38 area districts in Dallas and Collin counties have passed a TRE as well. In November, Duncanville, Cedar Hill, Richardson, and Lancaster schools will also approach voters for a property tax rate increase.
Dallas voters will see two other measures on the ballot from the district in addition to the TRE. One measure will approve two bonds related to the district’s new venture into bussing that it was thrust into after the collapse of Dallas County Schools. The voters will have a say on whether a $75 million bond for the purchase of replacement buses over the next 10 years and the construction of a bus barn (the district is currently leasing a bus barn from Lancaster ISD), and another $75 million bond that will basically be a refi of money borrowed in the 2015 bridge plan, and will move the debt from M&O to the district’s interest and sinking tax rate.
Another measure will ask voters to approve a different way for the district to pay recapture money back to the state (the district’s tab will likely be around $65 million). Dallas ISD will ask voters to allow the district to purchase attendance credits from the Texas Education Agency instead of other options, which include surrendering some properties or consolidating with another district.