Dallas ISD Trustees Make Unusual Move to Reassure TRE Voters

TREIn a bid to reassure voters, Dallas ISD trustees took the unusual move adopting a resolution that pledges to spend the first projected surplus a tax ratification election, or TRE , could produce on specific initiatives, including one that strategically increases employee salaries.

But the move was not without a lot of debate.  

Trustee Audrey Pinkerton put for a proposed resolution that would have the entire projected $126 million the 13-cent tax increase would generate in the first year be earmarked for those pay raises, with the board pledging to support the other three initiatives — racial equity initiatives, expanding school choice, and expanding pre-K.

But trustee Edwin Flores put forth another resolution that would have the board pledging to spend the entire $126 million on all four initiatives.

And yet another version authored by Lew Blackburn, dubbed the “compromise resolution,” combined the language of Pinkerton’s resolution with the language of the Flores resolution.

This was my attempt to marry two fairly similar resolutions,” he said. Flores said his resolution was modeled on the district’s strategic initiatives for the TRE, and said he wanted to align it with the entire presentation regarding the initiatives.

Legally, a current board cannot bind — or make promises for — a future board. But the resolution circumvented that by only committing the funds that would be generated from the TRE in the first year.

And a future board could overturn that resolution if it desired.

And while several members of the board expressed reluctance to make the largely symbolic gesture, they also realized that it could go a long way to reassure a public already experiencing sticker shock over property tax bills that continue to rise as property values do.

Several speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting expressed mistrust that the district would spend the funds from a TRE as promised, and urged the board to adopt Pinkerton’s resolution.

“What happens when you get the money in February and you have $126 million sitting in the bank?” one speaker said. “I suspect one of you board members will have a well-deserving project that will only take $10 million, and then slowly each of you will take a little chunk at a time.”

“I’m for more money for our kids if it’s going to be transparent,” said another speaker.

Trustee Dan Micciche said he worried about the precedent the move would set. Other trustees, including Miguel Solis, Justin Henry, Dustin Marshall and even resolution author Flores agreed that it concerned them — especially when no other districts that have passed tax increases have made such a move.

But that being said, Marshall said, if a resolution reassured the public, he would be in favor of it.

“I do believe that there are certain segments of Dallas and DISD where this is a lack of trust in this board and a lack of trust in this administration,” he said. “It is incredibly important that this board act in a way that encourages the public to ratify the tax election on November 6.”

Trustee Joyce Foreman said that since this board can’t make promises for future boards, the resolution only really has teeth as long as the same trustees remain on the board. But she also said that she felt the resolution was a good way to send a signal to the public that the district will do what it said it would with the TRE funds.

Foreman has been a vocal opponent of the TRE.

Pinkerton said that her worries that the district could find itself dipping into that $126 million reserve if other needs arose prompted her to craft the resolution.

“The situation we find ourselves in is kind of like a senior citizen on a fixed income,” she said, adding that so far the state legislature has not taken a substantive look at public education funding.

Earlier this month, the Texas Education Agency signaled that it would ask for less funding from the state in future years, shifting more of the burden to local tax contributions.

Pinkerton said she worried that wage inflation and recapture (or “Robin Hood”) could create a shortfall situation that would leave the district too tapped out to continue to fund the pay increases set out in the strategic pay initiative.

She railed against the compromise resolution, saying she felt it didn’t do enough to guarantee that the district would make sure the raises were funded over the next four years.

“You have nothing to reassure the public that you’re going to follow the plan that was presented to them,” she said. “You have nothing to reassure the public that the money will be there in two years. The shortfall is coming.”

Other board members insisted the resolution did promise the same things as Pinkerton’s because it pledged to not spend the reserve from the TRE on something other than the four initiatives.

Of the four initiatives, several argued, the district has already indicated that pay would make up the bulk of the spending. Ultimately, the compromise measure, with some added language regarding district policy regarding wages from trustee Miguel Solis, passed 8-1, with Pinkerton voting against it.

Since 2008, more than half the school districts in Texas have passed a tax ratification election, or TRE, and two-thirds of districts in Collin and Dallas counties have passed tax increases.

The district is asking for a 13-cent increase to the maintenance and operations budget, which would push the district’s M&O tax rate to $1.17 per $100 in valuation, the maximum allowed by the state.

The operating tax rate in Dallas ISD has been $1.04 for the last 10 years, when it was lowered to the current rate.

Early voting begins Monday.