School Board

Opinion: I Will Vote No on the Richardson ISD TRE

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Submitted by Murphy McNutt

My husband and I recently moved to Richardson. I enjoyed growing up in the Richardson Heights and Canyon Creek areas. When we finally decided that we outgrew our home in the Bishop Arts area, we decided to start looking for houses in Richardson to be closer to family. We already discussed that we’d like to have our first child in the next few years, so we decided it would be best to make schools a higher priority in our hunt for a new home.

We looked long and hard for a home that fit within our budget and determined that the Reservation neighborhood in Richardson was where we wanted to plant our roots. It felt quite nostalgic being back in a city where I had many fond memories as a little girl. It was perfect.

Like most responsible adults, we live within our means, which means creating an accurate and sustainable budget. Ultimately, we could’ve spent a little less on a house, but we also would’ve been confined to underperforming schools or expensive private schools. After a lot of consideration (and a hard sell to move here by my family that’s lived here for decades,) we spent a little bit more on our house so our future kids could attend Mohawk Elementary and eventually JJ Pearce High School.

We figured out what our long-term budget needed to be to make this work. We turned our previous property into a rental property to generate additional income (which was a scary leap of faith to have TWO mortgages,) and we determined what we needed to save and invest, so that we are prepared for our future family. As it stands, my husband’s salary alone will not cover our family for when I become pregnant, so we needed to account for that by saving.

We knew property taxes would inevitably go up because of the market we are in, and we made sure to account for that, in addition to health insurance and general inflation on nearly everything else. What we didn’t account for was the school district proposing a MAXIMUM property tax increase of 12.5% upon moving into our new home.

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Shocking Video – School District Electioneers at Early Voting Parties

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“A joint investigation by Direct Action Texas and Empower Texans reveals Lancaster ISD employees advocated for a tax rate proposition at “back to school” parties inside polls.”

Article by Erin Anderson of Empower Texans

“A North Texas school district used controversial, and possibly illegal, tactics to help ensure passage of a property tax rate proposition that will result in more tax revenue for the district and higher tax bills for taxpayers.

A joint investigation by Direct Action Texas and Empower Texans took a look at “back-to-school” parties for parents held inside campus polling locations in Lancaster Independent School District. The parties were on the same day, at the same time, and at the same schools as the early voting polls.

Lancaster ISD used what’s called “rolling polling” during early voting for its August 25 tax ratification election, moving polling locations to different district campuses each day.

Early voting began on August 8, the day after district teachers and staff returned to campus. Back-to-school parties coordinated with early “mobile voting” sites were held August 13-18.

Tony Ortiz of Empower Texans and Robert Montoya of Direct Action Texas visited three campuses during their rolling polling parties — Rosa Parks Millbrook Elementary, George Washington Carver, and Lancaster Middle School — and recorded what they saw on video.

School employees in the video admit the parties were held to get parents to vote. The parties gave free food to parents. The parties were held at schools, on taxpayer-funded government property. At each polling location visited, multiple school employees said on video to vote for the tax rate proposition.

State law makes it illegal for school districts to use taxpayer resources for electioneering. And government employees at work are prohibited from telling voters how to vote in an election.

The video shows what look like violations of both statutes:

 

And no person in Texas can electioneer to voters inside a polling location. They must be 100 feet away from the entrance to the building where the poll is located.

School employees appear to have violated those limits as well. They electioneered inside the polls and on the taxpayer’s dime.

The district’s questionable tactics paid off. Lancaster ISD voters approved the tax swap 62-38 percent, with a dismal 2.5 percent voter turnout. In-person early voters, including those who cast ballots at the early voting parties, voted for the tax swap proposition by a 269-65 margin. Election Day voters, who cast ballots at a local library, were more closely divided, 124-100.”

Keller ISD – Swap and Drop or Bait and Switch?

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Keller ISD again is coming to voters asking to increase the tax rate above the max allowed. Apparently, the massive bond money, revenue increases from unprecedented home valuation increases, and long term budget deficits are not enough to cover an apparent inability to spend within their means. They are now planning a tax rate increase so large that it requires taxpayers to vote themselves a larger property tax bill than what we should have to pay. Remember when they did this a few years ago? Voters overwhelmingly said no and then the district punished the voters by limiting bus services.

Over the last several years, the taxpayers in Keller ISD have continued to realize ever increasing and over burdensome property tax increases due to a number of factors.

1. Bonds burdening the district with over $1 billion of debt
2. Long term budget deficits
3. Significant home valuation increases and,
4. Most significant, a school board unwilling to decrease the I&S tax rate so that taxpayers would see little to no increases in their tax bill.

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What is the Fort Worth ISD School Board Hiding?

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Direct Action Texas (DAT) called out the Fort Worth ISD School Board for ditching their ethics policy just before voting on a $750 million bond package. We opined that certain Board Trustees made the decision because they may be unable to adhere to the new policy and cash in on the massive bond. So, they buried its repeal in a long, vaguely worded consent agenda.

Other Trustees were outraged when they discovered the subterfuge, feeling tricked into voting out the merely three-month-old policy. Even the liberal Fort Worth Star Telegram weighed in against the removal of the policy with a serious of articles including this scathing rebuke from the Editorial Board. As outlined in another FWST piece, the Board is still in turmoil over what “ethics” means in Fort Worth. Read More

Open Letter from Chris Putnam to GCISD Superintendent

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Open Letter from Christ Putnam to Dr. Ryan – GCISD Superintendent:

“Dr. Ryan,

Many of us that have been involved in politics locally have seen this disturbing dynamic creeping into the district for some time.  It started with the bond election when the district and trustees leveraged the well-known “gray area” to advocate and campaign for bond approval.  Now it seems clear the district is using taxpayer resources to organize gray area groups and campaigns to influence state and local elections.  As a proud GCISD parent and supporter of our public schools it’s very disappointing.  The recent trend of non-partisan government agencies at all levels of government being politicized to advanced their own agendas is frightening.  It is clearly occurring here at home now and needs to end immediately.  The district’s political agenda and tactics are completely obvious, and I would strongly encourage you to stand down and allow our voters/taxpayers to make their own decisions.

By way of personal background, my mother was a public school teacher for 40 years in the most challenging school in our district.  My wife was an elementary school teacher, counselor and was awarded the PTA Lifetime Member award several yeas ago.  My grandfather was a public educator as well.  You may know that I personally organized and led the effort to allow Colleyville and Grapevine children zoned in other districts to transfer to GCISD.   We believe in public education in our family, educate all of our children in our GCISD schools, and support our teachers, coaches and schools.  I have also been a personal public supporter of yourself and several other administrators that I know personally.

However, that doesn’t mean we abandon our right to ask tough questions or even challenge how the district and/or our trustees are managing the district financially.  And it is time for an honest – not district manipulated – public conversation about GCISD spending, taxation, debt and curriculum.  Instead I get propaganda mailers in my tax bill blaming high GCISD tax rates exclusively on Robin Hood and coordinated talking point campaigns from Trustees, the PTA and other district-affiliated organizations.  Anyone paying attention can see this coordination and the scripted talking points clearly on many of the local social media group pages.  People that question or challenge these talking points or disagree with Trustees or their surrogates are instantly labeled as “public school haters.”

Now the district and its leadership are brazenly creating enemies out of conservative republicans who are demanding property tax reform and warning about the level of indebtedness of our school districts – a staggering $1 billion dollars of debt in the case of GCISD.  We can agree that Robin Hood is absolutely heinous (as with all forms of socialism) and should be replaced immediately, but it has been the operating model since 1993 and the financial issue is far more complex than just recapture as you well know.  The advocacy from the district and its trustees is always strictly about increasing revenue and never about cost reduction strategies or efficiency innovations.  It’s time to have a different conversation because many of residents and taxpayers can no longer afford the ever-increasing tax burden.  Many GCISD families have literally had to sell their homes to downsize to remain in the district, and most of us will not be able to retire and keep our homes with the high tax burden.

There are also thousands of private school families in Grapevine and Colleyville, and the district and our trustees have assumed a very public political position against any form of school choice.  The district and its leadership should in no way politically advocate for or against this issue either.  And yet the district and its trustees have weaponized the PTA and other groups for full scale political warfare on this issue in this coming spring’s primary elections.  They are literally labeling these families and anyone who believes that some their personal tax dollars should be allowed to be used for the education they choose for their children as enemies of the district and our community.  These private school families also fund our district with their tax dollars and have a voice even if their children don’t attend GCISD schools.  It’s not the role of the district or our trustees to demonize these families simply because they have made a different educational choice.  Many of them are also struggling to afford both private school tuition and rising school property taxes.  It is arrogant, offensive and frankly frightening to demand that a government provided education is the ONLY choice our residents and taxpayers should be allowed to have, and then publicly attack anyone who disagrees or chooses a different path.

Please sir, get back to the otherwise excellent job you are doing educating our children and leave the politics out of administration affairs and leadership.  Provide us with transparent, objective, fact-based data on the district’s financial picture and performance.  In five years there will inevitably be another bond election.  Rather than sell new debt initiatives with fake parent steering groups that are led to desired outcomes, involve the entire community and not just hand-picked delegates.  Disclose the current amount of principal and interest obligation the district is already carrying on the ballot when asking taxpayers to assume more debt so they have all the facts.  Stop the public finger-pointing to deflect the blame for our high taxes and take responsibility for your own spending, debt and taxation decisions.  Neither Governor Abbott nor Lt. Governor Patrick increased our property taxes or were responsible for recapture.  The district and Board of Trustees are solely and exclusively responsible for our budgets and setting tax rates.  And as you continue to blame Robin Hood while assuming political advocacy positons and organizing to oust conservative republican legislators please remember that it was Democrat Ann Richards and a Democratic State Legislature who gave us Robin Hood in the first place.

Respectfully,

Chris Putnam.”

Just last month GCISD passed a resolution to “create a culture of voting at GCISD” intended specifically to use taxpayer resources to affect the outcome of the election.

Our friends at Empower Texans recently wrote about localities’ complaints of “unfunded mandates”  and how attempts to force all state taxpayers to pay for them amounts to double taxation. Read their article HERE.

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