Opinion: I Will Vote No on the Richardson ISD TRE
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.
Since we are new buyers – as most young families will be who are attending R.I.S.D. elementary schools – we are paying significantly more than the “average” R.I.S.D. resident in property taxes. In this day and age, there is simply no such thing as an “affordable home in a safe area,” unless you move to the extreme outer ring suburbs and have hellacious commute times. Now, the district is asking us to pay for more, which will inevitably be more year to year.
We currently pay over $8k per year for property taxes, with just over half of that going to R.I.S.D. We haven’t even factored in kids yet, but if we include property valuation increases, we are looking at paying R.I.S.D. over $100,000 in property taxes over the next 18 years. If you live in Canyon Creek, like my parents, you can expect to pay that amount in only 10 years!
Needless to say, that’s how I got sucked into this “Vote NO RISD TRE” effort. Leading a “Vote NO” effort against R.I.S.D. with my husband is the LAST thing I wanted to do before we ever had our boxes unpacked. My husband and I both work full time – he travels A LOT for work, I teach fitness classes on the side at a women’s boutique fitness gym, and we’ve got a small business on the side that’s been neglected for a while. While we would love to start developing our business, we simply do not have time. There are plenty of other things I’d rather be spending my time on to help our family make money, but I’m fighting this effort so we don’t LOSE our money.
I recognize the school finance system is convoluted and needs massive reform. Before getting a job in the corporate world, I worked in the State Legislature for five years, so I get it. I understand it. I will likely focus just as much of my efforts on the Legislature as soon as we defeat the TRE, because ultimately it’s the way the state funds education that exacerbates our property taxes. Even with state funding decreasing from year to year, R.I.S.D’s revenue from property taxes continue to EXCEED that decrease, but they won’t tell you that. R.I.S.D. isn’t losing money; they just don’t have enough for their “wish list” of projects, but I also don’t have enough for my “wish list” either. That’s the thing about budgets, why we save, and why we don’t bloat our budget to be more than we can sustain. Otherwise, that’s how you run into DEBT.
I’ll be frank — R.I.S.D. doesn’t have a stellar track record when it comes to budget forecasting. If you look at their Executive Summary from as recently as 2011, they predicted that the ’16-‘17 revenue would be $254m, which was the same as their ’11-‘12 revenue. In reality, that revenue was $321m – a $67m discrepancy!
At the end of the day, these are educators and people who specialize in academia. They clearly are not finance people or business people, and their mistakes reflect that. So please forgive me for my distrust when someone is trying to force me to pay more of my hard-earned money to cover for their mistakes. Especially when they are now talking about removing homestead exemptions, which was also something that was factored into our buying process. Please forgive me for not putting my blind trust into people who only know how to spend and not budget. These people are toying with people’s livelihoods, not just their money.