Administrators at Dallas ISD are again seeking to ask voters for a 13 cent per $100 valuation property tax increase for the third time in three years.
But they can’t get trustees to agree to the ballot measure. According to a story in the Dallas Morning News, the money is already spent.
“While a small percentage of new revenue would be used to address racial equity efforts and to expand the district’s early childhood learning program, Hinojosa and the district’s chief financial officer Larry Throm presented a four-year forecast where the bulk of the money would go to two places: salary increases for teachers and staff and the district’s savings account — called the unassigned fund balance,” the story says.
The increase would mean $240 a year extra on a home with the district average value of $184,550. Valuations are projected by Zillow to increase 3.4 percent in Dallas over the next year.
The board has in the past two years failed to come to a consensus on whether to approach voters in asking for the outlay, which would come on top of an 11 percent increase in property taxes in Dallas County for 2017.
Dallas ISD leaders need six of the nine board members to agree to put it to a vote. A vote on the measure would come in August, and if they can get the votes, the item would appear on the November ballot.
Dallas voters have not refused a school district measure for over 15 years. Most recently, $1.6 billion was approved in 2015 for buildings and technology.
Municipalities — including school districts — have the advantage in pushing ballot measures. Separate community campaigns to promote them are funded by entities that will benefit from their passage, including teacher unions and any private companies (such as construction companies, law firms and engineering groups) that might get resulting professional work. So, getting the tax increase to the ballot is an important step.
Bill Betzen taught for 11 years at a middle school in the Dallas ISD, and supports the tax increase. But first, he needs some information. He claims that the district is putting more money into the wealthy schools at the expense of the less wealthy.
“There is good reason to believe that Dallas ISD is not spreading resources equitably, and while I want an increase to pass, I am going to hold out until we have some transparency,” Betzen said. He filed a public information request last week, seeking data that will allow him to compile a spreadsheet that details spending. He is focused on ISD expenditures broken down per student and by school.
The data, he said, would help taxpayers make an informed decision on whether to back the tax increase. Currently, the figures are kept in various open data portals that are undecipherable to most people.
Gathering them all in one spot for an easy-to-read spreadsheet would allow voters to ensure money is being spent wisely.
“If you don’t make the data available to the public in a format it can work with and research themselves, then you are keeping secrets,” he said.
Dallas ISD’s tax rate is $1.28 per $100 valuation, compared to Houston ISD’s $1.20 and Austin ISD’s $1.19.
The district’s enrollment of around 160,000 has remained static for the past seven years, although a demographer’s projection last year estimated student losses at 5,000 over the next ten years to charter schools, affordability issues and housing availability.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].