Local control is very important to me. I like to know the people who make the decisions that impact my family and my community. I like being able to visit with them at the grocery store, the gym or a local restaurant. As a parent and small business owner, I have learned that is usually best to solve problems at the lowest level possible. If our school board or city council makes a decision to improve our community, I feel much more comfortable with that decision than one made in Austin or Washington, DC. I can impact a local decision by calling one of those people or dropping by their office or home. I feel that local representatives have their finger on the pulse of our community better than politicians and bureaucrats who aren’t here every day.
The upcoming tax ratification election (TRE) that the McKinney ISD school board has proposed is an excellent case in point. During the 2011 legislative session our legislators in Austin — 225 miles south of McKinney — decided to cut education funding for each of the over 1,000 school districts in Texas. The total amount of cuts was $5.3B. McKinney ISD’s share of those cuts was $11.2M in the 2011-2012 school year and $15.7M in the 2012-2013 school year. With the state and local economy struggling, our school board and senior staff trimmed 134 personnel to save $4.7M. This was 11% of the administrative and support staff and 4% of teachers. Additionally, they pulled $8.6M out of their savings account to close the gap left by our legislators in Austin. Salaries were frozen and class sizes were increased. In the 2013 legislative session, $3.4B was restored to education funding. But, due to the vagaries of school finance in Texas, McKinney ISD only got back 27¢ of each $1.00 we lost in 2011.
Now, here’s where the local control part comes in, our school board and our community decided that we value having a quality educational system in McKinney, Texas. It is why a large number of people move to McKinney and have their businesses here. So, to make up for the shortfall of monies coming from Austin, we decide locally that we want to keep our community strong. Texas law allows local school districts to raise the local tax rate to fund their local needs. This is exactly what we are doing. The proposed 13¢ tax increase will cost the average home owner a little over $22 per month and raise an additional $13.7M annually for MISD. If the alternative is that we have a school system that doesn’t measure up to our wants and needs as a community and isn’t attractive to businesses and people to relocate here, $22 per month is a small price to pay.
There are arguments out there that MISD needs to cut its administration, well, administrative costs are about 2.2% of their total budget or $3.7M of $167M , so that would certainly get us part of the way to the $10M budget gap that they are facing. But, could we have a school district with no administration? We could increase class sizes and reduce teachers. I had one neighbor tell me, “Why do we need small classes? I sit in church with 1,000 people and learn every Sunday. Why can’t MISD do that?” Tell me how that would work with a bunch of 2nd graders. If you look around at the other 1,000+ districts in the state of Texas, more than 30% have exercised this same local option to increase the funding at their schools. In the north Texas area, Allen, Celina, Prosper, Wylie and Lovejoy have done it and Plano has it on the ballot for November. Yes, our legislators reduced the number of standardized tests that our children have to take to graduate and some legislators are touting that as a major achievement that will save time and money. I understand that the school district is required to pay the state $200,000 per year for standardized testing. Even though they reduced the number of tests, the state didn’t reduce the $200,000 fee.
In closing, I moved to McKinney because of the quality of life. To achieve and maintain that quality of life, I understand that I have to pay for it. I pay it in my sales taxes, property taxes, my car registration, etc. I know that the tax revenue from a $350,000 house is what’s needed educate one child in McKinney ISD. I know my house isn’t worth $350,000, and I have 3 kids in MISD. As our local leaders continue to drive the mix of residences and businesses closer to a mix that will allow for more taxes generated by businesses and less by residents, we are going to have to continue to fund our priorities while we get there. Platitudes about lower taxes and cutting administration sound good in a campaign speech or at a rally, but a week ago, 25,000+ little faces showed up at MISD schools expecting to be educated, not hear political speeches. Please join with me in helping to work together locally to solve this problem and keep our schools strong. Vote YES during early voting from Sept. 4 to Sept. 17 or on Election Day, Saturday, September 21, 2013.
- Bill Campbell