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Voters to decide TRE Saturday

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The McKinney Independent School District has a budget problem. Or a spending problem, depending on who you talk to. This difference in view will come to a head this Saturday, Sept. 21 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. when the voters of McKinney decide on the Tax Ratification Election (TRE).

In 2011, the Texas state legislature struck MISD with $15 million of budget cuts over two to three years. Despite the state restoring $4.3 million of these funds to the district in 2013, the district now finds itself facing a $10.7 million budget deficit.

To alleviate the deficit, MISD has proposed the TRE to increase the current Maintenance and Operations (M/O) tax from $1.04 to $1.17 per $100 of assessed property value. This increase would increase taxes on the average homeowner $22 per month or $269 annually.

According to the MISD School Board of Trustees President Curtis Rippee, the TRE is necessary not to add additional programs, but rather maintain the existing quality of education.

“It [the TRE] isn’t to increase programs in our district,” Rippee said. “It’s to keep what we have. It’s to remedy the lack of funding we’re getting from the state.”

If the TRE doesn’t pass, Rippee says, the district would be forced to either cut or restrict access to programs offered by the district, a move which would cost about 250 to 290 teachers as well as an unspecified of administrative staff their jobs.

“We’d have to decrease the number of administrative and teaching positions, which would lead to an increase in class size,” Rippee said. “We haven’t had a discussion about exactly what programs would be cut, but it’s likely the gifted and talented program and career and technology classes would be cut while fine arts and even athletics would be limited.”

‘Limiting’ programs refers to the district inability to help subsidize the cost of an activity such as band or any sport. The cost of participating those activities would rise and participation could decrease.

The M/O tax increase to $1.17 proposed by the district is the highest the district can push the M/O tax. This, however, would both replenish the budget deficit and ensure the district’s finances, forestalling the possibility of a second TRE.

“In order to raise enough to fund the tax deficit, you must raise it $0.11,” Rippee said. “We raised the tax rate to $0.13 to help replenish the reserves we’ve tapped into and so we wouldn’t have to come back to the taxpayers later to propose higher taxes.”

Though property value taxes are on the rise, the schools don’t benefit from that increase. For every dollar the district receives because of an increase property value taxes, the state takes away a dollar in funding.

“The only way a district can increase revenue is to increase the property tax rate,” Rippee said.

Taxes are frozen for residents 65 years and older who apply to the Collin County Appraisal District.

The TRE, however, faces opposition from members of the community, including vocal opposition from the McKinney Tea Party. Curtis Rath, a member of the Tea Party, explained that much of the opposition to the TRE stems not from a general vendetta against education but rather in response to what is seen as a fiscally irresponsible school board.

“In 2011, McKinney ISD claims to have cut costs by reducing headcount,” Rath said. “Between 2011 and 2013, McKinney ISD did cut 140 teaching positions, but they added 98 administrative and support staff positions. “

This increase in administration and support staff to the detriment of teaching positions, Rath says, is one of the many spending problems of Central Office. In addition to over-hiring and overpaying administrators, the school board insists upon programs such as forced bussing based on socio-economic status, which costs $7 million per year, sending almost $1 million dollars a year to the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and spending thousands of tax payer dollars on what Rath terms “paid vacations” to conferences around the state.

“I think it’s a waste to take basically four paid vacations a year,” Rath said. “In addition, the School Board sends $1 million a year to TASB, which I see as going towards lobbying for more money from the state. Instead of cutting 290 teachers, why not cut things like that?”

In response to this, the school board argues that their level of pay and number of administrators is on par with local standards.

“What determines administrative pay is a salary survey of the market in our area,” Rippee said. “I don’t think we’re overstaffed at all from the administrative perspective, and our rate of pay is right in line with neighboring districts.”

The majority of administrative funding also goes toward campus support, not to funding Central Office.

“McKinney ISD currently spends 8.5 percent of its annual budget on Administration (according to the Texas Education Agency), compared to the state average of 8.7 percent,” Rippee said in his letter-to-the-editor of ”The 8.5 percent is divided into two components, Central and Campus Administration. MISD spends 2.1 percent on Central Administration (compared to the state average of 3.1 percent) and 6.4 percent on Campus Administration (compared to the state average of 5.6 percent).”

“We have chosen to dedicate more resources at the campus level to more directly support teachers and students, and less in Central Administration,” Rippee said. “Overall, MISD spends less in administration than the state average.”

McKinney ISD also responded to the 2011 funding cuts by cutting 134 teaching positions and 11 percent of administrative and support staff positions, turning coaches into bus drivers and administrators into substitutes, saving $4.9 million in the process.

That said, the issue of spending on programs such as bussing based on socio-economic status, a $7 million per year investment, which has generated public opposition, and payments towards the TASB remain spending problems the School Board has failed to address.

A lack of trust in Central Office because of what opponents say is the district misleading the public plays a key role in opponents’ arguments. After the staff cuts of 2011, the district did not re-establish the lost teaching positions, but it did re-hire more administrative and support staff than it had before the layoffs.

“I think that the leadership of MISD and the School Board should be replaced,” Rath said. “In 2011, MISD proclaimed it would be cutting hard and would start with administration and they really did the exact opposite.”

The Tea Party also criticizes the use of what it refers to as “scare tactics” by MISD to coerce citizens to vote for the TRE.

“I find it appalling that they [the School Board] are trying to scare students by threatening to cut 290 teachers because they know threatening to cut administrators wouldn’t have the same impact,” Rath said. “If they said they were going to cut 290 administrators and support staff nobody would care. Parents wouldn’t care.”

When asked what he would say to a fine arts student who’s fine arts experience would decline if the TRE fails, Rath blamed the School Board for the situation.

“I’d say look at the MISD staff and School Board,” Rath said. “Those are the people who are making decisions about what stays and what goes. Those are the people who make a conscious decisions to support programs like TASB or forced busing which everybody hates and are deliberately trying to hurt students and trying to hurt parents.”

To Rath, voting ‘No’ stands up to a financially unstable School Board who have proven they shouldn’t be trusted.

“MISD said in 2011 that they would cut administrators but they didn’t, they hired administrators,” Rath said. “Why should you trust them to do the right thing now?”

To Rippee, voting ‘Yes’ shows support for the kids of McKinney ISD and their education.

“A vote ‘Yes’ is important to maintain existing programs and not be negatively impacted by a decrease in funding,” Rippee said. “In order to maintain the current quality of education in McKinney, we need this tax increase.”

By Ben Johnson

Photo By Brittany Stout


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