TRICIA’S KEY PRIORITIES: LOWER TAXES, SMARTER INVESTMENTS, & BETTER COMMUNICATION
Problem: The DSISD school board must do more to reduce its tax burden.
A primary responsibility of every Texas school board is to adopt a tax rate. The Board has discretion in the tax rate adoption process, which means they decide whether to raise the rate, keep it level, or to lower it. Their decision has a major impact on the amount of taxes that you ultimately pay.
In the past, the Board has done a poor job of adopting tax rates that take into account soaring property values.
From the 2011-12 to the 2013-14 school years, the Board kept its total tax rate -- which is a combination of the maintenance and operations (M&O) rate that pays for day-to-day operating costs, like salaries and supplies, and the interest and sinking (I&S) rate used to fund things like facilities construction and renovation -- at the same level or even increased it. The district’s total tax rate only decreased in 2019-20 and 2020-21 after the Texas Legislature passed a law (HB 3) to compress school district tax rates statewide.
As a result of the Board’s frequent decisions to hold its rate steady in most years and even increase it in some years, homeowners have been hammered as property values have skyrocketed. Last year alone, “Property values of the District [were] projected to increase 12.45% for the 2020-21 year.”
The result? Massive tax bills.
This year, the tax bill due on a home valued at $396,181 is a whopping $5,565! That’s almost $500 per month paid out in school district taxes.
Source: Dripping Springs ISD 2020-21 Official Budget (pg. 26)
Solutions: Do more to protect homeowners by adopting a lower tax rate and seeking out efficiencies.
If elected, I will work with my colleagues to adopt the no-new-revenue tax rate, which is the tax rate that will bring in the same amount of revenue this year as it did last year. Because property values are rising so quickly, this will necessarily mean adopting a lower tax rate thereby protecting vulnerable homeowners, the unemployed, and those less fortunate.
In addition, I will also encourage my colleagues to undergo a third-party efficiency audit to examine every dollar spent and make sure that it is being spent well. As a growing district, DSISD spends a lot of money. We must make sure that those dollars are going to the best use and in the cases that they’re not, the Board should redirect those monies to other purposes, like tax relief.
Problem: DSISD is a fast-growing district with a legitimate need to make smart investments; but it is also a district deep in debt.
The Bond Review Board’s latest data for fiscal year 2020 shows that DSISD taxpayers owe a total of $462 million. With a projected enrollment of 7,696 students, this means that the district owes more than $60,000 for every student currently in attendance!
DSISD’s extraordinary debt load matters because it has a direct impact on your tax bill and saddles future generations with massive debt.
Solution: Focus the district’s future bond proposals on needs, not wants.
The district’s newly-established Bond Advisory Committee’s mission should be expanded to not only monitor the progress of the 2018 bond, but to also make recommendations to the Board on all future bond projects. Allowing this nine-member body to gather ideas directly from the community and put forward the best proposals is one way that the district can hone-in on needs rather than wants.
Problem: Constituents deserve open and honest communication from their local elected officials.
DSISD does a better job than most when it comes to communicating with constituents; however, there are some ways that the district could improve.
For instance, the Board’s policy manual dictates that: “Board members are encouraged to participate in community activities as liaisons between the community and the school district. When doing so, board members are expected to...Support board decisions.”
Let’s be honest: No one agrees with everything their local elected officials do. Especially not me (which is why I’m running!) To require school board members -- who are elected by voters -- to support every Board decision when speaking with their constituents is wrong. Those trustees should be free to speak their mind and give their opinion on any issue. How else are voters to know where their elected officials really stand?
Another way that Board policy hamstrings dialogue between the community and trustees is a requirement that “...the president will respond to communications addressed to two or more board members.” Like the previously discussed rule, this policy unnecessarily inhibits open and honest dialogue. If a constituent asks a question of his or her local elected officials, then those persons should respond, not a middleman.
Solution: Change Board policy to facilitate open and honest dialogue between the public and those they elect.