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Little Elm, Allen School Districts Sue Over State Funding

Districts among hundreds in Texas challenging legislative cuts

By Catherine Ross
|  Monday, Nov 28, 2011  |  Updated 6:49 PM CDT
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The Plano Independent School District filed one of three separate lawsuits aimed at changing the way education is funded in Texas.

Catherine Ross, NBC 5 News

The Plano Independent School District filed one of three separate lawsuits aimed at changing the way education is funded in Texas.

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At least three separate lawsuits representing hundreds of Texas school districts are out to change the way the state finances public education.

Districts have been faced with bitter cuts since the Legislature approved more than $4 billion in cuts.

They have affected every aspect of staffing in the Little Elm Independent School District.

"We've cut 30 teaching positions, a couple of AP positions, a counseling position, a nursing position," Superintendent Lynne Leuthard said.

She said she feels litigation is a last resort.

However, Allen has had success with legal means in the past and said it's time to act.

"The next legislative session could be worse," Allen Independent School District Superintendent Ken Helvey. "At the end of the last fiscal year, we were already the lowest funded per student in Collin County."

Helvey said litigation historically is the most efficient way to challenge legislative decisions.

While Allen hasn't had to turn to layoffs, it is under a hiring freeze.

In the meantime, Little Elm has cut 10 percent from its budget over the past year. But the district saw a 5 percent increase in enrollment during the same period.

Allen has also been forced to redistribute resources and increase class sizes.

"We had over 100 classes that we know of that were over 30 students in our secondary schools, " Helvey said.

The biggest change both districts would like is more equality in how education is funded.

Leuthard said Little Elm ISD taxpayers pay $1.04 per $100 assessed valuation. The district receives an average of $5,719 per student per year.

But in neighboring Frisco, taxpayers pay $1 per $100 assessed valuation, yet their average funding per student per year (based on weighted daily attendance) is $6,420.

Leuthard said cities such as Frisco have more taxable retail space than Little Elm and can generate more dollars toward education.

In the meantime, Allen voters approved increasing their taxes to the highest legal rate in Texas -- a move the district says will generate another $10 million per year.

Both districts agree that the priority is the student.

"When we're not giving them the same level of benefits, they can't compete," Leuthard said.

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