Keller ISD sends defiant message to state, votes not to make recapture payments next year

With property values dramatically increasing in recent years, a longstanding rule set by the state is getting more pushback by districts

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Monday night, Keller ISD board members officially said "No thank you" to a longstanding move that sends local tax dollars back to the state.

It's something board members have said is similar to "the mafia".

The debate revolved around a rule set by the Texas Education Agency called recapture, also as Robin Hood. The rule allows lawmakers to take excess local property tax dollars from property-rich school districts and use it to help balance the state budget or send it property poor districts to ensure the amount of money being spent per student is equal across Texas.

Districts can make recapture payments by purchasing attendance credits from the state.

There are about 150 districts considered property-rich across the state as more people move to Texas and compete for housing, which is driving up property values.

Keller ISD is one of them. According to the school board, it had excess local revenue of about $2.5 million that it already agreed to pay for 2022 taxes.

However, as school board members questioned the lack of transparency by the state in knowing exactly where the money is going, they started a debate over whether or not to make another recapture payment for 2023, which is due to be paid next year.

"The reality is the state is sitting on a multibillion dollar surplus. And the argument that in lieu of them giving us more money that we should just give them more money instead of funding schools appropriately, is absolutely asinine,” said Chris Coker, Keller ISD trustee place 5, during Monday night’s meeting. "They are constantly looking for ways to collect more money from the districts. If we continue to just give it to them willingly, it creates a problem and sets a precedent that we set over the years."

Residents were upset to know that extra money possibly wouldn't go back into their schools if the board didn't vote against it. They didn't hold back during fiery public comments.

"You know how complicated Texas school finance is and you're hoping the community doesn't do their homework to understand what it is you're trying to do,” said one Keller ISD mom.

The board ended up voting 5 to 1 to not send the recapture payment to the state for the 2023 taxes unless the state provides more transparency on where that money is going.

"As trustees, we have a fiduciary responsibility to this district. And as part of that fiduciary responsibility, I think it's protecting the funds that we have,” said Charles Randklev, Keller ISD board president. “2.5 million dollars in attendance credits, whatever that is, is tantamount to a shakedown by Austin."

The lone board member who voted in favor of paying the state said she was concerned about sending the wrong message to the community.

"I would never tell one of my kids you don't have to pay your bills if you don't want to, because that's what it is. I mean it's a bill – do I like it? No, I certainly don't but it's there,” said Ruthie Keyes, Keller ISD trustee place 7.

There are some consequences if districts don't make recapture payments. According to the TEA, districts can be prevented from adopting new tax rates and can even have taxable property detached from their district and given to others in order to level out tax revenues.

The state can even withhold funding from those who don't make their recapture payments.

Keller ISD's decision is a show of defiance against the state and they're not the only ones to do this. Spring Branch ISD in the Houston area recently voted against it as well.

Right now, there are calls for lawmakers or even the Texas Supreme Court to intervene and change the law.

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