North Texas

North Texas School Districts Voice Frustration Over School Finance Proposal

Three North Texas school districts say changes to a bill in Austin are an about face on school finance reform.

Richardson ISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone said when the legislative session first began she was hopeful.

"I was for the first time in my 30 year career, optimistic," Stone said.

But now she feels like districts are being given money in one hand and having it taken out in the other.

On Friday, she joined forces with Dallas and Plano Schools to plead with lawmakers to reconsider changes to House Bill 3. A recent amendment uses current year property values, rather than prior year, to calculate school funding.

"Switching to current year values has nothing to do with reform and it doesn't mean a thing for students," Stone said.

"This proposal is nothing more than a last-minute maneuver designed to minimize the states contribution to public education," said Dan Micciche, who serves as vice president for Dallas ISD board of trustees.

The school districts said the switch means a $1.8 billion a year decrease in the state's share of public funding.

"If you take money from here and put it here, that's not transformation. That doesn't help kids, that hurts kids and I can't stand by quietly and pretend that that's okay," said Sara Bonser, Plano ISD Superintendent.

Cities with rising property values would contribute more than initially expected.

"This means that the state, not our local districts, benefit from any property growth," Bonser said.

Since current values are still being determined with protests, schools would have to make budget decisions without final numbers. They said going off prior values, which has been the standard, helps keep them accurate and accountable.

Using this year's values, Micciche said Dallas could lose $100 million. For Plano ISD, it's $35 million. All three districts said they'd be forced to make a combination of job and program cuts.

"We're just being kicked while we're down. We need these programs to help these students catch up," said Mae Reedy, a Plano mother who attended the news conference.

Reedy is a mother of two as well as an incoming PTA president.

She worries for her girls' future and for students in struggling neighborhoods, left with gaps in funding.

Reedy is also urging lawmakers to reconsider.

"They might not know the impact and they need to know and they need to do what's right for children," she said.

Of course there are some districts that would benefit from using current year property values. For example, Mesquite ISD would get more money under the proposal. Despite the potential upside for his district, the superintendent said he supports switching back to prior year values.

As for the status of HB3, it's currently in conference committee.

Lawmakers from both the House and Senate are now working out a final draft which still needs to be voted on in each chamber.

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