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Trinity Standard - Local News

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TISD joins state school funding lawsuit
Trinity Standard -

TRINITY – Charging that the state’s method of financing education is “totally unfair” to Trinity children and taxpayers, the Trinity School Board voted to join a lawsuit filed in October in Austin. The lawsuit filed by the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition seeks to force the Texas Legislature to come up with a more equitable way to pay for education. The coalition is being organized by the Austin-based Equity Center. Dr. Wayne Pierce of the Equity Center told the school board during their meeting Monday night that 679 school districts had already joined in the coalition with the goal of finding a funding system that treats all students equally. He charged that under the current system, districts with political power are raking in more than their fair share of education dollars at the expense of districts with little power. During the presentation, he noted that the Trinity Independent School District is in the bottom 10 percent of state funding. He noted that currently local and state funds provide the district with only $4,845 per weighted average daily attendance (WADA). The “weighted” portion of WADA takes into account factors such as students with special needs. He noted that the Wimberley ISD, which is of a similar size to Trinity, but located near Austin, currently receives $6,029 per WADA. This means that last year while Trinity had just under $7.7 million in education funds, Wimberley had almost $9.6 million – a difference of almost $1.9 million. “Think what you could have done with an additional $1.9 million last year. You could have raised teachers salaries and you could have considered actually lowering your local tax rate,” Pierce said. He noted that under the current system, most school districts are forced to adopt the highest possible local tax rate in order to keep their doors open for students. At present, the maximum maintenance and operation tax rate a school can adopt without seeking voter approval is $1.04 per $100 in assessed value. The maximum M&O rate allowed by the state is $1.17 but anything above $1.04 has to be pre-approved by local voters. The TISD’s M&O tax rate is at $1.04. Pierce said this was one of the major points that will be raised in the lawsuit. He noted the Texas Constitution prohibits a state property tax but by forcing local school district to adopt the maximum tax rate, the Texas Legislature has created a defacto state property tax. Pierce told the school board that the Supreme Court has ruled that school districts must have “reasonable discretion” to adopt a tax rate below the maximum level. “If that discretion does not exist, then the ‘local’ property tax becomes, in effect, an unconstitutional state property tax,” Pierce said. Because of TISD’s position near the bottom of the state’s funding system, Pierce said the district might be used as an example during the lawsuit. “We’re going to pick out some districts around the state that are poster children for the evils involved in the current system and the Trinity Independent School District is a prime candidate,” he said. “It will be up to you if you don’t want to got that far and we will honor that wish,” he said. Piece said that districts that join the coalition are being asked to pay a one time fee of $1 per WADA – or about $1,600 in Trinity’s case. He added that the fee was optional and if TISD felt it couldn’t afford the amount, they could pay less. Any money left over at the end of the lawsuit would be returned on a pro rated basis. In addition, if the coalition won the lawsuit, there is a good chance that the state would be ordered to pay for their attorney costs. Should that happen, all of the money would be returned. In voting to join the coalition, the board agreed to pay 50 cents per WADA up to $900. They also agreed to allow the coalition attorneys to use TISD as an example during the lawsuit. Kindle purchase approved After a presentation by high school English teachers Carrie Ross and Steve Holmes, the school board approved plans to purchase 100 Kindle Touch electronic readers at a cost of $10,203. Ross noted that the novels currently on hand for use in English classes are worn out and falling apart. She said her research has indicated that the district has not replaced any of the sets of novels for over 10 years. To replace them all over the next five years would cost the district about $14,737. “The problem there is that after you replaced them, you’d still have a very limited number of titles from which to teach, By using the Kindle, all of the classics are available to download free of charge. “For the $10,000 it will cost to buy the Kindles, we would have access to over three million titles at no additional cost,” she said, adding that books ranging from Frankenstein to Hamlet could be accessed. By approving the purchase, Superintendent Dave Plymale noted TISD would be the first school district in the region to begin issuing Kindles to students. Ross and Holmes noted that under the current plan, the 100 Kindles would be checked out to students while they read their assigned books. Once the assignment was finished, the Kindles would be returned so that they could be used by other students in different classes. Ross added that Curriculum Director Steve Brownlee is in the process of writing a grant application that would allow TISD to purchase 600 more Kindles to be used in grades six through 12. These e-readers would then be issued to each student for use during the course of the entire school year. It was noted that in the very near future, all textbooks used by students would be available for download on the devices. Ross noted that because each Kindle Touch can store up to 3,000 novels, there would be no problem with downloading all of a student’s textbooks plus their required reading assignments over the course of a year. Concern voiced In other business Monday night, Tonya Hudnall spoke during the public forum asking the board to take steps to insure that all teachers are performing up to standards. She noted that Athletic Director Chuck Langston was recently removed from his post and reassigned. “If you going to (reassign) the AD for not doing the job, then I think that could happen to others who are not doing theirs,” she said. Hudnall said the district has some “fantastic teachers” but added there are others who are having problems. “The number one goal should be to educate our children and there are things happening in the classrooms that are unacceptable,” she said. Other action During the meeting, the school board also: • Held a public hearing on continuing to tax personal property in transit through the district. The district currently has such a tax in place but a change in the state tax code earlier this year forced local entities to readopt the tax by Dec. 1 or the goods would be permanently exempt from local taxes. The tax applies to goods which are warehoused locally and are not intended for sale in the school district. • Voted to cast TISD’s 1452 votes in the Trinity County Tax Appraisal District’s board election. The votes will be divided equally among the five nominees who are running unopposed. They include Ivy Evans, Doug Page, Hayne Huffman, Rudy Wilkison and Bobby Rushing. • Received reports from band director Herschal Lester, Special Education Director Marcia Lawton and Brownlee


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