Houston ISD trustees think they've already given enough tax money in support of flood control/drainage issues and want no part of the Renew Houston Proposition 1 measure that would allow the City to collect even more money through drainage fees. So they voted 8-0 today to ask the city for an exemption.
The money collected in the $8 billion referendum -- if approved by voters on Nov. 2 -- would go toward improving the city's infrastructure and flood control over the next 20 years. HISD estimated the cost to it at $2.5 million to $3.5 million a year and the cost to all school districts in Houston at $5 million to $6 million a year. HISD maintains this could jeopardize its classroom and student funding and there might have to be teacher layoffs.
Almost immediately the "Vote for Proposition 1" camp fired back, calling HISD trustees short-sighted weenies (in so many words): "The Vote FOR Prop 1 Campaign regrets to learn that the Houston Independent School District is taking a position against the best interests of our city, taxpayers, and most importantly our children."
The broadside went on to say that "HISD should do a more responsible job of managing taxpayer funds before laying off teachers and opposing a fiscally responsible plan to keep its students safe."
Then under the heading of "Throwing in the Kitchen Sink" the group goes on to state that "HISD has been rocked by at least two scandals this year, from lax oversight of more than a billion dollars in bond funds to spending millions on unnecessary overtime."
The Prop 1 press release declares that it is more important that HISD provides students with "safe passage to schools on safe and dry roads." And it says "HISD does NOT need to use its students as a political football" (apparently ignoring its own employment of the same strategy.)
In their meeting, trustees fell short of officially condemning Proposition 1 itself, although their formal document did express "concern" about it.
As board attorney David Thompson explained, even if the district saw its values and tax collections rise because of an increase in property values due to flood control improvements, "for school districts it does not increase a penny."
"The state will reduce funding by the equivalent amount," he said.
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The state of Texas and institutions of higher education are exempted from this kind of tax, Thompson said. It is left to the discretion of the city whether to also exempt public schools, he said. El Paso ISD has been granted just such an exemption, he said.
Trustee Michael Lunceford raised another set of objections to Prop 1. He lives in Bellaire. "The city of Houston is passing a tax on me that I never had a chance to vote on."
Update: HISD board president Greg Meyers has issued a response.
It is very unfortunate that the Renew Houston advocates have responded with inflammatory and misleading rhetoric to the legitimate policy concerns of the Houston Independent School District. It does not appear that the writers of Renew Houston's press release have even read the Resolution adopted by the Houston ISD's Board of Education.
No person representing Renew Houston even contacted the District until a few weeks ago when the District began to raise questions about the impact of the initiative on education programs, and the District did not have information about the impact of Proposition 1 on its budget until last week. Instead of over-heated rhetoric, the Houston Independent School District sincerely hopes that its concerns will be discussed and addressed, and the District looks forward to continuing discussions with the City and others who are interested in a rational dialogue.