Three Houston lawmakers are proposing the creation of school district crime control districts, new taxing entities that can fund additional security measures or free up dollars for other expenditures.
The "Texas School District Security Act" would give taxpayers the right to approve this new taxing district, modeled on local Crime Control Districts. Jersey Village, for instance, has a crime control district, which taxes local residents to pay for additional security measures in their subdivisions.
"I know just how tight state and local budgets are these days. I also know that we need to pay as we go, avoid running up debt and empower local school districts to decide what the best policy is for them," said Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands). "This plan also underscores accountability to voters."
Williams was joined by Democrat Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, and Republican Rep. Dan Huberty, former Humble school board president and a member of the House Education Committee.
About a quarter of the school districts in Texas have reached the state-mandated $1.17 tax cap for maintenance and operations. Some might actually have voters inclined to support a new taxing district. Houston ISD spokesman Jason Spencer, however, was not bowled over by the proposal.
"If we wanted to address the issue by raising taxes, we're a school district that has the flexibility to do that right now," Spencer said. "I think we're seven cents below the cap, so we could raise our tax rate to pay for this."
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But Houston ISD hasn't. Instead, the school district actually has pulled some of its 200 police officers off secondary campuses, putting them out on patrol. An officer that might have been stationed at a high school might now cover drop-off and pick-up times at the high school, while also patrolling local elementary schools.
Spencer said Houston ISD has gotten no feedback from parents who might be concerned about the police department changes.
Williams insisted the proposal is still in its early stages and might still change as the session goes forward. The Finance chair said he was open to possibly negotiating funding this session to pay for some of the security measures.