Citizens of Frisco ISD elect a School Board to represent them in the execution of, among their other duties, fiduciary responsibility over their hard-earned tax dollars. The state has given the board expansive power to levy taxes. But when the administration recommends going beyond what is considered “normal,” the state mandates that the board must let the voters weigh in. That’s why we have the Tax Ratification Election (TRE) process — so voters can determine what is normal versus excessive taxation.
I believe there are three simple guidelines for the board’s decisions. First on the M&O side, the administration’s proposal is for a 13-cent tax rate increase. One can debate the myriad details of the budget and the funding complexities. But as fiduciaries, trustees need to first analyze the macro impact on the taxpayer (see slide #34 of the CFO’s presentation HERE). Without the proposed TRE, the current “normal” $1.04 tax rate is conservatively estimated to increase revenue by a whopping $80 million over the following two years. This net increase amount is sufficient to fund the projected student growth, teacher compensation, etc. However, the proposed TRE’s 13-cent tax rate increase is forecast to grow tax revenue by nearly $150 million over the current year’s budget. When you take the macro view, you see an unacceptable burden on the taxpayers: a 29-percent, $150 million tax increase. But student growth is only increasing by a maximum of 4,000 (approximately 7 percent). That is not normal.
Second, the proposed bond program is a veritable $700 million Christmas tree. Included is something for everyone and every department. It’s designed to guarantee passage. But it is very hard to tell what is an actual “need” versus a “want.” And school boards are not limited to the proposed expenditures. If the bond is approved, the board can change the projects. This omnibus bond proposal is a de facto blank check for the administration and board. Every other governmental agency in the state must provide individual projects for voters to decide. The board should unbundle the bond proposal and provide a transparent individual project list of the 12 categories so voters can rationally determine what is a legitimate need.
Third, for several years the board has set the I&S tax rate artificially higher than needed to service the bond debt. This over-taxation has created huge surpluses of up to $40 million per year! During the Priority Based Budget project, an I&S tax rate reduction of six to eight percent was proposed by the committee. The administration and board ignored the proposal. Earlier this year during the trustee election, a candidate proposed a 10-cent I&S tax rate reduction and was ridiculed by numerous “experts” including some on the school board. Now, just months later, the CFO and potentially the board are recommending a 15-cent rate reduction — but only if the TRE is approved. It is unseemly at best to hold a legitimate tax rate reduction hostage to the TRE’s passage. It gives the perception of a cynical shell game to which elected officials should never be a party. The board should immediately enact the 15-cent I&S tax rate reduction — the state has given the board the authority, they don’t need the voters’ permission, and they have the fiduciary duty.
Finally, whether overtly or through whisper campaigns, the narrative is if the TRE doesn’t pass, then the citizens “hate the teachers.” That is a totally false narrative. I have personally talked to a couple thousand households over the last couple years and have NEVER, EVER had one person say anything disparaging about the teachers — just the opposite. Respect, admiration, and professional are the words that people mouth. FISD should not allow this false narrative.
In summary, the state has given school boards great power to levy taxes both up and down. But a simple macro view of the administration’s recommendations reveals they are far in excess of what is considered “normal.” I have petitioned the Frisco ISD School Board to 1) reject the request for a TRE, 2) list the capital project categories on the ballot individually, and 3) immediately lower the I&S tax rate. They have the authority and responsibility to determine what is normal and what is excessive. I’m asking them to please do the right thing.
Frisco ISD’s school board is scheduled to meet Monday, August 20, to discuss and adopt the district’s 2018 tax rate. A public hearing will also be held during the meeting.
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