ROUND ROCK — As parents across the state continue to challenge their local school boards for corruption, controversial curricula, and questionable mask mandates, citizens in an Austin suburb are taking their local district to court.
“NEWS! The Round Rock [Independent School District] Board’s ‘Bad Faith Five’ members, who have violated open meetings laws, wrongfully arrested parents, engaged in illegal content-based public speech censorship, and attempted an unlawful ‘censure’ against the 2 best Trustees, have been sued in Williamson County Court [Thursday] for approving an illegal property tax increase,” posted Don Zimmerman, who filed the lawsuit. Zimmerman is a former Austin City Council member and current executive director of the Travis County Taxpayers Union.
The lawsuit comes after a contentious few weeks in the district.
Two weeks ago, the school board sparked community backlash when they arbitrarily limited the number of citizens who could enter a public meeting about mask mandates and taxes (only allowing 21 seats in a room with a reported capacity of more than 300). The board directed district police officers to keep citizens out of the room and even arrest two of them.
Furthermore, while the board blocked the public outside of the meeting hall, they voted to raise property taxes (setting a tax rate that will raise the average homeowner’s school bill from $4,053 to $4,080).
Two board members—trustees Danielle Weston and Mary Bone—opposed the actions and repeatedly admonished the board during the meeting to vote and allow the citizens and parents inside so they could proceed with the meeting. The board rejected the idea by a vote of 5-2.
In the days afterward, board president Amy Weir and the “Bad Faith Five” members planned a resolution to formally censure their colleagues Weston and Bone for not agreeing with the capacity limits in the meeting and trying to put those limitations to a vote. The board was set to censure them at Wednesday’s meeting last week, but at the last minute, a district court judge intervened and issued a temporary restraining order against the board, stopping their censure plan.
“We will continue to relentlessly advocate for these children, restoring the Rule of Law, protecting parental rights and the principle of open government,” wrote trustees Weston and Bone in a joint statement after the court order.
Now, citizens are suing the rest of the board.
“The [board meeting] video demonstrates repeatedly that the Trustees sought to empower the District Superintendent to arbitrarily limit the size of the meeting room and further limit seating in that room to prevent individuals from participating in the meeting,” the lawsuit reads. “The Trustees further asserted that disagreement with these rules constitutes a ‘meeting disruption’, a criminal offense under the Texas Penal Code repeatedly cited by Trustee Weir – which was represented to be a justification for removing public participants by Round Rock ISD police.”
The September 14 meeting demonstrated bad faith action of Board members in seeking to violate the Texas Open Meetings Act through placing above the OPA ‘administrative rules’ of unelected District staff. The Trustees also failed to comply with Tax Code law in presenting and voting on a tax increase.
Regarding the allegedly illegal tax increase—the main allegation of the lawsuit—plaintiff Zimmerman described part of the issue further on social media.
“The Round Rock Independent School District’s Board of Trustees failed to present a legal motion at its Sept. 14 meeting to raise property taxes above the ‘no new revenue’ rate, and proceeded to vote on a tax rate even higher than the rate proposed in its Sept. 14 posted agenda,” wrote Zimmerman.
“By law taxing districts must compute the ‘No New Revenue Tax Rate’ (NNR) every year. If the taxing entity votes to raise taxes above the NNR, it means 60% of that elected board must do so. In the case of Round Rock ISD, only 57% (4 members) voted in favor, and the vote was not ‘recorded’ as required by law,” he added.
“I wasn’t aware [the school board] could raise our property taxes … without a vote from the taxpayers?” one citizen commented. “These board members obviously forgot who elected them, and that they need to follow the rules.”
Citizens can read the full lawsuit against the district here.