In order to help pass his school bond package last fall, Keller ISD Superintendent Dr. Randy Reid publicly promised constituents he would not personally lobby legislators to break existing property tax limits. On Tuesday, Reid broke that promise.
Critics of Texas’ local debt epidemic had warned voters of such a bait and switch. As Vice Chair of the Fast Growth School Coalition (FGSC), a lobbying co-opt with corporate sponsors, Reid’s mission was always to lobby for higher taxes to help finance excessive debt. In fact, the main legislative objective of FGSC is to convince legislators to break the cap that limits how much school officials across the state can borrow, including those at KISD.
So it’s hard to believe, as Vice Chair of FGSC, that Reid had any intention of actually keeping his “promise.” Perhaps the purpose of his promise was purely political—to calm the fear of local voters prior to his ISD’s upcoming bond election?
Reid’s testimony before the House Education committee was astonishingly cavalier. He said KISD was “blessed” that taxable values had grown so quickly that they hit their tax cap much later than other government schools. They won’t have to raise taxes in the near future—not yet. Other districts “aren’t so fortunate,” said Reid.
The fiscal figures Reid cited were both accurate and compelling, but not in the way he intended. Interestingly, they proved precisely why Reid’s KISD and others don’t need higher taxing authority to accommodate their enrollment growth.
Reid cited that KISD’s student enrollment roughly doubled in recent years. During the same period, the taxable value of property inside KISD grew much faster, from “$2 billion to roughly $12 billion,” or three times faster than enrollment growth. What Reid left out, however, was that despite this enormous increase in the taxable base, the I&S tax rate levied on that property also doubled, from ~$0.20 to $0.50/$100 of valuation.
In other words, the tax revenue collected by KISD for debt service alone (not their annual operating budget) grew roughly six times faster than student enrollment. And now that the tax rate is at the $0.50 cap, Reid wants to allow districts the legally authority to raise it higher because…you know, they’re growing.
It’s already been demonstrated that many “fast growth” districts have used enrollment growth as an excuse to use excessive debt on top of what’s needed for new school construction. Schools use bonds to purchase vehicles, iPads, security equipment, football stadiums, athletic complexes and other goodies. You know, “for the kids.” And even when building new schools, some districts inflate the build cost to increase the total size of their bond.
Instead of reforming the bond process to make it more fair, transparent, and accountable to taxpayers footing the bill, officials like Reid would rather lobby legislators to force Texans to simply pay more, and disguise his malignant intentions in the short-term to local parents prior to his own bond election to help it pass.
In fact, as with last session on HB 14, the educational establishment (TASB, TASA, TASBO, FGSC) and their corporate benefactors who profit off elaborate projects will lobby legislators to oppose every single pro-taxpayer reform, whether it’s limits on voter-targeting, “rolling-polling,” full ballot disclosure, higher auditing and accountability standards, or restrictions on reckless debt mechanisms such as capital appreciation bonds.
As with most policy issues, government officials take advantage when Texans are not actively engaged. Dr. Reid’s flip-flop testimony is yet another example of why it’s so important that what happens in Austin, no longer stays in Austin. Keller ISD and Texans across our great state deserve better.