The Texas Legislature punted on protecting Dallas students and taxpayers and instead passed a bill on Sunday that gives voters the responsibility to abolish Dallas County’s problem-plagued school bus bureaucracy. However, a move by the Texas Attorney General may make it impossible for the near-insolvent agency to stay afloat until the election is held.
Dallas County voters will decide the fate of embattled bus agency Dallas County Schools in November, if Gov. Greg Abbott signs Senate Bill 2065 as expected.
SB 2065 incorporates language from a bill by State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) to wind down DCS, pay off its debts, and distribute its assets to school districts that currently use its bus service. Huffines called DCS “a ticking financial time bomb” and said the legislature had an obligation to shut down the agency before it inevitably collapses.
“Students, taxpayers, and schools deserve better than this dangerous bureaucracy,” said Huffines.
State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) disagreed. He pressured Huffines to amend his bill and shift responsibility for shutting down DCS to Dallas County voters.
But DCS is now even more likely to collapse before voters can initiate an orderly shutdown in November. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office said on Friday that DCS won’t be allowed to restructure bond debt on the backs of Dallas County taxpayers:
“Our office conducted a thorough legal review to determine if Dallas County Schools has stable revenues to cover operating expenses while using its maintenance tax to issue additional tax debt. We concluded there is reasonable doubt as to the legality of the proposed tax obligations. Aside from its financial instability, Dallas County Schools could be abolished under a bill passed by the Legislature. Given this instability, we cannot approve Dallas County Schools’ proposed debt restructure.”
Without the cash from that restructured debt, which DCS desperately needs just to pay current operating expenses, the agency will likely default on debt payments that are due this week.
By passing a watered-down shutdown bill, the legislature passed on its obligation to protect Dallas County students, school districts, and taxpayers from DCS’s bad business practices. As a result, Royce and his colleagues bear responsibility for chaos and extra costs to taxpayers that could have been avoided.
If Dallas County Schools somehow manages to stave off financial collapse, voters should shut down the mismanaged, corrupt bureaucracy in November – before it does even more damage, and so school districts can move forward with alternatives that better serve students and taxpayers.