Oh, now, come on, people! At least Lake Travis ISD voters rejected their tax increase, but 26 districts passed tax increases on Tuesday – roughly 63% of school district tax increases that were on Tuesday’s ballot. Which, admittedly, is down from a high of 93% in 2006. But with voter turnout so low everywhere, you have to think that apathy prevented more tax increase rejections.
The Statesman article I linked to above mentions that Canutillo ISD, near El Paso, was one of the districts where the tax increase failed. The El Paso Times has an article about what the failure means. Scare tactics like these apparently failed to move voters: "With the $1.9 million revenue the Canutillo school district would have received if the proposal on the ballot had passed, officials were looking to increase salaries of 900 employees, which required $500,000. Other expenses Canutillo was looking to fund with the tax increase included building upgrades to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act."
It’s no wonder, though – Canutillo ISD is currently in bonded debt to the tune of $123,621,565 – over $100 million – and that was as of August 2008 (source: Texas Bond Review Board). What on earth did they do with over $100 million in bond building funds, some of which dates back to 1996, if they weren’t making their buildings ADA compliant?! And with that kind of debt load, it isn’t any wonder the district is having trouble meeting salary increases.
Until school districts learn to reign in their spending, voters should not approve tax increases, at least not without taking a hard look at where the money is going. I have to commend once again the voters in Lake Travis ISD and Canutillo ISD, and in the 13 other districts where people said "no" to tax increases during rough and uncertain economic times. At the same time, you have to wonder – if they had just said "no" a little earlier, to huge bonded debt, and demanded fiscal responsibility, would the districts have had to ask for tax increases now?
We need to learn that fiscal responsibility and accountability is important in times of plenty as well as in leaner days.