Ruling pleases Crossroads school districts

Feb. 9, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 9, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.

Calhoun school district, which is leading a statewide fight to reform school finance, is ready for the next step in the battle.

Calhoun County ISD Superintendent Bill Wiggins said Judge John Dietz's ruling last week was the right one. The ruling found the Texas school finance system was in violation of the Texas Constitution.

In December 2011, 89 Texas school districts sued the state, claiming the school finance system had turned into a de facto state property tax and that school districts lack adequate funding.

The Calhoun County school district served as the lead plaintiff representing the districts, including Nursery and Refugio.

The "Robin Hood" recapturing system was the lead point of contention for the Calhoun County school district.

Under the system, money is taken from the property-rich districts and redistributed among poor school districts across the state.

Wiggins said he went into the battle because of his frustration with the tax rate system.

"I felt like we were in a position that we had no discretion over the tax rate," Wiggins said. "We have no ability to raise any local money to enrich anything. We were headed in a bad direction."

Wiggins said his county may be rich in property, but its residents are a working-class community.

"We are plant wealthy, but we don't have a rich community," Wiggins said.

The 2011 cuts to public education weighed heavily on Calhoun County, said Wiggins.

"We closed down an elementary campus and cut 50 positions in our district," Wiggins said, explaining why the district was chosen as the lead plaintiff. "We have a good story to tell about how the cuts affected us."

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said once the case is completed, another lawsuit on lack of fairness would soon follow in defense of poor school districts currently receiving funds from property-rich districts.

"It doesn't seem to be in favor of everybody involved," Hegar said. "There is a gap between the funding of districts across the state. We need to close that gap."

State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-District 30, said the school financing system is due for change.

"I was not surprised at the ruling that came down," Morrison said. "The whole redistribution process needs to be revised."

The Nursery school district, a member of the Texas School Coalition, is concerned about funding adequacy and taxing capacity issues, said Superintendent Suzanne Bell.

"We're excited, without any doubt," Bell said. "This is not a quick fix whatsoever, but there is lots of change in the air."

With additional funds, Bell said, she would work to implement a pre-kindergarten program. The superintendent said she's received hundreds of requests from parents for a Pre-K program.

The state plans to appeal the ruling.

Wiggins said the state can appeal to local courts, but that appeal could elongate the process.

"If we go straight to the Supreme Court, we don't know how long it will take," Wiggins said. "Then Texas legislators would have to be called back into a special session in early fall."

Mark Trachtenberg, one of the coalition's attorneys, expects the Texas Supreme Court to make the ultimate ruling.

"There is no reason the Legislature has to wait on the appeals process before addressing the constitutional deficiencies in the system," he said.



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