Voters to help determine financial fate of school district

Saturdays TRE election will have voters in the Frisco ISD deciding whether or not to approve a tax rate increase.

Brian Higgins

Saturday’s TRE election will have voters in the Frisco ISD deciding whether or not to approve a tax rate increase.

Early voting is over and now Saturday is the final chance for Frisco ISD residents to vote in the Tax Ratification Election that the district believes will atone for the loss of state funding.

In 2006, the Texas Legislature reduced property taxes that funded maintenance and operations such as payroll, supplies, utilities, and more. To accommodate for this, the state created the Additional State Aid for Tax, or ASTAR, which accounts for 10 percent of FISD’s operating budget. However, the ASTAR program is set to expire in 2017.

“We have been dealing with the awareness that the ASATR funding was in jeopardy for at least the last five years,” Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Lyon said at a board meeting. “We have been quietly absorbing those cuts over and over again without raising the tax rate for the community not one time.”

On average, FISD receives less revenue at $7,500  per student than surrounding districts who receive $8,200 dollars and the state average of $8,300.

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To compensate for the end of ASATR, the school board approved a tax increase of 13 cents which triggered the TRE. If voters pass the TRE, an estimated $30.6 million would be generated which would increase funding per student to $8,100 bringing it closer to the state average.

FISD Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Pickens said that as Frisco continues to grow, the district has had to do more with less, resulting in less revenue per student.

“Doing more with less has resulted in higher than average class sizes, lower than average teacher salaries and annual raises for staff, and a very lean support staff,” Pickens said in an email reply to Wingspan. “Bringing our revenue closer to the state’s average would allow us to remedy those areas where we’re falling behind.”

Opponents of the TRE argue if the district had not contributed $30 million to the construction of The Star, the district would not be in this financial situation. The district has rebutted these claims, saying that by law, the funds used for the contribution could not be used for maintenance and operations of the district which is where funds from the TRE would go.

Many homeowners have taken to the Vote No Frisco Facebook page or to Frisco United to voice their concerns. Homeowner Greg Bowling said that he believes homeowners are being asked to pay something they can’t afford and that in his 37 year career as a coach and teacher he’s seen many proposals of tax increases that failed to win favor with the public.

“Homeowners are being pushed to the brink,” Bowling wrote in a post. “In Arlington, a premier district at the time, the ISD in the early 1990’s tried to raise the tax cap by vote and boom it failed. That district really still has not recovered.”

If voters pass the TRE, FISD’s tax rate would equal surrounding districts such as Plano and McKinney ISD at $1.17 with the average FISD homeowner expected to see a tax bill of $443 However, taxpayers 65 and older will not experience a tax increase as their tax rate will be frozen.

The school district will consider various cuts if voters reject the TRE.

“If the TRE does not pass, we know for sure next year the school district will have to cut 30 million dollars from the budget,” Principal Scott Warstler said. “Our hope is that TRE does pass, so we don’t have to face those cuts, but if not we’ll have a better idea probably in the next three to four months of what that means to us as we start projecting for next year.”  

Cindy Badon is a mother of two children who attend FISD schools and she took to Facebook to share her views.  

“The TRE is important to me because without it, both of my children have programs that will be affected,” Badon said in a YouTube video on the Yes to Frisco Teachers Facebook page. “Class sizes would go up and in turn, affect the amount of inclusion time that [my son] would be able to have in the classroom. It seems like we would be moving backwards to lose that funding and lose that staff and those programs that we’ve worked so hard to advocate for.”

Regardless of the TRE passing, Perkins said students are the priority and FISD will do their best to meet their educational needs.

“No matter our situation, we will do our best to meet the needs of students and provide a quality education,” Perkins said. “How we go about offering that education just might look a little different.”