OpEd from Strong Schools Strong Dallas Leadership Team

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Public school teachers have been taking to streets and capitol buildings in states across the country to demand increased pay and resources for schools. In Dallas ISD, Superintendent Hinojosa is again calling upon the Board of Trustees to approve a 13-cent Tax Ratification Election (TRE) that would give voters the opportunity to infuse $116M in additional annual operating revenue. Based on the latest budget proposal, the administration would use this revenue to maintain strategic initiatives like early learning, increase teacher and staff pay, and protect against looming budget cuts expected under the state’s convoluted “Robin Hood” system.

Members of the Strong Schools Strong Dallas coalition are supportive of these priorities and continue to stand for a 13-cent TRE with equity and accountability. In line with those values and with the district’s own public commitment to racial equity, we ask that the administration consider ways to direct additional resources to the district’s historically under-resourced and highest-need schools.

In particular, we recommend funding for racial equity training to provide all personnel - from the Board to the classroom - with the knowledge and skills to engage in thoughtful dialogue about race and how to change practices negatively impacting student achievement and well-being. The long-term work of eliminating racial disparities starts with developing shared language and mindsets to have courageous conversations. Fort Worth ISD has started down this path, initiating training while passing its own Racial and Ethnic Equity Policy last year, and Dallas ISD should do the same.

We also recommend funding to support campuses that wish to pilot the “community school model,” a proven approach designed to more fully engage parents and make wrap-around supports, such as health care and adult education, accessible to students and families. In Austin ISD, this strategy has helped transform two schools from the brink of closure to becoming two of the highest performing schools in the district.

Finally, we recommend that the administration revisit its Funds for Achievement and Racial Equity, or FARE, plan that was proposed in last year’s TRE. This plan would provide additional resources to high-need schools that have been making meaningful gains but need continued support to maintain progress. A good place to start would be with the 13 schools that next year will lose the added support previously received under the district’s highly successful Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) and Intensive Support Network (ISN) models. Many of these schools have made dramatic improvements, and we should not run the risk of allowing them to backslide.

We believe these recommendations to be financially sustainable but they must also be politically possible among the Board. Some trustees have correctly pointed out that the district will be forced to send some of the additional revenue from a 13-cent TRE back to the state. While we wholeheartedly agree school finance must be fixed at the state level, the district faces even more harmful budget cuts over the next few years without the additional $116M in revenue it would hold on to. We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with trustees to demand school finance reform of our state legislators when they return to Austin next session. In the meanwhile, we have no alternative but to play by their rules.

Some trustees have also pointed to rising property tax bills as reason not to support a rate increase. However, again due to the state’s broken school finance system, increases in local tax revenue have been more than offset by reductions in state funding. In 2016-17 the district was forced to cut $21 million from its budget, followed by $61M in cuts this year that have translated into fewer teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors and central staff. Even tougher cuts lie ahead as Robin Hood payments are expected to balloon to over $300M over the next few years. No one wants to pay higher taxes, but we believe the people of Dallas stand ready to support our children's education and the future of our city. Even with a 13-cent increase, Dallas ISD would still maintain one of the lowest total tax rates in the region.

If you believe that the future of our city depends on the future of our schools, now is the time to stand up and make your voice heard. Contact your school board trustees and urge them to look beyond the politics of the moment and put a 13-cent Tax Ratification Election, with equity and accountability attached, on the November ballot. The survival of our public schools is at stake.

Rev. Gerald Britt, Chair, Strong Schools Strong Dallas Coalition

Dolores Sosa-Green - SSSD Leadership Team

Allison Brim - SSSD Leadership Team

Jonathan Feinstein - SSSD Leadership Team

READ THE COALITION’S BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS HERE

Members