Clearing up the Confusion: Districts Must Inform Citizens of Real Truth behind Tax Rate Elections

by Robert Seward

There is plenty of confusion in Texas communities today regarding rollback elections, otherwise known as tax rate elections (TREs). Many citizens apparently don’t understand their districts’ urgent need for funds in the wake of House Bill 1 in 2006, the concept of calculated target revenue, the fact that bond money dedicated to facility renovation or other projects cannot be used for operating expenses, the dire condition of many districts in recruiting and retaining quality staff, and on and on.

To have a successful election, possible approaches to making a sound decision to increase the tax rate and educating the community about this decision may include the following:

  • Appoint a special committee of community leaders to study the issue of a tax increase and make a recommendation to the board of trustees, similar to the process involved in a bond proposal. Include discussion and input from those with strong knowledge in school finance and input from those with recent TRE experience.
  • Brief the special committee members, board members, and superintendent on TRE law, legislative updates regarding these elections, appropriate timing of such an election in the community, and communication strategies for informing the teachers, staff, and citizens.
  • Host a TRE workshop for the community with a panel of community leaders, including special committee members, board members, the superintendent, and the district business manager.

If your district does not have the time or resources to hold its own TRE workshop, be aware that the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) is offering three workshops (March 24 in Arlington, March 26 in Kyle, and April 2 in Rosenberg) to help districts through the TRE development process. Districts have found that the target revenue concept of House Bill 1 is forcing them to explore the possibility of TREs as a way of increasing revenue and mitigating the need for using the district’s fund balance to pay routine operational costs. A successful election may hinge on how well the district explains this complex financial topic in a way that is understandable to our taxpayers.

These TRE workshops will outline the legal and local aspects a school district should consider before calling such an election and suggest ways to convey this complicated information to the public. For more information, contact TSPRA toll-free at 800.880.9107 or on the Web at www.tspra.org.

Patience and Fair Compromise

The issue of TREs is a sensitive one in these times. School districts large and small desperately need funds to continue operating effectively and efficiently. But we must remember that our citizens are going through tough economic straits, as well.

As school districts across Texas begin the budget process, we need to be mindful of the uncertain economic conditions around us and how this affects every family in our towns and cities. As trustees, we have a responsibility to the taxpayers in our communities to provide good stewardship and be prudent with taxpayer dollars while trying our utmost to fulfill the vision and mission of our districts.

Each of us needs to do our part to weather this economic storm. As I discussed in my previous column in the January/February 2009 edition of Texas Lone Star, doing the very best for our students and considering the plight of the working men and women in our communities is “a matter of balance.” We need to work together in our districts, striving for the best interests of our teachers, staff, and students, yet remaining sensitive to our public with an attitude of patience and fair compromise, so we can find creative solutions to achieve results and operate efficiently in these extraordinary times.

And as always, we need to do our part in our local communities by practicing good governance and operating through teamwork.

May Elections on the Horizon

Remember, May school board elections are coming up. In my next column, I’ll take a look at how trustees can welcome new members, mentor them in the mechanics of school board functions, work together cohesively, and share established board operating procedures, such as those developed by TASB’s Good Governance Matters program.H

Robert Seward, a Mesquite ISD trustee, is 2008-09 president of TASB.