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Higher school taxes protested in Waxahachie

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J.J. Sallee

The Ellis County Press

WAXAHACHIE - One by one, Waxahachie Independent School District taxpayers went to the podium last Monday night to protest the increased taxes necessary to cover the school board's 2001-2002 budget.

The board held the public meeting Aug. 20 to discuss the new budget and proposed tax rate.

Dr. Bobby Parker, superintendent of WISD, presented the proposed budget to the public.

The new budget includes $2 million dollars in staff raises and is $2.4 million higher than the 2000-2001 budget.

The increase in tax rate, along with increased property valuations, would raise the school tax on an average home valued in 2000 at $83,000 by almost $300.

Parker explained while the district's tax valuations had increased by $130 million, generating an additional $1.7 million for the district, the state's Robin Hood program would reduce the district's state funding by the same amount.

He said the only solution was to increase the school tax rate in order to generate the additional revenue.

Marshal Evans, chairman of Taxpayers Alliance for Good Government, was the first citizen to speak to the school board.

He reminded the board the economy is not booming now like it has in previous years. 'I know several people who have been laid off or had their salaries slashed due to the downturn in the economy. At the same time, this board wants to raise taxes to pay for $2 million in increased salaries. Less than half of that is even for teachers. Taxes just can not continue to go up year after year.'

'The county commissioners just voted not to give elected county employees a raise this year. If the school district's budget is so tight now and taxes have to be increased to cover these proposed raises, why not consider doing the same thing?' asked Evans.

'Marvin Elementary is a beautiful school, but look at how much the district is spending on its new construction projects.

'How much extra did the dome cost, or the stone along the front? I don't argue that it looks great, but isn't there a better use for that money than architect's fees and fancy building materials?

'How much was spent on Marvin, and couldn't it have been built for far less?'

John Tabor, also a WISD taxpayer, questioned the board on the high number of administrators employed throughout the district. 'How much of that $2 million in raises is for the teachers? I'm all for a great education, but that starts in the classroom.'

Tabor, who is also chairman of the Ellis County Republican Party, had the list of district administrative positions and asked why there were four assistant principals at the high school, or four elementary curriculum coordinators.

'Is that really necessary? This district is top heavy with administration. Let's put the money in the classroom,' said Tabor.

As for raises, Parker responded to Tabor every teacher would receive a $1,500 raise.

New teachers would also receive an additional $1,000.

WISD will employ 380 teachers this year. Seventy-seven of those will be new teachers. Thirty-three of the new teachers have no previous teaching experience.

Beginning teacher salaries have increased from $22,000 in 1996, to $31,000 this year, a 41% increase. The average teacher salary is now $38,000.

'The salary increases are necessary to stay competitive with other school districts. Dallas' teachers start at $35,000, ours start at $31,000. We are competing with other districts to attract and keep the best teachers,' said Parker.

The superintendent and school board were unable to answer what portion of the $2 million in raises is for the teachers. Tabor estimated the portion to be around $650,000. Again, Mr. Tabor asked where the additional money would go.

'It's easy to say that you can raise taxes, let's consider cutting expenses for a change. Marvin Elementary is a beautiful school, but we taxpayers have to pay for it,' said TAGG member Henrietta Borden.

Several other Waxahachie citizens spoke to the board. Each had the same message, find ways to cut expenses and don't raise taxes.

After the public forum, the school board met in open session to vote on the proposed budget.

New board member Bill Kelley was the only member to vote against the proposed budget.

The school board will vote in September on the new tax rate. School officials estimated the new M&O portion of the tax rate would increase to 1.48, just .02 below the state mandated maximum rate.

The increase would raise the total school tax rate to $1.70 per hundred dollars of taxable valuation.

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