Voters in Fort Davis have approved an increased tax rate for the Fort Davis school district.
The measure to increase the rate from $1.04 to 1.17 passed in early voting and in the regular election on Tuesday, but the results were close – the measure passed by just 34 votes in all.
The district is still struggling after cuts in state funding to the tune of $3.2 million since the 2007-2008 school year. Earlier this year the band, golf and cross-country programs were cut along with some staff positions, and the district also put a salary freeze in place.
Fort Davis ISD Superintendent Graydon Hicks says there have been some drops in enrollment that have hurt the school’s income, but he says for the most part local revenue has stayed the same.
Hicks praised the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, saying the new tax rate means the district will now have a balanced budget.
“I have a very good opportunity to even have a surplus budget,” he says. “It’s not going to be much, but anything over a dollar surplus is great.”
Fort Davis ISD was one of the 600 districts across Texas that sued the state over the way public schools are funded, arguing that the state doesn’t provide enough money to meet higher education standards set up by the legislature.
A federal judge ruled with those districts last week, saying the state’s funding system is unconstitutional.
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams criticized that ruling, saying lawmakers should decide how best to fund the system and “not a single judge.”
Democrats have generally backed the ruling and calls for more school funding. Attorney General Greg Abbott has said he’ll appeal the ruling, but he has said the current system is “outdated” and needs work.
Hicks described the local tax increase as a “first step” toward someday bringing back the programs that were cut this year and giving teachers annual raises again, though he didn’t say when that might happen.
Hicks says he’s confident about the road ahead for school funding in Texas.
“Whether the courts mandate it, or the legislature comes to a conclusion on their own, something’s gonna change in school finance,” he says.