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AISD sees renewed battle over “Robin Hood” school funding

Thursday, November 6, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Now that voters have approved a property tax increase to fund a raise for AISD employees, Austin school district officials are turning their attention to the Texas Legislature in hopes that they will not have to repeat the procedure in the future. With several new members elected to the Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday, AISD Board Members and administrators are optimistic that the legislature will address school finance reform in next year’s session.


In 2006, the Legislature dropped the maximum property tax rate for maintenance and operations for school districts from $1.50 to $1.00 per $100 of property valuation. Local school boards were allowed to raise that rate to $1.04, but raises beyond that require voter approval. “In the past, we used to be the Austin Independent School District,” said Superintendent Dr. Pat Forgione. “Our only authority now is to reduce taxes. If you want to increase them, you have to get public approval.”


The problem for AISD, said Board President Mark Williams, is that while the district is continuing to grow, most of the tax revenue generated by that growth is required to go to the state to distribute to other school districts under the “Robin Hood” plan. “We’re really locked in, for the most part, on our net revenue,” he said. “The gross revenue, which is what you collect from taxes, goes up. But we don’t get to keep it.”


When lawmakers return in 2009, Williams hopes they will address school finance. “We’ve got to deal with the Legislature to figure out ways we can get more money to the school system to continue to fund urban school districts and the challenges they face,” he said, “and we’ve got to look at ways we can continue to try to save money.”


Education Austin President Louis Malfaro, who joined AISD officials at district headquarters on Wednesday to publicly thank voters for approving the tax hike, is also hopeful that the new makeup of the Texas House will lead to some new solutions. “We’re optimistic that new leadership in the state legislature will address school finance…so that school districts don’t have to ask the public every time they want simply to pay for the rising cost of living,” he said.

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