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TRE needs work for the sake of the children

LEW BLACKBURN | 9/6/2016, 12:11 p.m.
The education of the children of Dallas ISD is my unequivocal first priority as school board trustee.
Lew Blackburn, Ph.D., Dallas ISD District 5 trustee Dallas ISD

The education of the children of Dallas ISD is my unequivocal first priority as school board trustee. When the concept of a tax ratification election was presented to me, I supported it because of two compelling reasons: 1) The expanded programming discussed has a proven track record of increasing student achievement, and 2) the structure of tying funding to measurable results ensured accountability to voters.

The specific programs – expanded early learning, enhanced teacher compensation for work in the most challenged schools and expansion of early college programs – cannot be adequately covered by the Dallas ISD budget, especially with recent cuts by the state. However, they are needed, effective programs.

I supported the TRE and even publicly pitched it to the community. I supported allowing voters to decide on increasing the district’s maintenance and operation tax rate to a maximum of $1.17 per $100 of property value up from $1.04, which nearly all other large size school districts in Texas assess. I said then, and still now, we have to make an investment in our schools.

So the question is not whether the entire Dallas community should get behind a TRE to support these important programs. However, my work as a trustee extends beyond supporting the best programming for children. It includes supporting the operations that are founded on clarity, integrity and thorough vetting so we inspire confidence in our families and our taxpayers. It means making the time to do those things and not rushing the details, not changing lanes at the last minute and not rushing void of true community feedback. That is my fiduciary duty – to make the wise choice that can withstand scrutiny and benefit our children over the long term.

As we moved forward with support of the TRE, it unfortunately became clear that we were rushing to meet an election date and not focusing on the integrity of the implementation of these programs and the accountability tied to them. Deeper research and communication with administrative staff revealed there were significant holes in the proposal that was presented. We were not ready for the November election.

I envisioned voters would choose from an a la carte menu of three worthwhile initiatives; 1) expand quality early learning programs, 2) increase teacher compensation and 3) expand early college/career programs, tied to goals, with the prospect of a tax rollback in six years if the goals were not met. However, lawyers insisted the number of propositions had to be expanded to seven, allowing voters to choose from among variations of the original three. And then the administration decided to recommend one proposition, offering only one choice for the voters.

The proposition changes and several unanswered questions about the details of the goals were not conducive to a clear articulation of how the tax dollars generated from the TRE would be disbursed and accounted, nor how the proposal would be presented on the ballot with transparency to the public. In my viewpoint, the district’s “contract” with the voters was not clear. I voted against the proposal in its current state, but I remain committed to the overall concept.