J Henry
J Henry

— The Dallas Examiner

With discussions of a possible tax hike soon approaching, South Dallas residents aired-out their concerns about the 13-cent Tax Ratification Election with new Dallas ISD Justin Henry during a town hall meeting, July 31.

DISD Board of Trustees will have a TRE briefing today and will have a called meeting Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. The board members will be asked to approve a 13-cent tax increase – with a majority vote – on that would increase the tax rate from $1.04 to $1.17 per $100 valuation of property. If approved, the proposal would be presented to local voters on the November ballot.

The TRE was designed be used to counter state recapture issues and promote student achievement.

“The State of Texas is not properly funding public schools,” said Justin Henry, District 9 trustee who succeeded former trustee, Bernadette Nutall, in the May election. “This is the primary problem that has to be addressed. Every year getting less and less funding from the State.”

During the Dallas ISD’s 2018-19 fiscal year, the TRE is designed support teacher and staff salaries, school choice, early childhood programs, racial equity and balancing the district’s balance with their $1.2 million budget.

Although the potential benefits would be essential, it would come at a cost to local taxpayers within the district boundaries.

The town hall meeting opened the door for many questions regarding a possibility for the money to flow into low income areas, such as South Dallas. Henry assured residents that he would hold conversations with Superintendent Michael Hinojosa about the community’s beliefs, racial equity and past issues – but had no clear answer.

“Ultimately, the superintendent can do whatever he wants to do,” he said. “My biggest leverage is partnering up with my colleagues on the board. I’ve asked for their commitment on racial equity. I can count for who is committed to racial equity. If they don’t deliver, then we’re going to have to answer that.”

Community members held split viewpoints not so much regarding the TRE, but more so on the new trustee’s ability to be a strong voice for his district.

“It doesn’t have to be 13-cents just because they want it,” said one of the audience members. “The board controls the superintendent not the other way around.”

Town hall attendees expressed their desires for the young board member, who supports the tax increase, to stand by and for his region.

“You were voted by the people,” said a Texas Organizing Member who challenged Henry to uphold his integrity which he accepted. “You got that charge. You have a charge to keep to Kathryn Gilliam and all the other people that came before you that stood in front of the school meetings so I could go to school.”

While there were some participants who had mixed reviews others supported Henry and were against the pressure placed on his shoulders.

“We’re in line for free stuff all the time, but when it’s time to back up and vote we say you need to do this and do that,” said a local mother and regular meeting attendee.

The opposing sides brought together a balancing resolution for equal accountability between Henry and Dallas voters.

“It starts at home with the parents to make sure our kids are getting these programs,” said another local mother of a recent Lincoln High School graduate. “I voted for Justin. I believe in him. You can’t just bash him and not have his back.”

Another revelation from the meeting stems from the “Robin Hood” finance plan that takes 38 percent of tax revenue from the state, leaving the local government and citizens with most of the 62 percent burden.

“Our solution,” Henry said when asked if the funds in recapture could be returned to local schools instead of to the state government.

Another solution presented on the local level to attendees was participatory budgeting. Local Progress state coordinator Mercedes Fulbright informed audience members about the initiative that would allow residents, especially those who can’t legally vote, to create a document with recommendations and wants that the school board must acknowledge.

“[It’s] an opportunity for us to design a process that allows us to hold people like Justin accountable to explain our interest in regards to the issues we are concerned about,” she said.

The method will be tested out by the Texas Organizing Project in hopes the Board would implement it into the school budget.

“Most city officials think because they were voted by us they can vote on behalf of us,” Fulbright explained. “This is an opportunity for anyone who wants to engage in what it looks like to spend a portion of what we pay taxes to, and make a decision on a behalf of our community.”

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