Let's Talk About... FWISD Proposition A
More Taxes? Is this really the best time?
You bet it is! There is never a bad time to invest in the future of our community. Unfortunately, State and Federal lawmakers have shifted most of that responsibility to local taxpayers like you and me. COVID-19 has required emergency investments that will likely be ongoing for years. This has diverted funds away from strategic priorities. Despite years of implementing cost cutting measures and increasing efficiencies, it is now necessary to increase local revenue to fund needed strategies to ensure that our future leaders receive a high quality education in a safe and healthy environment. Otherwise, district leaders will be required to cut valuable programs and employees that have been instrumental in increasing opportunities for all students.
My property taxes go up every year. Doesn't FWISD get that money?
NOPE! In Texas local ISDs are penalized for not setting property tax rates that aren't aligned with district expenses. They deem revenue over their formula excess funds that they "recapture" to be distributed to other districts across the state. This penalty is typically close to the amount that our local values increase each year. The extra tax dollars you spend each year is not actually being invested in your local community!
Here is an example from the FWISD 2018-19 budget planning process. You can see where local revenue increases, state revenue decreases by nearly the same amount.
This year is used because the 19-20 school year included a one time payment for teacher salaries. Those salaries are now still the same, but that extra revenue is no more. This is called an "unfunded mandate" and Texas has a lot of them.
Didn't I just vote for a $750 million bond in 2017?
You sure did, but that money has different priorities. In 2017 voters approved a historic bond election priced at over $750 million dollars. Those funds are currently being invested in the following ways:
- Emphasizes improved learning environments in our neighborhood high schools, especially for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and for Career and Technical Education (CTE).
- Allows for upgrades in high schools for libraries, fine arts, athletics and infrastructure items.
- Addresses current classroom overcrowding, as well as preparedness for future population growth by building new campuses and expansions as able.
You can track progress on all of the projects approved in the 2017 Bond through this link.
How do these two separate funds work?
Our current tax rate is $1.282 per $100 of valuation. Tax revenue is divided into two funds the Interest and Sinking (I&S) fund pays off debt for capital improvements, and the Maintenance and Operating (M&O) fund pays for ongoing expenses.
Doesn't FWISD currently have the highest tax rate in the county?
No! To the contrary, FWISD currently has the 19th lowest tax rate out of the 21 ISDs in Tarrant County. The proposed 7.5 cent increase will cause the district to rise to number 13 in the county, and we will still be in the lowest 10% in the state. Our current tax rate is $1.282 per $100 of valuation.
So what is the impact this is going to have on my yearly property taxes?
Not much! My Fairmount neighborhood home is valued at $464,500 according to TAD. This means that my personal property taxes will increase $348.38 per year, or roughly $29 per month. The average home value in FWISD is calculated by TAD to be about $167,000, so the average home owners will actually see a much lower increase at about $13 per month.
How does FWISD plan to use this new revenue?
To improve student achievement of course! We know that the single most important indicator of future student success is being taught by highly qualified teachers who believe in their ability to learn (Hattie, John 2008 Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta Analyses Relating to Achievement Auckland, New Zealand: Rutledge Press). This revenue will be used to implement FWISD's strategic plan which relies on the ability to hire and keep great teachers. This would also address short term needs related to COVID-19 that divert funds from strategic initiatives. This includes purchasing PPE and safety training, and investing in necessary technology and infrastructure to ensure that every child has access to stable broadband infrastructure.
what happens after we don't need ppe anymore?
COVID-19 will eventually go away, but not likely for a long time. With that said, the need for technology and school safety infrastructure is ongoing. These are expenses that were not anticipated, and are currently diverting funds from strategic priorities to improve student learning. When less investment is needed for these crisis items, there will still be educational priorities to fund.
what happens if fwisd just decides to not do what they say?
This is NOT an option! These priorities were not created in a vacuum. It has taken years of planning and development to get to this point. Not funding these items would not only be a massive breach of public trust, but it would erode the confidence of everyone working inside the district. Your elected School Board Trustees have oversight of these decisions. That means if your trust is broken, then you VOTE THEM OUT!
wHAT KIND OF PLANNING WENT INTO DEVELOPING THESE STRATEGIC PRIORITIES
Governance is my jam, and this is where I get to really geek out! In 2017 the FWISD Board of Education was strongly encouraged by TEA to attend their freshly minted Lonestar Governance Training (LSG). This model requires School Boards to be laser focused on student outcomes, and it draws a clear line of what is and isn't acceptable behaviors for boards. The motto of LSG is "Student outcomes don't change until adult behaviors change, starting with me."
Since that training the Fort Worth School Board has used this model to develop goals for the district around student achievement outcomes. It has taken a while to build into the culture of the district, but in 2018 the district ordered an ERS Efficiency Audit. This audit identified areas for improvement to maximize our investment in our students. Most of the priorities outlined in the final report which was delivered in April 2019 already have strategies being implemented to maximize our current revenue streams.
In 2019 when the district saw inconsistent returns on the student outcome goals they released a plan for district improvement with their updated school performance framework. Results from the efficiency audit and board adopted goals informed this process. You can view the presentation in detail below.
Frameworks and plans are all conceptual, where is the actual accountability?
Accountability is central to everything that our School Board does these days! In January 2020 our board - with five brand new members - held a governance retreat and identified updated district goals. We didn't know it at the time, but the direction of that conversation allowed us to maintain accountability despite the interruptions associated with COVID-19. Because our new goals rely on the consistent monitoring of student growth throughout the year, we were able to track and account for student achievement even without the STAAR test being administered. The results from this first year of implementation under the new school performance framework showed growth in all identified progress metrics! The most important part of our governance framework is that performance of the district is indistinguishable from the Superintendent's performance. You can see a copy of the evaluation instrument with student performance metrics in the images below.