Ru­ral district needs more funds to op­er­ate — not lat­est leg­is­la­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - ED NI­CHOLS, AUSTIN

I am a par­ent, a small-busi­ness owner and a school board mem­ber at Ly­tle ISD. I am close to the op­er­a­tional chal­lenges in my district. I can only as­sume that our state lead­ers don’t know the facts about school districts like mine; oth­er­wise, they couldn’t pos­si­bly be push­ing the leg­is­la­tion they pro­moted this ses­sion.

We are a small ru­ral district with a pop­u­la­tion that’s 75 percent eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged. Our prop­erty val­ues are lower than many parts of the state, and we are on the low end of dol­lars al­lot­ted per stu­dent by the state. Even so, we are com­mit­ted to en­gag­ing and sus­tained learn­ing for our stu­dents rather than sub­ject­ing them to stan­dard­ized test drilland-kill prepa­ra­tion, like many schools. We have been rec­og­nized statewide for our aca­demic achieve­ments.

We have a su­per­in­ten­dent who knows how to get the most bang for our buck. Even with the odds stacked against us, we are a district of in­no­va­tion com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing our stu­dents with 21st-cen­tury learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s of­fen­sive and just flat out wrong for our lieu­tenant gov­er­nor to say, “Schools have enough money, they just need to use it more wisely.”

We are at the point where the say­ing “you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip” is real. We have had to dip our fund bal­ance over the last few years — and the bal­ance is dwin­dling. The noose has tight­ened each of the last few years with un­funded man­dates — and the gra­tu­itous $1,000 teacher pay in­creases and school vouch­ers will only add to the stran­gu­la­tion of our district.

We have in­creased teacher pay to re­main com­pet­i­tive with neigh­bor­ing districts and help with hir­ing and re­ten­tion. It’s an easy choice for teach­ers to drive 10 miles down the road to make $10,000 more. We ap­proved the pay in­crease as a leap of faith that we could con­tinue to af­ford it in the years to come.

We’ve cut po­si­tions — as well as not re­hired for some po­si­tions — to help bal­ance our bud­get. When you cut teach­ers, you cut cour­ses and elec­tives and in­crease class size. We’ve also cut buses and put off large main­te­nance needs. We are now con­sid­er­ing a bond as the only way to fund main­te­nance on our ag­ing fa­cil­i­ties. While some districts are passing bonds for amounts three, four or more times our reg­u­lar bud­get for foot­ball sta­di­ums with Jum­botrons, we are look­ing at passing a much smaller bond just to re­pair our school build­ings. What hap­pens when we’ve cut back all that we can — and there is no fund bal­ance left?

Vouch­ers only stand to de­crease district fund­ing fur­ther. Though the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions of vouch­ers are huge, I am also con­cerned about other as­pects. Vouch­ers for special needs chil­dren are only a gate­way to vouch­ers for ev­ery­one. Peo­ple who will be able to take ad­van­tage of vouch­ers are those who can more read­ily af­ford pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion and can pro­vide the trans­porta­tion to a school out­side of the com­mu­nity. That pre­dom­i­nately leaves be­hind the eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged and causes seg­re­ga­tion.

Fewer stu­dents means less money and less teacher pay — and fewer qual­ity teach­ers. Fur­ther, pulling stu­dents out of the pub­lic schools breaks down the sense of com­mu­nity, which is a big rea­son peo­ple choose to live in ru­ral ar­eas.

School fund­ing that is al­ready in­ad­e­quate will only get worse with un­funded $1,000 pay in­creases and vouch­ers. What do we do when we’ve cut back all that we can? Do we cut out band, the­ater arts and sports? Ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties are in­valu­able for char­ac­ter-build­ing, pro­vide life lessons and help stu­dents ex­plore their gifts. They also pro­vide a lot to­ward com­mu­nity co­he­sive­ness and growth.

Pro­vide ad­e­quate and eq­ui­table fund­ing, so that lo­cal school districts have the re­sources needed to serve the di­ver­sity of stu­dents with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion. Proper fund­ing re­sults in bet­ter pay for teach­ers, more and qual­ity teach­ers, a stronger com­mu­nity and a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion for all Texas stu­dents.

Re: July 27 com­men­tary, “Two Views: Con­stituents OK with tele-town meet­ings, says La­mar Smith.”

How dumb does La­mar Smith think we are? His op-ed is just like his town halls: de­mean­ing and pan­der­ing. A “town hall” means meet­ing in pub­lic with con­stituents. If he has so many meet­ings, please doc­u­ment them.

In 2009, I went to a Smith town hall. He ex­plained that we would have fi­nan­cial Ar­maged­don if Oba­macare passed. The au­di­ence tried to ex­plain supply and de­mand and tight credit as cause of lim­ited ex­pan­sion of small busi­nesses. All fell on deaf ears. Many of us who have tried to com­mu­ni­cate with our fed­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tives have had our com­ments noted and re­ceived canned re­sponses while they do what pleases their donors. Have the guts to face us and say

Re: July 25 ar­ti­cle, “In TV in­ter­view, Dan Pa­trick blames Democrats for im­mi­grant deaths in San An­to­nio.”

Lt. Gov. Daniel Pa­trick lays the ills of the na­tion — in­clud­ing, one sup­poses, the hor­rific con­se­quences of es­pous­ing hu­man rights for LGBT — at the feet of the Democrats. His lat­est vit­ri­olic out­burst says Demo­cratic poli­cies are re­spon­si­ble for the death and suf­fer­ing of those mis­er­able souls locked into a semi-truck trailer dis­cov­ered in a San An­to­nio Wal­mart park­ing lot. My mind reels.

Last time I looked, both our state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments were un­der de­cided Repub­li­can con­trol.

As bad as our chain­saw-wield­ing gov­er­nor is for Texas cities, one can’t help but hope he keeps breath­ing.

SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES

Trans­gen­der Army vet­eran Tanya Walker speaks Wed­nes­day to protesters in New York’s Times Square as they rally against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s an­nounce­ment of a ban on trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als serv­ing in the mil­i­tary.

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