Waco education officials scheduled more than 20 meetings with targeted organizations before early voting Oct. 19 in an effort to educate the public on the benefits of approving the tax increase that would bring in $8.2 million of state and local money.
The Waco Independent School District board of trustees approved in August raising the maintenance and operation rate 13 cents, from $1.04 per $100 of property valuation to $1.17, and lowering the debt service rate from 31 cents per $100 of property valuation to 23 cents.
The tax ratification election is necessary to raise the M&O rate above $1.04, according to state law.
Though the net increase for the coming year is 5 cents, trustees discussed in previous meetings raising the debt service rate next year, which does not require voter approval.
Two of the scheduled meetings are open to the public, while the rest are private association meetings.
Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain said she doesn’t think two public meetings is enough, and board President Pat Atkins asked the trustees last week to consider adding more.
The board already presented to the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Waco Leadership Forum and the Nonprofit Network, and plans to speak to the NAACP Waco McLennan County Branch, Kiwanis Club of Waco and parent-teacher associations. The public meetings are Oct. 13 and Oct. 20 at local schools.
Cain said if the board doesn’t request more, she will suggest it.
“I will have as many as it will take. This is that important to WISD,” she said.
But former superintendent turned education consultant Joe Smith said larger meetings aren’t always the best.
Already established groups provide a higher comfort level for those who attend, and members probably will invite friends and ask more questions than those who come to a town hall meeting, Smith said.
“I think every community has to look at it for themselves. You know the big thing is that the board and the administration have their key points they want to make and be able to clearly deliver them to the community in such a way that (the public) understands in a favorable way,” he said.
Smith said Brownsville Independent School District held more than 50 meetings, but they weren’t public forums either. The Brownsville trustees met with local organizations to try to ensure they reached the different demographics in the area, he said.
“What I see happening in the (TREs) that are successful is that those community members understand that much of this new money Waco ISD is going to be getting is state money that is there for them if they do this,” Smith said.
Of the 1,241 Texas school districts, 44 percent — or 550 — have attempted TREs since 2006. Only 33 percent — or 410 — succeeded.
The largest challenge most districts face is the public’s misunderstanding of a bond election and a TRE, Smith said. Many districts raise money for new schools, then fail to raise the taxes to staff them, he said.
“I see around the state many districts are very successful and have planned ahead in voting bonds to build buildings. That’s just something they’ve always done. But they’ve never had to have an election to generate money to operate that building,” Smith said.
State law mandates the maintenance and operation tax is to be used for “paying costs of services, engineering and legal fees, and organization and administrative expenses,” along with building repairs and improvement projects.
The debt service tax or “interest and sinking” pays for any bonds levied to build facilities or construction projects. The M&O tax income can be used to pay off debt, but I&S cannot be used to pay for operational costs.
Trustees hope their efforts will be enough.
“I think the district’s sole role in this is to provide information so that voters can make an informed decision,” Atkins said.