Sulphur Springs joined at least 417 other school districts as part of the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition, which has filed a lawsuit asking the state to come up with a fair and adequate school funding system.
Wayne Pierce, executive director of Equity Center, sent a letter to the district asking trustees to join them in the lawsuit. He noted that the Fairness Coalition is trying to obtain support from 95 additional districts in order to have “a majority of all the public school districts working for a fair and adequate funding system.”
“With majority support, the Fairness Coalition will be able to send a message that this litigation [Texas Taxpayers and Student Fairness Coalition et al. v. Robert Scott, et al.] is extremely important to the people and future of Texas. Regardless of the decision reached by the court, we still have to plead our case to the legislature, where numbers equate to votes and votes equate to re-election,” Pierce wrote in the letter.
“It definitely needs to be changed,” Sulphur Springs Independent School District Superintendent Michael Lamb told trustees, when explaining the request submitted to the district to join in the finance lawsuit. “Yes, I’d like to see the fund formula changed. Among Texas public school districts, the ones most aggressive, 417 districts, are already on board. To the rest of us, this is a second or third letter asking us to join them to get the other 95.”
Along with the letter, Pierce sent three pages consisting of answers to 10 frequently asked questions about joining the litigation. It was noted that superintendents and community members from school districts have already been identified by the group to testify. The only administrative tasks left for individual districts is to discuss the possibility with school trustees, and decide whether or not to pass a motion or resolution to join. Because so many districts are already involved, “your district is pretty much guaranteed a low profile,” the letter stated.
“Superintendents have been called already. I know of two that have been called. They were really hammered, grilled for four to six hours, really raked over the coals. I believe the hardest part is over. They are just trying to get to a point, to have half of the schools in Texas behind them,” Lamb noted. “‘What’s the risk to do it?’ There’s really not one.”
“This has been going on a while?” SSISD trustee Jacqueline Brice queried.
“Yes, I believe Oct. 22 is the marker they’re trying to get to,” Lamb replied, noting the participation deadline cited in Pierce’s letter. “We want to blow up the current funding cycle and start fresh. So many numbers are based on numbers from 2006. The lawsuit declares it unconstitutional because its not fair, not equitable.”
Equity is cited as the main purpose of the Fairness Coalition, but it can’t be achieved without adequacy, the Q&A notes.
“The current system provides neither. Because our current system is inadequate, unfair, inequitable, and inefficient, it seems most prudent to pursue this legal challenge on every front. That includes the lack of student and taxpayer equity, inadequate funding, arbitrary and irrational funding distribution schemes, local tax rates being forced to be the highest levels by the state in order for districts to meet state-required standards, the lack of equal protection for Texas children,” according to response 10 on the Q&A.
The Q&A also notes that while the suggested district contribution to participate is $1 per WADA (weighted average daily attendance), it is left up to each district “to make its own determination as to the amount it will contribute, based on the situation in that district.”
“I feel at this point, it’d be good for us to participate,” Lamb noted. “I don’t feel we should contribute a lot, $5,000 at the most.”
“As I see it, we have three choices: A. Don’t join; B. Join with no money down; or C. Join with a contribution. What do we want to do?” SSISD Board of Education President Jason Dietze asked his fellow trustees.
“I recommend if you are willing to join to contribute $1,000,” Lamb suggested.
“I think we should join and put down some money to show intent,” said Brice, who recommended that the board approve Resolution 6-12 as proposed, with SSISD paying a one-time fee not to exceed $1,000. The motion was seconded by school board vice president Kerry Wright, and passed on a 5-0 vote (trustees Clay Johnson and John Prickette were unable to make the meeting) Monday night.
The resolution calls for the state to meet terms established in Texas Constitution requiring “an efficient system of public free schools” and meet the state obligation “to maintain and support a school financial system that provides districts the resources necessary to meet ... clear requirements for what schools are expected to teach and what students are expected to learn.”
The resolution asks for the same resources for SSISD students as students in other Texas districts, which receive more funding.
Under the current state funding system, SSISD receives $529 per weighted student lower than the average funding levels made available to all 1,024 school districts in the state. The district would receive an additional $2,561,418 in state aid if it were funded at the state average, the document claims.
“Severe budget cuts have made a dire situation worse by forcing districts to increase class size, lay off teachers, eliminate many programs necessary to support student learning and well-being .... the Texas School finance system is inefficient, inadequate, insufficient and thus unconstitutional,” the resolution accuses.
The resolution says SSISD is joining Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition as a means of “speaking with one voice in the litigation of public school finance matter essential to the fair treatment of public school children.”
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