2016-12-22 / Youth

Port Aransas trustees move to repeal state law that costs district $700K

Greg Bowen

In an effort to boost state funding to the Port Aransas ISD by more than $700,000 a year, district trustees are asking lawmakers to overturn a 40-plus-year-old law that penalizes small districts for not consolidating into larger ones.

“When you’re on an island, consolidation doesn’t make a lick of sense,” said Superintendent Sharon McKinney.

She said the state, in order to encourage consolidation, reduces funding for school districts like PAISD that have fewer than 1,600 students and less than 300 square miles of territory.

The district has about 205 square miles of territory and about 550 students.

McKinney said it’s “shocking” that the penalty is “costing us $703,000 in our operating budget this year.’

That’s about 10 percent of the district’s budget, she said.

“If that penalty were removed, we’d have another $703,000 available to us in funding,” McKinney said.

McKinney said it’s unfair that the funding penalty doesn’t apply to public charter schools, most of which do not meet the 1,600/300 standard either. “They don’t get penalized for being small … but we do,” McKinney said. “It just doesn’t seem right.”

Resolution OK’d

The ISD’s school board on Wednesday, Dec. 14, voted unanimously to send a resolution to state Rep. Todd Hunter and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, asking them to work to repeal the provision, which is known as the small/rural school penalty in state funding.

School board president Alfredo Gonzalez said the resolution puts the ISD’s opposition to the penalty “on record.” McKinney said the resolution tells the district’s legislative reps this: “We want you to address this. We want you to fix this.”

“It’s time for the state to stop penalizing students and taxpayers for where they reside,” the board’s resolution says.

Hasn’t worked

The penalty, adopted in the mid-1970s, is based on the idea that smaller schools and smaller classes cost more to run, she said.

But the law has contributed to very few consolidations, she said.

“It hasn’t worked in 40 years. So why are we still penalizing small schools? It’s time to remove that penalty — especially if it doesn’t apply to charter schools.”

The board’s resolution states that the law forces small districts like Port Aransas to set comparatively higher local property tax rates in order to provide students with the same services that larger districts enjoy.

The local resolution is part of a larger effort by the Texas Association of Community Schools, which is working to protect little districts all over the state that are suffering the same penalty, McKinney said.

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