School boards may push to remove South Texas ISD taxing authority

South Texas ISD school buses are seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy: South Texas ISD/Facebook)

Two Hidalgo County school districts will consider this week pushing for legislative changes that could impact the funding formula of South Texas ISD and eliminate it as a taxing authority, potentially impacting some $30 million collected by that district annually.

Trustees at the McAllen school district will consider action Monday while Edinburg trustees will discuss the same topic Tuesday.

Those districts are not alone in their concerns.

The South Texas Association of Schools, an advocacy group, said two other districts in the Rio Grande Valley have already approved supporting that funding change and more are expected to join them.

State Rep. Terry Canales is also considering introducing legislation to address those concerns.

A uniquely structured district, South Texas ISD taxes residents in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.

Essentially, critics of the district’s funding mechanism argue South Texas ISD has strayed from its original mission, which has allowed it to “double tax” residents while students from communities being taxed are not always guaranteed enrollment there.

They argue the funding structure is unfair for everyone, except for South Texas ISD.

“Local superintendents are raising serious questions regarding why one school district gets nearly double the tax dollars with no limits on where they can place their campuses within the 3-county region,” Canales wrote in a statement Sunday evening. “I have a long history of fighting for additional resources for our schools to keep our students and school employees safe, healthy, and thriving. Yet, I believe the current funding system is picking winners and losers, and the biggest loser in the current system is our local neighborhood school district.”

Representatives for South Texas ISD did not respond to requests for comment.

Members of the South Texas Association of Schools, a group composed of South Texas districts, previously voted to propose those changes, Executive Director Jesus Chavez said Sunday.

Chavez said average daily attendance and the amount of money districts receive per student illustrates the advantage the current structure currently gives South Texas ISD.

“They (STISD) currently receive $12,600 for average daily attendance. Most others receive between $6,800 and $7,400 in region one,” he said.

The Texas Legislature created what would become South Texas ISD in 1964. It was originally known as the Rio Grande Rehabilitation District and was intended to support students with disabilities in the region.

The name change happened in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, the Legislature modified the purpose of the district, allowing it to operate magnet schools in addition to special education classes. The district now operates seven campuses.

Chavez’s group argues that special education students have since returned to their home campuses while the district changed its focus toward operating as a magnet school and has recently embarked on programs that more closely resemble traditional school districts.

Those ventures include comprehensive high school and middle school programs. They also include athletics.

“South Texas ISD should be funded like other districts in Region 1,” the South Texas Association of Schools said in a news release. “The state should only support South Texas ISD with formula funding, bringing the district back to equitable funding.”

The release said that the current funding structure has made South Texas ISD so wealthy, it’s introduced concerns over transparency, noting the district can construct projects by paying in cash rather than through a bond election.

McAllen ISD Board President Tony Forina said fair funding concerns merit Monday’s board discussion on passing a resolution to support legislative efforts pushing for change.

“We’re just looking for equitable funding for our schools. If it’s a step we need to take and look out for our tax base then that’s something that we can do,” he said.

Edinburg school district Superintendent Mario Salinas, whose board will discuss the same issue Tuesday, said he felt South Texas ISD’s funding model is not only unfair to school districts, it’s unfair to taxpayers in general.

South Texas ISD taxes account for $4.2 million annually in Edinburg alone, he said.

“It’s not fair for people that pay property taxes to be burdened with this extra tax,” Salinas said. “It’s not necessary at all.”