What we wanted to do, is we wanted to put several options out there that also could be subject to more changes. That was the reason why we filed both bills.
Two bills filed this month by State Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Palmview, could remove South Texas ISD’s taxing authority if enacted.
Those bills follow a legislative push by several other school districts in the Rio Grande Valley that say STISD benefits unfairly from its ability to tax residents of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties, and that the district has strayed from the mission that originally justified that taxing ability.
South Texas ISD, meanwhile, has argued that critical districts are misconstruing its financial situation, that it provides a valuable service to the community and that eliminating its taxing authority would threaten its very existence.
Muñoz told The Monitor Friday that House Bill 5294 and House Bill 5296 lay a broad base for a discussion on potential changes to STISD’s funding structure.
One of those bills would put eliminating STISD’s taxing ability and funding it instead in the same manner open enrollment charters are funded to the voters in the district.
The other lays out a multi-year phaseout of the district’s taxing abilities without putting it to the voters.
Muñoz says those bills lay a broad foundation for discussion on the district’s funding mechanisms.
“What we wanted to do, is we wanted to put several options out there that also could be subject to more changes. That was the reason why we filed both bills,” he said.
The bills aren’t meant as a criticism of South Texas ISD, Muñoz said. He said voters deserve to have taxing concerns talked about.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re against or for anybody. But if it’s a concern that’s brought forth, and that we need to look into and work on, then that’s what we’re gonna do,” he said.
So far, other legislators in the three-county area STISD serves have been mostly quiet publicly about the issue. Several have said it’s one worth discussing, but none appear to have taken a firm stance yet.
State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, originally floated the idea of filing his own legislation on that front at the beginning of the push, but didn’t do so and hasn’t spoken up about the matter since.
Eliminating our taxing authority of less than a nickel is not gonna benefit anybody. In fact, it’s gonna hurt a lot of people: 4,300 kids and 680 employees. That’s what it’s gonna do. Education should not be about that.
Legislators have been getting plenty of feedback about the topic. South Texas ISD has launched a campaign aimed at fighting legislation aimed at its funding, and critics have been visiting with legislators as well.
In a statement, the district says it’s reviewing Muñoz’s legislation, which it said would “cripple” its educational capabilities.
“It serves no purpose,” Superintendent Marco Antonio Lara, Jr. said at a press conference at the district back in February. “Eliminating our taxing authority of less than a nickel is not gonna benefit anybody. In fact, it’s gonna hurt a lot of people: 4,300 kids and 680 employees. That’s what it’s gonna do. Education should not be about that.”
That statement was met by applause from parents and staff in attendance.
Muñoz said he was open to visiting with South Texas ISD leadership about the bills.
Lara, however, said at that press conference that finding some kind of middle ground is far from likely.
“I’m not sure what that compromise would look like or why we would need to compromise,” he said.
Muñoz’s bills are a long way from being enacted as law. First there’ll be hearings, and they’ll have to get out of committee.
Edinburg CISD Board President Mike Farias said critical districts will continue pushing during that process.
Give us — the voters — the opportunity to vote on whether we want to spend that extra nickel or not. Give us the opportunity.
Likely the loudest voice among the critics, Edinburg school leadership has gone as far as briefing their city council on the matter and making one last-minute dash to Austin the day before the filing deadline — when the bills were filed — to advocate their position.
“There’s gonna be public hearings, and we’re gonna coordinate on those public hearings and participate as far as superintendents. Also I’m trying to work on getting board members to participate in the hearings,” Farias said.
Farias disputed the notion that STISD can’t successfully be funded similar to other charters and that abolishing its taxes would be a killing blow for the district. He described funding reform — and particularly deciding that reform at the ballot box — as a measure of fairness.
“Give us — the voters — the opportunity to vote on whether we want to spend that extra nickel or not,” Farias said. “Give us the opportunity. We had the opportunity to vote when it came to South Texas College, but we never had the opportunity to vote when it came to South Texas ISD.”
To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas’ legislative coverage.