By Peggy Venable
Published on Austin American Statesman 2/4/13
The Connecticut school shooting was a horrendous act which put a spotlight on school security.
Every Texan wants kids safe in schools. Parents expect safety to be a priority. The safety of students and staff is a key responsibility for public schools.
The Texas School District Security Act proposed by state Sen. Tommy Williams, Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Dan Huberty would allow taxpayers to create a local special-purpose taxing entity for school security.
While well-intentioned, this approach simply confuses the issue. Texans are taxed too much and already provide generous funding to our schools.
Before jumping to create more taxing entities, legislators should consider how our schools prioritize spending and what they are doing now to keep Texas schoolkids safe.
Texans spend over $54 billion a year on K-12 education, more than any other single item in the state budget.
Even with the best intentions to provide a quality education to our students, taxpayers have seen example after example of wasteful school district spending. Many of those are chronicled on the Red Apple Project website.
Anecdotal examples of questionable spending include Ector County Independent School District spending $100,000 on a public relations firm or the number of Austin district staff earning six-figure salaries jumping 63 percent in the past five years (and no, none of those were teachers). These are just two of the school districts using tax dollars to sue the state claiming they don’t have adequate funding.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over a 16-year period, Texas student enrollment grew 37 percent, teacher rolls increased 50 percent and non-teaching staff exploded 172 percent. Common sense might suggest that some of those out-of-classroom staff positions could be converted to security positions if needed.
Taxpayers are already paying for security in every school, every city and every county across the state. And, while it may not seem like it due to massive media attention, statistically, school violence has been declining since its peak in 1993.
In 2011-12, Texas public schools spent almost $331 million on school security and monitoring services. That comes out of the maintenance and operating expenses and averages a cost of $67 per student.
Small school districts like Harrold Independent School District, with 110 students, have different needs than mega districts like Dallas with 157,000 students. According to the Texas Education Agency, Harrold spends $5,894 on security, which averages $54 per student, while the Dallas district has their own police department and spends $17.6 million or $204 per student on security and monitoring.
No one blanket security plan will work for all Texas school districts.
The joint Senate Education Committee and Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security hearing January 29 provided a myriad of approaches to addressing school security.
Local schools, law enforcement and parents can come together to address security issues in their schools. Officials should review what is currently being spent on school security – both by districts as well as local law enforcement entities – and determine if spending needs to be shifted.
Rather than allocate more money, districts should reassess current spending priorities. Education spending has grown every year. As school districts set spending priorities, they can best determine where security needs fit into those priorities.
Creation of special purpose security districts would result in a tax increase that is not going to make our kids safer. It would be shortsighted to leverage a tragedy to create a taxing entity that is not needed.
Whether the Texas School District Security Act results in creating new sales tax or property tax jurisdictions, creation of new special-purpose taxing districts appears to be the answer to everything these days.
According to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ report “Taxing Facts,” the biggest increase in property taxing entities in the past two decades has been in special purpose districts, or SPDs. Texas has more than 4,000 property taxing entities, and their numbers have doubled in the past 10 years. SPD sales tax collections grew by more than 1,700 percent between 1993 and 2011 as the number of SPDs increased from 9 to 193.
The bottom line is this: taxing entities are proliferating in Texas, and we are already spending billions on education. We don’t need another tax to protect our kids. We appreciate the intent of this legislation but do not support the concept of creating yet another special purpose taxing district that will heap one more tax on hard-working Texans.