Voting for football and (we hope) classrooms

This will be a discussion of how Texans weigh their priorities, and at the outset I want to acknowledge the obvious. Parents can value football, band and other extracurricular activities for their children while also valuing the classroom and teachers. I know. My son is in a high school marching band, and I also enjoy the activity that takes place on the field before and after the halftime show.

Two years ago, the parents and other taxpayers of Allen ISD, a rapidly growing school district in suburban Collin County (near Dallas) voted 63 percent in favor of a $119 million bond issue to build a $60 million football stadium plus a fine arts auditorium and a new service center for the district.

The 18,000seat stadium, which is still under construction, will include a highdefinition video scoreboard, an indoor golf practice area, a practice room for wrestling and, according to The New York Times, “enough parking for every car in Dallas, or close.” In its headline earlier this year, The Times dubbed the stadium a “$60 million palace.” Allen school officials, however, noted the old stadium was woefully overcrowded and could no longer accommodate the district’s growth and its strong Friday night fever.

Allen’s residents obviously agreed with their school officials and overwhelmingly agreed to raise their property taxes to pay for the new complex.

Now, Allen’s taxpayers have another choice to make. Thanks to the state cuts in education funding, Allen ISD estimates it will lose $21 million over the next two school years. The district already has taken a number of costcutting steps, including a salary freeze, staff reductions (including 44 teachers) and larger classes.

In case you are wondering, no, the district can’t transfer any money from the stadium project to the classroom. The voters specifically approved the bonds for the stadium and construction of the other two facilities.

Also, in case you are wondering, Collin County, in which Allen is located, voted overwhelmingly (64 percent) last November to reelect Gov. Rick Perry, the architect of the education budget cuts. And, Collin voters elected legislators who voted for the reductions.

To avoid even more cuts in educational services, Allen ISD wants to raise the district’s tax rate for operations by 13 cents per $100 valuation. That would put the district’s total tax rate at $1.67, including the separate debt service taxes (to pay for things like the stadium) that voters already have approved.

The new, 13cent tax increase also must be approved by voters in a tax ratification election set for Oct. 8. Early voting started this week. According to the school district, the increase would raise $10 million a year, which would help the district hire additional teachers to meet student growth and slow the increase in class sizes.

If voters reject the tax increase, the district warns that another 80 to 100 teachers could lose their jobs by the end of this school year, classes will get even larger, bus routes and crossing guard services will be reduced, tutoring will be cut back and officials will delay the scheduled opening of one new elementary school.

The district estimated the higher tax would cost the owner of the average valued home ($220,000) an extra $266 a year. Allen, as you can see, is more affluent than most Texas communities.

“Look, football has always been a big deal here,” Allen ISD’s athletic director Steve Williams told The New York Times, in discussing voter support of the bond issue. “This is Texas. But this bond project is about much more than football. It’s about our school, our community.”

In many ways, the Oct. 8 tax ratification election also is a referendum on Allen’s schools and the future of the community and its kids. Will Allen voters step up this time?

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