McKinney residents were presented with a rare opportunity last weekend. They had the chance to put their money where their mouth is. They were given the chance to say to the legislators down in Austin, “if you don’t pay for my kid’s education, then I will.” They had the chance to step up, dig a little deeper, and help foot the bill for the McKinney ISD.
And they did, voting to approve the TRE by a 60 percent margin.
McKinney’s TRE election was one of the most contentious elections in recent memory. For all the talk and bluster, less than 15 percent of the eligible voters in McKinney determined the future of MISD and McKinney as a whole. That number may seem small, but it dwarfs other recent local elections.
Shortly before 9 p.m. on Saturday night, the results were made official by Collin County election officials. The TRE had passed with 5,617 “yes” votes against 3,683 “no” votes.
By supporting the TRE, voters were approving a property tax increase of 13 cents per $100 of assessed home value to help raise the nearly $11 million needed by MISD to balance its budget and avoid massive personnel cuts. The budget deficit was due to the state of Texas reducing the amount of funding it provides to school districts to fund operations.
“I was, and continue to be, appreciative of the level of support for the TRE and McKinney schools.” – MISD Superintendent Dr. JD Kennedy
In the end, the difference between the TRE passing and failing was only 1,934 votes. But those 1,934 people determined that funding education was more important to them than having a few extra dollars in their bank account.
And now that the TRE dust has settled, there is a definite sense of relief among the MISD board and administration. “We were prepared to live with either outcome, but we knew the difficult decisions we would face in the coming weeks if it were to fail,” MISD Superintendent Dr. JD Kennedy tells TownSquareBuzz.com. “I was, and continue to be, appreciative of the level of support for the TRE and McKinney schools.”
The MISD school board shares those feelings as well. “I was definitely pleased,” MISD School Board President Curtis Rippee tells TSB. “The board felt like it was the appropriate thing for our district. It was the best solution, given our options. We were certainly pleased the community agreed.”
Rippee says that he knew the TRE vote was going to be close but was pleased by the amount of support showed by McKinney’s voters. “History shows that in large districts, TRE’s tend to be highly contested,” he says. “Sixty-forty (the percentage split of the vote) shows a large amount of support in our district. We knew that it wouldn’t be overwhelming.”
School Board Vice President Amy Dankel echoes Rippee’s thoughts, “As the board as a whole, we just have a feeling of real pride in our citizens for the voter turnout.”
Dankel also commended McKinney’s voters for their support of the TRE. “The positive result just shows that the McKinney citizens are really behind the school district and feel the importance of education,” she says.
School Board Member Lynn Sperry agrees with Dankel about McKinney’s voters. “I’m elated that we had the amount of community support that we did,” Sperry says. “I think that it’s vital to have that support for the district. When people come out in big numbers and vote for a tax increase, that shows support for the district and the board.”
As evidenced by the voting numbers, the TRE was not without its detractors. The school board and the school administrators all acknowledged that. “What we know based upon hundreds of conversations and feedback from the community, is that a ‘no’ vote isn’t necessarily a vote against schools or students,” Dr. Kennedy says.
“I know many voters struggled over the decision, and increasing taxes is not something we take lightly,” he says. “However, the way in which we fund public schools is complicated and the system is still broken. Ultimately, a TRE doesn’t solve this issue for public schools; it has to be addressed in Austin by our legislators. Regardless, we’ll continue our focus on being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Kennedy says that he is “extremely appreciative and grateful for the support” of the community. “Regardless of the outcome, we were prepared to make decisions to accommodate the desire of the community, and we’re excited that we can maintain the current quality of our programs,” he says.
Kennedy and Rippee both point out the amount of “incorrect information” that they say was spread by TRE opponents during the election buildup “I was surprised at the amount of misinformation circulated throughout the community, but not at the number of ‘no’ votes,” Kennedy says. “If someone is fully informed on the issue, and still elects to vote no, that’s their right and we respect that decision. There are a lot of reasons people vote no, but we shouldn’t always assume it’s because they don’t support strong schools.”
Rippee agrees. “There’s a group out there who felt that raising taxes is not good for our community,” he says. “But the amount of information that was out there that wasn’t true was concerning. There was a lot of incorrect information being disseminated. Part of our role as board members is to clarify those items and communicate the reality of those. So that people will have the right information to judge the district properly.”
Two of the most outspoken TRE opponents were Curtis Rath and David O’Connor. Rath acknowledges that he knew the fight against the TRE would be hard. “I knew it was going to be difficult fighting one of the largest employers in McKinney,” he says.
Rath says that, despite how it may seem, he’s not anti-McKinney or anti-schools. “I knew it was an uphill battle and I knew that I would be a lightning rod of criticism,” Rath says. “I love McKinney and the school system in McKinney, but I see what’s going on and I don’t like it.”
Rath suggests ending the “forced bussing for socio-economic reasons” as a way for the district to save money in the future. He also suggests putting more power back in the hands of the teachers in the district. “It’s about the teachers,” he says. “You need to hire the best teachers and empower them. I want the teachers’ salaries to increase more than the administrators.”
O’Connor worries that “most of the people who voted for the tax rate will be very sorry when they try to sell their home.” He also wonders if the tax rate will affect people looking to choose between McKinney and some of its neighboring cities.
Kennedy and Rippee both realize that the amount of negativity directed towards the district during the TRE buildup is something they’ll need to address going forward. “When people have differing opinions, it creates tension,” Rippee says. “I want to make sure that people understand the realities. We need to restore some of the faith that was lost through the bad information that was out there. We want to make sure that our community trusts the school district.”
Kennedy says that the bottom line is doing what’s best for the children. “We also want to reassure those who supported the TRE that we recognize the great responsibility of ensuring that these funds are focused on the classroom and continuing to provide a rigorous and effective academic environment for our students,” he says.
“We’re excited about what this school year has to offer, and look forward to sharing many staff and student accomplishments in the coming weeks and months.”