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HISD contemplates a tax increase

They’re not saying it explicitly yet, but the inference is clear.

Houston ISD board president Paula Harris said today that raising property taxes, dipping into the district’s savings account and suing the state over school finance inequities are all possibilities.

Harris noted twice that HISD has the lowest tax rate of all school districts in Harris County ($1.1567 per $100 of assessed value). The district also offers a special tax break known as an optional homestead exemption, which reduces the taxable value of homes by 20 percent.

Under a legislative budget proposal, districts with lower tax efforts get cut the deepest.

During a news conference at Pin Oak Middle School this morning, Harris echoed comments she made in February that a local tax increase was a possibility.

“Everything is still on the table,” said Harris, who spoke at the news conference with Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon and an HISD parent activist, Sue Deigaard.

Hair Balls noted this as well. Of course, this is what Rick Perry wants the school districts to do. If they all raise their tax rates – quite a few are already at the maximum level, but many of them are like HISD and still have room for a hike – the end result will be that the state will be on the hook for less money. HISD Trustee Harvin Moore has been writing about this and other aspects of the legislative shortchanging of public education, and it’s worth your time to read what he’s been saying. You should also read this op-ed by parent/activist Sue Deigaard.

There’s one other thing that’s on the table as well: Litigation.

Under the legislative budget proposal, HISD officials say the district faces a loss of $78 million in the upcoming school year and $126 million in 2012-13.

HISD officials had been planning for a state funding shortfall of $160 million in the upcoming year, so the proposal is better than expected. Still, Harris said, that’s no reason to celebrate.

“That’s like someone punching you in the face twice and saying, ‘Be glad we didn’t punch you three times.’”

Asked if HISD would consider joining an expected lawsuit against the state over the school finance system, Harris noted that the district participated in a similar suit years ago.

“I cannot say we would sit this one out,” Harris said.

Pretty much everyone expects there to be a lawsuit. Rick Casey’s column, linked in the excerpt above, spells it out. The only question at this point is how long till the suit is filed. The question of what the State Supreme Court will do with it this time is another matter. I don’t know how much having the facts on our side will count for.

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