LA MARQUE — The La Marque school board’s vote to reduce a budget deficit in part by asking voters to approve a tax increase was met with applause Thursday.
But outside the boardroom the reaction was less welcoming.
Trustees had been considering cutting salaries for professional staff including teachers administrators and the superintendent and a three-day furlough for all employees as a way to cut $2.6 million from the 2012-13 budget.
The school district already had trimmed the deficit by laying off workers renegotiating property insurance and increasing revenues. Those plans included a 10 percent cut to discretionary budgets and cuts to the athletics budgets.
But instead of cutting salaries trustees decided to count on an increase in enrollment of 160 to 200 students which would mean an increase in state funding.
Also trustees will meet Monday to vote on asking for a tax ratification election. According to the district’s budget balancing documents votes would have to increase the tax rate by 10 to 13 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Willing To Pay More
On Thursday that decision was met with approval and vows to campaign for the tax increase.
Russel Washington the former school district police chief who has demanded his job back and is suing the district told trustees he would campaign for the increase. He also asked for a show of hands of those willing to pay more in taxes.
The majority of those in the board room raised their hands as did the trustees. Trustee Davy Jones was absent.
Geraldine Sam former mayor of La Marque and a teacher with the district said she appreciated the trustees’ decision not to cut salaries and to avoid furloughs. If trustees had decided to cut salaries and increase taxes there is no way she would have supported the plan Sam said.
But instead Sam said she would be ”one of those out there working to help make sure that it (is approved).”
Not In Favor
But garnering the same kind of approval with others in the district might be more difficult.
”I’m not in favor of the tax increase” Jones said.
He said residents in his district which includes Bayou Vista and Tiki Island already pay a lot in taxes because of higher property values and will not support an increase.
Many are older don’t have children in the school district and complain about having to pay taxes to the district Jones said.
Jones said he was glad the board did not cut teacher salaries and pointed to delinquent taxes owed to the district as an area that could help balance the budget.
Keith Bell La Marque’s mayor protem also expressed reservations.
”With the economy the way it is I don’t think it’s a good idea for any entity to propose a tax increase” he said.
While he could understand why the district is considering a tax increase Bell said he didn’t believe there would be much support for it because of the perception deserved or not of mismanagement and inefficiency at the district.
”In order for (the tax increase) to even have a chance of passing the school board needs to have a plan in place and communicate to the (residents) what they plan on doing with the revenue” Bell said.
Wait And See
La Marque Mayor Bobby Hocking has gone before the school board in the past to offer help. But the city is about to start its own budget process Monday and Hocking said he would withhold his comments until that process was finished.
Those in the business community also were hesitant to comment.
Mark Ciavaglia chairman of the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce said he could not comment or take a position on the tax increase until the chamber board had discussed the issue.
”We want to see La Marque ISD succeed and to the extent that we can be part of that success the chamber will engage” he said.
Ciavaglia is an attorney with Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson the law firm working for the La Marque school district on collecting delinquent taxes. He said he was keenly aware of the dire situation the district faces and the law firm was stepping up its efforts to collect back taxes.
”Delinquent collections can be part of a recovery but it won’t be a total component” he said.
A Respected School District
Jimmy Hayley the president of the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce also said he could not speak for the chamber on the proposed tax increase. But Hayley was willing to speak from his experience of 24 years as a the La Marque school trustee a graduate of the district and a father of two sons who graduated from La Marque.
”I think (the tax increase) is going to be a difficult job to sell” Hayley said.
The board would need to be united on the tax increase but the economic situation still would pose an obstacle he said.
Hayley wondered whether trustees had a Plan B.
”If they decide to have a vote for it and it fails then what is their next step?” he asked.
Hayley recalled when La Marque was a respected school district around the state and was a place people wanted to move to and enroll the children.
He suggested trustees turn to the Texas Education Agency for advice.
”I personally care for La Marque because that is where I graduated from” he said. ”That’s where I got my education from and that is where both of my boys got theirs from.”
The last thing he would want to see Hayley said is for the state agency to take over the district.