Weatherford Democrat

February 6, 2013

School districts await ruling’s impact

Superintendents weigh in on judge’s decision in school finance lawsuit


Weatherford Democrat

— By SALLY SEXTON

On the heels of a judge’s decision that the Texas public school funding system is unconstitutional, administrators in Parker County reacted to Monday’s landmark decision.

Shortly after listening to closing arguments, Judge John Dietz ruled the funding mechanism does not meet the constitutional requirement for a fair and efficient system that provides a general diffusion of knowledge.

“I’m not surprised with the decision,” Weatherford ISD superintendent Jeffrey Hanks said. “I hope that our state legislators would pay attention and seek to find some drastic relief to restore some of the state funding school districts lost during the last legislative session.”

In 2011, lawmakers imposed $5.4 billion in cuts to schools and education grant programs.

“For the judge to rule that the finance system is inequitable and inefficient, inadequate and unsuitable, and a statewide de facto property tax, is a very strong judgment,” Millsap superintendent David Belding said.

The school finance trial, which began Oct. 22 and took more than 240 hours in court and introduced 10,000 exhibits, was the sixth of its kind since 1984. More than 600 school districts joined four plaintiff groups to enter the lawsuit.

“I think this is a good first step and hope the Legislature will consider some relief for public schools since the ruling addressed an unconstitutional funding system, inequity, inadequacy and a system that promoted a state property tax,” Brock superintendent Richard Tedder said.

“[The ruling] is the first step in restoring what our students deserve,” Aledo superintendent Dan Manning added. “If we want our children to have the very best in educational opportunities, why would we not even provide what a state judge calls adequate or equitable?”

In a similar case in 2005, presided by Dietz, the judge found that the previous funding system was unconstitutional and directed the Legislature to devise a new one.

The state is expected to appeal Monday’s ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

“Most likely, the decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court before any action is taken,” Matt Adams, Peaster ISD superintendent, said. “I would like to think that the Legislature will see the ruling and take action before any appeals, but at this point, it is a waiting game.”

The 83rd Texas Legislative Session began Jan. 8.

“I am unsure whether the recent ruling will have an impact on school funding legislation this session or if state lawmakers will wait for a Supreme Court decision and possibly a course of direction before they proceed,” Poolville superintendent Jimmie Dobbs said. “It’s too early to determine the impact the decision might have on our district and others, but it is encouraging that the evidence presented in the trial led to a district court decision that coincides with the thoughts and philosophies of myself and so many of my colleagues in public education.”

Earlier this week, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst released a statement on the outcome of the trial, saying he disagreed with the ruling and expected an immediate appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. Dewhurst also said he would continue to work with Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Joe Straus and the Legislature to “continue to support our students and improve public education” while awaiting the Supreme Court’s final ruling.

“Governor Perry has made it very clear that he has no intention of encouraging that an adequate and equitable solution to school funding be a priority for this Legislative session,” Springtown superintendent Michael Kelley said. “I hope I am wrong, but I think it is very unlikely that the Legislature will address the current crisis until the Texas Supreme Court provides additional direction.”