November 8, 2017 Guest Column
Leveraging the “gray area” by Chris Putnam
Dr. Ryan, GCISD
Many of us that have been involved in politics locally have seen this disturbing dynamic creeping into the district for some time. It started with the bond election when the district and trustees leveraged the well-known “gray area” to advocate and campaign for bond approval. Now it seems clear the district is using taxpayer resources to organize gray area groups and campaigns to influence state and local elections. As a proud GCISD parent and supporter of our public schools it’s very disappointing. The recent trend of non-partisan government agencies at all levels of government being politicized to advanced their own agendas is frightening. It is clearly occurring here at home now and needs to end immediately. The district’s political agenda and tactics are completely obvious, and I would strongly encourage you to stand down and allow our voters/taxpayers to make their own decisions.
By way of personal background, my mother was a public school teacher for 40 years in the most challenging school in our district. My wife was an elementary school teacher, counselor and was awarded the PTA Lifetime Member award several yeas ago. My grandfather was a public educator as well. You may know that I personally organized and led the effort to allow Colleyville and Grapevine children zoned in other districts to transfer to GCISD. We believe in public education in our family, educate all of our children in our GCISD schools, and support our teachers, coaches and schools. I have also been a personal public supporter of yourself and several other administrators that I know personally. However, that doesn’t mean we abandon our right to ask tough questions or even challenge how the district and/or our trustees are managing the district financially. And it is time for an honest – not district manipulated – public conservation about GCISD spending, taxation, debt and curriculum. Instead I get propaganda mailers in my tax bill blaming high GCISD tax rates exclusively on Robin Hood and coordinated talking point campaigns from Trustees, the PTA and other district-affiliated organizations. Anyone paying attention can see this coordination and the scripted talking points clearly on many of the local social media group pages. People that question or challenge these talking points or disagree with Trustees or their surrogates are instantly labeled as “public school haters.”
Now the district and its leadership are brazenly creating enemies out of conservative republicans who are demanding property tax reform and warning about the level of indebtedness of our school districts – a staggering $1 billion dollars of debt in the case of GCISD. We can agree that Robin Hood is absolutely heinous (as with all forms of socialism) and should be replaced immediately, but it has been the operating model since 1993 and the financial issue is far more complex than just recapture as you well know. The advocacy from the district and its trustees is always strictly about increasing revenue and never about cost reduction strategies or efficiency innovations. It’s time to have a different conversation because many of residents and taxpayers can no longer afford the ever-increasing tax burden. Many GCISD families have literally had to sell their homes to downsize to remain in the district, and most of us will not be able to retire and keep our homes with the high tax burden.
There are also thousands of private school families in Grapevine and Colleyville, and the district and our trustees have assumed a very public political position against any form of school choice. The district and its leadership should in no way politically advocate for or against this issue either. And yet the district and its trustees have weaponized the PTA and other groups for full scale political warfare on this issue in this coming spring’s primary elections. They are literally labeling these families and anyone who believes that some their personal tax dollars should be allowed to be used for the education they choose for their children as enemies of the district and our community. These private school families also fund our district with their tax dollars and have a voice even if their children don’t attend GCISD schools. It’s not the role of the district or our trustees to demonize these families simply because they have made a different educational choice. Many of them are also struggling to afford both private school tuition and rising school property taxes. It is arrogant, offensive and frankly frightening to demand that a government provided education is the ONLY choice our residents and taxpayers should be allowed to have, and then publicly attack anyone who disagrees or chooses a different path.
Please sir, get back to the otherwise excellent job you are doing educating our children and leave the politics out of administration affairs and leadership. Provide us with transparent, objective, fact-based data on the district’s financial picture and performance. In five years there will inevitably be another bond election. Rather than sell new debt initiatives with fake parent steering groups that are led to desired outcomes, involve the entire community and not just hand-picked delegates. Disclose the current amount of principal and interest obligation the district is already carrying on the ballot when asking taxpayers to assume more debt so they have all the facts. Stop the public finger-pointing to deflect the blame for our high taxes and take responsibility for your own spending, debt and taxation decisions. Neither Governor Abbott nor Lt. Governor Patrick increased our property taxes or were responsible for recapture. The district and Board of Trustees are solely and exclusively responsible for our budgets and setting tax rates. And as you continue to blame Robin Hood while assuming political advocacy positons and organizing to oust conservative republican legislators please remember that it was Democrat Ann Richards and a Democratic State Legislature who gave us Robin Hood in the first place.