Sept. 25, Port Arthur residents will be voting on a proposed Port Arthur Independent School District tax increase the district says will generate an additional $5.5 million in revenue per year based on current taxable values. The PAISD Board is asking taxpayers for an increase of 13 cents per $100 of assessed value in their property taxes to generate this revenue.
According to PAISD, the additional revenues will be spent for replacement of buses and vehicles, capital improvement needs, addressing legal obligations required by a court ruling and to help maintain the existing work force. Revenues will not finance facilities.
“We plan to increase the salaries of our employees by about $1.2 million,” said Phyllis Geans, assistant superintendent for business and finance for PAISD. “And then we’ve got over 38 buses that are more than 10 years old. Funds will be used to replenish our bus stock. It’s going to take us awhile because buses run between $75,000 to $100,000 for each bus, and our fleet is between 60 and 70.”
PAISD also has a lawsuit with Valero concerning tax overpayments.
“We have $18 million that was assessed,” said Geans. “We received about $7.5 million from TEA. The remaining dollars would need to come from our funding. We plan to use the $3 million payment that is due next week from the fund balance, and we would be replenishing it if we are successful with the ratification of the rate.”
A PAISD presentation, available on its Web site, also points out state funding cuts of $5 million. The cuts resulted in hiring freezes, larger class sizes, reduction of operating expenses for supplies, overtime, travel, first-semester suspension of after-school programs and other operating expense reductions necessary to absorb the $2 million lost in federal funding. Funding that’s needed for state-mandated salary increases.
The Board presented its case to the Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 21. Many members of the Chamber were not convinced by the Board’s presentation during a meeting between the two entities, William McCoy, president of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce, said in a recent letter addressed to Chamber members.
“We appreciated the superintendent’s time in meeting with Chamber members, but many left the presentation without the conviction that the additional revenue need was compelling,” said McCoy. “A very large percentage of our members expressed their concerns about additional taxes, particularly during these difficult economic times.”
The Chamber Board met Aug. 22 and held a special meeting Aug. 29 to discuss the proposed tax increase.
“After careful deliberation, the majority of the directors voted that the Chamber not support the proposed tax increase,” the letter stated. “These are very tough economic times and it is vital that property tax rates in Port Arthur be competitive with other cities and regions so as not to impair the city’s economic recovery efforts or job growth.”
The Chamber commended PAISD for making improvements in student achievement, managing recent construction projects well and increasing its funds balance from $5 million to $30 million, improving its credit rating.
In a PAISD flyer announcing the election dates and locations, the district reminds the residents of Port Arthur that it remains academically acceptable for the 2011-12 school year, has received 10 TEA gold performance acknowledgements, and had a successful first year implementing the CSCOPE curriculum. They also mention that math and science scores continue to rise, graduation rates continue to increase and the district has had two years of excellent audit results, including superior achievement of the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) five years in a row. All PAISD schools have been renovated or newly built, with all projects completed at or below budget from bond funds, according to the district.
Regardless of these achievements, McCoy suggested in an interview with The Examiner that the PAISD Board reconsider the timing of its proposed tax increase.
“We currently have the highest school tax in our area, and we’re competing for new businesses, and even people buying new homes — that rate affects our ability to do that,” McCoy said. “In this time, when most people are tightening their belts and cutting their budgets, the school district should try to do the same thing. We are very much willing to work with them in looking for private funding, going over their budgets with them, anything we can do to contribute time, money, products. We’re not abandoning the school district; we’re just saying for this particular issue, we can’t support it.”
Early voting for the Tax Ratification Election (TRE) will be held Sept. 10-21 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at city hall and the public library, with general voting Sept. 25 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Community town hall meetings will be held Tuesday, Sept. 11, 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Memorial High School auditorium, and Tuesday, Sept. 18, 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Abraham Lincoln Middle School auditorium.