I felt it was time for me to address some misconceptions regarding McKinney ISD and the proposed increased tax rate [through the upcoming Tax Ratification Election]. As a voter, I am concerned that these misconceptions or even misinformation is affecting the election; as a parent, I am concerned that my kids' education will be acutely and negatively impacted; as a citizen, I am concerned that McKinney will be a less attractive place for families to move if the quality of education diminishes; as a homeowner, I am concerned that my property values will be affected by underfunded schools; and as president of the McKinney ISD Board of Trustees, I am in a position to correct these misconceptions.
Misconception #1: McKinney ISD spends too much on administration
McKinney ISD currently spends 8.5 percent of its annual budget on administration (according to the Texas Education Agency), compared to the state average of 8.7 percent. The 8.5 percent is divided into two components: central and campus administration. MISD spends 2.1 percent on central administration (compared to the state average of 3.1 percent) and 6.4 percent on campus administration (compared to the state average of 5.6 percent). We have chosen to dedicate more resources at the campus level to more directly support teachers and students, and less in central administration. Overall, MISD spends less in administration than the state average.
In fact, MISD has been honored with the State Comptroller's Gold Designation (financial transparency) and Financial Allocation Study of Texas (FAST) and received five stars for "low spending" and "high progress," or value for money spent (fastexas.org/pdf/FAST_Districts_2012.pdf).
Misconception #2: MISD has one administrator for every 1.8 teachers
McKinney has approximately 2,545 employees, of which 1,630 are teachers and 915 are non-teachers. Only 113 of the 915 "non-teachers" are "administrators," as defined by the TEA (ritter.tea.state.tx.us/adhocrpt/adpeb.html). Of the 113 administrators, only 31 are in the central administration office. Interestingly enough, that is only three more than the district employed in central administration when it only had 16,000 students in 2004, though the number of students has grown since 2004 by 50 percent to 24,000. The remaining 82 administrators include principals and assistant principals at our 31 campuses.
So who are these other 800 non-teacher employees? The vast majority work on our campuses as counselors, speech therapists, librarians, school nurses, instructional specialists, educational diagnosticians, educational aides, psychologists, maintenance personnel, administrative assistants, etc. As you can see, it takes a lot more than just teachers to provide the quality education our community desires and the state mandates. If you will look at the list again, most of them are directly involved with our students and their educational needs. The education of our students comes in many forms and from many people other than a classroom teacher.
Misconception #3: MISD has a 14-to-1 student-teacher ratio
If you have a student who attends MISD, my bet is that it is rare for your child to be in a classroom with only 13 other children. That would be a great scenario, but it is certainly not the case. If you merely divide the number of students, 24,000, by the number of teachers, 1,630, you do get a ratio of 14.7 to 1. So why do our classes on our campuses have more than 15 students in them. Included in this overall student-teacher ratio are special education classes where many of our special needs students require one-on-one care. Our gifted and talented program, advanced subjects like Advanced Placement physics and biology, as well as our career and technology programs, are valuable to our students, but they are typically smaller and have a downward effect on student-teacher ratios.
The fact is the majority of our classrooms in K-4 have ratios of 18:1 to 22:1 (state law mandates no more than 22:1) and our middle and high school classes can be 25:1 to 30:1. During the 2012-2013 school year, the district requested 32 waivers from the state to allow individual classrooms in K-4 to go above the 22:1 ratio.
Misconception #4: MISD pays administrators too much
While public education is certainly different from the private sector in terms of its compensation model, it is very much the same when it comes to the impact of market factors on compensation. When determining the level of compensation for a particular position – teacher or non-teacher – the district must consider the market rate for those positions. The market is determined by what other districts in your immediate area are paying. MISD makes a significant effort to verify that its pay rates are competitive with neighboring districts and with districts throughout the state. Districts are constantly recruiting our top teachers and administrators, so we must stay competitive. Because school districts are public entities, this compensation information is available to the public via the TEA website. A review of that data will show that the compensation levels of our administrators are very much in line with our neighboring districts.
Misconception #5: MISD has not done enough to reduce costs
When public school funding was cut in 2011, MISD's revenue was cut by $15.4 million per year. MISD responded by cutting 134 positions, including 11 percent of its administrative staff. Coaches became bus drivers, administrators began substituting, the number of PE teachers was reduced and the district implemented an energy management system to reduce energy costs. Overall, MISD reduced operating costs by $4.9 million.
Misconception #6: Increases in property tax values result in more revenue for MISD
The state currently funds its public schools in such a way that for every dollar of revenue a district receives for operations due to an increase in property value, the state reduces its funding by a dollar. Each district has its revenue per student for operations determined by the state, and that number is based on the expenditures per student for each district back in 2006. The district receives the same amount of revenue per student, regardless of whether it comes from local taxes or from the state. In 2013, the district received approximately $6,950 per student, which incidentally was the second lowest amount per student in all of Collin County. The only way a district can increase revenue is to increase the property tax rate.
If I were to summarize the current financial situation of MISD and the need for the increase in tax rate, it would be this:
First, the state reduced funding to MISD in 2011 by $15.6 million per year. In 2013, they restored $4.3 million, leaving a net funding reduction of $11.3 million per year. Without the tax increase, MISD's budget for the 2013-2014 school year has a deficit of $10.7 million ($600,000 less than the $11.3 million in state funding cuts). The tax increase is needed solely to replace funds cut by the state. All of the taxes resulting from the tax increase will stay local.
Second, the proposed tax increase is not intended to fund significant new programs. It is solely to keep the programs we have today. If the tax rate increase does not pass, the simple fact is that programs will be cut, class sizes will increase, extracurricular programs will be reduced, and fees to participate in these extracurricular programs will most likely increase.
It is the public's decision, as it should be, as to whether our parents and the community want us to make the cuts we have outlined or raise the tax rate to maintain the current level of service. But it is my job to make sure the facts are very clear so the public is fully informed about the choice they are making. It is my hope that before you vote, you will take the time to educate yourselves on the issues and ramifications.
Regardless, make your voice heard and please vote.