Hutto High School

Hutto High School (Photo: Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia)

Last night at the Hutto Independent School Board (HISD) Meeting the Board unanimously passed a motion to increase Hutto’s effective school district tax rate by 7.9%, to $1.67 per $100 in property valuation. This tax rate is comprised of two parts; an I&S (interest and sinking) rate of $_.50, which covers debt payments on construction projects from the past years, and an M&O rate of $1.17, which covers maintenance and operations costs. Texas State law places a tax ceiling on school districts for M&O rates of $1.04. Any increase above this amount triggers a TRE, or Tax Ratification Election.

This election will be held on September 1st. Early voting opens August 15th.

The meeting opened with a special public session where Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Eduardo Ramos gave a detailed presentation of the various aspects of HISD’s current financial state. Mr. Ramos covered every aspect of a complex situation, including contrasting HISD’s spending per student against surrounding districts. HISD is one of the lowest, spending $6,637 per student in the 2011-2012 school year. Mr. Ramos’ complete presentation can be found here (.pdf at the bottom) along with a comprehensive explanation of the TRE process.

After Mr. Ramos’ presentation the board opened the floor for a question and answer session with the general public. This lasted about 20 minutes, including board members asking questions of Mr. Ramos. The board then entered closed session to discuss other personnel-related agenda matters.

When the Board returned from closed session the floor was given over again, this time for public comments addressed to the board. 4 people spoke in total, 3 in support of the TRE and 1 opposed. See here for great coverage of the comments from Elizabeth Page at The Hutto News:

…Kelly Farmer, said she got involved in order to help dispel some of the misconceptions being presented through social media by outside PACs. With four children in the district, Farmer said she felt the family had found a gem in the Hutto school district.

“I really want to support this district being successful,” Farmer said.

The election has been scheduled, the plans for early voting stations and primary voting stations have been made, and HISD is now silenced. Time for Hippos United.

Hippos United swung into action yesterday with a newly established online presence. A facebook page went up, a twitter account was opened, the organization’s website launched, and a fundraising page is in the works.

Our organization is meeting on Sunday evening with an agenda of action items and messaging for the coming weeks. Our primary aim is to support the passage of the September 1st TRE.

Outside organizations are expected to join their voice with the few dissenting opinions among Hutto voters. Empower Texans has been silent since their original article on the topic back in mid-June, but we suspect we will hear from them again before long. We will be ready with a strong community message in support of our children, our property and business owners, and our city.

In the coming days we will launch a donations page to cover costs of signage and mailers. Hippos United is an all-volunteer organization, so we will appreciate any help we can get from folks within Hutto and from outside areas. We’re fighting a battle here for the future of our primary education system and we’re fighting it on an unfair battlefield.  This is a state-wide issue and if we can build a model road to success, it will benefit all of our communities in the future.

Empower Texans would have you believe that our school districts are reckless in their spending. They would have you believe that holding a board of trustees to some ridiculously high standard of revenue starvation is far more important than giving that board the fiscal tools to educate our children. We at Hippos United hope to help our voters here in Hutto understand the opposite.

What Empower Texans won’t tell you is that in a 2010-2011 Financial Allocation Study for Texas HISD was ranked as a ‘LOW’ spending district when considering cost per student spent annually. Victoria ISD, detailed in the above Empower Texans article, ranks as ‘AVERAGE’ in spending, with just under $600 more spent per student, while achieving lower academic ratings, less progress in education, and lower standardized testing scores.

If we step back and examine the facts it is painfully obvious that not only has HISD been responsible with our tax dollars, they have done an excellent job in educating our children with far fewer resources than other districts. HISD now needs the support of Hutto voters and taxpayers, and the support of everyone else who believes in the value of public education, and the reality of our children being our most important resource for the future health and success of our city, our state, and our nation.

Hippos United is a non-profit organization, staffed by volunteers to address political and community issues in the city of Hutto, Texas. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @HipposUnited, or visit our website.