The neighborhood around Conroe ISD’s Booker T. Washington Junior High School: the real motivation for fighting to lower school taxes

The neighborhood around Conroe ISD’s Booker T. Washington Junior High School: the real motivation for fighting to lower school taxes

Image: Booker T. Washington Junior High School is in a neighborhood southeast of downtown Conroe, Texas.

August 22 – When Conroe Independent School District’s (CISD) Board of Trustees voted to approve a property tax rate of $1.23 per $100 valuation on Tuesday, August 20, they actually increased the taxes of most homeowners in the school district. It’s a long and, for now, unimportant explanation of how CISD got to the point of raising property taxes, even though the 86th Texas Legislature passed a school finance reform law, House Bill 3, which the legislators had intended would provide substantial property tax relief to all Texas families.

CISD’s Chief Financial Officer Darren Rice bragged in a press release, which the school district issued yesterday afternoon, that CISD proudly lowered its tax rate. In truth, CISD increased taxes, because:

  • CISD passed a Debt Service tax rate increase which wiped out all of the Texas Legislature’s property tax relief for families. The school district took that action in order to try to get voters to approve a $676 million bond package on November 5 while claiming there is “no property tax rate increase” with the bond package, because the Board of Trustees implemented the full tax rate increase before the voters were able to vote.
  • CISD pushed property tax appraisals 6.56% higher, so the 3.9% reduction in the tax rate yielded a net increase in taxes, which result from the multiplication of a homeowner’s property tax appraisal by the tax rate.

CISD has nothing about which to brag. The school district had planned to approve an even higher property tax rate of $1.235 per $100 valuation until a group of conservative Republican activists with giant hearts – Kelli Cook, April Andreski, Jennie Stephenson, John Hill Wertz, Bill Brenza, Andy de la Flor, Jon Bouche, Cindy Muth Gaskill, Jonna Johnson, John Nickell, Reagan Reed, Bob Bagley, Sandy Grossman, Mark Frank, Scott Shaver, Sandi Curtis, Richie Rankel, Ginger Russell, Mary Jo Hudnall, Allison Winter, and Cheila McKay – fiercely lobbied two CISD Trustees, Superintendent Curtis Null, and Rice to give some break to CISD taxpayers. As a result of the fierce lobbying, CISD’s Board ultimately adopted a one-half cent lower tax rate than the school district had planned.

Why did those individuals work so hard to fight to reduce the CISD tax rate? Surely, it must have been pure greed and their desire to hoard as much of their precious gold and jewels as possible. As CISD employee Lucy Woodhead averred, those individuals must be “selfish, immature, [and] old fashioned” to fight to keep taxes low.

That doesn’t really make much sense. Many (but not all) of the individuals involved as conservative activists are individuals who live in the Lake Conroe area or The Woodlands or other upscale neighborhoods in Montgomery County. They don’t have trouble paying their taxes. While they pay higher gross dollars in property taxes than some others, those dollars are a much smaller percentage of their disposable income than in some parts of Conroe Independent School District.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy flowing from objectivist epistemology sometimes bears the name “the Philosophy of Selfishness.” Rand made clear in her writing, particularly in her nonfiction, that her philosophy was anything but “selfish.”

The neighborhood southeast of downtown Conroe near Booker T. Washington Junior High School

You should visit the area around Booker T. Washington Junior High School southeast of downtown Conroe. You could park your car on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard and walk through about four blocks before the summer heat bears down on you in the middle of August. You could talk to some of the people visiting with each other outside. You could ask them about the school and about their lives living across from it. All six of the people with whom this newspaper spoke mentioned they can’t afford the high property taxes of CISD, and they’re afraid they’re going to lose their homes.

When one regularly walks through Conroe ISD schools, one sees children with hopes and dreams for the future. Hopefully, they have parents who will make them as excited about life as many readers of The Golden Hammer‘s parents made them. Every day one wakes up, one should thank God for the nurturing environment in which your parents raised you, if it was nurturing. It could be truly wonderful. Back in better economic times, parents read to children, argued about politics with them, argued about politics with each other in front of them, and taught children the joys of humor, music, art, hanging out with friends, playing outside, and even climbing a wooden crate.

Now, children don’t receive those opportunities. The likelihood is that both of their parents must work outside of the home. There is a much greater likelihood they won’t receive the nurturing which many of us enjoyed, because parents can’t afford to provide children with the attention they deserve when their parents brought them into the world.

In 1979, taxes were under 20% of disposable income. Now, they’re above 52%. Just think about the economic impact on families and how it forces people who strive to be good parents to alter their behavior.

The impact of CISD’s taxes on families in the Washington Junior High School neighborhood

It’s important to look at the real numbers (in the chart below). Looking around the neighborhood near Washington Junior High School in Conroe, the nicer homes have a property tax appraisal in the range of $86,000, which means that they’re subject to school taxation of $61,000 of that amount after application of the $25,000 homestead exemption. One should compare the numbers to the median family in Montgomery County according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The expenses shown for an average CISD family of three (3) come from the MIT Wage Calculator, a project of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Urban Planning.

The numbers for “Our Family” come from U.S. Census Bureau data with an estimated multiplier of 0.4166, which is likely too low, to reduce the expenses for the families in the Washington JHS neighborhood shown in the column on the right. What is so striking about those numbers, however, is that median income of $30,967.92, based upon data from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, reveal that most of the families in the Washington JHS neighborhood cannot make ends meet. They can’t pay their bills. They’re almost $4,000 per year behind in paying bills.

For that reason, the property taxes in addition to those other expenditures are so striking, so confiscatory, and so regressive.

As shown directly above, the $86,000 home in the Washington JHS neighborhood would suffer property taxes of $780.80 per year. When you’re falling behind over $300 per month in making ends meeting, adding another $780.80 to the expenses is downright frightening. Remember, if you don’t pay your taxes, CISD will hire the Linebarger Goggan Sampson & Blair law firm to sue you and take your home away from you through a tax foreclosure.

Based upon the numbers, which CFO Rice presented on Tuesday night at the CISD Board meeting, property taxes for the typical home in the Washington JHS neighborhood will actually rise to the range of $819.69 on that $86,000 home.

Now one must look at what that actually means. A family of three is already falling behind in paying expenses $3,937.50 per year. CISD’s taxes make that number rise to $4,757.19 per year.

Those families can’t set aside anything for savings, a college fund, or even a vacation. CISD only looked inward, decided how it could raise spending more than $40 million, give huge pay raises to administrators and other employees of 3.5% or more, and paid no heed to how property taxes decimate the finances of the poorest families in our community.

The Texas Legislature promised “Our Family” a 7 cent decrease in property taxes under House Bill 3. That would have resulted in a decrease in the payments the most economically-vulnerable members of our community must confront.

CISD raised taxes even on those most vulnerable of families who must now face the loss of their homes while struggling to make other ends meet.

Now, that’s a reason to fight for lower government spending and lower taxes!

The takers versus the givers

It’s interesting to stack conservative activists against the vast majority of individuals who have argued for the $676 million bond, which CISD has placed on the November 5 ballot, and for the massive tax increase CISD has imposed to wipe out statewide property tax relief.

The conservatives are volunteers. They have no direct interest in CISD. They don’t receive government benefits or salaries. While fighting to save taxpayers in general millions of dollars, their particular interest in the tax reductions is only a few dollars each. That doesn’t seem like selfishness. In fact, fighting for the good of all others and society would seem to constitute love and compassion for all.

The pro-tax and pro-spending individuals almost always have some direct interest in CISD spending. The most vocal – and vicious – are the administrators and teachers and their spouses. Parents aren’t as motivated to support CISD’s financial mismanagement, because they aren’t fighting to increase the amount of money they or their children receive directly.

The takers versus the givers distinguish themselves nicely. Nevertheless, there are also sufferers another name for which is “taxpayers.”

 

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