A day after state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans proposed a possible 27.2-percent hike in the school levy to close a $45 million gap in the district’s budget, municipal officials condemned the move.
Council president William McKoy said the proposal is “outrageous.” He said he is convening a leadership meeting with community leaders to discuss steps necessary to ensure homeowners are not hit with a new tax increase.
“This is a horrible idea. It’s not workable,” said the council president. He said the city’s education system under state control since 1991 has failed students and given the results it’s “unconscionable” for the state to demand property owners to contribute more money.
“We could be against it, but then what are we saying?” said mayor Jose “Joey” Torres. “We’re not funding our education system to the level that is needed to educate our children. That’s no different than not funding police and fire.”
Torres also said district’s budget needs to be vetted.
“I hope it doesn’t go beyond proposal,” said Andre Sayegh. 6th Ward councilman. He said he opposes any hikes in the school levy.
McKoy said he has suspended his re-election campaign for two weeks to focus on the potential school levy increase. He pointed out there have been mass protests over municipal tax increases over the past six months. In fact, homeowners have vehemently opposed a 6.1-percent municipal levy increase, often sharing the hardship that they have been enduring with recurring increases.
Homeowners contribute $38.9 million every year towards the school system and have been doing so without change for the past decade, according to officials. This figure will increase to $49.56 million for school year 2016-17 budget under the proposal, according to district records.
The superintendent has proposed a $471.25 million budget. The $45 million gap has been reduced to $38 million, said school officials earlier in the week.
It should be noted, the 27.2-percent increase amounts to $10.6 million in new taxes being imposed on homeowners. Whereas, the 6.1-percent increase of the municipal levy will extract $9.1 million from property owners.
“We are a distressed city,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He said the district is trying to get water from a rock.
The municipal tax levy is expected to jump from $148.2 million last year to $157.3 million this year. If both levies – combined amount to nearly $20 million — are passed, the city’s taxpayers may be in for a “dooms day scenario.”
“The residents have to fight. This is crazy,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman. “We can’t afford to increase anymore taxes.”
Residents have been fighting. Many homeowners spoke out against the school levy increases last night at John F. Kennedy High School after the school board, which was surprised at seeing the levy increase on the budget document, opposed the levy increase.
School board members also rejected Evans’ “incomplete” budget because of the inclusion of a school levy increase. The district will have to send its budget to the county by Friday, said school officials.
Last year, the district attempted to extract $5 million from homeowners. The mayor, the city council, the school board, and community leaders opposed the increase, which resulted in the district dropping the plan.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, said she was unaware of the district’s school levy increase proposal. When told of the increase, she said, “Wow, that’s going to be very hard. I don’t see how that’s going to happen.”
Council members Alex Mendez, Maritza Davila, Julio Tavarez, and Michael Jackson could not be reached for comments on Thursday afternoon.
The school board has scheduled a public meeting on the budget for Monday, March 7th, 2016 at 6 p.m. inside the John F. Kennedy High School auditorium.
This report was last edited on March 3rd, 2016 at 4:57 p.m.