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Plano School Leaders Want 13-Cent Tax Hike To Ease Budget Pains

The Plano school district wants voters to approve a 13-cent property tax hike. Without it, the superintendent says the district must make serious cuts. A fiscal watchdog group, though, urges a “no” vote.

The 13-cent tax hike is the maximum allowed by the state. By reducing another part of the tax, the net increase comes out to 8 cents.

That means that, if passed, the average Plano homeowner - where the average home cost is $259,000 - would pay nearly $200 ($194) a year more in property taxes.

Plano Superintendent Richard Matkin says the current rate hasn’t budged in six years. But after losing millions of state education funds, then dipping into reserves to cover costs the past few years, the district now faces a $20 million deficit.

“We were out of time,” says Matkin. “We just needed to fund the schools and hear from the voters on what they want. I think they recognize that we’ve held off as long as possible and I think they recognize that we do offer many different programs that are the best around. And I think it’s important to our tax constituents that we keep the system whole.”

Without a tax, Matkin says people and programs will go. He’s heard from constituents like the Chamber of Commerce and PTA, both of whom back the tax hike. And there’s seemingly little organized opposition.

But Ross Kecseg, with  fiscal watchdog group  Empower Texans, says voters should reject this tax.

“Their debt service is higher than the state average and this state has the 2nd highest debt per person in the country,” explains Kecseg. “They certainly don’t need to issue any more debt. Any new net propositions need to be scrutinized. And they certainly need to re-prioritize existing spending, and prioritize them in the classroom.”

Matkin counters that the district’s debt is manageable and has been approved by voters every step of the way. He also says Plano school’s tax rate is the 2nd lowest of the fourteen districts in Collin County. Matkin adds that if voters approve this increase, school taxes will still be lower than they were a decade ago. He says the consequences of losing are grim.

“We’ll eliminate $20 million,” Matkin says. “We’ll come back to the board in December and January and there’ll be program cuts. There’ll be people eliminated in the jobs that they function at. Whether it’s counseling services, librarians…it would  be 300 employees. And because 87% is at the campus, 87% will probably land at the campus. Every place would be smaller.” 

Kecseg  doesn’t’ buy it.

“Since there’s no real correlation between spending on education and educational outcomes for kids,” says Kecseg, “I don’t see any reason why voters in Plano ISD should feel pressure to vote for the tax increase.”

Kecseg wants voters to study the tax plan before deciding. Matkin wants to remind them that Plano schools are the top reason people say they moved to Plano.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.