Goose Creek CISD is breathing a collective sigh of relief after voters approved its $335 million bond package, but it was hardly an overwhelming show of support from the community.
Almost 56% of voters approved the bond, but most other area districts passed their bonds quite easily. The Channelview ISD proposal was supported by 75% of voters, and Cy-Fair ISD tallied 70% support for a massive, $1.7 billion bond.
A notable exception to the trend was Conroe ISD, which continued its history of voting down local bond issues. Montgomery County is one of the most conservative counties in Texas, and it has a well-organized group of anti-tax, Tea Party activists.
Anyway, back to Goose Creek.
The tepid show of support for the bond is a message to the school board. People still remember last year’s hastily approved bond measure, and they are still irate over a ham-fisted attempt to bounce Superintendent O’Brien last summer.
For proof, look no further than your local paper.
Letters to the editor of the Sun were a balance of support and opposition to the measure, but opponents were more visceral, angry, and more outspoken than supporters. Last week’s online reader poll was unusually hostile, where 63% clicked “no” on the bond.
Granted, letters to the editor and online reader clicks are not scientifically representative snapshots of the community, but newspaper readers are more politically active and more influential than the general non-voting public.
It would be easy to dismiss them as a fringe group of anti-government cranks. After all, they lost the election, but they won last year, and they are not going away. They are loud, and their loudness gives them more influence than their raw numbers merit.
Baytown has roughly 50,000 registered voters, but a hair less than 2,000 people cast ballots on Saturday. That is an abysmal 4% turnout, so board members need to keep listening to those cranks.
Just about everyone, including the cranks, are not happy about property taxes. There are a good number of citizens who really do support the schools and care about children, but GCCISD has a very high property tax rate compared to other districts.
This measure will bump up property taxes another 11 cents per $100 value, but help is on the way, assuming the state legislature can get its act together in the next few weeks.
As I wrote two weeks ago, the legislature was considering a tax swap, higher sales taxes in exchange for lower property taxes. It appears the tax swap is dead, but the legislature is still looking for other sources of revenue to buy down property taxes, so that could offset the GCCISD tax increase.
No matter which side of the bond you fell on, rising school enrollments are a good problem to have. It is a sign of the economic strength of the community.
Many rural communities across Texas are losing population, their tax bases are shrinking, and their schools are foundering. Those districts, in the face of declining enrollment, often have to raise taxes just to keep their heads above water.
At least Goose Creek asked for tax money for a growing student population.
Steve Showalter is a government professor at Lee College in Baytown.