I would like to issue two challenges to each and every individual who is a citizen and/or taxpayer of this county. Many of you are aware of the position statement recently issued by the Bee County Chamber of Commerce regarding the proposed tax increase by BISD. The BISD board of trustees has done its dead-level best to be fiscally responsible to the community in a time where state funding is declining, unevenly distributed, and likely to be changed in the upcoming Legislature or be challenged in court. Even as state funding has decreased, operations costs have increased. These challenges have presented a difficult climate in which to adequately fund our programs and pay our teachers. The BISD board believes that it is in the best interests of our students that we increase revenue by increasing taxes. This revenue will be used to fund a variety of budget items, including a pay increase. The state no longer allows school districts to raise taxes without a tax rate election. That presents you, the taxpayer, with choices.
One choice is to vote to raise your taxes which will in turn allow the school to continue to try to pay its teachers a wage competitive with others in our region. (Incidentally, as a business owner, I believe you get what you pay for. If you want high quality employees you must pay them accordingly.) It will also allow the district to balance the budget and continue the programs we currently have in place for our students.
The other choice is to vote against raising your taxes. Let’s be clear on the implications that the Chamber has chosen to endorse. Without the tax increase, we will not be able to give teachers a cost of living increase or be competitive in teacher pay. This will make it more difficult for the district to attract quality, experienced teachers. In addition, there will be a budget shortfall of about $350,000. This will mean a cut in programs and could likely result in job losses much like those in other parts of the state including Robstown and Dallas. These implications are not in the students’ best interests.
The first challenge is for each citizen of this county to continue to support both BISD and Bee County Chamber of Commerce. The position of the Chamber is just that; a position (probably not a very informed position considering that no one from BISD was present at the meeting of the public affairs council). I understand the hostility by our teachers; to you and your students, this issue is personal. It is certain that the Chamber should have no oversight deciding the pay of teachers. However, this is not a case of Dr. Hardwick vs. the Chamber or Pam Stuart vs. the BISD. It is simply a position. Bee County is long known for politics becoming too personal and this is a great time to end that policy. Whether or not you agree with the Chamber, I cannot believe this decision was made with malice. The Chamber of Commerce and BISD have a long track record of working together and BISD is an active member of the Chamber. It is in the best interests of everyone in Bee County for the leadership of both institutions to continue to work together for the education of our students and the betterment of our workforce and our community. I hope you will help to set that example by continuing to support both.
The second challenge is for you to exercise your right to vote. This election comes in the middle of a financial crisis, a foreign war, and no shortage of other domestic problems. Your vote should not be based on malice or fear. Your vote should be made on your vision of the future. Regarding the tax rate election, it is your right and duty to vote on the vision you have for BISD. If you believe that this is the time to make cuts to the budget, then vote your conscience knowing the consequences. If you believe that BISD must try to stay competitive and continue its slate of programs for students, then vote to raise your taxes. Either way, the decision is personal, but the outcome is not. It is a decision that will affect our entire community. Thank you in advance for voting.
Matthew R. Huie
Bee County Chamber of Commerce member