Voters in the state’s largest school district will get a second chance to cast a ballot on a school finance referendum on May 6.
The trustees for the Houston Independent School District decided Thursday night to call another election, as some cited dim prospects for a solution in the Texas Legislature.
“It doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and say we’re finished, that we don’t go back to Austin and work so that the funding system is changed so Texas is actually funding our schools, across the state,” said Trustee Anna Eastman. “But right now I think it is the most prudent and responsible choice for us to put this back on the ballot.”
If the school finance referendum sounds like déjà vu, it’s because HISD held the same election in November.
Back then, more than 60 percent of voters rejected sending a check to the state. Some people, like Mayor Sylvester Turner, said that would force lawmakers to reform school finance in Austin.
Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said that it’s time to change tactics, describing a rough reception HISD trustees had with some lawmakers recently in Austin.
“It’s a strategic thing. We called their bluff, they called ours. Truth be told they do have the upper hand. If we thought we had a way to win, we could,” she said amid a passionate debate from the dais.
HISD still owes as much as $100 million to Texas in the Robin Hood system. It takes money from property-wealthy districts like Houston and shares it with poor ones.
But right now to pay that bill, HISD will lose billions of commercial property from its tax base, $18 billion worth to start.
A few trustees like Jolanda Jones wanted to stay that course, called detachment.
“The most prudent and respectful thing to do is to respect our vote. They made the same arguments that were soundly rejected in November — We said detach!” Jones said.
The final vote on the new election was five to three, with one abstention.
The board also directed HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza to give balanced information about the cost of a no and yes vote.