Levy would bolster shrinking finances

DALLAS -- For those supporting Dallas School District's local option levy, voting "yes" is about providing more opportunities for students.



DALLAS -- For those supporting Dallas School District's local option levy, voting "yes" is about providing more opportunities for students.

Those not in favor of approving a levy have cited concerns about putting an additional tax burden on a community already hit hard by the economy and the school district not finding a way to live within its means.

In the May 17 vote-by-mail election, voters in the Dallas School District will decide on which side of the debate they fall.

Measure 27-103, a three-year levy sent to the ballot by the Dallas School Board in March, would raise $1 per $1,000 of assessed value on properties, providing more than an estimated $853,000 to the district in each of the next three school years if approved by voters.

For a property with an assessed value of $120,000, the average value in the district, the tax increase would amount to $120 per year.

The levy wouldn't solve the district's $2.5 million funding gap for the 2011-12 school year (see related story on Page 24A), but it would save the equivalent of 10 positions and $60,000 in salaries for junior varsity athletic coaches at Dallas High School, Superintendent Christy Perry said.

A citizens group concerned about school funding cuts, which eventually called itself "Citizens Supporting Dallas Schools," asked the board to consider a local option levy in November.

Russ Dimberg, a member of the group and the chairman of the political action committee of the same name, said the goal was to find a way to raise money to support schools.

They explored several avenues, including community fundraisers, grants and a local option levy.

The group's fundraising efforts raised $3,000, later used to provide music classes in the district's elementary schools just before winter break.

But Dimberg said in the face of severe cuts to electives, music, sports and increasing class sizes, the group wanted to find a way to provide more. He said selling bottled water at Dallas games and writing grants may help, but they couldn't pay for the teaching and coaching positions needed to save programs.

"We started looking at a levy as the one thing that could raise enough money to make an impact," Dimberg said.

The Dallas School Board has specified where the impact would be directed if voters approve the levy: to minimize cuts to academic programs, athletics and electives.

At the elementary level, the levy would pay for three teachers and two teachers who would also be counselors to help keep class sizes manageable. One full-time counselor would also be kept on staff at the elementary schools.

At LaCreole Middle School, a language arts/social studies teacher, a math teacher, and, to save a small part of the music program at LMS, a part-time band teacher would be retained.

Dallas High would be able to keep two electives teachers.

The levy would keep elementary class sizes around 23 to 25, instead of approaching 30 without the extra funding, Perry said.

"The class sizes are unacceptable," she said. "It (the levy) allows us some relief. It's not enough. It's not perfect. But in a way, it's huge."

No levy funds would be used to pay for administrators or restore days to the school district calendar.

Dimberg was in charge of investigating local option levies as a funding source for CSDS. Through his research, he found school districts used levies for a variety of reasons: to keep class sizes lower, to purchase equipment and furnishings for new schools, and, in a few cases, to simply keep the doors open.

Dimberg said his reason for supporting a local option levy for Dallas schools is to give students a better education than current state funding allows.

"The district has done many things to cut costs, to reduce expenses wherever it can," he said. "I'm just really hopeful that the local option levy will be able to save some of those educational opportunities that would otherwise be lost."

Perry added the district stands to lose more than classes with the cuts that are on the table in the 2011-12 budget.

"We will lose really, really good teachers," Perry said. "This minimizes that."



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