KELLER -- At meetings, on signs on street corners and in letters to the editor, the battle lines have been set for the June 18 election that will decide whether the tax rate for homeowners and businesses increases by 13 cents or whether Keller schools cut another $16 million from the district budget.
Most residents who have voiced their opinions are divided into two camps: those who are concerned about what they see as runaway government spending, and those who are worried about the impact the cuts would have on their school-age children.
"We live on a budget, and people who are governing us need to understand and live on a budget, too," Marie Howard, a Keller resident, said at a June 7 forum. "When is enough enough?"
Howard is president of the Boiling Point Tea Party and is also involved in KISD Families for Fiscal Responsibility, a group of area residents against the increase. The group has posted signs around the area, and members passed out fliers at last week's forum.
Fort Worth parent Gary Barham said $22 a month -- what many homeowners might pay -- is a small sacrifice to preserve education.
"We're fighting over nickels and dimes when our kids are at stake," Barham said.
The Keller school district is facing a deficit of about $31 million each year for the next two years, a problem officials attribute to inequality in the state funding formula. Administrators have already cut more than 200 jobs, changed high school schedules, increased class sizes and trimmed the number of athletic teams to save about $16 million. The tax increase would generate another $16 million. If voters reject the tax boost, officials plan to cut another 240 jobs, make further reductions in programs and eliminate regular bus service. At the higher rate, a resident with a home valued at $200,000 would pay another $260 a year.
Tax opponents point to the present tax rate in the Keller school district: now at $1.53 per $100 assessed valuation.
Among the five other districts in Northeast Tarrant County, the next highest tax rate is Birdville's at $1.425.
Mark Youngs, deputy superintendent, said the difference is Keller's high growth rate. All six districts are at $1.04 for daily operations, the maximum allowed by state law without voter approval. Keller's debt rate is the difference. While districts south of Keller have built few if any schools in the last decade, Keller has constructed 22 since 2000. Voters approved school bond packages in 2000, 2005, 2006 and 2008. A 2004 bond election failed.
The Northwest school district is also growing rapidly but has longer until it tops out, and it has more industrial and commercial development, which helps keep taxes lower. Keller is almost built out, and Youngs expects the debt rate to begin to decline in three to five years.
Don Klick, a Realtor who lives in Keller, said he was concerned that people would stop buying homes in the area because of the high tax rate. "It's easier to buy or invest in an area where taxes are lower," Klick said.
Parent and Keller resident Dan Hester had a completely different take on the taxes versus school cuts issue. "The reason for the growth in the school district is young families," he said. "If I had known all this was going to be cut when I moved here nine years ago, I wouldn't have moved here."
Hester said he was worried about the effect on his home value of weakening the quality of Keller schools. "What this tax rate is going to do to your budget is pennies on the dollar compared to what's going to happen to your home equity."
Some residents were still making up their minds at last week's forum. Linsey Hammon of Keller said she was torn about whether to approve the increase. "Historically, I'm never in favor of raising taxes, but I have two kids who will be affected by the cuts."