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Kennedale, Lake Worth OK school tax; Crowley says no

Lake Worth and Kennedale voters approved 13-cent property tax increases for their school districts in a special election Saturday, but Crowley voters rejected a similar measure.

Lake Worth taxpayers will now pay a combined school rate of $1.67 per $100 of assessed property value. Voters approved the increase, 61 percent to 39 percent. A similar proposal was defeated last year by 12 votes.The increase will add $195 to the annual Lake Worth school tax bill on a home valued at $150,000.

It will allow the district to pocket an extra $1.6 million, which administrators have said will help erase this year's $878,000 shortfall and last year's $1 million budget deficit.

"We can breathe a sign of relief and meet our budget expectations," said Lake Worth Superintendent Janice Cooper, whose district has about 2,700 students. "We're still going to be conservative, but we can keep the ball rolling for another year."

Kennedale voters approved their 3,000-student district's tax increase, 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent and by a nine-vote margin. Kennedale homeowners will pay an extra $175 a year for a $150,000 home. Kennedale's combined rate now will be $1.49 per $100 of assessed property value, up from $1.36.

Kennedale officials have said they will use the $1.2 million generated by the higher rate to increase teacher pay and make salaries more competitive with neighboring districts.

'Hard choices'

But Crowley voters turned down the tax increase, 56.4 percent to 43.6 percent. The bill on a $150,000 home in Crowley would have gone up about $383 a year.

Administrators for the 15,000-student Crowley district had warned voters that without a rate increase, there may not be enough money to staff and operate six new schools that are set to open in the next three years.

This fall, Crowley schools faced their first budget deficit in years, a $4 million shortfall in their current $118 million budget. The tax increase would have given the district an extra $6.4 million.

"We've got some work left to do," Crowley Superintendent Greg Gibson said. "This is the only revenue-enhanced option we have. We'll have to go to work Monday and listen to our stakeholders on where we go from here."

Crowley officials prepared for the election by meeting with "several hundred" people in a total of 42 informational meetings.

Gibson said the district could come back for another vote in as little as 60 days, but he said that will be a board decision.

"We're faced with some challenging budget decisions," Gibson said, "and we'll have to make some hard choices in the coming months."

Crowley and Lake Worth were seeking to raise their maintenance and operation tax rates by 13 cents -- the maximum allowed by state law -- from $1.04 per $100 of appraised value to $1.17. The remainder of a school district's tax rate goes toward paying debt on capital projects.

The current state school funding formula has made it difficult for districts to cover cost increases, school officials have said, so many are turning to the voter-approved tax ratification increases.

School tax election results

Crowley 790 For (43.6 percent); 1,021 Against (56.4 percent)

Kennedale 376 For (50.6 percent); 367 Against (49.4 percent) Lake Worth 163 For (61 percent); 105 Against (39 percent)

Source: Tarrant County Elections Department