Sulphur Springs school district continues in finance-reform coalition

Nov 19, 2013

The Sulphur Springs Independent School District will once again join with a coalition of school districts from across Texas seeking to restructure the state’s school financing system, according to a report in the Sulphur Springs News-Telegram.

The Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition appealed to courts last year to rule the existing funding system unconstitutional. Sulphur Springs ISD joined the coalition in 2012 toward the end of the coalition’s efforts.

“A lot of school superintendents spoke on behalf [of the group]. We were among the groups to get in late. We were not directly involved. Last year, we gave $1,000,” superintendent Michael Lamb said. “They took it to court saying it’s a wrong system. Basically, they found it unconstitutional. Now, the question is ‘What to do to make it right?’”

This year, the coalition is requesting 50 cents per student, which would cost the district roughly $2,500 to join the organization as a full member, according to the Sulphur Springs News-Telegram. The district has the option of contributing just the $1,000 to be named or can pay the full fee and be an active member of the group. This would put SSISD “in on the ground floor ... on the level with others,” giving the district an opportunity to be actively involved in the process, Lamb said.

“If we start and object to the goals, could we stop? What’s their plan? My hesitation would be in not knowing the goal,” school board member John Prickette said.

“They suggested it last time, 50 center per student last time. We participated in the first. We are obligated in the second round. I believe it would be good to do. If we all were to say, ‘Let the others do it,’ it would fall through. The numbers went up after court. That got us funds. I think the amount will go up,” Lamb said.

“So, last year, we were not members, but supported them a little, if I have it right,” Prickette said.

“We were kinda fearful to join. ... We were afraid they might pick on us or we thought they might hurt us. They’re saying they won’t. We’ll be in on the ground floor and join at the level others do,” Lamb said. “It was reasonable to be skeptical. I have superintendent friends who were grilled for eight hours at a time. That they won is incredible, for all they have been drug through.”

SSISD Business Manager Sherry McGraw said that the district received more in funding per student as a result of the ruling in court last year. Ultimately, the district received $1.5 million in additional funding following that session, and could potentially see more money funneled from the state with positive finance reform, Lamb said.

“They’re the ones who pay the lawyers to go to court. It goes toward actual prep for the court case,” Lamb said. “They’re a very legitimate group.”

“So, if we joined last year and got $1.5 million, then we can expect more if we do it this year?” Board Secretary Tammy Cooper said.

The administrators said yes.

“I say we rely on the wisdom of our superintendent to lead us in this matter,” Board Vice President Don Sapaugh said.

The board voted 5-0 (board members Jason Dietze and Lesa Toliver were absaent) in favor of resolution 5-13 to pay 50 cents per student to “join with other members of the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition, together with taxpayers and parents, for the purpose of speaking with one voice in the litigation of public school finance matters essential to the fair treatment of Texas taxpayers and public school children.”

The resolution specifically contends students are being denied educational opportunities as a result of the “broken school finance system,” which “even after the actions of the 83rd Legislature, remains inefficient, inadequate, insufficient and thus unconstitutional.”