West Texas schools "have nothing left to cut"

By R.

Graydon Hicks, Superintendent of Schools in Fort Davis, a small and remote town in Jeff Davis County in the Big Bend of west Texas, has written a powerful open letter to derelict state leaders (Republicans all), who have for a generation now been working very hard to hobble schools and the educators and administrators who keep them running. For Hicks, cutting state contributions to his district by about 90% over a decade is pretty hard to take.

From an op-ed by Lonn Taylor in the Austin American-Statesman:

“If your intent is to dissolve public education (and your actions are more than a clear signal of such), then simply go on the record with that statement and remove the state’s authority to further overburden us without financial support. Quit pontificating about bathrooms. Quit hiding your intentions behind righteous statements about school vouchers and choice.”

Hicks accompanied his letter with a chart showing the annually declining amount of state funding available to the Fort Davis school district and the increasing burden on local taxpayers since 2008. That year, state funding amounted to $3.9 million, or 68 percent of the school district’s budget. Local property taxes provided $1.8 million, or 32 percent. In 2017, the state will contribute $378,000 — about one-tenth of its 2008 commitment, or 15 percent of the total budget. Local taxes this year will provide $2.2 million, or 85 percent.

“The Fort Davis ISD has 226 students,” Hicks wrote. “It has no cafeteria, has no bus routes, has dropped our band program, has eliminated (or not filled) 15 staff positions, has cut stipends for extra-curricular activities, has frozen (or reduced) staff pay for one year, has cut extra-curricular programs, has no debt, and has increased our local tax rate to the maximum allowed by the law.

“We have nothing left to cut.”

You can feel Hick’s anger and frustration oozing off the page — and I share it. Public education is one of the basic building blocks of democracy. Public schools are where children learn that everyone in America is not like them — and learn how to get along with those who are not.