Byler School Column

Ken Byler

It’s time to think about school again.

Every year, Texas spends over $40 billion to educate 4.5 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students. One model dominates the delivery of classroom education.

It’s amazing because no other industry in America still clings to a working schedule based on 19th-century agricultural cycles.

Today, Collin County independent school districts are ranked as some of the best in the state. But it wasn’t always so.

In 1930, there were 76 independent school districts in Collin County. Most were one-room schoolhouses at a country crossroads. They slowly faded away as a Depression gripped the country.

By 1940, Allen’s old two-story, red-brick building was one of only 10 Collin County schoolhouses still open and conducting the serious business of education. By 1950, fewer than 150 students attended first- through 12th-grade classes, taught by a faculty of six in the Allen schoolhouse. 

Folks with names like Curtis, Story, Boyd, Ereckson and Hefner served on the school board, collected taxes, fixed leaks in the town water lines, mowed the cemetery, drove school buses and stood behind the counter in a bank that hadn’t had any money to loan to farmers since 1930.

But every Labor Day meant a fresh start in the effort to keep Allen ISD from being dissolved into the Plano and McKinney school districts. Today, over 20,000 students are enrolled in Allen ISD, and it is rated as one of the best in Texas.

This Labor Day saw the Allen Eagles getting a fresh start with a new head football coach and a preseason winning streak of two. In the meantime, the board of trustees is searching for a new superintendent.

There are folks who are upset because they believe Lance Hindt used the AISD superintendent’s job as leverage to get the job he really wanted, and that was the $375,000-a-year job as superintendent of Katy ISD.

Allen ISD still profited from Hindt’s short tenure. He trimmed some dead wood from the roster of principles, brought different contractors to the table and shook up the status quo.

Hindt presided over the job of returning to full use an expensive stadium built of cracking concrete without any added cost to Allen taxpayers.

Speaking of cracking concrete, the $70 million McKinney ISD football stadium will cost more than what McKinney voters were told when they passed the school bond package. The rising cost of cement is the culprit.

The next Allen ISD superintendent is not going to have the luxury of spending money like Hindt did. Under Hindt, everybody got a raise. But now the well is drying up. Texas has the fourth-highest property taxes in the nation, with Collin County having the second-highest rates in the state.

Over in Frisco, the school board was stunned by the rejection of a 13-cent property tax increase for operations. The tax hike would have added over $30 million per year for day-to-day operations. Nearly 60 percent of Frisco voters rejected the property tax hike.

Now they’re talking about cutting back on classes, increasing class size and a proposal to charge a $300 fee to students to participate in extracurricular activities. It seems cutting back on administrators is never an option in a school funding crisis. 

Too much education spending is about adding assistant superintendents of this or that to the administration rolls rather than educating students. The idea of saving a few bucks never gets any traction.

Allen ISD is fortunate to have a lot of dedicated employees, but nowhere can it be shown that they’re underpaid or under-benefited. Now the board of trustees, at a cost of $500,000 a year to operate, has added something akin to a CareNow clinic for the exclusive use of AISD employees. Nowhere was there an explicit savings shown by having this clinic.

For that reason, this same program for city employees was turned down by the Allen City Council four years ago.

In 2007, Allen ISD turned down an opportunity to partner with the city of Allen in a city vehicle and school bus maintenance facility. The city spent $20 million building a facility on Greenville Avenue, and Allen ISD spent $30 million building a bus service facility on Watters at Bossy Boots.

Apparently the idea of saving a few bucks in operating costs never crossed anybody’s mind.    

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