Several Upshur County school superintendents are hailing a state district judge’s recent ruling that the state’s funding method for schools is unfair and unconstitutional—a decision which is subject to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
As reported in Saturday’s Mirror, Union Grove ISD Supt. Brian Gray saId he is “cautiously optimistic” the higher court will uphold Judge John Dietz’s ruling agreeing with his school district and hundreds of others that the state’s funding method is wrong.
Gray told The Mirror Feb. 5 that Dietz “hit the nail on the head” in ruling the prior day that the system delivers inadequate funding for schools to perform their job, and that distribution of funds is flawed. The state is expected to appeal the ruling.
Six of the eight school districts lying primarily or substantially in Upshur County—Union Grove, Big Sandy, Union Hill, New Diana, Ore City and Gladewater—were among more than 600 schools which sued the state over its financing. Gilmer and Harmony ISDs did not participate in the litigation.
According to an article in the Feb. 5 issue of The Dallas Morning News, Judge Dietz granted most of what the four plaintiff groups of schools wanted, and sided with them on three matters: the amount of funding, the equity of it, and the restrictions on school districts’ taxing ability.
Union Hill ISD Supt. Sharon Richardson on Friday declared it “a great victory for the school districts of the state of Texas that the judge ruled on all three levels” cited by the Equity Center, a party to the litigation.
“It would truly benefit the students in all of our districts and would help with all the mandates that the state is requiring school districts to do,” Ms. Richardson told The Mirror.
Asked if she thought the ruling would stand up on appeal by the state, she said, “I hope so.”
Said Ore City ISD Supt. Lynn Heflin on Friday, “Ore City ISD is very pleased with the judge’s ruling. We felt like our schools were inadequately funded and also it (funding) was inequitable. . . . We realize this is just the first step in probably what’s going to be a long process in hopefully getting it corrected.”
“I think the chances are good it’ll stand up (on appeal) because the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in almost every area. . . . (It) speaks highly for the plaintiffs (that) there’s definitely problems,” Heflin added.
“I feel good...I think the real battle will really happen when it goes back to the legislature and they tell them (legislators) to get it corrected, what will it look like? That’s the question.”
Another school man praising last week’s court ruling was New Diana ISD Supt. Carl Key.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Key said. “He (Dietz) hit it on every mark.”
The New Diana superintendent conceded that “it’s hard to say what will happen in the appeal process.” But “we’re hopeful...it (Dietz’s decision) will stand firm.”
Key also said he loved the judge’s remark that “I have to say there are 26 million Texans, and I doubt there are 26 people in this state that understand the school finance system.” He said the judge “is spot on” about the complexity of it.
Key complained of inequity in financing schools, saying New Diana ISD receives about $5,000 per student, but that another district may be receiving $2,000 more per pupil.
“How can you tell me their kid’s worth $2,000 more?” he said. “All I’m asking for is what’s fair. . . . My kids are worth the same as a Longview kid or a Gilmer kid or a Union Grove kid.”
Big Sandy ISD Supt. Scott Beene said Monday he was “pleased” with Dietz’s “encouraging” ruling, as schools need a “sufficient amount of funding from the state to give quality education on a regular basis.”
But, he said, “I definitely believe. . .that it’s not over.”
And “before we start jumping up and down, celebrating the win,” the schools need to get the state Supreme Court’s ruling, Beene said.