It's about dollars, not race. That's how a group in Westlake is defending its opposition to a proposed multi-million dollar school bond. The proposal totals almost $90-million and is for Eanes ISD. With early voting starting on the 28th, some students here have found themselves caught in the middle of the debate.
Of the approximately 8,000 students enrolled in the Eanes Independent School District about 400 do not live within the school boundaries. They were allowed to transfer in after going through a strict application process. It's a process that's now under attack.
"They get a free ride on the back of Eanes taxpayers," said Former School Board member Al Cowan.
Thursday morning, Cowan and another former board member, Clint Sayers said voters should not approve a new school bond package unless the student transfer policy is abolished.
"We feel like it's not right that we're having to bear the burden of the loss of the cost," said Sayers.
If the bond package is approved, most of the money, $53-million, is slated for major construction projects. The rest would upgrade technology, buy new equipment and pay for renovations.
"We think it's important for the taxpayers and voters to have another point of view and then they can decide," said Cowan.
For Cowan and Sayers, that includes suggesting smarter transfer students could put local kids at an academic disadvantage regarding the top 10 percent rule.
"We think that would upset a parent in our district," said Cowan.
The two head up an Opposition group called Citizens for Academic Excellence in Eanes. In a written statement Cowan alleged, "These students crowd our classrooms, deny our resident students opportunities, cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars each year."
I asked if they were concerned how this "Us vs. Them" argument could be perceived and they looked like two angry white guys upset and worried about outside kids coming in. Cowan denied that's what his opposition is about. When pressed that his comments sounded inflammatory, Cowan went on to say, "it's about Eanes taxpayers paying the bill for these students and how that impacts the rest of our students."
The anti-bond group has accused the school district of using fuzzy math. But their own claim, that transfer students are getting a free ride, isn't exactly accurate either. The state provides Eanes ISD about $6,000 for each student that transfers into the district although the total cost is estimated to be around $8,000.
"We're not paying for an additional teacher we are not paying for anything additional that would not be associated with that classroom already," said school spokesperson Claudia McWhorter.
Filling empty classroom seats with out-of- district kids can help manage budget shortfalls.
"This is supplementing those cuts," said McWhorter.
Ending the transfer policy would only save the district a half million dollars. Both sides in the debate agree with that. If the district charged transfer students tuition the state funding would no longer be available.
The bond debate could soon be overshadowed by a larger financial crisis with the state education funding formula. Eanes ISD currently sends $54-million in local property taxes to the state which is then redistributed to poorer school districts. That amount could dramatically change after the funding lawsuit works its way through the court system.