Lewisville, ISD joins growing chorus fighting for local control

(Photo by Steve Southwell)

Last week, the Lewisville Independent School District passed a resolution and Mayor Rudy Durham penned an opinion piece on the priorities in the state government’s ongoing special session, some of which they say overrides local control. In doing so, they join a chorus of city level voices that have been criticizing state lawmakers along these lines for months.

Several of the bills passed during this legislative session and those being discussed in the special session limit the power of local governments. Gov. Greg Abbott already signed into law legislative framework around ride-sharing services and restrictions on regulating short-term home rentals, both of which overrode stricter laws in major Texas cities. He also signed a ban on Texas cities becoming sanctuary cities, or cities that refuse to comply with president Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policies. Several of the items on the docket for the special session also threaten to encroach on laws that many cities have already passed. Under state law, the governor can call for as many special sessions as he wants until his agenda items are passed.

The Abbott administration is no stranger to this kind of override. One of the first pieces of legislation he passed was a law limiting what cities can do to regulate oil and gas operations, which famously overturned Denton’s citywide ban on hydraulic fracking.
LISD superintendent Kevin Rogers called it hypocritical.

“Sort of the sad part to me is that Austin rails all the time that Washington sends them all these mandates that the states have to do, and yet, Austin is doing the exact same thing to us and local entities,” he said. “I don’t quite get it.”

While the state legislature is overwhelmingly Republican, many of the larger cities in Texas have predominantly Democratic elected officials, and many of the policies the state is overriding were written by Democratic lawmakers. This pattern of states stepping on cities with different political views is repeating in several states across the country. But this becomes a problem even for Republican-voting cities like Lewisville, where large–scale ideological politics aren’t as important as the nuts and bolts of funding.

The specific items Durham spoke out against include a law that would allow affected residents to vote on whether or not they’ll be annexed by a city, a law that exempts property owners from complying with ordinances passed after they purchase their property and laws that require voter approval for increases in year-to-year city budgets or property taxes, making it difficult for cities and school districts to plan more than a year ahead. The school district’s resolution addressed the potential institution of tax credits, which would funnel money from the public school system into private school tuition and an unfunded mandate to increase teacher salary.

The law relating to annexation, SB6, could interfere with Lewisville’s ability to annex Castle Hills, which has long been seen as vital for the city’s potential growth.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Brandon Jones said SB12, the bill that prevents cities from enforcing new ordinances, will stop citizens from having a say in what happens in the city, and SB18, the bill that limits city spending, would interfere with the city’s ability to meet its goals.

“The Texas State Legislature wants to create a cookie cutter budget for all cities which would create caps on what a city could spend each year. For Lewisville, this would impact our ability to finish and operate the multi–generational center that our voters recently voted for. The impact would affect our ability to be competitive in the DFW market for quality public safety personnel,” he said.

Jones encouraged residents to call Reps. Tan Parker and Ron Simmons and State Sen. Jane Nelson to speak against these bills, all of which were still in committee as of Friday night.
School board member Kristi Hassett said the primary worry for the school district is HB198, which would re-organize teacher incentives to allow teachers to command a much higher salary if they get nationally certified. Hassett said the bill would sow distrust between teachers, who would be competing for the raises the bill provides, and would also force the district to find the money for the bonuses.

“That would end up costing the district a ton and they’re actually changing school funding formulas to force our district to pay,” she said.

She said that ultimately students could suffer if the district needs to do that.

“First of all, you start raising the classroom sizes that you are able to under our statute,” she said. “You hire fewer teachers.”