With a written statement in-hand, Dale Hedrick opened the discussion of the homestead exemption at Monday’s Kilgore ISD Board of Trustees meeting during the public comments section of the evening.
“Last January, I visited with the KISD Superintendent about the rescinded homestead exemption,” he read. “At that time, she informed me that those monies were being held in escrow, pending the outcome of an opinion from the Attorney General of Texas.”
He went on to explain Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released the state’s opinion on March 17, which KISD administrators have repeated is simply an opinion.
“This past August 10, the Superintendent reported that KISD had begun using this money, citing no directive or guidance from the State,” Hedrick continued. “I talked to several people at the State level and found out that indeed the TEA had sent a letter to KISD Superintendent dated June 15 and received by KISD on June 20, urging the Board to reinstate the exemption to 2014 levels to bring KISD into compliance.”
He said he asked two KISD board members if they had received the letter, which came from the attorney general’s office, but was cosigned by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
“One member wasn’t for sure and the other dismissed it as the AG’s opinion, until I pointed out that it was from TEA, signed by Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education,” Hedrick said. “His opinion was that KISD was going to call the State’s bluff. One of two things has occurred. Either the board was never shown this letter, or the KISD board as a whole has seen this letter and opted to disregard it.”
In his opinion, Hedrick said, he did not see the school districts’ actions as being transparent and met with KISD Superintendent Cara Cooke again on Sept. 2 to explain his views further and to ask her to put the collected tax money “back into escrow until it is decided in the courts.”
After mentioning the lawsuit a citizen filed in White Deer over that district’s decision to change the local optional homestead exemption, he said, he requested the topic be placed on the agenda as an action item to allow the board to change its decision and adjust the budget accordingly. Although the topic was included on the night’s agenda, it was there as a discussion and information item presented by Dr. Wayne Pierce of the Equity Center.
Although he did not finish his statement due to the state-mandated three minutes allowed for public comments, he wrote, “Seems to me a public discussion like this should have been held back in June 2015 prior to your decision to repeal the local homestead exemption. To spend these monies prior to a court’s ruling in my judgment is ethically wrong and certainly lacks transparency. In closing, my hope after tonight’s meeting and discussion, is that you elected officials of KISD decide to hit the pause button on this issue until the outcome of the current lawsuit is determined in the Courts of Texas and not in a board room somewhere with little or no transparency.”
Tommy Konczak, attending his first KISD meeting in months, sat in the Kilgore High School Auditorium and approached the podium at the base of the stage to address the board members. He supported Hedrick’s comments and said he agreed with his points.
“Put this [money] that we’re talking about back into escrow, so that way two years, three years down the road, we will still be escrowing this money… If it be the court’s decision that we would have to repay that, I want us to be prepared to pay that, not to go out and spend that,” Konczak said. “It’s pretty simple to me, and I’m sorry if I’ve hurt some of your feelings about that but I feel very strongly about that.”
Although no questions were brought to the board by either Hedrick or Konczak, the Texas Open Meetings Act restricts how board members can respond to comments made by the public during the open forum or public comments portion of the meeting.
“Folks, I hate these rules because I hate to cut somebody off when they have something to say, but that’s the way it is. I always apologize when we have folks that speak in open forum because to me it comes across as rude, and I don’t like that, but that’s the way the rules are. Thank you, gentlemen, for your comments,” KISD Board President Dereck Borders said, ending the section of the meeting.