A longstanding Rusk County tax may be challenged if a Kilgore man is elected to the Rusk County Countywide School Board after the Nov. 3 election.
Dale Hedrick of Kilgore is running for the At-Large seat on the Rusk County Countywide School Board and his opposition is Henderson’s Dwain Knight.
“I’ve spent several years researching this tax and educating the taxpayers of Rusk County on how this tax has become a subsidy to school districts around our county,” Hedrick said, in a statement to the News Herald. “For those school districts that cross into neighboring counties, this extra tax has become a penalty to Rusk County! My goal and pledge to you is to work for the elimination of this subsidy tax that is both misunderstood and outdated. I would sincerely appreciate your vote in this upcoming election!”
Knight, who is employed at Crawford–A. Crim Funeral Home in Henderson, told the News Herald on Friday his motivation for running for the At-Large seat.
“The reason I’m running is because I have an interest in education,” Knight said. “I’ve taught school for 27 years and I’m a product of public school so I’m very much interested in the success of the students of Rusk County and students in general. As a consequence, I wanted to give back and I wanted to help in any way that I could to ensure success in schools in the area.”
And why voters should choose him for the seat?
“I’m sure there’s several good candidates that are running,” Knight said. “I’ve met Mr. Hedrick, I’ve sat in the room with him and I’m aware of the other gentleman that may or may not be interested in the board. I would say that my time here, my participation in the education business and a desire to do what’s right for the people of Rusk County, that’s the qualification that I have.”
Also on the ballot for the school board but in a different race – not against Knight or Hedrick – is Phil Patterson, also of Kilgore, who is running unopposed for the Precinct 1 seat.
The equalization tax was the main topic at a meeting of the board in August 2019, which, according to the News Herald’s story at the time, revealed some of the underlying discord surrounding the decades-old county school equalization tax.
On one hand, the tax – about $26.50 per year on a $100,000 home – helps fuel school budgets at 13 districts operating in the county. At the same time, a growing group of taxpayers is questioning a tax that, in some cases, sees residents paying twice into the same public coffers.
The meeting included a series of 4-1 votes as trustee John Carter dissented, unsatisfied with answers to a list of questions he prepared for the day.
Carter, a Kilgore resident, asked for ‘refined’ Average Daily Attendance numbers reported by the 13 Rusk County school districts that receive a portion of the tax and questioned how funding is being used.
“It should be earmarked money to begin with, not going into the general fund,” Carter insisted.
“That’s not our responsibility,” board Worth Whitehead countered. Whitehead was the holder of the seat in which Knight and Hedrick are now running, but Whitehead opted not to run again.
“Yessir, it is,” Carter insisted, “because that comes back on you.”
No, trustee Tommy Freeman said, “It’s on them.”
For Whitehead, “Our responsibility is to get the money to the schools that need it.”
Based on reported Average Daily Attendance numbers of students who reside in Rusk County and attended schools there in 2017-2018, Kilgore ISD was to receive $141,468.94 of $967,532.89 in on-hand collections as of July 1, 2019. Henderson ISD was to receive $354,848.69 from the countywide school equalization tax.
Other districts on the school board’s distribution schedule ranged from Cushing ISD ($3,210) to $135,733 for Tatum ISD based on reported ADA.
The trustees’ budget left $2,000 in the account for operations of the Rusk County School Board, per standard operating procedure. Notably, the 2019-2020 budget for the school board included an additional administrative expense of $12,639.21 for “Compressor Lawsuit,” a similar loss to other taxing entities across the state following a 2018 ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that changed the way the state taxes natural gas compressors.
The ’19-20 budget was otherwise unchanged and was approved with a 4-1 vote.
Hedrick and another Kilgore resident, Dana Pearce, were among a handful of taxpayers who attended that meeting and took an opportunity to speak on the tax.
It’s difficult to find information on the countywide tax, the school board and its budget, Pearce said.
Without that kind of transparency, “It seems like this is a rather shadowy group,” she added. “I just want to be able to learn.”