PORT ARTHUR - A two week early voting period has begun for the Port Arthur ISD tax election.
Early voting runs from 8am-4pm September 10-21. You can vote early at Port Arthur City Hall and the Port Arthur Public Library.
The election September 25 will determine if PAISD can increase the tax rate from $1.04 to $1.17.
Dr. Johnny Brown, the PAISD superintendent, told KFDM News the district is holding the line in many areas but must address financial concerns, including a $3 million payment each year linked to a Valero Refinery lawsuit. The district must repay Valero $18 million for a five year period. The repayment is based on a court decision. The district isn't accused of doing anything wrong.
Brown says the district must also replace old, worn buses. 38 buses are at least 10 years old. Each new bus costs $75,000-$100,000. Brown says $750,000 would go toward replacement costs and another $750,000 toward vehicle maintenance. He told us even if the tax increase passes, the district will struggle with vehicle replacement for several years, but he says it must be addressed because the safety of students is a top priority.
The district has $750,000 in capital improvement needs, Brown told us, and it would like to make available $1.2 million for staff compensation because the district couldn't provide a cost of living increase last year.
He told us enrollment is up 200 students this year, test scores are improving, and the district must be able to retain teachers and recruit new staff.
"It's all about the children," said Brown. "It's not something frivolous. We have no alternatives. We've done everything we can to tighten our belt. We've increased class size. I hated to do it. We've reduced administrative positions by 15, from 94 to 79.
The Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce has chosen not to support the proposed tax increase.
Chamber President Bill McCoy told KFDM News they aren't actively campaigning against the tax rate increase but choosing not to come out in support of it.
"The economy, we must remain competitive to attract businesses," McCoy told KFDM News. "Our rate is one of the highest in the area. We support the district. We believe now is the time to live within our budget until the economy improves. They're asking for about a $5.5 million increase. We won't abandon them. We encourage members to contribute their time and effort to the district."