Hello Collin County,
Let’s dive into what’s been happening in our county lately. This edition covers some concerning statements made by school boards trustees, and highlights some of the latest news from city councils and school boards across the county. I hope to one day have complete coverage for every city, town, school board, and county level of government in Collin County. Until we get there, we will just take it one step at a time. If you’d like to help with covering meetings in your area, please reach out and we will get you on a team.
There has been plenty of news that we are all aware of, from issues that affect us here in the Collin County Democratic Party, to issues that affect us as a nation. This has been a tough week. My goal this week is to bring your attention to news that you may not have heard in the midst of everything that’s been happening. If you have any feedback to offer regarding what you think should be covered in this column, please reach out.
Plano City Council
At their February 27th meeting, citizens spoke about the recent incident involving gunfire at a short-term rental on Cannes Dr. The police chief confirmed that this rental has been suspended on all platforms until they complete their investigation. Mayor Muns apologized to citizens for the incident and promised to take up the issue in an April meeting.
At their March 13th meeting, short-term rentals were once again the hot topic. Several residents spoke against allowing short-term rentals at all. Only one person spoke in favor of allowing short-term rentals. Two residents also spoke in support of a ban on the sale of animals from puppy mills, and this issue was approved to be on a future agenda. The city council discussed possible solutions to the short-term rental situation. All councilmembers spoke in favor of a temporary ban on short-term rentals except for Mayor Pro Tem Prince. She proposed a strategy involving permits and registration requirements. All councilmembers supported a zoning ordinance comparable to the city of Arlington’s permitting and registration requirements. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Tu raised the point that whatever is implemented needs to be legally defensible. She supported gathering data and requested a joint session with the planning & zoning commission. That joint session will take place May 8th. Mayor Muns supported a temporary ban on short-term rentals along with a nuisance ordinance and additional zoning restrictions. Councilman Williams spoke in favor of a permanent ban while keeping current zoning requirements in place. This suggestion required an executive session to be discussed, as there could be legal issues with enforcing such a policy.
House Bill 2665 is a bill that the Plano City Council will have to keep in mind. This bill would limit what type of regulations cities could pass regarding short-term rentals. The bill lists several registration and administrative requirements as allowable regulations. The bill specifically prohibits cities from banning short-term rentals, regulating the duration of use, or limiting the number of occupants at a short-term rental. The bill has been referred to the Land and Resource Management committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
At their March 14th meeting, two bills were discussed that could affect the tax rate and school finances. House Bill 2 aims to further compress the tax rate and was passed out of the house ways & means committee with a 10-1 vote. The bill has been sent to the calendars committee and awaits a scheduled vote. House Bill 100 could potentially raise funds by increasing the allotment paid by the Texas Education Agency and attaching the per student allotment to average enrollment instead of average daily attendance. House Bill 100 has been referred to the Public Education committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Enrollment and funding are continuing to decline for the district. Enrollment is down roughly 8% and staff levels are down roughly 9.5%. The current deficit is approximately $45 million while the fund balance is only around $170 million. Concerns were raised that the district will have to make very difficult decisions in the next few years to maintain a fund balance. Plano ISD plans to move to eight-period days for all middle schools beginning next year to offer intervention and enrichment to students who aren’t yet at the proper levels for math and reading. This is being done to recover some of the learning loss experienced during the pandemic.
Trustee Weaver stated that he wants the district to change any mention of SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) to “positive character traits”. It seems this is an admission that the goals of SEL are something to support, but some fear the acronym itself. Intent and policy can be scary, but the words “social” and “emotional” certainly aren’t. Trustee Wang cosigns this stance by stating that the wording prompts fears of “social engineering” and “indoctrination”. What’s ironic is that neither of these trustees acknowledge the social engineering and indoctrination they are currently displaying by blindly echoing what they hear from right-wing media. Maybe some emails encouraging these trustees to carefully consider their own indoctrination are in order. In fact, Trustee Weaver has asked for feedback to be sent to email@example.com . In a Facebook post, he speaks directly against efforts to increase diversity, equity & inclusion, anti-racism, gender ideology, and social justice. As if these are bad things? Is he against anti-racism? What the heck does that make him? Please send him your feedback. I certainly plan to. But please, keep your comments gentle. He seems to scare easily when certain words are used.
McKinney City Council
At their March 7th meeting, residents asked the city council to oppose segment C of the proposed U.S. 380 bypass. Residents cited concerns about how the route would impact rural businesses as reasons to oppose the proposed route.
At their March 21st meeting, McKinney Democrats Julie Luton and Elizabeth Michel spoke up about the gender pay gap and encouraged the city council to consider setting the right example by appointing a diverse group of applicants to commissions and boards. They pointed out that, currently, the same people seem to get cycled through the same commissions and it is important to have diversity in thoughts and experience to ensure all of McKinney is represented.
McKinney ISD Trustee Chad Green testified before the Texas House Committee on Public Education in support of House Bill 900 last week. In his testimony, he called McKinney ISD “serial child abusers”, referring to the district’s efforts to try and mitigate efforts to ban certain books. He made other comments that painted a very negative picture of the district from his point-of-view. I hope McKinney voters are prepared to vote him out in 2025.
House Bill 900 includes some intentionally vague descriptions that could be used to essentially ban books from school libraries. This bill was referred to the Public Education committee where it received public testimony last week and is awaiting a committee vote.
Richardson City Council
At their March 20th meeting, the city council announced they will be conducting a major update to the comprehensive plan. They are looking forward to feedback and involvement from the citizens of Richardson, and I hope Democrats are prepared to give that feedback. This would be the time to push for an increased focus on development decisions that increase amenities for families with children, so we can help to increase enrollment in our public schools. The police department also presented their annual review. Catalytic converter thefts took center stage. There are currently eight different bills in the legislature that aim to increase penalties for catalytic converter theft. Out of the eight, four have passed out of committee and four await public hearings.
Parker City Council
At their March 21st meeting, the city council adopted new rates and fees for water and wastewater services. City Administrator Luke Olson also discussed the need for a new water tower. The city council will gather data on current water usage and needs before making a decision.
Other Important Legislation
The other bills that I will focus on this week include bills that affect public education.
Senate Bill 17 would prohibit public institutions of higher education from establishing or maintaining an office of diversity, equity & inclusion. This bill has been referred to the senate education committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
House Bill 135 aims to improve school finance by using average enrollment instead of average daily attendance for basic allotments. This bill has been referred to the house public education committee but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
House Bill 882 aims to correlate the annual adjustment of the basic allotment per student to reflect the current inflation rate. This bill has also been sent to the house public education committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
House Bill 31 also aims to tie the basic allotment to average enrollment instead of the current average daily attendance standard. And just like the other, it’s been sent to the house public education committee where it awaits a hearing date.
There are hundreds of bills making their way through the 88th Texas legislature. I cannot possibly cover them all in one column. Therefore, I’m going to do my best to spread them out in a way that makes sense. If a bill pertains to something that happens in a city council or school board meeting, I will include it in the section that pertains to that city council or school board. Next week, I will highlight bills regarding school choice, the LGBTQIA+ rights, and gun regulations. This is a complicated process. There will be opportunity for public testimony if a bill is scheduled for a hearing. One thing we can all do is let our state senators and representatives know how we feel about this legislature’s priorities. I encourage all of you to contact your elected officials in the legislature to make your voice heard on any of the aforementioned bills. I also encourage you to reach out to me with bills you would like to see included in this column. Thanks for staying informed and hanging in there with me this week.
Until next time.
Justin Wray Neth