Page 8


as the Santa Gertrudis Independent School District which taxes its property owners read King Ranch $.08 for each$100 of real property value and spends $12,840 per year on each of its 78 students. Should the district be “captured” and reasonably reapportioned among the three Kleberg County districts that surround it, the effect on regional rates of taxation and spending should be considerable. The Kingsville district taxes residents at $.80 per $100 and spends $3.,203per year on each of its 5,278 students. In Ricardo, like ‘Santa Gertrudis, a district that does not offer 12 grades, the tax rate is $1.32 for each $100 of property value and $3,488 is spent on each of the district’s 373 students. And the Riviera Independent School District \(one of the established a tax rate of $1.17 per $100 to spend $6,110 per student. Richards concedes that Kleberg County is not typical but adds that there are other obvious tax havens scattered around the state. “The very worst.” Richards said, “has four students.” And there are boundaries that simply separate poverty and wealth. It ‘is a system, according to a 1971 U.S Supreme Court decision, that is “chaotic and unfair.” And according to the lower court decision in EdgewoOd: “There is no underlying rationale in the district boundaries of many districts in Texas. . . .” There is, according to Assistant Attorney General Kevin O’Hanlon, recourse for redrawing district lines other than what is requested in the Edgewood suit. Voters in countywide elections, O’Hanlon explained, can alter districts and achieve equalization on a local level where disparities exist. “And if the voters want to change the structure [of the state’s system],” O’Hanlon said, “they can do it.” But it requires amending the Constitution. .According to O’Hanlon, school districts are independent political subdivisions and have something of a life of their own. The state’s relation to these entities, O’Hanlon said, is not unlike the relation between the federal government and the states. School. districts are creations, not of the Legislature, but of the Constitution. Turner agrees and argues that equalization of tax base among cities and counties is never considered and that school districts are no different. The whole structure, according to attorneys defending the system, was created by a system envisioned by the state Constitution. An earlier state Constitution provided a statewide system of education. But the Constitution of 1876 included a retreat to local districts. “They say it’s a state system [subject to alteration by the Legislature],” O’Hanlon said. “We say that it is a system envisioned by the Constitution.” All of this now conies down to an arcane legal debate about the meaning and intent in the Constitution, with the decision remanded to Judge Clark for further clarification on the meaning and relative importance of two sections in the current Constitution, ‘ and questions about a now invalid constitutional provision that allowed the state to create political subdivisions. Plaintiffs are counting on a favorable interpretation of a constitutional provision requiring , the state to provide an “efficient system of public and free schools.” Combined with the obvious, that the present system is not efficient, and the equal rights clause of the state Bill of Rights, they will then be in the position to compel. the Legislature toward an unprecedented restructuring of funding of education. If, that is, they can, make it beyond the Texas Supreme Court. \(There can be no appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Nine Justices, barring an unlikely out-ofcourt settlemett, will decide what University of Texas Law Schoot Dein Mark Yucicif describes as an ‘issue more difficult than anything the Supreme ::1Cofi’ft has considered in the.past. And;cOriiidering the huge sums of money -‘calculate over the next several years tens of billions of dollarS Edgewood v. Kirby makes. the.,. .4.:recent Texaco-Pennzoil fight over $10 bill& look like a nasty little private tort. -“Mostrecent decisions have been going our way,” Turnersaid of cases tried in other states where only five of 13 , fundamental rights decisions, he explained, have been upheld. But he-added that much depends on the judicial temperament of the court. . Seasoned court matchers insist that the plaintiffs, are almost certain to .prevail , at the Texas Supreme Court, even if they should lose at the appellate level. And some even insist that the property-poor ;districts will win with almost any possible: combination of freshmen judges on a. new court. , that is., the case is heard after the -.election in November, and inauguration, in.January. “The court will uphold,” one attorney said, `”because the disparities are -so gross: And because :it is an education issue.” All the while, the Governor, in threatening to call a special session then grousing about a constitutional amendment to ratify the current system ; has relegated himself to the status of a sideline participant in what is likely to become the most important public policy decision of his career. Questioned about the Governor’s proposed amendment ; Edgewood Superintendent Jimmy Vasquez said: “It would mean that the Constitution-in Texas is meant to protect the rights of the wealthy and powerful and not the poor.!? The Governor; it-seems, has nothing else to. say. ALAN POGUE Planetarium at Highland Park High School, Dallas 8 MAY 20, 1988