TARS: An Idea
The idea for TARS emerged in 1990 out of the discussion between several superintendents at the Mid-Winter Conference. A need for representation of rural schools at the state level was the main topic. Gains were made by small schools in that the Legislature was beginning to recognize the diseconomy of scale of small schools were inefficient; therefore, attempts were being made to do away with the “small school formulas/adjustment” and other aspects of funding small rural districts.
Although many of the small schools were members of other associations, the founders of TARS felt that schools 1600 or under in ADA and with an agricultural economy needed more representation. The pre-TARS planning team consisted of then Superintendents, Bill Grusendorf, San Saba ISD; Wayne Pierce, Rosebud-Lott ISD; and Jim Payne, Bruceville-Eddy ISD. Over 100 small school superintendents met for an organizational meeting and selected Grusendorf as the first TARS president. The consensus was that the future of small schools hung upon two issues: the “small school formulas/adjustment” and the valuation of agricultural land according to its productivity only.
Small School Formulas/Adjustment
Work performed in 1975, by Dr. Richard Hooker of the University of Houston, managed to put a small school adjustment into law through HB 1126. Dr. Hooker at the time was Director of the Governor’s Office of Education and Research under then Governor, Dolph Brisco. The major impetus to recognize and expand funding for rural schools during the debate of HB 72 in 1984 came from Rep. Stan Schlueter, both the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a member of the Governor’s Select Committee on Education, the so-called “Perot Committee.”
Rep. Schlueter made it clear at the time to both the House and Senate membership that a tax bill to support HB 72 would not come out of his committee unless or until small rural schools were treated fairly. Rep. Schlueter, in time insisted that Bill Grusendorf, then serving as Chairman of Rural Affairs for the Equity Center, be a part of and monitor the Equity Coalition that wrote the finance articles of HB 72. As a result of Grusendorf’s input, we now have the present “small school formulas/adjustment” and valuation of agricultural land according to its productivity only.
TARS is active with and respected by the state leadership. The association participates by testifying before committees and its membership carries concerns to their legislators as well as other associations.
Today, TARS is involved in ongoing research that is both meaningful and educational. The research substantiates the efficiency and need for rural schools and has been influential as well in fighting consolidation of our smallest schools. During the mid 1990's, TARS was able, with the help of Rep. Ernestine Glossbrenner, former Chair of the House Public Education Committee, to allow 100% rather than 50% of the small school adjustment to apply to Tier II of the Foundation School Program. And with the help of Rep. Paul Sadler, also former Public Education Committee Chairman, TARS was instrumental in securing both a special adjustment to the facilities Allotment for districts below 400 ADA and credit for K6-K8 schools that pay tuition to another district for the education of their secondary students.
More recently, TARS has been successful in efforts to make the Existing Debt Allotment (EDA) a permanent allotment. And of course, TARS was at the forefront of obtaining the state-wide health insurance program for small schools and will continue to fight for restoring its full benefit in the future.
Thus, the major goal of the Texas Association of Rural Schools is the enhancement of the fiscal capacity of rural school
districts while narrowing the gap in the fiscal capacity between rural districts and others.
The purpose of TARS is twofold:
1. To impact the state's school finance and property tax systems so to ensure equitable distribution of education resources and tax burdens, and
2. To become involved both directly and indirectly in the policy-making and administrative processes of federal, state, and local entities (excluding school districts) by:
a. Monitoring the entities,
b. Conducting the independent research, and
c. Making specific recommendations.
The major thrust of TARS is threefold:
1. To protect the "small and mid-size school formulas/adjustment,"
2. To protect the valuation of agricultural land according to its productivity only, and
3. To fight efforts toward consolidation of small and rural school districts.
However, to achieve our goal, to promote our purpose, and to continue to protect the right for small schools to exist, we need your membership and support. Can your district afford to wait? Can your teachers constantly continue to meet the educational demands that are neither supported nor financed by our present state government? Can your students look to you for educational guidance and direction in a political environment that threatens their very right to a decent education? We think not. That is why TARS is here for you and your school community. Join us. We can WIN? We have done it before, and we will do it again. But this time, you can say, I was a part of that fight; but more importantly, I was a part of that VICTORY.