Local leaders press issues with legislators

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Delegation from county seeks to present their concerns to state officials

Representatives from Denton County are working to address a host of concerns related to the city, county and education.

The delegation of officials is in Austin for Denton County Days, which began Monday and runs through today as part of the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature.

County Judge Mary Horn said formal events began Monday morning with breakfast for the Denton County delegation, recognition of the day in the House and Senate chambers and then splitting up to meet with elected officials.

“I think it’s good to get down there and meet some of these people who are going to be taking a position on legislation we’re concerned about,” Horn said. “There are so many new members … 41 in the Texas House. I hope a lot of them show up so we have a chance to visit with them one on one.”

Horn said she’s also hoping to have productive conversations about some of the resolutions of support for legislation passed in the past couple of Commissioners Court meetings. That list includes the county jail and MHMR Center concerns.

Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs is heading a team that will talk to legislators about matters related to local control.

They plan on visiting not only with the local delegation but also with committee chairmen and legislators from other districts who have a role in such matters. 

Sometimes legislators lose track of grassroots voices at the state level, Burroughs said. 

“We educate them and then, more importantly, we allow them to ask questions so they don’t work in a vacuum,” he said.

When state legislators cut funding to manage the budget, yet continue to write laws to manage local matters, it sometimes can have unintended consequences, Burroughs said. 

Denton, for example, is a fast-growth city with older infrastructure. The city, as well as the school district and universities, sometimes needs more flexibility to meet standards and to pay for them. 

Burroughs said legislators shouldn’t worry too much about accountability for local leaders. 

“Our voters know where we live,” he said.

Denton school district Superintendent Jamie Wilson said Monday he provided public testimony before members of the House Committee on Appropriations with the Fast Growth School Coalition about funding for new instructional facilities.

One issue was the percentage of students in the state who attend schools in fast-growth districts and how funding for facilities that educate those students “rest on the shoulders of local taxpayers,” Wilson said.

The state has seen substantial growth, he said, and with that came additional growth in student enrollment and an additional need for more facilities to educate students.

Wilson proposed some ideas that he said could reduce the interest and sinking rates for school districts locally and provide relief to taxpayers.

One proposal was for restoration of the New Instructional Facility Allotment, which he said was established in 1999 to provide school districts with start-up costs associated with the opening of new campuses. Wilson said the allotment was not funded in the 2011-12 and current school year.

“What we’re working on is a connection between the economic growth and increased population in our state as it connects with the increase in [the] number of students and the increase for instructional facilities,” he said.

Other areas of interest Wilson said he and Denton school board members anticipate addressing with legislators include reinstating the $5.4 billion in public school funding and education grant programs that was cut in the last legislative session, the importance of full-day pre-kindergarten funding and fully funding the Student Success Initiative, which Wilson said accelerates instruction for at-risk students and those who face not graduating. District officials are expected to return to Denton today, Wilson said.

Staff writers Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe and Britney Tabor contributed to this report.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is blewis@dentonrc.com .


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