Managing the voter-approved $825 million bond from 2019 is one of the top priorities for the Tarrant County College District board of trustees.
How the bond is steered and overseen, including the tax rate, could change in the May 1 elections. The seats for districts 1, 2 and 3 — all of which come with a full six-year term — and the unexpired term for District 5 are on the ballot.
Among the seven-member board’s responsibilities include setting district policies, approving a budget and tax rate, construction projects and making faculty and staff appointments. The board is nonpartisan. Trustees are elected from single-member districts.
The board’s focus should be on one thing — the students, Conrad Heede, the District 2 trustee and current president, said. That, he said, isn’t a partisan issue.
“We’re all trying to do the very best that we can for our students at Tarrant County College — and that’s our only focus,” the board president said. “We’re not ultra right, ultra left — whatever. We don’t care about that. We don’t talk politics. We talk about the issues for Tarrant County College, period.”
Now is not the time to drastically shift the direction of the board, Heede said. Over the past decade of serving on the board, Heede, 79, said he has attended every conference or training session available to college trustees.
“We need people that are proven, experienced, knowledgeable and trained to handle these things,” said Heede, a Colleyville businessman who was first appointed to the board in 2011. “I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to become an effective trustee, and we brought back from all of these conferences and conventions the best practices at the Tarrant County College. So I think I’m the best qualified candidate for now and into the future.”
His opponent, Shannon Wood, says it is time for change. Wood, a former educator in Fort Worth ISD who also taught at a juvenile detention center in Dallas, did not respond to multiple requests to comment from the Fort Worth Report.
“He’s been in the seat for 10 years with no challenger. I am his first challenger,” Wood told attendees of a Hispanic Conservatives Southlake event.
Wood, 50, has said at various political gatherings that one of her top issues is lowering the property rate.
The TCC trustees “tell you they lowered the tax rate, but that doesn’t really matter when your tax appraisals are going through the roof,” Wood said at the Southlake conservatives event. “We’ve got to do something about that. We have to lower it significantly to where it makes a difference.”
The board of trustees sets the rate and considers a budget every year. The Tarrant Appraisal District sets property appraisals.
Heede — who represents Colleyville, Richland Hills, Bedford, Grapevine, Keller, Southlake, Westlake and parts of Hurst and Euless — said trustees are not anticipating any tax rate increase because of the 2019 bond.
“We run such an effective organization with keeping our tax rate low,” Heede said, adding that his opponent does not understand how the tax rate is set, including knowing what the no-new-revenue rate is.
The current budget was the first time since at least 2016 the board of trustees did not adopt the no-new-revenue rate — the rate that would bring in the same amount of property tax revenue as the prior year.
The current rate is 13.017 cents per $100 valuation, the same rate from the last tax year. The tax rate is comprised of two smaller rates — the 12.147 cents that goes toward maintenance and operations and the .87 cents that’s used to support Tarrant County College District’s debt. The district’s maintenance-and-operations rate, however, was lower than the suggested no-new-revenue rate of 13.0023 cents.
The overall no-new-revenue rate was 12.97 cents. The tax rate was nearly 2 cents lower than the voter approval rate of 14.973 cents — the rate that would trigger an automatic election on the tax rate.
“We stay at or below the effective rate. We’re not increasing everybody’s bottom-line taxes,” said Heede, a businessman.
Some taxpayers have seen higher appraisals causing their tax bill to increase.
For example, the average Tarrant County home has a net taxable income of $222,898 — an increase of $3,915 from last year’s average of $218,983. That homeowner would pay about $290.15 in TCC taxes this year — a $5.10 increase from last year’s bill of $285.05.
The overall certified taxable value for the Tarrant County College District was about $900 million lower than what it was in 2019. It was $204.9 billion in 2020 and $205.8 billion in 2019, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District.
The 2020-21 budget projects TCC bringing in more than $246 million in tax revenue from the maintenance-and-operations rate — $12.6 million more than the previous budget. The debt service rate is expected to generate nearly $17.9 million in property tax revenue.
“We’re keeping our tax rate low and we’re keeping our tuition low so that provides easy access to all of our students,” Heede said. “I don’t know how you can get much better than that.”
Teresa Ayala, the District 1 trustee and board vice president, agreed with Heede. The board, she said, needs experienced trustees.
“Effectively managing the bond program over an extended period of time will require knowledge, experience and a climate of trust and transparency,” Ayala said. “The most effective approach to manage is through close monitoring, effective metrics, regular reporting and consistent communication to shareholders.”
Jeremy Sixtos, a 23-year-old IT support professional, is challenging Ayala to represent the northside, downtown and southside areas of Fort Worth and Saginaw. Sixtos did not respond to a request to comment.
Ayala, 55, and Sixtos are both former TCC students. Ayala said Tarrant County College must continue to have an environment that prepares students for what they want to do in life.
“As a college, we must foster a sustainable culture that continues to assess the college’s readiness for students, ensure access, provide consistent advising and mentoring for retention, utilize data to measure performance and strengthen partnerships with ISDs, industry, universities and other organizations to close workforce gaps,” she said. “All this while remaining fiscally responsible and maintaining an affordable tuition.”
In District 3, the current trustee, former state Rep. Diana Patrick, decided not to seek a second full term on the board. Patrick, a former Arlington ISD trustee and member of the Texas State Board of Education, represents north and central Arlington and part of Euless. She was appointed to the board in 2016 and elected to a full term in 2017.
Newcomers Jeannie Deakyne, the vice president of operations at the National Medal of Honor Museum, and Stephen Chacko are vying for the District 3 seat. Chacko, a 47-year-old, Bedford-based investor, did not respond to a request to comment.
Deakyne, an Army veteran, said bonds need the right leadership to guide them. She says she can bring that after serving on various bond and finance committees for Arlington ISD over the past decade.
“I’m very familiar with how bonds are developed and how they are responsibly overseen so that taxpayer money goes exactly to the places that they vote to allocate,” Deakyne said, adding that elected officials must be transparent with voters about how bonds can affect their tax bills.
Deakyne, who once worked as a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, plans to use military experience as a trustee. She said she wants to ensure TCC remains an easily accessible and affordable community college for veterans who recently exited the military.
“Tarrant County college is a fantastic pipeline for our North Texas higher education institutions, and I know exactly how that works,” Deakyne said. “I can speak about the post-9/11 GI Bill. I’m very well versed in veterans services, so I think that I’m well-positioned to help veterans maximize their TCC experience.”
Three candidates are seeking the District 5 seat representing South Arlington and Mansfield. Leonard Hornsby, the executive pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, was appointed to the seat this year after former trustee Michael Evans resigned following his election as Mansfield mayor.
Two other candidates are vying for the seat: political consultant Christi Clanton, 28, and property manager Sherry McCullouch, 51.
Hornsby, Clanton and McCullouch did not respond to requests to comment from the Report.