Pflugerville ISD residents mull over ACC annexation vote

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Pflugerville ISD residents will decide in November whether they would rather save hundreds of dollars in property taxes or save thousands of dollars in community college tuition.

The ACC board of trustees voted Aug. 13 to officially put a proposition on Pflugerville ISD residents’ Nov. 6 election ballots on whether they want a portion of the school district to be annexed into the ACC taxing district.

Organizers on both sides of the issue have distributed hundreds of signs throughout the district and report they are receiving daily requests for more. One opponent of the proposition has erected a sandwich board in his truck bed, imploring neighbors to vote down the proposition.

Why all the passion? Essentially, both sides are arguing the same point—that this vote, whether it passes or fails, will have far-reaching consequences that will affect the Pflugerville community for decades to come.

Immediately, though, the impact of a ‘Yes’ vote on the proposition is clear. Anyone living in the PfISD tax district will instantly become eligible to enroll at ACC for roughly $3,312 less per semester, according to ACC.

“I can never see more educational opportunities being a bad thing,” said Pat Epstein, former chair of Pflugerville Pfriends 4 ACC, a political action committee in favor of the annexation proposition.

At the same time, district property owners will begin paying a median of $268.63 more in annual property taxes—a repercussion many residents find unacceptable.

HIGHER EDUCATION IN PFLUGERVILLE

Volunteers of Pflugerville Pfriends 4 ACC in May collected 3,556 signatures of registered school district voters to present to the ACC board of trustees. That amount of signatures exceeded the 5 percent of registered voters that were required to trigger the community college to consider annexing PfISD.

Hays CISD and Elgin ISD are the most recent school districts to annex into ACC’s taxing district—both in 2010. Two years prior, Round Rock ISD joined ACC’s taxing district. All three school districts now have ACC campuses.

Prior to placing the annexation proposition on PfISD voters’ November ballot, ACC was required to draft a service plan that outlines taxing rates, programs, tuition rates and fees, services and facilities plans.

ACC outlined plans for both credit and non-credit courses, some of which will be held at the Workforce Innovation Campus and Center that ACC has pledged to construct in Pflugerville.

“[ACC] is committed to providing a brick-and-mortar campus,” said Chris Cervini, ACC associate vice president.

Most notably, the service plan sets the tuition cost for in-district ACC students at $85 per credit hour—a figure well below the $361 per credit hour charge PfISD residents will pay for enrollment this fall semester.

TAX BURDEN ON RESIDENTS

The annexation service plan consequently lays out the potential tax burden property owners in the school district would incur should the proposition pass in November.

ACC’s combined tax rate currently sits at $0.1008 per $100 assessed property valuation.

The median home value in the city of Pflugerville in July sat at $266,500, per figures from the Austin Board of Realtors. With ACC’s new taxing rate, that household would begin paying $268.63 in annual property taxes on top of what it currently pays.

If the proposition passes, the new property taxes would be levied in 2019 and first due Jan. 31, 2020.

In its 2018-19 budget presentation, PfISD projected the net taxable property value in the district was $13.6 billion, meaning that ACC could potentially generate $13.7 million from PfISD residents.

That figure does not include potential homestead exemptions, which ACC will provide if the annexation proposal is approved. Per its website, ACC offers a homestead exemption of $5,000, with an additional $160,000 senior or disabled exemption.

In a presentation shown to PfISD residents July 19, ACC showed that it has risen its tax rate in the past five years from $0.0949 per $100 valuation in the 2013-14 school year to the current rate of $0.1008 per $100 valuation.

At its Aug. 13 meeting, the ACC board of trustees set a potential maximum tax rate of $0.1048 per $100 valuation for the 2018-19 school year. That rate, to be voted on by the board Sept. 10, represents a higher rate than both the effective rate and last year’s tax rate.

Opponents of the annexation proposal state that the potential for revenue collected by ACC does not proportionately balance to what PfISD students and residents are set to receive in return.

“It is a negative return,” said Kevin Pakenham, spokesperson for Pflugerville Residents for Responsible Taxation, a group that opposes the annexation proposition. “It will take millions of dollars out of our district forever and ever.”

COST BENEFITS FOR PFISD RESIDENTS

If approved, hundreds of students enrolled in PfISD would immediately see cost reductions for ACC tuition and fees.

But the cost savings are not exclusively reserved for high school students. Any resident with PfISD boundaries wishing to enroll in ACC classes—such as residents pursuing job training to rejoin the workforce—will see their tuition costs drop by hundreds of dollars. Populations such as home-schooled children could begin taking dual-enrollment ACC classes at a reduced cost.

Because PfISD is not fully within  ACC’s taxing district, most students and residents currently enrolled at the community college are paying $361 per credit hour between tuition and fees. That means if a PfISD resident signs up for a 12 credit hour workload—typically a four-course schedule—they pay $4,332 for enrollment.

In-district ACC residents, on the other hand, are paying $85 per credit hour between tuition and fees. If the proposal for annexation passes in November, that 12 credit hour workload would cost the PfISD resident $1,020 for their classes—less than a quarter of what they pay now.

PfISD’s John B. Connally High School  is already in the ACC district because the campus is located inside Austin city limits. An analysis of enrollment data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shows that John B. Connally consistently enrolls a higher percentage of its students in ACC than other PfISD high schools, none of which are located within the ACC taxing district boundaries.

ANCILLARY BENEFITS

Tammy Smith, chairwoman of Pflugerville Pfriends 4 ACC, and her fellow committee members contend that the benefits of sending more students and adults to ACC reach beyond the surface level benefit of cheaper access to higher education.

“It really lifts your entire community when you can increase that education level,” Smith said.

Proponents of the annexation proposal say the outlined Pflugerville ACC campus will provide valuable job skills training to the Pflugerville community as a whole. In its service plan, ACC offers specialized business training to local businesses to help train and retain the local workforce.

This training, Smith contends, can aid in recruiting businesses that may have historically abstained from Pflugerville.

“They want to be able to recruit their employees right where they are and train them right there. Companies want that local training option,” Smith said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics outlined the financial impact that even minor college experience can have on an individual.

The Bureau of Labor in July found that high school graduates with any amount of college experience whatsoever earned a seasonally adjusted average $37,531 in annual wages—$1,000 more than a high school graduate with no college experience. The data also shows that high school graduates with college experience have a lower unemployment rate than their counterparts with no college experience.

People holding a bachelor’s degree or higher earned a seasonally adjusted average $56,940 in annual wages in July.

ELECTION SEASON

Both Smith and Epstein expressed some concern about the exhaustive ballot many Pflugerville residents will vote on Nov. 6. Epstein in particular is  worried voters may face “taxation fatigue” while looking at the collection of proposals.

In addition to the ACC annexation proposition, PfISD residents will vote on a bond proposition to the tune of $332 million from the school district. The city of Pflugerville is asking voters to approve $21.1 million in general obligation bonds for roadway projects.

“Pflugerville ISD supports the democratic process and encourages all citizens to voice their opinion on whether they feel it is a good fit for the community,” PfISD spokeswoman Tamra Spence said in a statement.

If the proposition fails to pass voter approval, a new petition would be required to bring the issue back to the ACC board. ACC spokesperson Jessica Vess stated a new petition may be brought to the board at any time, though signatures are only valid for 180 days.

Regardless of the vote’s outcome, Pflugerville will feel the decision for decades to come. Supporters of the annexation say the educated workforce and societal benefits stemming from increased higher education enrollment justify the cost for homeowners.

Pakenham said he does not agree with that sentiment.

“It is something that will hit us forever and only continue to rise,” Pakenham said. “At some point it is okay to say ‘No’ to additional taxes.”

Additional reporting on this article provided by Jack Flagler.

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COMMENT
  1. “Anyone living in the PfISD tax district will instantly become eligible to enroll at ACC for roughly $3,312 less per semester, according to ACC.”

    Misleading statement – only true if you are enrolled full-time. What percentage of taxpayers have full-time ACC students in their household? On the other hand, ALL homeowners are stuck paying several hundred dollars a month, and ACC has shown it has utterly no fiscal restraint, actually increasing the property tax rate AGAIN this year on top of the built-in 10% increase in property values.

  2. Frankie Urban

    “If approved, hundreds of students enrolled in PfISD would immediately see cost reductions for ACC tuition and fees”

    Please prove this statement to be true? How much do current students pay for acc tuition ?

  3. What happenes to journalistic integrity? This read very much like a 1-sided story favoring the new tax.

    Mind providing some data on how much more ACC charges for out-of-district tuition compared to other community colleges around Texas?

    How about data on how well/poor the school performs?

    What is the overall cost saving as compared to revenue?

    Come on, show some respect to your profession!!!!

  4. So much cost savings! Oh wait up, ACC sets their own out of district rates? They charge more than double the average out of district community college rate in Texas?

    That’s weird….

    Sounds more like like ACC artificially inflates their own out of district pricing to drive communities into the loving arms of their perpetual property tax, which happens to be a rising rate against soaring valuations – forever. Thanks for the “cost savings,” but I’ll pass on that offer.

  5. Mark D. Wassler

    First, thanks to Community Impact, for the wonderful coverage of this most divisive topic! I can DEEPLY sympathize with BOTH sides of this issue.

    There can be no doubt that without subsidies, the community college experience is out of reach for many students. Like the old saying goes, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. I’ve seen many Pflugerville students cheat to get the lower tuition cost by using residential credentials from friends that live in Austin. That’s clearly against the law, but it’s also the only way many of these desperate students can afford to go to college. The Austin taxpayers are clearly shouldering some of the financial burden of those students who cheat the system, and that’s not fair either.

    I would go even further and say that the community college experience is completely unaffordable for many of those who live out of district. Just look at the numbers for what a 16 hour class load costs out of district, plus extra fees for stuff like books and supplies. Back in 2011, then governor Rick Perry proposed the goal that a bachelor’s degree should cost no more than $10,000 , and that should still be our goal. However, that amount of money doesn’t even cover the cost of half of an Associates degree at ACC if you’re out of district. Something is seriously wrong here.

    On the other hand NOBODY wants to pay extra property taxes. I suspect that the vast majority of taxpayers will never receive any direct benefit from those extra taxes that will likely continue forever. Or, if they do receive a direct benefit, it will only be for the few years that their kids are enrolled in college, or if they decide to take a course or two for themselves. Clearly that is a minority of the community. But, you can also rightfully counterargue that the whole community benefits from higher levels of education.

    The way I see it, the current community college funding system is in need of an overhaul. No student should have to cheat the system to get an affordable college experience, and no in-district taxpayers should have to be funding out of district students who cheat (and are very difficult to catch) Funding decisions should be made at a wider geographic level, such as the county level. Everybody within reasonable commuting distance of the community college should be paying the same tuition rate. Voting “Yes” or “No” on this issue isn’t going to fix the fundamental funding problem, or get us any closer to Rick Perry’s admirable goal of a $10,000 bachelor’s degree.

    • If ACC could offer bachelor degree programs for only $10K, then even I would vote for this tax increase.

  6. Jacob Whitaker

    Interesting points Mark. Where I grew up the local community college was a county based CC, therefore voting for the tax wasn’t an option. So if it were say Travis County CC then we would all be paying regardless of which city we lived in. I would argue that ACC is in effect a county sized CC with the amount of campuses it has across Travis county. Therefore we all benefit from the CC and all must share the very minor amount it costs to support the school.

  7. This article is misleading in some of the data and very one-sided:
    Connally has 16.7% of students enrolled at ACC in 2017 compared to 13% for Hendrickson and Pflugerville for 2017/18. The article failed to mention that the total number and percentage of students has decreased over the past 10 years for Connally, who is in-district. 69 in 2017 (16.9%) compared to 81 in 2007 (22.4%)
    No data showing that only 831 students (75% who are part-time) were out-of-district in PFISD area and that the benefits in tuition savings is approx $3.8m compared to close to $10m in taxes from the other 80,000+ residents. Only 156 students from Hendrickson and Connally enrolled in ACC in 2017/18. The number of students and amount to benefit is so small in relation to everyone who will be paying taxes forever on their homes.

    This particular ACC proposal has been estimated to cost $166m in taxes over the next 10 years, but only provide tuition benefits of $63m for a net cost to the Pflugerville taxpayers of $102m for just 10 years. That estimate includes a 226% enrollment increase in total in the first 5 years with 1% increase after that (based on historical enrollment after annexation) and 8% property tax value increase.

    ACC refused to provide any estimates for number of classes, jobs or students served with their workforce campus and stated that they could find an existing building rather than “constructing” a campus.

    I agree that there should be more funding coming from the state level for all levels of higher education that would benefit any student and not just for particular campuses that only 156 students per year from PFISD annexed area will attend.

    • Wonderful research Melody. Really, I mean it. The prediction of a “226% enrollment increase in total in the first 5 years” (if the proposal is passed) is really both good and bad, when you think about it. We all want to see more kids go to college, but it also implies there are currently a lot of Pflugerville kids out there now that are not getting a college education because it is too expensive.

      My own guess is that this first offer from ACC will fail, and that they’ll be forced to come back with a better offer for the next election. I don’t see a solution anytime soon though, until they can find ways to restructure and dramatically reduce costs for everybody. Offering ost of their popular evening classes in existing public school facilities might be a good place to start. Having dedicated facilities for classes that require nothing more than a basic classroom and a chalkboard is just too expensive. Why should taxpayers have to pay for public schools that are empty at night, and dedicated ACC campuses that are overcrowded at night?

    • Correction: Only 156 students from Hendrickson and Pflugerville enrolled in ACC in 2017/18.

      • I don’t believe for a minute that only 156 students from Hendrickson and Pflugerville High enrolled in ACC in 2017/18. That may be the official number, but the actual number is likely much higher, but nobody can say for certain. The current outrageous out-of-district tuition rate forces Pflugerville students to use their friend’s addresses in Austin and Round Rock to get much more affordable in-district tuition rates. There is no practical way for ACC to stop this, because any student who can show residency documents from any Austin or Round Rock address gets the lower in-district rate.

        Getting actual statistics regarding how many students cheat would be difficult, but look at it like this:. We already know that just over half of graduating high school seniors from Pflugerville go on to college, and ACC is the overwhelming favorite. That much seems indisputable. How exactly these students enroll in ACC is the big question. Many will outright cheat, but others will “virtually” move into crowded Austin apartments with fellow students, making the in-district enrollment 100% legal, even if they really still live with their parents out of district in Pflugerville. And who foots the bill for this? Austin taxpayers. You can’t blame ACC administrators for wanting to absorb Pflugerville into their taxing district, because they are already supplementing tuition for many Pflugerville students. I simply don’t buy the argument that Pflugerville property owners are going to be receiving less in benefits than what they will be paying in new taxes. It’s more a matter of paying for benefits they are already receiving.

        That said, I’m not suggesting for a minute that ACC doesn’t need some serious out-of-the-box thinking to drastically reduce their costs. Community college has traditionally been the affordable alternative to major colleges, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as much anymore, especially for out of district students. A failed annexation vote in Pflugerville could really force that issue to the surface, and could eventually be good for all ACC students and taxpayers.

        Another reason why ACC may not be as popular of a choice to Pflugerville students is due to transportation issues. There is no nearby ACC campus, and public transportation is almost non-existent in Pflugerville. Voting to annex Pflugerville into ACC’s taxing district isn’t going to fix that problem. Students without their own transportation need reasonable access to ACC classes, and this little local job training center that ACC is promising just isn’t going to benefit most Pflugerville ACC students.

        The biggest problem I see right now is that many potential Pflugerville students are currently unable to afford college. We should all be ashamed of that. I suspect this local annexation vote is going to fail by a landslide, and I seriously doubt if ACC is going to make any drastic changes because of it. We need leadership at the state level to help ensure that all students have access to affordable community college.

        Voters in November have a tough choice. You can either vote to feed to ACC monster, or continue to make community college completely unaffordable for many potential students. State legislators need to step in here, and give us all a better choice.

  8. Ex-Pflugerville parent

    When my kid was going to Hendrickson, which is outside of the ACC taxing district, there were ways for the brightest kids to earn college credit while still in high school. First, the high school had a good AP program, where select high school teachers taught a handful of college level courses. At the end of the course the kids could opt to pay for a $75 test (or somewhere in that area), and if they scored well, they could get college credit. Aside from the optional final exam, none of this cost the student a nickel.

    The second method for the high school students to earn college credit was for Juniors and Seniors to take ACC courses that were taught by visiting ACC professors in the morning, before the regular school day. The kids had to buy their own textbooks, but other than that it was free. They also had the opportunity to take free summer courses at the ACC Northridge campus, and again all they had to do was buy their books. (and have the necessary transportation.) The very best kids could actually earn the equivalent of an associates degree before they even graduated from high school!

    I have NO CLUE as to who pays the tuition for those high school kids who take ACC classes, does anybody know? That must come from the county or state level, as I seriously doubt if they’re making ACC in-district taxpayers foot the bill for out of district high school students. I do admire ACC’s ability to save money by utilizing classrooms in the high school during the unoccupied early morning hours. In that situation, most of ACC’s costs have to do with paying the professor’s salary (& travel expenses?) It doesn’t get any cheaper than that.

    Of course the best students can also earn college scholarships. To me, this whole ACC district taxing issue has to do with supporting kids who are not stellar performers, and adults that want to acquire additional skills. (i.e, normal people). There is considerable demand for those services, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the additional “forever” taxes that are being proposed.

    None of this is to suggest that ACC trustees have been wasting taxpayers money. On the contrary, they have worked hard to find innovative new programs to lower costs, such as the Early College program I mentioned above for promising high school students. ACC has also experimented with internet based classes, but from what I hear, the dropout rate has been terrible. Most students, young and old, do best in a real classroom, free of the distractions from home, and that’s just human nature. Also, the adjunct professors, that make up the majority of the ACC teaching staff, don’t even get their own office. From what I’ve seen, most of them get a fold up table to work on in a group office with other poorly paid adjunct professors. I have no doubt that ACC could find many new ways to save money, but most of the low hanging fruit has already been picked.

    I’m not sure, but for students that can handle an internet based class, there are many low cost options at other community colleges around the nation that accept virtually anybody. Some cost considerably less money than what out of district ACC students currently pay. It’s all about competition, and ACC’s lasted proposal for Pflugerville could probably be improved, but I wouldn’t expect a miracle the next time around if the tax issue fails in the upcoming November election.

    My own feeling is that if you vote “Yes” for the new taxing district, you’re going to get sucked into a black hole with very little say on how your future tax dollars are spent. On the other hand, a “No” vote would force the ACC board of trustees to go back to the drawing board and come up with a more competitive deal that would be better for everybody. Voting “Yes” however would provide much needed immediate relief for students who can’t currently afford college, and if you have any kids attending ACC, or are planning to attend ACC, it’s an irresistible proposition.

    It sure would be interesting if Community Impact could put together some kind of on-line poll to gauge the public’s opinion on this important issue before the election. Are you inclined to vote “Yes”, “No”, or “Undecided”? I am in the “Undecided” camp. Kids desperately need tuition relief NOW, but I also think we could be getting a better deal for our higher education tax dollars. (When I see ACC buying and converting Highland Mall into a big college campus, I”m really concerned that existing in-district taxpayers aren’t getting the best value for their money. )

    • I appreciate your comments. Per the PFISD website, the cost of a dual credit course taken at the high schools is $150/class. It is a state requirement that dual credit classes are offered so I believe this is state-funded. As you said, the serious students will take full advantage of these options in addition to AP classes. It also makes financial sense to take advantage of existing facilities during their non-operating hours. The ACC plan as is just does not make financial sense for the overall good especially with the very low graduation rates and percentage of full-time vs part-time students. I think the bottom line is that we need to urge our state legislature to provide more funding at the state level so that the property tax burden is reduced and community college/technical courses are more affordable for everyone.

      • I think this issue has more to do with people not wanting another property tax, and less about whether or not it is for a good cause. Property and sales taxes in this state already push the limit of what is reasonable, because we have no income tax. There is however nothing wrong with always asking if we are getting the best value for our tax money, because there is always room for improvement. If the high schools can offer state funded college classes for just $150, such classes should be available to the general public.

      • A big problem here is deep cuts in state funding, which ACC claims has dropped from approximately 40 percent to about 16 percent of their annual budget in recent years. Texas now funds higher education with an “outcome based funding” scheme, which factors in how well students do after they graduate. From that perspective, ACC is second to last in the state, so it is only natural that the state doesn’t fund ACC as well as they used to. You can’t blame Pflugerville residents who don’t want to fund an underperforming community college, but you also have to sympathize with all the out of district students who currently can’t afford to attend ACC.

  9. Daddy of an ACC student

    I am the parent of a full time ACC student, who is out of district. The tuition rates are sky high, and I’m sure it prevents many young people from going to college. I know other parents who can’t afford the tuition, so their students go only part time, with a job on the side. Some say that having the student helping to earn their own money motivates them to get better grades, but for me that would mean my daughter lives with me for longer, and she wants her independence. I can see the other side of the issue though. I would LOVE for my daughter to get the reduced tuition rate offered by this proposal, but I sure don’t want to pay for it for the rest of my life through higher property taxes. Oh how I wish they could figure out how to offer those $150 ACC classes (taught at the high schools) to the general public! Then maybe they wouldn’t need an additional tax proposal like this.

  10. One sided article.
    The cost benefit analysis clearly shows that VOTING NO is the correct response.
    Unbelievably poor journalism.

Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the reporter for Northwest Austin.
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