With the East Texas oil boom of the early 1930s, some Rusk County schools prospered greatly while those outside the reach of those pools of black gold languished.
In 1940, Rusk County officials, with the assistance of Joe L. Hill, Jr., a Henderson native turned Senator, created the Rusk County Equalization School Tax which was passed by majority vote within the County.
Consequently, the County-wide School Board was created and tasked with the dispersal of monies collected by this supplementary tax to area schools in an effort to boost the educational opportunities offered by the County’s less affluent areas.
In the nearly 80 years since the inception of the Board, all Rusk County Schools have consolidated into Independent School Districts and have become taxing entities in their own right. Yet the Equalization tax lives on, collecting up to and above 1 million dollars per year at a current rate of .028496% per $100,000.
What began as a widely-accepted supplement to area schools has diverged down two very different paths. The path most traveled is one of unfamiliarity, with the vast majority of county residents having forgotten the board ever existed. The other is one of disdain.
Traveling down the contentious path is Kilgore resident, Dale Hedrick.
Hedrick lives in the section of Kilgore that crosses over into the Rusk County area, a section that also houses a portion of Kilgore Independent School District.
It’s at that district line that Hedrick’s disdain resides.
Being a Rusk County resident, he’s diligently paid his county equalization taxes while those living just across the county line in Gregg County aren’t subject to the county tax. This inequity in school tax collections led the KISD Board of Trustees to draft a resolution requesting that legislation be introduced to abolish the extraneous tax. With no movement from the Board toward dissolution, Hedrick took matters into his own hands.
While Rusk County schools express gratitude for the support, they can attest to the school system’s ability to adapt in case the Equalization tax is abolished. Letters from the Board were sent with this year’s checks warning of the possibility that the supplemental funding could cease in the near future.
Mt. Enterprise ISD, one of the smaller schools in the county, received over $42,000 this year from the board.
“For MEISD, even with an over $4 million budget, the $42,000 that we received this year goes a long way in providing funds for building upkeep and general maintenance and custodial operations,” said Jordan. “I do not use that money on salaries since I never know the exact amount or if the monies will continue. But, we certainly use that money to keep our buildings maintained, cleaned, and sanitized. Sometimes the money is used to replace outdated and overused flooring, and enhanced classroom furniture are among other uses of this much anticipated and needed monies.”
While understanding the school’s hope that these checks will continue to file in each year Hedrick continues to point out the inequity of the tax on those whose properties lie on county borders. “My goal is to educate the taxpayers of Rusk County, to let them know it’s an unfair tax,” said Hedrick. “In its day it was probably okay but it is not anymore. It creates an inequity within the districts.” He continued saying, “It’s time for the board to start listening to the taxpayers instead of the Superintendents of the schools.”
Hedrick has appealed for guidance and aid from Rusk County District Attorney, Michael Jimerson, past Senators Bill Ratliff and Kevin Eltife to current Sen. Bryan Hughes. He’s conferred with Representative Travis Clardy and even traveled to Austin to testify before Legislature along with 20 others, the end result being the creation of a legislative committee to study school funding.
This year, Board chairman, Worth Whitehead has declared his intent to retire, leaving the At Large seat on the board open. Hedrick has announced his intent to campaign for election to this office with the intent to seek the dissolution of the board from an official capacity.
Board member Robert Vinson will also be retiring opening the Precinct 1 seat. Phil Patterson, of Kilgore, will be running for the Pct. 1 position.
The At Large position will be on the November general election ballot, the first election to be held for a County-wide School Board seat in nearly 10 years.