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Coppell Chronicle Vol. 2, No. 10
Rinaldi Riles Voters in Coppell ISD • Let’s Check Those Finance Reports • Everybody’s Discussing Homestead Exemptions • Comptroller’s Critics Air Their Grievances
Near the end of most Coppell City Council meetings, our elected officials provide updates on other aspects of our community, such as school districts. While discussing Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD during Tuesday’s meeting, Council Member Mark Hill said, “Election Day is Saturday, May 6th.”
I was going to let that slide, but just a few minutes later, Council Member Kevin Nevels said this during his report on Coppell ISD: “Election Day is going to be Saturday, May 5th.”
Have these two time-travelers already been swept up in the multiverse of madness? In my version of the space-time continuum, Election Day is Saturday, May 7, when the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting continues until 6 p.m. today, as well as between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday.
Rinaldi Riles Voters in Coppell ISD
Matt Rinaldi is not known for his calming influence. On the contrary, he has a reputation for kicking things up a notch — for really cranking the dial all the way to 11. His behavior last week was true to form.
The chairman of the Texas Republican Party, who once represented Coppell ISD in the Legislature, issued a mass email on Thursday about our school board election. I’m not on his mailing list, but a few people who did get this particular missive thought I needed to see it.
In his email, Rinaldi urged Coppell ISD voters to cast a ballot for Carol Lacey McGuire, who is challenging incumbent Trustee Anthony Hill. He said doing so would provide voters a chance “to stop Coppell ISD from continuing to teach this woke propaganda to your children!”
That “woke propaganda” would be Critical Race Theory, or CRT. Rinaldi described CRT as an “insidious philosophy” that “argues that all the systems of American society are ‘systematically racist,’ and therefore, any neutral system is a guise for racial power. It teaches children the color of their skin determines their destiny, not the content of their character.” I’m using Rinaldi’s own words to describe CRT — just as I used McGuire’s own words in last week’s Chronicle — because the phrase seems to mean different things to different people.
As evidence for his argument, Rinaldi linked to a resolution approved by the Board of Trustees in June 2020 that says Coppell ISD will do several things, including:
“Continue to address systemic racism towards ethnically diverse students and will continue to prioritize and target their academic achievements.”
Require staff and trustees to participate in “diversity and inclusion training like unconscious bias training.”
“Continue to implement a social and emotional learning curriculum that emphasize[s] wellness and anti-racism as key factors of student and staff success.”
Rinaldi’s message prompted at least one parent to directly ask Coppell ISD Superintendent Brad Hunt whether CRT is an approved part of the district’s curriculum. In his response, which has been shared by that parent and her friends on social media, Hunt said, “CISD follows the state curriculum or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The state does not include Critical Race Theory anywhere in the curriculum.” Rinaldi’s message also prompted Trustee David Caviness — who leans farther to the right than any other CISD board member — to post an essay refuting many of the GOP leader’s assertions.
If you can look past all of this CRT controversy, this campaign comes down to a choice based on biographies. McGuire tells voters she’s a “Coppell girl raising Coppell girls.” She was a Coppell ISD student for 13 years, and she plans on being a Coppell ISD parent for the next 17 years. McGuire also points out that, if elected, she would be the only trustee with a child enrolled in any of the district’s elementary schools.
By contrast, Hill’s only child graduated from CISD eight years ago. However, Hill tells voters about all of the experience he brings to the table after 15 years on the board. During his five terms, the district has closed a school, opened a few others, and redrawn attendance zones accordingly. Coppell ISD is planning a bond election for 2023, and if Tracy Fisher wins her campaign for a seat on the State Board of Education, Hill will be the only trustee who was in office the last time that happened.
Because Rinaldi’s letter advocated a back-to-basics approach, here’s a simple math lesson: If McGuire gets elected, she will be one of seven trustees. She won’t be able to do much of anything about CRT — or any other issue on her platform — if she feels one way about the topic but her six peers disagree.
One more thing: I can’t finish this article without noting how the always-humble Rinaldi finished his letter — by typing “Saving America,” right before his signature. I like that. I think I’m going to adopt that signoff for all of my correspondence, including work emails, Christmas cards, and notes to the attendance clerks at my sons’ schools.
Let’s Check Those Finance Reports
In last week’s edition, I detailed the campaign finance reports that were due on April 7, or 30 days before Election Day. Another set of reports were due Friday, eight days before Election Day.
Incumbent Anthony Hill turned his in on Wednesday. His cover sheet says he took in a total of $6,480, but I logged the 59 itemized contributions into Excel and got a slightly higher total of $6,605. The largest donation was $1,000 from LeRoy Wilkerson, who chairs the Coppell Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. Hill also received $500 each from Jennifer Holmes, Chris Hsiao, and Dana Starner. Former CISD trustees Thom Hulme and Judy Barbo kicked in $250 and $75, respectively.
Carol Lacey McGuire turned in her report on the due date, when the Coppell ISD staffer who is charge of such things was not at work. Consequently, McGuire’s report is not yet posted on the district’s website. I don’t begrudge anybody taking a day off; I do so myself occasionally. That said, nobody else employed by this multimillion-dollar governmental organization can cover for her and upload a PDF? Come on, y’all.
Nonetheless, McGuire was happy to email me a copy of her 8-days report, and she uploaded it to her own website. Her total was $775 — coincidentally, the same amount on Hill’s 30-days report. Her biggest contributions this time around were $250 each from Emy Embrey and Colleyville resident Amanda Sherzer. McGuire pointed out that her few contributors who reside out of Coppell ISD either grew up here or used to teach here.
Each of the addresses on Hill’s report is within Coppell ISD, but four of his contributors — who gave a combined $650 — have no address listed. In that field, the report says “credit card payment.” Huh? As a former candidate, I know it’s very unlikely you’d receive a campaign contribution — via credit card or otherwise — from someone whom you can’t reach by phone or email to say, “Hey, pal, what’s your home address? I need it for my campaign finance report.”
At any rate, I applaud both Hill and McGuire for typing their reports. Some candidates choose to provide their financial information in chicken-scratch handwriting, and those candidates can kiss my grits.
Everybody’s Discussing Homestead Exemptions
If your jaw hit the floor when you opened the latest appraisal of your home’s value, keep in mind that you have until May 16 to file a protest of that number. And if you haven’t voted yet, you have an opportunity to potentially lower your tax burden based on that new appraisal.
Every voter in Texas gets to weigh in on these two ballot propositions:
Proposition 1: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the reduction of the amount of a limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for general elementary and secondary public school purposes on the residence homestead of a person who is elderly or disabled to reflect any statutory reduction from the preceding tax year in the maximum compressed rate of the maintenance and operations taxes imposed for those purposes on the homestead.”
Proposition 2: “The constitutional amendment increasing the amount of the residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation for public school purposes from $25,000 to $40,000.”
During Monday’s meeting of the Coppell ISD Board of Trustees, Chief Financial Officer Diana Sircar said the owner of a home with a market value of $425,000 would have their tax bill lowered by $194 if Proposition 2 is approved. Sircar reminded the trustees that the state has vowed to cover any lost revenues if the proposition passes.
If you want to watch Sircar’s budget presentation, go to the 40:30 mark of this video. It earned high marks from several trustees. “If the community wants to know how municipalities are losing control, what you did today explains that beautifully,” Manish Sethi told her.
Meanwhile, the Coppell City Council received a similar presentation on Tuesday from Sircar’s counterpart, Director of Finance Kim Tiehen. You can watch her break it down by advancing two hours and 39 minutes into this video.
The council told Tiehen to prepare a budget that accounts for an increase in the extra homestead exemption for residents older than 65. That exemption is $75,000, but the council wants to raise it to $100,000. The council’s discussion about homestead exemptions was hard to follow, because it included a lot of numbers, and I wasn’t always sure which ones they were referencing. (Between you, me, and the bedpost, I’m not confident that all of them were always sure.) That said, I believe they directed Tiehen to maintain the standard exemption for property owners of all ages at 5 percent.
Comptroller’s Critics Air Their Grievances
As my longtime subscribers know, the City of Coppell is suing Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar over his proposed changes to how sales taxes for online transactions are distributed. On April 21, the House Ways and Means Committee held another hearing on the comptroller’s proposal, and City Manager Mike Land summed it up for the City Council on Tuesday.
Although the hearing in Austin featured testimony from eight people who are against the proposal versus just two people who are for it, Land expects the Ways and Means Committee to recommend that Hegar’s changes go forward because the committee is chaired by Rep. Morgan Meyer of University Park. During the 2021 legislative session, Meyer introduced a bill that, had it passed, would have turned Hegar’s proposal into law.
“Clearly, everyone knows where I am on this issue,” Meyer said during the April hearing.
My favorite part of Land’s report to the council on Tuesday was what he labeled “Mike’s Commentary.” Here’s how he described the legislators’ behavior during the hearing: “It’s as if they don’t care. They’re getting up, and they’re leaving; they’re messing with their phone. I mean, they’re just completely non-engaged with the entire process.”
You can see evidence of that during the testimony by Ellie Braxton-Leveen, president and CEO of the Coppell Chamber of Commerce, which begins four hours, 59 minutes, and 30 seconds into this video. (I had to watch a lot of footage to provide that time stamp. You’re welcome.)
The only witnesses in favor of Hegar’s proposal were the mayor of Fate and the president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. Joining Braxton-Leveen in opposition to the proposal were her counterpart from Cedar Park, Land’s counterpart from Lewisville, two tax consultants, and the owners of two small businesses.
Another witness testifying against the proposal was Annie Spilman, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. She said her organization surveyed its members about whether Texas should shift to destination sourcing for sales taxes, as proposed by the comptroller, and 83 percent of the respondents said no.
Land told the council that the next hearing related to the lawsuit — which Coppell jointly filed with Carrollton, DeSoto, and Humble — is scheduled for late September. Meanwhile, Land said the comptroller’s expert on implementing the proposed changes was recently deposed; although he didn’t provide this person’s name, Land reported that the expert’s answers during the deposition were either “I don’t know,” “I’m not aware,” or “No, we didn’t do that research.”
• During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Manager Mike Land said the traffic on South Belt Line Road has been reduced by 10,000 vehicles per day since the lane closures began on Feb. 28. “We need to remember our businesses on Belt Line and continue to frequent those businesses on South Belt Line,” Land said. Earlier in the meeting, the council discussed $5,000 grants for businesses affected by the lane closures, but no formal action was taken.
• On April 13, 2021, after emerging from a 75-minute executive session, the Coppell City Council unanimously voted to extend Land’s contract through September 2023, raise his salary by 3 percent to $255,677 effective Oct. 1, 2021, and give him a $10,000 bonus. Fast-forward to this past Tuesday: After emerging from a 142-minute executive session, the City Council voted to extend Land’s contract through September 2024 and raise his salary by 5 percent to $268,461 effective Oct. 1, 2022, and “adjust other compensation based on the new salary.” This vote was not unanimous, because John Jun and Biju Mathew abstained.
• The Coppell ISD Board of Trustees had a 78-minute executive session of their own on Monday. When it was over, they unanimously approved a resolution to offload a 20-acre property that the district owns in Cypress Waters. Its official address is 9000 Dynamo Drive, and it’s across Olympus Boulevard from Lee Elementary School. If you’re in the market for such a property, ask your Realtor to call the district.
Congratulations are in Order
• Congratulations to Amanda Sweeney, who was named the next principal of Pinkerton Elementary School at Monday’s Coppell ISD Board of Trustees meeting. She has worked at the school since 2015 and was named its Teacher of the Year for 2017-2018. Kristi Mikkelsen is retiring after 14 years in the principal’s office.
• Congratulations to Coppell High School’s chapter of the Technology Student Association, which won a state competition in only its second year of existence. The competition included categories such as software development, video game design, and webmaster.
• Congratulations to the Coppell Cowgirls lacrosse team, who their district championship and will play in the Texas Girls High School Lacrosse League state semifinals for the first time since 2016. They’re scheduled to face Rockwall on Saturday in Austin. [Note: This blurb was added after publication.]
• Congratulations to the Coppell Cowboys baseball team, who won their district championship. They will open the UIL playoffs on Friday evening at McKinney Boyd, then host Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 on Saturday. [Note: This blurb was updated after publication.]
• Congratulations to the Coppell Cowgirls softball team, who earned a postseason berth for the first time since 2019. Unfortunately, they were swept by Allen in the first round of the UIL playoffs.
• Congratulations to Coppell High School tennis players Vinay Patel and Lindsay Patton, who placed third at the UIL state tournament. This was the highest finish for a mixed doubles team in the program’s history.
• Congratulations to Dhara Dasai and Naman Sharma, who were named the Queen and King of Coppell High School’s prom on Saturday.
An Evening with Laura Gao: Laura Gao is the author/illustrator of Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American, which explores her adolescence in Coppell, instances of racism and discrimination, and her relationship with her birthplace: Wuhan, China. She will be at the Cozby Library and Community Commons at 5 p.m. today.
Screen-Free Week: The Cozby Library and Community Commons will join thousands of schools, libraries, and community groups nationwide in a coordinated effort designed to help children turn off screens tomorrow through May 8 in order to connect with family, friends, nature, and their own creativity. The library will distribute bingo cards full of screen-free activities, and participants will have a chance to win a Barnes & Noble gift card.
Star Wars Night at The Sound: Wednesday is May 4, or May the Fourth Be With You, so Stormtroopers and Jedis will be patrolling The Sound at Cypress Waters. If you mention the Coppell ISD Education Foundation that evening while dining at Flying Fish, Flying Saucer, Landon Winery, or Rodeo Goat, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the foundation.
Steel Magnolias: Theatre Coppell will transport patrons to Truvy’s hair salon over the next three weekends at the Coppell Arts Center.
Humvee Challenge: If you and up to five friends think you can pull a 7,000-pound Humvee across the First United Methodist Church parking lot, sign up for Claymore Operations’ second annual Humvee Challenge, which is scheduled for Saturday.
Run to Fund: This 5K scheduled for Saturday benefits the Coppell ISD Education Foundation, which fulfills teachers’ grant requests with money that can’t be recaptured by the state.
In Good Time: Whether it’s dinner time, bedtime, time to dance, time to work, you’ll hear it all at the Coppell Community Chorale’s spring concert, which will be performed May 14 and 15 at the Coppell Arts Center.