Rep. Lynn Stucky, with Greg Johnson

State Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, left, speaks during a legislative briefing Saturday at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. Stucky covered a range of issues considered priorities for the Texas Legislature, including property tax reform and school finance. Greg Johnson, who moderated the briefing, sits at right.

State Rep. Lynn Stucky says issues concerning education are his main priority this legislative session.

The Denton Republican was in town Saturday to discuss key issues going through the Texas Legislature, giving a briefing to about 50 constituents Saturday morning at the Denton Chamber of Commerce office. Greg Johnson, a former Denton City Council member, moderated the briefing with questions submitted by attendees.

In a news release, Stucky said he wanted to talk to Denton residents as the session approaches the halfway point.

While Stucky also spoke of property tax reform and red-light cameras, the conversation kept going back to education and issues surrounding it. Stucky is the vice chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education, which he said is “a real honor” as a sophomore representative.

“For people that come from any background, you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get a quality education,” he said. “Just knowing what you can do with your life and how higher education can help you [has] been extremely important to me.”

Meanwhile, public school education is a top priority for funding this session, Stucky said, with an emphasis on money going primarily to teachers and classrooms.

“Formerly, the state has said that our public education system’s [funding] was in terrible shape and we keep putting a bandage on a bandage,” Stucky said. “This time, we are going to go and reformulate how public education is funded from the bottom up.”

School finance reform

House Bill 3, which is likely headed to the full House soon, aims to reform school finance by putting $6.3 billion into public schools and $2.7 billion into property tax reform.

Stucky said he believes the bill will pass and has kept in contact with Jamie Wilson, the superintendent of Denton ISD, about funding. The bill would invest in teachers and students, put more money into classrooms and support teachers.

The bill will also reduce the “recapture” program, often known as “Robin Hood,” which gives poorer districts a portion of revenue from wealthier districts with higher property values. The bill proposes a 4-cent reduction of property tax rates statewide and would reduce recapture payments by more than 38 percent.

An information packet given to attendees showed increases school districts in the county could see if HB 3 passes. Denton ISD could expect an estimated $71.2 million in new state funding, while surrounding districts such as Sanger, Aubrey and Krum could see between $10.1 million and $12.1 million.

Support for teachers and librarians could come in the form of a $5,000 annual raise for full-time teachers for the next two years. State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, authored Senate Bill 3, which passed unanimously in the Texas Senate in early March. However, HB 3 does not contain an across-the-board pay raise for teachers.

Stucky said one main education focus is making sure the state is not telling districts what to do with funding and administration. Instead, House Republicans seek to give funds to school districts to invest in what is necessary.

He gave an example involving literacy: Give districts money to make sure children can read by the time they get to third grade, but don’t tell them how they have to spend those funds.

Stucky also mentioned House Bill 9. The bill would increase the state’s contribution to the Teacher Retirement System Pension Trust Fund over the next five years to 8.8 percent of the statewide teacher salary cost, up from 6.8 percent

Property tax reform

House Bill 2 focuses on property tax reform and increasing transparency in calculations, make it easier for property owners to navigate the appraisal review process and give Texans direct say in significant increases in property tax rates.

HB 2, and its companion Senate Bill 2, would bring the rollback rate down to 2.5 percent from the current 8 percent for taxing districts with more than $15 million in combined property and sales tax revenue. The rollback rate is the rate at which a tax-approval election would be required.

With the 2.5 percent cap, Stucky said the state would work with local officials to make sure people are still getting the services they need without getting “choked” by property taxes.

“With HB 2, there’s a lot of things going on,” Stucky said. “There’s a little bit of a fight between the Senate and the House right now on some of the issues revolving it.”

Red-light cameras

Red-light camera systems were briefly mentioned at Saturday’s briefing. Several hands went up when Johnson asked who wanted red-light cameras banned.

Stucky said constituents should make the decision on whether there should be red-light cameras, but understands the need for some at intersections where there are more crashes.

The legislative session ends May 27.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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