The Wayback Machine: Trustees Ousted for Keeping Taxes Too Low

With the TASA/TASB Convention about to open, we thought it would be interesting to enter the Wayback Machine and look at two long ago cases where legal efforts were made to remove school board members from the board. In both cases a jury found the board members incompetent and worthy of dismissal. One case was about school finance. The other was about firing the superintendent. We will review one today and the other tomorrow.

Today’s case arose in Aldine ISD in 1959, and it was all about the tax rate. The Harris County Attorney charged three Aldine ISD board members with incompetence and official misconduct when they voted for a tax rate they knew would be insufficient for the operation of the school for the upcoming year. The charge was that the board had adopted a budget that required a tax rate of $1.59 and then these three voted for a tax rate of $1.35, knowing full well that the district had no means of making up the difference.

The case went to a jury which ruled against the three trustees. The court then tossed the three off the board and the Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling. Wow! In light of the anti-tax sentiment that is so prevalent today, we thought the following quotes from the court’s opinion were noteworthy:

In fact, it appears to this Court that respondents [the three board members] wholly disregarded the advice that they had received with reference to what was necessary for the operation of the school, and did nothing to avert the threatened and impending bankruptcy of the school district which resulted in the closing of the school before the school term was out.

As we understand our school laws and the statutory duties of the Trustees of our school districts it occurs to us that the failure of [the three board members] as above indicated and found by the jury is and was an outright violation of their clearly defined statutory duty.

The Dawg found it interesting that the three guilty board members turned to a convenient scapegoat—the attorney--who advised them to do what they did. The court was not impressed:

Under the undisputed factual situation here the duty of the respondents was crystal clear with or without legal advice.

The case is Tautenhahn v. State, decided by the Court of Civil Appeals in Waco on March 31, 1960. You can find it at 334 S.W.2d 574.


File this one under: GOVERNANCE

Tomorrow: Trustees ousted for the way they ditched the superintendent.