School tax rate on the rise?

By Cyndy Slovak-Barton

Do you make lower grade class sizes smaller or keep the budget deficit at a little more than half a million dollars?

That’s the conundrum the Hays CISD Board of Trustees is facing. At the end of the budget sessions, as the trustees worked through what they expected in the 2014-15 school year, it boiled down to class sizes in the kindergarten through fourth grades (K-4) that seemed like it would be the catch in the smooth sail.

But, by the looks and exclamations of the trustees at Monday night’s meeting, it seems that budgetary contraints will likely prevail, and the 22-1 student-teacher ratio will only be kept in K-1 classrooms across the district.

The actual vote will be held Thursday, Aug. 28, when the board goes into its special session to vote on the budget and the tax rate for 2015.

But Monday night’s more than four-hour long meeting was not without a few tussles when it came to the student-teacher ratios.

Board member Meredith Keller was the first to speak against the budget, saying that she would not support the budget, nor would she support the request for waivers from the state on the ratio issue for grades 2-4.

Trustee Sandra Bryant also said she wanted to see a 22-1 ratio in K-4, not just K-1 grades.

“We know the results of overcrowding in classrooms,” she said.

But Superintendent Michael McKie said that he did not believe the board had come to a consensus on the issue, and that adding enough teachers to keep the ratio of 22-1 in grades 2-4 would add an additional $440,000 to the budget.

“We removed it from the worksheet, knowing full well we would have to discuss this issue,” he said.

Board Vice President Holly Raymond said she could not vote to make the deficit any larger than it is projected, saying, “ I like that we’re closer to a balanced budget.”

She was supported by board members Marty Kanetzky, Teresa Tobias and Willie Tenorio, all who voiced their support for keeping the budget as close to balanced as possible.

“I don’t want to increase the deficit at this point. I understand that none of us is happy with it at this point, but it is a compromise,” Kanetzky said.

Deputy superintendent Carter Scherff, who has dealt with school finances for years, said he is comfortable with the deficit as it stands, around $521,444. Scherff said the taxable values in the district is increasing, due to the economy picking up.

“Real estate is back up with a vengeance,” he said.

With projected enrollment expected to grow to within a hair’s breath of 18,000 students, the district is already adding teachers where needed in all schools.

The general operating budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year is set at $130,908,315, with a total budget, including debt service and the federal lunch program at $167,315,325. 

Total revenues expected, including property taxes and other state and federal funding, comes to $166,854,356, leaving a deficit of almost $500K.

With all of that in mind, the board is looking at a tax rate of $1.5377 per $100 valuation. That’s an increase of 7.64¢. While the Maintenance and Operations (M&O) rate ($1.0400) has not increased in eight years, the Interest and Sinking (I&S) portion of the tax rate will go up this year, from 42.13¢ to 49.77¢. That portion of the tax rate also remained steady for eight years until passage of the school bond this past May.

Combining the I&S (49.77¢) and M&O ($1.0400) gives the board and taxpayers a combined tax rate of $1.5377. 

The M&O rate is the portion of each taxpayer’s bill that goes toward salaries, utilities, services, supplies, etc.

The I&S rate is the portion of the bill that pays down debt — which the school district attained in the form of taxpayer approved bonds.

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