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Spurger ISD Tax Payers Face Critical Vote

Tyler County Booster

Voters in the Spurger Independent School District will be faced with the decision of voting for or against tax ratification on November 2. The state budget under House Bill 1 requires voters to decide any Maintenance and operations tax rate above $1.04 per hundred. Based on the average home owner property value, approving the rate being sought will add roughly $55 dollars to the tax bill for Spurger ISD. Standard homestead and disabled exemptions and tax freezes will continue in effect. The school disrict held a community meeting earlier this month to present reasons behind the election to increase the tax rate from last years rate of $1.04 to the proposed $1.17 per hundred dollar valuation. The rate increase is being driven in part by the complicated formulas used by the state in so called enrichment funds. Those funds are the method the state uses to attempt to equalize education dollars per student across the state. In 2009 the state decreased the enrichment funds to Spurger ISD by $240,846. If approved by voters next week, the additional 13¢ tax will generate approximately $78,000 in local revenue above the 2009 amount. Those dollars will in turn force the state to ante up $156,854 in enrichment funds, giving a total just under $235,000. Those figures were presented during the community meeting. Superintendent Joe Fisher, interviewed about the schools finances, said the loss of $240,000 equates to almost a tenth of the districts budget. The current year budget which had to be set in July totals $3,258,000. That took place before total property values for 2010 were available from the Appraisal District. School district payroll accounts for $2 ½ million of the total. A state mandated pay raise for teachers added $105,000 to the district’s budget total this year During the community meeting, three main areas of contention were presented against the rate increase; a school Board approved increase to the superintendent’s salary, the expense of an architect retained in 2008 to develop plans to correct aging structure problems at the elementary campus, and the overall tax rate. Fisher said the Board approved his salary increase prior to the state providing updated funding information. The cost of the architect and the updates to the elementary building are expected to be recovered through better energy efficiency of the building, and the tax rate is determined by the maintenance and operations expense. As noted by the pay raises, a good portion of the budget is to comply with state mandates. Should voters turn down the rate increase, the districts maintenance and operations tax rate will roll back to $1.04 per hundred valuation. The superintendent said at that point the Board will be faced with three basic choices. Either do nothing, and use a portion of the districts fund balance, or use some fund balance in conjunction with budget cuts, or protect the district’s fund balance and cut the budget correspondingly. From the community meeting, it was noted that it would be difficult to cut $600,000 over the next three years without a substantial reduction in the number of personnel employed by Spurger ISD. Fisher also noted that if the first two options are considered, it falls within the scenario of the state forcing districts to reduce their fund balance. The forced use of fund balance by school districts is one way state legislators are looking to cover a state budget shortfall of projected between $18 and $25 billion dollars for the 2011- 2012 biennium. Discussion has been to get the school districts statewide down to a three month operating expense balance. Fisher said doing so would force his district to take out loans and pay interest to cover the lag between when expenses occur, and when the state releases funds to the district. It also does not take into account an emergency, in his words “you can’t wait until the roof falls in, if it is leaking.” Responding to the question of consolidation of financial and administrative functions, Fisher said on the surface it looks good. However, he said when you really study the matter, there is no monetary savings, expenses are just transferred. Along with the transfer goes responsibility, meaning someone outside of the local community would be making decisions for the school. The superintendent anticipates the vote on the Tax Ratification Election for Spurger ISD will be close.

Polk County Publishing Company