Breakdown of the San Marcos CISD budget for FY 2018-2019. Graphic by Colton Ashabranner
Tax rate won’t rise, but taxes might
After some wrangling over ways to cut proposed spending, San Marcos CISD board of trustees approved a $107.8 million budget for the 2018-2019 school year. Of that, $80.8 million in expenditures will come from the district’s general fund, $4.7 million will come from the food service fund (which will also see $4.3 million in revenues) and $19.2 million in expenditures will come from the debt service fund.
As part of a special meeting Monday night, the board held a public meeting on the district’s proposed tax rate and on the district’s proposed budget. Karen Griffith, SMCISD assistant superintendent of business and support services, gave presentations on both.
“The tax rate will not be adopted at this time,” Griffith explained, adding that the district’s tax rate will be approved after the district receives certified property values from the appraisal district in August.
Whatever the eventual tax rate is, Griffith said, it will not be higher than the $1.4141 per $100 of valuation discussed Monday night. It could be lower, she said, but would not be higher. Of the proposed $1.4141 rate, $1.06 would go to the district’s maintenance and operation, and $0.3541 would go toward the district’s debt. Although the proposed tax rate is the same as the 2017-2018 tax rate, property valuations have increased, meaning that taxes would go up about $200 for the average residence in the district if it is adopted.
Residents Dan Lyon and Bob Holder spoke against the tax rate and questioned whether spending more money is affecting student outcomes.
Citing the district’s spring STAAR and End-of-Course exam results, Lyon said, “It should be clear by now that there is no correlation between dollars spent and student achievement.”
He also said that high tax rates are exacerbating the poverty that affects many SMCISD students.
“If the tax rate remains the same and the home valuations increase — and my home valuation is skyrocketing — then basically I’m being charged more in taxes every year,” Holder told the board.
He also said that perhaps new teaching methods would help improve outcomes.
“There seems to be a lack of motivation to learn,” Holder said, “and there seems to be, from what I’ve seen, a resentment of learning facts — sort of a closed-mindedness … an anti-intellectualism among students.”
No members of the public spoke about the budget, but the trustees had a robust discussion about deficit spending, avoiding what trustee John McGlothlin called “admin creep” and the possibility of SMCISD entering recapture, where its property values are high enough for the state to take some of its revenue to redistribute to poorer districts.
Depending on student enrollment numbers and appraised values, Griffith said, “We will probably hit recapture probably next year or the year after.”
McGlothlin expressed concerns about passing a budget with a projected $2.7 million deficit. The district has $48.1 million in its general fund balance to draw from.
“A future board is going to rue this day,” McGlothlin said, especially when recapture takes effect for SMCISD. “Our best defense is the money we’ve saved up for a rainy day.”
McGlothlin proposed cutting some positions that do not involve working directly with students in the classroom, such as bookkeepers and supervisors.
“I think these are luxuries,” he said.
Trustee Margie Villalpando countered McGlothlin, saying that the board had approved the positions included in the budget.
“The administration sees the need for these positions,” Villalpando said. “We approved positions all year long.”
McGlothlin said that when the board approves positions, they are in the abstract, and when the time comes to approve a budget then the board looks at the particulars and what is actually necessary.
“The more we grow our administration … the less money we can spend on our campuses,” he said.
Trustee Kathy Hansen said that last year, the district added $850,000 in positions, and this year another $1 million was added, plus raises.
“If it was just a one-time expenditure, I’d say hey, go ahead,” she said. “... I’m just concerned about passing a deficit budget with ongoing expenses.”
In the end, trustee Anne Halsey moved to approve the budget, and McGlothlin made a series of amendments to trim some positions from the budget: two bookkeepers each at the Miller and Goodnight campuses, an HVAC technician, a bilingual specialist and a transportation supervisor at the district’s new transportation center.
“I would have never have voted to have it on the bond if I knew it was going to grow to this capacity,” McGlothlin said of the transportation center.
The budget, as amended, passed 6-1 with Hansen opposing. McGlothlin’s amendments shaved $280,000 off the district’s total expenditures.