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Tax Ratification Election Set for June 15

Tax Ratification Election Set for June 15

‘Swap and Drop’ tax strategy lowers taxes, directs $1.4 million state funds annually to WFISD facility needs

 

Kirby beautification

Tuesday's Special Session included a report by Kirby Middle School Principal Shannon Cunningham on the progress of Kirby students as they work to come out of "Improvement Required" remedial status. This year, Kirby students have worked hard on many projects, including a school beautification project pictured here, as they have also worked to boost academic scores.

 

Wichita Falls ISD board members put the pieces in place Tuesday to set the District up for an annual $1.4 million revenue influx.

At a noon board meeting, board members voted 6-0 to raise WFISD’s Maintenance and Operations tax rate from $1.04 to $1.17, which by law automatically triggers a tax ratification election.

Then, with voter approval, a strategy called the “Swap and Drop” can take full effect: Board members will propose re-setting both parts of its $1.22 tax rate. The Maintenance and Operations tax rate, currently $1.04 of a taxpayer’s $100 valuation on his property, will be set at $1.17, an increase of 13 cents and the maximum allowed by law. This is the part of the tax that directly pays for most of WFISD’s daily operating needs -- staffing, maintenance, facilities. Then, the second part of the tax rate – the Interest and Sinking Fund, or I&S – will be lowered from its current rate of $0.18 per $100 property valuation to zero, a decrease of 18 cents. When these two changes are taken together, the result is a total tax rate of $1.17, a net decrease of $0.05 per $100 property valuation.

The I&S tax rate funds District debt, something WFISD has been diligent to reduce over the years, which reduces the need for its I&S tax rate to be set at the current $0.18 rate.

Prior to the vote, WFISD held a tax ratification public hearing Tuesday at noon, requesting and making time for public comment.

WFISD will direct the $1.4 million annually in new M&O tax dollars -- expected after voters give the OK -- to facility management, said Superintendent Mike Kuhrt. In essence, it is like getting $1.4 million in additional revenue from the state because now it is dropped in the M&O bucket, which alone can be used for school needs instead of paying off debt.

“We’re swapping out the I&S for the M&O for more flexibility,” said Mr. Kuhrt.

WFISD still has some debt; it will continue to pay off its debt on the Career Education Center for the next 15 years, with the last debt payment coming in 2035.

Board member Bob Payton emphasized that even though property taxes have risen over the years to the District’s benefit, WFISD has absolutely nothing to do with setting or raising property tax values on community members’ property.

 

Kirby Middle School “Improvement Required” Update

Kirby Middle School Principal Shannon Cunningham reported to board members that her school has made great strides this year. She said she is hopeful that it will emerge from its “IR” remedial status.

Kirby’s math/science team had 16 state qualifiers, with one of them – Anika Sharmila -- becoming the state champ in Number Sense. Four of the school’s PIE Partners won special awards at the recent Partners in Education banquet, verifying the generosity the school has been receiving from them all year. Kirby also participated in a special art show, showing off much student artwork.

Attendance at the school has increased to 96 percent after a year’s worth of activities to target improvement there, she said.

To emerge from IR status, the school must focus on student achievement, growth and closing the achievement gap, she said.

Staff members have focused strategically on every child, especially those in sub-populations, tracking their performance.

Test scores show gains among 8th graders in math and reading. Last year, 187 8th graders took the STAAR test; 100 failed. With a second administration, another 30 passed, and then, after a third administration, another 20 passed.

This year, more 8th graders passed the first administration of the reading and math tests.

“We’ve done targeted tutoring,” she said. “We’ve gotten specific.”

Next year, Mrs. Cunningham said she plans to turn the library into a Makerspace.

 

Special Education Report

SuzAnne Russell, director of Special Education, introduced her team to board members, including new director, Alefia Paris-Toulon, who will take over Mrs. Russell’s duties when she retires in May.

According to the PEIMS Snapshot for the 2017-2018 school year, WFISD served 1,676 special education students, which is 11.7 percent of WFISD’s total population.

During the 2017-2018 school year, there were 293 students referred for services; 65, or 22 percent, did not qualify.

For 2018-2019, 585 were referred for services; 338 have been tested and given ARDs; 92 (27 percent) did not qualify. Another 247 students are still in the testing process, she said.

WFISD schools that serve 12 percent or more special education students are Burgess, Cunningham, Jefferson, Milam, Scotland Park, West, Zundy, Farris Early Childhood Center, McNiel, Kirby, and Hirschi.

WFISD serves significantly more special education students than schools around the state do, with 2017-2018 numbers showing that WFISD serves 11.7 percent special education students, compared to 9.1 percent statewide.

Mrs. Russell is proud of this. “We have stayed true to the kids,” she said. Even though the state urged school districts to reduce services to serve only 8.5 percent of children, WFISD never made the drastic cuts that would have required.

A recent audit of the special education department was useful to point out areas that her team needed to improve, she said.  “I’m thankful for the audit,” she said. “It showed us what we were doing wrong.”

They put in place a CAP – a Corrective Action Plan – and implemented training after training for staff members.

As a result, her department passed an October 2018 audit when the Texas Education Agency reviewed 18 folders. In late October 2018, TEA reviewed another 72 folders to assess if systemic problems had been fixed, and WFISD passed this audit as well.

TEA reviewed another 38 folders in January 2019, and WFISD passed again. In March 2019, TEA did another 75-folder audit, which WFISD also passed. The total folders reviewed: 296.

Currently, 12 percent of the WFISD population is in some form of special education, she said.

When a board member asked what she would request if she could have anything, she said, “I’d want another 20 diagnosticians.” The hard-working “diags” test, write reports, hold ARDS, and more.

Associate Superintendent Peter Griffiths interjected that he has asked his staff to “hold the line on (hiring new) staff – except for special education diagnosticians” because the need is so urgent. “We are researching how to maximize funding grants,” he said.

 

Financial Services Proposed Budget 2019-2020

Board members got their first look at projections for the budget of 2019-2020, even though the laws regarding this are expected to change with legislative action this year.

However, as is, Chief Financial Officer Tim Sherrod projects:

  • A reduction to Fund Balance of $740,208 for the General Operating Fund
  • An increase to Fund Balance of $251,492 for the Food Service Fund
  • An increase to Fund Balance of $1,652,250 for the Debt Service Fund due to property taxes received verses August interest payment moving to the next fiscal year.

Total revenue of $112,129,994 from the original 2018-2019 budget is proposed to rise to $113,877,363. With legislative changes ahead, it could rise to $120 million.

Major budget changes will include increased property insurance and the closing of the fund for the Print Shop as the District moves into its New Print Solution Initiative.

The budget includes no pay increases and no step increases for staff at this time, although the state may mandate pay increases through legislative action.

The District will fund additional special education aides.

Mr. Sherrod said there is a $67,000 reduction in Health Services because WFISD replaced RNs with LVNs as they have left on their own. He saved another $75,000 in transportation services, since the Durham manager has redone bus routes now that the District does not bus transfer students.

Budget increases include $24,000 in security costs to pay for more police officers; an additional $105,000 has been allocated to Phase 2 of WFISD’s dark fiber installation.

“(Current legislation for school funding) HB3 will change this budget,” said Mr. Kuhrt. “It will look nothing like this.” He expects salaries to increase and, if the state votes to fully fund preK, which WFISD has been fully paying for itself since 1998, that will introduce $2 million into WFISD coffers.

WFISD also expects to pay for three new counselors in middle schools, which is an urgent need.

WFISD personnel will know in two weeks if House Bill 3 passes and can then create a balanced budget.

 

Financial Reports as of March 31, 2019

The financial reports represent seven months of operations, 58.3 percent of the fiscal year. As of March last year, the district collected 72.83 percent of projected revenues, as compared to 71.34 percent for 2018-2019. Expenditures for 2018-2019 were 59.85 percent of the budget, as compared to 60.56 percent for 2017-2018.

  • General Fund: Revenues were 72.25 percent last year compared to 71.30 percent this year. Expenditures were 58.50 percent last year, compared to 57.64 percent this year.
  • Food Service Fund: Revenues were 53.62 percent last year compared to 67.49 percent this year. Expenditures were 63.77 percent last year, compared to 64.46 percent this year.
  • Debt Service Fund: Revenues were 98.01 percent last year, compared to 94.95 percent this year. Expenditures were 79.02 percent last year, compared to 80.32 percent this year.

 

Budget Amendments

In a 5-0 vote, board members approved a list of budget amendments to the 2018-2019 budgets as submitted by Mr. Sherrod.

Inter-functional budget transfers ranged in size from a print shop charge of $10 for Kirby to $24,050 in washers and dryers for the high schools to $132,972 in roof repair for Hirschi High School.

 

Security Monitoring Services

Board members discussed awarding the District’s Security Monitoring Services to Commercial & Industrial Electronics, Inc. of Wichita Falls in the amount of $80,734 for 37 months, with the option to renew for two one-year periods.

The total monthly cost in Year 1 with C&I is $2,182; yearly cost is $28,366. Service would begin June 1, 2019 and go through June 30, 2020. Annual costs decline to $26,184 for Years 2 and 3 and renewal option years.

 

2019-2020 Health Care Employer Contribution

As they do every year, costs for health care rose – though the hike was not as great as expected, according to Lisa Bean, employee benefits coordinator.

Currently, WFISD pays $393 as its employer healthcare contribution benefit to its employees. There is a $11 per month increase in premium cost for 2019-2020 Individual  Employees Only on the ActiveCare 1-HD plan. WFISD currently has 610 employees who elect that plan.

The total proposed cost increase to the District is $80,520. Employees in this 1-HD Plan Tier who cover themselves only currently pay $0 for their health care, as WFISD’s $393 contribution benefit entirely covers their $367 premium and will still cover the higher $378 premium for this next year.

Employees in Select Plan Tier and AC 2, whose premiums all exceed the district’s contribution of $393, will all pay more, as will employees in 1-HD Plan Tier who cover family members.

 

Lunch Price Increase for 2019-2020 School Year

Board members are expected to approve a 10-cent price hike in school lunches.

The price increase is mandated by the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure that WFISD stays in compliance with the National School Lunch Program.

By federal mandate, WFISD must charge $2.96 – or show effort to get to that price. WFISD has been slowly working up to that cost, not wanting to increase the burden all at one time. WFISD currently charges $2.75 for elementary lunches and $2.85 for secondary lunches. The 10-cent price hike would raise elementary lunches to $2.85 and secondary lunches to $2.95.

Adult meals, at $2.70 for breakfast and $3.80 for lunch, are already compliant.

 

Investment Policy, Annual Investment Report, Investment Brokers and Investment Officer Training Providers

 

Mr. Sherrod presented to board members WFISD’s Investment Policy, Annual Investment Report, Investment Brokers and Investment Officer Training Providers for review. According to the Public Funds Investment Act, WFISD is required to annually review, revise and adopt the District’s Investment Policy and tend to its investment details.

 

Proposal for Change in Attendance Zone Boundary Declined

Board members declined to change a boundary within the WFISD attendance zone to accommodate six properties.

A constituent had asked board member Bob Payton to ask the board to move six properties from the Barwise/Wichita Falls High School attendance zone to the McNiel/Rider High School attendance zone. The addresses: 4025 Taft, 4027 Taft, 4400 Cedar Elm, 4402 Cedar Elm, and 4404 Cedar Elm.

Board President Elizabeth Yeager said the move would direct more students into overcrowded schools. “Why would we do it now?” she asked.

Board members decided to take a broader look at attendance zones as they make moves to address facilities.

 

Staffing Proposal

Debby Patterson, executive director of school administration, presented a request for job classification review for the counselors’ or assistant principals’ number of work days or responsibility.

The request came as a result of research by Shonna Norton.

The middle schools – especially now that they serve sixth-graders -- reflect the highest need for counselors, and the District is asking for three new counselors.

“We fight for their souls in middle school,” interjected Mr. Griffiths. “We’ve been holding the line on no FTEs, but there are just such strong needs at the middle schools.”

The request, if okayed, would add about $200,000 to the budget, said Mr. Kuhrt.

Order of Tax Ratification Election for WFISD

Mr. Kuhrt recommended that WFISD trustees order a special election to be held June 15, 2019. The election would allow community members to approve the ad valorem tax rate adopted for the 2019-2020 school year because the adopted rate ($1.35 for maintenance and operation) exceeds the rollback rate (of $1.17).

Board members approved the order in a 6-0 vote.

WFISD will hold its own election. Early voting will begin May 29, 2019 and end June 11, 2019. Early voting locations are the Wichita Falls ISD Education Center, located at 1104 Broad Street in Room 204, and Sikes Senter Mall at 3111 Midwestern Parkway. The WFISD Education Center will take early voters from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day (closed June 2 and June 9). Sikes Senter Mall will take early voters from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed June 2 and June 9).

Community members (all precincts) can vote on Election Day at New Hope Presbyterian, Western Hills Baptist, Faith Lodge, First Christian Church, Texas Highway Department, Legacy Church of God, Tenth & Broad Church of Christ, Region IX Education Center, Martin Luther King Center, Faith Baptist Church, or Floral Heights United Methodist Church.

Here is the wording of the proposition:

“Approving the ad valorem tax rate of $1.35 per $100 valuation in the Wichita Falls ISD for the current year, a rate that is $0.119785 higher per $100 valuation than the school district rollback tax rate, for the purpose of maximizing state funding for maintenance and operations. If voters approve the $1.35 tax rate, the Board of Trustees will reduce the I&S rate by $.18, to reduce the total tax rate to $1.17, which is less than the tax rate from 2018-2019.”

 

WFISD will enter into a contract with Wichita County Clerk according to the Texas Election Code Section 31.092 to carry out the election. The Wichita County Clerk will agree to perform many tasks relating to the election, including preparing lists of registered voters in WFISD, programming and testing electronic voting machines for early voting and Election Day, posting notice of the test of the electronic voting machines, and preparing electronic poll books.

WFISD will assume its own responsibilities, including posting notices of the election, complying with all deadlines, and compensating Wichita County for election expenses as provided by their contract.

Costs of the election will not be determined until after the election. But an election typically costs about $22,000, as it did in November 2018.

Board members approved the Election Services Contract in a 6-0 vote.

 

Applicant Pool

Board members approved the applicant pool of 30 new teachers in a 6-0 vote.