Superintendent Gary Martel

Martel

Moody Independent School District officials are holding talks about a possible tax ratification election that could bring in a competitive increase to teacher salaries, more career and technology education opportunities, improved technology across the district and school buses.

The Moody ISD school board has yet to vote on going through with the election, but could decide in the next month or two to have a special election in August or hold the election during the regular election cycle in November, Superintendent Gary Martel said.

Moody ISD could see an additional $450,000 in state revenue during the next two or three years if voters approve moving 13 cents from its interest and sinking fund to its maintenance and operation fund as part of a tax swap that wouldn’t increase the district’s tax rate, Martel said.

The move would leave the overall tax rate at $1.36 per $100 property valuation, with the maintenance and operating side at $1.17 and the interest and sinking side at 19 cents, Martel said. District officials have already held a community meeting about the issue, and plan to reach out to residents again in the coming months, he said. Representatives with the Region 12 Education Service Center will also visit with the school board to better ensure trustees understand the financial impact of the election.

“While we have a chance, we need to do that, because there was no new money (coming in from the state),” Martel said. “I’m a taxpayer, too. All of us are, you know? Everyone wants to keep taxes low, but I think the number one thing is, when we talk about tax reform, if it would just be funded correctly, we wouldn’t have to move taxes and pay for an election to do this.”

If the district goes through with the election, the salary increase for Moody ISD’s 50 teachers would help keep teachers in the district and bring in other qualified educators as the district grows, Martel said. It’s the No. 1 priority, he said.

Susan Landua, the district’s business manager, has been with Moody ISD for 18 years. She said the additional revenue expected from the election would have a phenomenal impact.

“The raise would improve the quality of teachers we have for the children and the longevity,” Landua said. “We struggle, as a school district, of getting good people in and keeping them, because as they advance, they want to move up and make more money, of course. If we can stay competitive to Midway, Waco, Belton and Temple, and they’re all within 20-25 minutes, it would be a huge thing for children to have the same athletic director, the same principal, the same superintendent.”

Moody ISD’s average beginning teacher salary is $32,607, compared to the state’s average beginning teacher salary of $46,199, according to the Texas Education Agency. And those with more than 20 years experience typically make $53,341, compared to $60,913 statewide.

The district’s turnover rate is 37.7 percent, compared to the state rate of 16.4 percent, according to the TEA.

The district also added health science and criminal justice programs with certified teachers from the field within the past year, and almost has a one-to-one digital focus, which means almost all of the nearly 700 students have access to things like Google Chromebooks throughout the district, Martel said.

More state revenue would allow Moody ISD to offer more CTE programs and make sure students have access to the digital tools they need, he said. The district will also add more security cameras on campuses and improve the district’s transportation fleet, Martel said.

When Martel arrived almost two years ago, buses were well-maintained, but old. And when lawmakers passed new bus safety regulations in 2017, the price of new buses increased. The added revenue could allow Moody ISD to get a new bus each year as part of its annual budget until the fleet is completely updated, Martel said. He anticipates each bus costing $95,000 to $100,000, he said.

“I ended my presentations with one simple question. If we could do this without going to the voters to generate this money, and you would see no increase in your tax rate, and we didn’t do it, it would be educational malpractice,” Martel said. “You’d come back and say Mr. Martel isn’t fit to serve, the board isn’t fit to serve and the administration is not fit to serve. What would you say if we could do this and didn’t?”

Unrelated to the potential election, Moody will soon have a new community storm shelter, paid for by Moody ISD and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Called the Moody ISD Instructional Annex, the $2.1 million building will be a 4,500-square-foot multipurpose facility that connects Moody Elementary and Moody Middle schools, Martel said. About 75 percent of the cost will be covered by FEMA, and 25 percent by school district funds.

The building will include three additional classrooms and a covered, outdoor instructional area. Construction begins this week and the project is expected to be completed by the fall, Martel said.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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