Waco Independent School District administration will build a succinct plan on how to meet district needs, which the board of trustees will present to voters after they abruptly raised the proposed tax rate Thursday.
Superintendent Bonny Cain said she plans to interview principals and teachers before the board’s scheduled Aug. 20 workshop in order to provide a comprehensive list of needs from each campus. Board President Pat Atkins said trustees will use the information gathered to form concrete goals and investigate what resources would be needed to meet them. The district will hold a public meeting on Aug. 24 before setting the final tax rate.
Residents will then vote on the tax rate in the November election. If the rate hike fails, the maintenance and operations taxes will remain at $1.04 per $100 property valuation.
“I think it’s incumbent upon the district to communicate what the needs are and show that we have a specific plan for addressing those needs and then see if the community wants to make that investment,” Atkins said.
Improving discipline, literacy and expanding dual-credit courses will likely be considered as potential goals, Atkins said.
Campus staffs already have presented the need for more teacher aides in classes from pre-kindergarten to second grade in an effort to improve the literacy rate by third grade. The middle school administrators have presented a plan to provide a two-period reading class, but need additional teacher aides to make it effective. There also still is a need for additional access to dual-credit courses for high school students, Atkins said.
Making an investment
“(We) need to figure out what the resources are that are required to carry out that plan and figure out what it will cost to put those resources on the campuses. And then take that to the voters and see if they want to make that investment in the public schools,” he said.
The board approved a proposed 9 cent per $100 property valuation net tax rate increase, from $1.35324 to $1.443236, by lowering the debt-service tax rate by 4 cents, from 0.31324 cents per $100 property valuation to 0.273236, and raising the M&O rate by 13 cents, from $1.04 per $100 of property valuation to $1.17.
Trustees still can adopt a lower tax rate, but they cannot approve an amount higher than the proposed rate.
The state caps the M&O tax rate at $1.04 per $100 property, but allows voters to approve anything up to $1.17 per $100 property valuation.
During Thursday night’s meeting, Trustee Angela Tekell expressed concern about bumping the rate so high, saying a 4-cent increase might be easier to sell to the voters.
Trustee Cary DuPuy countered, saying he doesn’t believe the actual rate will convince people to approve the new amount, but rather the potential effectiveness of the plan presented by the administration.
DuPuy said he doesn’t support the tax rate increase yet, but wants the option of providing additional funding for the district if the administration can come up with a comprehensive plan to better reach the students.
Atkins said regardless of whether the board approves a final tax rate increase, homeowners would pay less in taxes this year if a constitutional amendment is passed that would increase the homestead exemption by $10,000, from $15,000 to $25,000. Voters will decide on that amendment on the same November ballot as the possible Waco ISD tax rate increase.
The McLennan County Appraisal District shows the average Waco ISD home value for 2014 at $97,812, with the average homestead exemption at $17,199. The 2014 exemption reduced the average taxable value to $80,613, with homeowners paying an average of $1,088 per year under the former rate of $1.35324.
Even if the full proposed rate of $1.443236 is approved, the average homeowner would likely pay about $50 less. The average home value for 2015 was set at $99,675, and the average exemption would be $27,150, if the constitutional amendment regarding the homestead exemption is passed. That would put the 2015 average taxable value for Waco ISD homes at $72,525, with homeowners paying about $1,044 annually.
Atkins said the tax rate increase is needed to make the necessary changes that will provide the quality education the community wants.
In the past few years, the district has spent a considerable amount of energy trying to improve instruction through the realignment of curriculum, teacher training and more in-class monitoring.
“Everything (has been) geared and focused on the delivery — the presentation of the materials,” Atkins said.
“But we also recognized when you have 90-plus percent of your students on free and reduced lunch and you have students who live in abject poverty and a high number of students who are homeless, until we address their needs, they simply are not going to be able to hear and process and retain that information.”