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Cain at a recent school board meeting

Staff photo— Rod Aydelotte

Waco educators collectively hold their breath as they wait to see whether voters will approve the tax rate increase necessary to provide the additional staff support they say is needed on the campuses.

“Some days I think people are behind it,” Waco Independent School District Superintendent Bonny Cain said. “And other times I think they’re against it and there’s no point in going.”

Early voting opens Monday, and residents will choose whether to increase the maintenance and operation rate by 13 cents from $1.04 per $100 of property valuation to $1.17. The rate bump would garner an additional $8.2 million of revenue slated for more manpower on the campuses, lowering teacher-to-student ratios and improving instruction.

“The most important thing that we can do here on campuses is to get kids where they need to be for literacy,” said Wendi Singletary, first-grade teacher at Hillcrest PDS Elementary Magnet School. “So one of the ways we can help kids who are struggling a little bit, or are average but just need the extra boost for growth, is to be able to teach them in smaller groups.”

The Waco Independent School District board of trustees approved a 5-cent net tax increase in August by raising the M&O rate by 13 cents per $100 of property valuation and lowering the debt service rate from 31 cents per $100 of property valuation to 23 cents. If the rate is approved, it will bring the total tax rate up to $1.40 per $100 of property valuation.

Voter approval is needed to increase the M&O tax rate above $1.04 per $100 of property valuation, but not to increase the debt service rate.

Dozens of meetings

Waco ISD officials have visited dozens of local nonprofit groups, community activist committees and even private homes to show residents how the new money would benefit the students.

The additional revenue will be used to provide instructional aides in all pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms, half of the first- and second-grade classrooms, add literacy aides and middle school reading teachers, along with dual-credit classes for all high school juniors and seniors.

Only the polls will show whether the effort paid off.

“You’re always concerned that you’ve done enough to make sure everybody understands that part of the plan and if you’ve done enough to convey where the dollars are going to go,” board President Pat Atkins said.

The tax rate increase will be on the same ballot as a constitutional amendment that – if passed – would increase the homestead exemption by $10,000, from $15,000 to $25,000.

This would allow voters to approve the tax rate increase with most homeowners still seeing a decrease in their tax bills.

The McLennan County Appraisal District set the average home value in Waco ISD for 2015 at $99,675 with the average exemption projected at $27,150, setting the annual tax bill at $1,044.

The average home value in 2014 was set at $97,812, with the exemption at $17,199. Last year, homeowners paid an average of $1,088, $44 more than homeowners would see this year.

Cain said she is guardedly optimistic about the tax rate increase passing because she has heard positive reactions to the new measure at all the meetings she has attended.

“I feel like our community is really listening,” she said. “Actually, at all the presentations it seems like when we talk about those literacy aides and talk about kids reading by third grade, there’s this community agreement that that’s where the problem is.”

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