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Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain, left and board President Pat Atkins, right, during a recent Thursday night meeting.

Staff photo— Rod Aydelotte

Average homeowners living in Waco Independent School District will be asked to approve about a 5-cent net tax rate increase per $100 property valuation this November. The board of trustees unanimously approved the increase in hopes that an additional $8.2 million in revenue will boost teacher support across the district.

In a special meeting Monday, the board approved an overall tax rate of $1.40 per $100 of property valuation, up about 5 cents from the former rate of $1.3532. The maintenance and operation was raised by 13 cents from $1.04 to $1.17, but the debt service rate was lowered from .3132 cents per $100 of property valuation to 23 cents.

“It’s the best investment our taxpayers can make in this community. . . . I don’t know of a better investment,” Trustee Angela Tekell said.

The board also approved the 2015-16 budget of $158,164,416, $13,249,571 more than last year, with plans to use some of that additional money to hire pre-kindergarten aides and reading teachers for elementary and middle school classes.

Sheryl Davis, WISD assistant superintendent for business and support services, said that even with the approved higher tax rate of $1.40 per $100 of property valuation, average homeowners will pay about $75 less than the previous year, if a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would increase the homestead exemption is passed.

Voters are scheduled to approve a $10,000 increase in the exemption, from $15,000 to $25,000, on the same ballot as the tax hike this November.

Increasing the homestead exemption would lower property tax bills, with the state reimbursing local districts for the lost revenue.

The average home value for 2015 was set at $99,675, and the average exemption would be $27,150, putting the 2015 average taxable value for Waco ISD homes at $72,525.

If the exemption passes, average homeowners will pay about $1,015.

The board originally approved a 9-cent net increase per $100 property valuation, but Davis said there was enough money in the debt service fund balance to cover the payments for this year allowing the board to delay a higher tax increase.

The board voted to use $2 million from the debt service fund balance to allow for a lower debt service tax rate.

But Davis said it is still unclear how much the tax rate would need to be raised next year if the property values increase.

Davis said the revenue generated from the tax rate increase is enough to pay for an aide in every pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classroom, additional reading teachers for middle school and dual-credit classes for every junior and senior in Waco ISD.

In previous board meetings, Tekell expressed concern about overriding the district’s current strategic plan that includes goals the district had failed to meet.

“Yes, we have a plan in place, but I think this is a little different. If there are goals in the strategic plan that we’ve not made adequate progress on, then I think this is more focused on the particular barriers that are holding us back,” Board President Pat Atkins said.

Atkins thinks the new revenue simply will enhance the current plan with more strategic goals.

“I think this is a way to begin to address that, by digging down deeper, identifying what the real barriers are and making a commitment to address those barriers,” he said.

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