The cheers of Waco Independent School District staff and supporters filled the back building at Poppa Rollo’s Pizza on Tuesday after they learned that voters approved a tax rate increase allowing the district to hire almost 200 employees to help improve student instruction.
Voters approved the 5-cent net tax increase, from $1.35 per $100 property valuation to $1.40, by 572 ballots of the total 3,272 who voted. About 59 percent — 1,922 people — voted for the increase, and 1,350, or 41 percent, voted against it.
The increase will garner an additional $8.2 million in additional revenue for the district.
“I’m just ecstatic. This is so needed by the kids of WISD,” said Virginia DuPuy, secretary and treasurer of the Prosper Waco board of directors, whose son, Cary DuPuy, is a trustee on Waco ISD’s board.
In winning voters’ favor, the Waco ISD board raised the maintenance and operation tax rate 13 cents, from $1.04 per $100 of property valuation to $1.17, but lowered the debt service rate by 8 cents from 31 to 23 cents per $100 of property valuation.
In a speech for which he received a standing ovation, board President Pat Atkins thanked everyone who put effort into encouraging people to vote for the tax rate increase.
“Thank you for trusting us with investment. Thank you for trusting Waco ISD,” Atkins said. “I have never been prouder to serve on the Waco ISD school board than I am tonight.”
The board required voter approval to raise the M&O rate above $1.04 per $100 of property valuation, but does not need voter approval to increase the debt service rate.
Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain said she was extremely nervous Tuesday waiting for the results, but is thankful Waco residents saw fit to raise the tax rate.
Cain and Atkins said they spent Tuesday contacting people by phone and email to encourage them to vote and support the rate hike.
“We will prove their money is well-spent,” Cain said.
Board members and staff met with dozens of community groups and held four public meetings in the past three months in their effort to educate voters on the benefits of raising the tax rate.
The district is hiring aides for all pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms and half of all first- and second-grade classrooms; middle school reading teachers; and additional educators to expand Brazos High School Credit Recovery Center.
The additional personnel are expected to help increase the number of third-grade students passing the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness reading exam by about 20 points in five years. Currently, about 60 percent pass, but WISD administrators hope to see 80 percent passing in 2020.
The added funds also will broaden the courses available for juniors and seniors to take through McLennan Community College, and is expected to increase the number of students leaving school with trade certifications or college credit hours by 1,000 students, from its approximate number of 450 in the 2015-16 school year to more than 1,500 by the 2019-20 school year.
On the same ballot as the rate increase, voters approved a $10,000 increase in the homestead exemption, from $15,000 to $25,000.
The average home value for 2015 is $99,675, and the average exemption will be $27,150, putting the 2015 average taxable value for Waco ISD homes at $72,525.
Since both the exemption and the tax rate increase passed, average homeowners will pay about $1,015.
Virginia DuPuy said it is difficult to choose which part of the plan she supports the most because the entire initiative is important, but she is thrilled the district is focusing on literacy in the younger grades.
“Reading is the foundation. Literacy is the foundation of all learning,” she said.