SISD Superintendent Matt Underwood answered some FAQs about the rollback election coming in November. Underwood said he hopes this will help clarify things for the community.
Why is Stephenville ISD calling a rollback election this year?
Beginning with the 2007 Regular Legislative Session, the State Legislature restructured the way public schools in Texas were funded. Property Tax relief was provided to all state taxpayers by reducing the operation tax rate from a ceiling of $1.50 to $1.04. This law also called for any increases to the operation budget to be approved by local taxpayers. The possibility of swapping the tax rates was discussed at that time but the legalities of such a strategy was unclear. In 2008 an opinion from the Texas Education Agency was released that gave us clarification on the strategy and its legality. With the upcoming school finance litigation ruling, we decided that we should act now to maximize our state revenues.
If the rollback passes, what will change on our tax statements?
Ironically another proposal on the ballot is for an additional $10,000 homestead exemption, and I am almost certain that this will pass. The amount you pay relative to last year will be based solely on your appraisal value. The rate will not change from last year, however rising values will most likely not offset the additional exemption and your tax bill will probably decrease. Taxpayers over 65 whose taxes are frozen will definitely not see an increase. This scenario would have occurred had the district not opted for a rollback election.
Will the ballot explain the strategy that the Tax Ratifications Election is promoting?
Yes and no, this is a very important question due to the fact that the ballot calls for an increase in taxes on the Maintenance and Operation side. It does not state that the Interest and Sinking tax is being lowered, but does ensure the voter that the overall tax rate will remain the same. This could be confusing to the voter that is not aware of the funding strategy. A yes vote will pass the proposed tax rate that increases the M&O taxes while decreasing the I&S taxes. A no vote will roll the tax rate for Operations back to $1.04 and the District will then return the I&S taxes back to the previous yearís rate resulting in no change to the overall tax rate.
Isnít this a risk for the school district? What happens if it fails?
No, the District can only gain approximately $360,000 of State funding if the proposition passes. If it fails there will be no reduction from current funding levels.
What is the down side of the strategy that you are proposing?
The down side of the strategy is the fact that you are legally allowing the possibility for the school district to raise both taxes. A different philosophy regarding school governance could raise the tax rate to approximately $1.36 since the bond rate is still activated but not currently assessed. I canít see this as a politically viable answer to any of our funding issues.
I found that over 100 school districts have proposed rollback elections since the last legislative session changed the school funding structure. Is this election similar to those?
No, this strategy is different from many other rollback elections in that those elections were actually raising the overall tax rate. This would keep our rate the same as last year but provide the district with more state funding.
What if the district needs more funding in the future and you are locked in to this strategy?
You could always go back to the voters for three more pennies or recall the election and explain the needs that would necessitate a higher tax rate. The rollback ceiling is $1.17. However, it is my experience that other districts will hit that ceiling long before Stephenville ISD.
What will the School District do with the additional funding?
The additional $360,000 will be used to drastically enhance the technology resources for the District. The District is planning on phasing in a plan that will allow each student in grades K-12 to have a personal device by 2020. This strategy alone will not finance this plan but would expand the availability from 7-12 to K-12.
If you are reducing the tax rate allocated to pay the debt service, how will these obligations be met?
The local money collected in relation to the 13 cents that has moved will in essence be held in escrow until the end of the fiscal year. These funds will then be used to meet these obligations in the 2016-17 school year and each year after. Fund balance accrued on the I&S side will be used to offset the payments prior to August 31st.
I asked earlier about the negatives of the measure in regards to the taxpayer, what about potential harm to the school?
I donít see any negatives that could affect our schoolís financial position. Actually, we are hoping that the legislature does make some changes to the current system that could benefit us in an even larger way. There is a pretty strong possibility that if the system were to change again schools that passed rollback elections would be funded at a much higher rate than those who did not. The Texas State Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit filed by many independent school districts based on the adequacy and equity of the school finance system. We need to maximize our state funding to ensure that no reductions to our revenue will be realized by a new system of funding schools. This is one of the major reasons that we are proposing this strategy now.