Members of the Stephenville ISD board of trustees had their hands full Tuesday evening in a special called meeting dealing with both school security options, as well as a proposed tax rate option for the 2018-2019 budget.
By a 6-1 vote, the board voted to publicly post a proposal of $1.06 per $100 of tax evaluation rate for Maintenance and Operations (M&O), rather than the other proposed option of $1.17 for M&O. The proposed rate would increase the tax rate for Interest and Sinking (I&O) from $0.1729 to $0.2829, per $100 tax evaluation.
Board President Ann Calahan, Vice President Scott Osman, Secretary Sherrie Evans, Keri Vanden Berge, Ed Dittfurth and Robert Barberee voted “yes” on the proposal. The “no” vote was cast by Cole Parks.
If that proposal is accepted, the SISD property tax rate would remain at $1.3429 per $100 of tax evaluation for the upcoming fiscal year. It would mean that the proposed estimated revenues for the general fund would be $30,861.728, with estimated expenditures of $30,528,370.
The deadline for settling on the final tax rate will be Sept. 1.
Also, the trustees voted unanimously (7-0) to approve a MOV (motion of understanding) to hire a second school resource officer (SRO) from the Stephenville Police Department staff, and to acquire a service dog trained in finding narcotics and weapons.
Superintendent Matt Underwood explained on Wednesday that in the board meeting in July, the trustees had voted to adjust the bond from a 30-year note to a 25-year note to save money.
“When we went down that road, at that time everything was based on a 30-year note. We actually saved about $7 million,” Underwood said of the decision. “We approved that at our last regular meeting. We thought the interest rates would be lower. We kept the tax rate the same.”
Underwood noted that the SISD’s status in the state’s “Robin Hood” education funding system changed, which prompted the school district to look for ways to hang on to that “recapture” money.
“Last year was the first year our taxable value put is in the ‘rich’ district status,” Underwood said, noting that the changes proposed Tuesday were to “reduce the amount of money that we will owe the state.”
Underwood added that the proposed tax option “maximizes our tax rate for our community and our kids. The taxes you pay, most all of it will stay in the Stephenville district. This was the recommendation from the administration.”
Underwood said that using the trained service dog makes sense both financially as well as in being more flexible for current needs inside multiple campuses, in parking lots and at sports events.
“I do think the K9 unit is a responsible choice, where we are right now in school security,” Underwood stated. “Down the road, we could do more. We’re going to have to have a lot of conversations and cultural change.”
The second SRO will provide wider coverage, joining the one who had already been in place on a rotating basis on the SISD campuses.
The board went into a closed session but no votes were taken afterward, according to Underwood.
“We discussed aspects and details of the Guardian Program,” he said.
Before the closed session, the trustees discussed considering a contract with Crux Technology/Security Solutions for school security options. Instead of taking that vote, the trustees voted unanimously to put out an RFQ (request for qualifications) for other security companies to submit their proposals.
Underwood noted that the trustees are considering a vote on either the Guardian Program or the Marshal Program as an overall school security strategy that would result in arming of some school teachers and other staff members with firearms for protection of the students. Underwood said that the Guardian Program offers more local control over the details compared to the Marshal Program.
“I think that program will be recommended for approval at the August board meeting,” Underwood said. “It should be implemented this fall.”
He said that, if approved, the Guardian Program would open up the process for taking applications from staff members who volunteer to be vetted and trained to have a concealed carry license on campus.
“We’re looking at safety and security strategically — not just a quick fix,” Underwood said.
The next regular meeting for the SISD board is set for 9 a.m. on Aug. 20.