This lower tax rate, an increase of seven cents over last year, would have effectively been lower than last year because the school district was able to lower the amount needed to repay its debt for the new elementary school.
The total proposed tax rate for the district, which includes the amount required to repay bonds, was $1.52189 compared to $1.55376 last year.
While those are the published numbers — they did change slightly Tuesday night.
Property value increases meant that the amount of tax required to pay the district’s bond debt was lowered by five cents, which meant that trustees were actually voting on an overall lower tax rate that initially published.
“They had an opportunity that would trigger an eight-cent tax decrease for everyone,” said Robin Thomas, special programs director.
Now, it’s back to the drawing board for the tax rate and the budget.
“It is financial crisis mode,” Thomas said. “We have to scrap the budget.”
Thomas said that the board has met seven times to discuss and create the budget based upon the proposed – but ultimately not trustee-approved – tax rate.
“That is why this was such a complete jolt. It doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “There were some things built into (the budget) that were definitely needed.”
On July 17, a notice was placed in this newspaper notifying residents of the proposed tax rate.
The additional money generated from this rate would have funded a multitude of projects.
According to information provided by the district, changes to the budget could include:
• A salary freeze along with a rise in insurance cost. According to minutes from the meetings, “Mr. (Troy) Hughes stated that, despite no opposition to the salary increase in seven previous budget workshops, all S-T staff members should now know that they get paid better than anyone in the area and should have no problems with this action.”
• Eliminating planned funding for student/staff safety and security measures in response to recent nationwide school violence and eliminating planned funding to improve classroom technology.
• Cutting a teacher/coach position (despite program enrollment).
• No purchasing of additional band instruments.
• Eliminating air conditioning in the gym that was planned to improve student and adult safety.
• Possible implementation of the “last in, first out” policy and a girls teacher/coach position.
She added that also on the cut list is a special education bus.
“There was some things built into that were definitely needed,” she said.
When asked, Superintendent Dr. Brett Belmarez described the reaction of those in the audience as “shocked and bewildered.”
“Not only it is an eight-cent decrease, but we are so property poor in Skidmore that, for every dollar we generate in local taxes, the state matches us with three dollars,” he said referring to the Robin Hood act. “When we reduce our local taxing effort, we leave money sitting on the table.”
Funding for many of the projects, including the security improvements to the district schools, would have come from $2.5 million in notes paid for through the operations budget. The plan was to repay the notes within 10 years at today’s low interest rate.
That idea is now scrapped.
Belmarez said that when the board voted to publish notice of the proposed tax rate, the vote was six to one with only Trustee James Bennett offering dissent.
However, on Tuesday evening, the tax rate garnered only two affirmative votes — Keith Petrus and Salvador Soto, Jr.
Without that increase in the operations portion of the budget, they won’t be able to fund much of what they had hoped.
Even the basics, such as the teacher raises, are in jeopardy as they look to create a new budget by the state-mandated Aug. 30.
“If we were just to say everybody’s salary is frozen, that statement is not all in of itself true,” Belmarez said. “This year, the state insurance the teachers get has increased substantially.
“Essentially, what teachers and staff are getting is a pay cut. If insurance is going up, and salary stays the same, that is a pay cut.”
Belmarez said that he is concerned the district won’t be able to make the safety improvements to the school — one of which is the air conditioning inside their old gym.
“We were looking forward to air conditioning in that old gym,” Belmarez said. “That gym gets to be around 100 degrees.
“We have had people just about pass out.”
The gym is still used quite frequently, and its use is growing as the number of youth enrolling in sports has grown.
“We have volleyball practice in there,” he said.
“The windows are still boarded up from the last hurricane, and there is no air flow.”
The question before Belmarez is what comes next.
Carol Estes, business manager, told Belmarez that “Connie Rose from the Comptroller’s Office stated that ‘there is nothing in the tax code to give the district direction on what steps need to be taken, and the legislature never foresaw this happening and that she has not heard of a district doing this before and that S-TISD is on virgin ground.’”
The board has until Sept. 30 to adopt a tax rate but must have its budget by Aug. 30. The next planned meeting, as of Thursday, is Aug. 29.
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.