Development of oil and gas resources in the Eagle Ford Shale has had a big impact on the district’s “tax base,” also known as the total taxable values of properties in the district.
In just three years, property values in the district have skyrocketed from about $72 million in 2010 to about $524 million in 2013.
During a “State of the District” public meeting recently, School Board President Oscar Caballero explained that new facilities could be funded through a bond election, with very little impact on the average taxpayer.
Funds spent on maintenance and operations are strictly based on the number of students enrolled. Runge ISD once received funds from wealthier districts across the state, but now is becoming a district that will provide funding to less wealthy school districts through what is commonly referred to as the “Robin Hood” plan of school finance.
While the amount that the district can spend for maintenance and operations will remain largely unaffected, projects aimed at improving or building new school facilities can be paid for through voter-approved bond elections.
Caballero explained that growth of the tax base through oil and gas development is very unpredictable, because sometimes the values can plummet just as quickly as they climb.
“Oil and gas is very unpredictable,” Caballero said. “We talk about that at our board meetings all the time. This is a number that we would rather see in real estate.”
Tax rates have varied through the years, Caballero explained. The rate was as high as $1.42 in 1999, but has dropped in recent years. Since 2007, the tax rate has been $1.04 per $100 in taxable value.
The school board is considering a $13 million bond project for school facility improvements.
Three years ago, Caballero explained, a bond project would have meant raising the tax rate 16 cents for every million dollars financed, but because of the growth in the tax base over the past few years, a bond project with the current tax base would only increase the tax rate by two cents for every million dollars borrowed.
“We want to put it all out on the table,” Caballero said, regarding the idea of a bond election to fund school improvements. “We all need to do this together. Whatever we do, we want your support. We want to know, what is it that you want to see?”
If the community wants to pursue the project, future facilities meetings will be held to discuss the different options before the board moves forward with a bond election, Caballero said.
Caballero said that a facilities improvement project, such as the one being talked about, could greatly enhance the safety and security of Runge students who currently have to walk outside from building to building.
A $13 million bond project, financed over 10 years, would increase the tax rate from $1.04 to $1.30, a rate that would still be lower than what the rate was in 1999.
A Runge homeowner with a home valued at $50,000 would see an annual increase in taxes of about $95 per year under the higher rate if voters approve the project. There would be no increase for residents age 65 or older, as their tax rate is frozen.
Architect Jim Singleton gave a presentation about the current school facilities and various “what if” options that might be considered as part of a school facilities improvement project.
Among the improvements discussed were a new football stadium and track, a new gym or possibly two new gyms, new buildings for classroom space and renovation or reconstruction of the school auditorium.
Singleton said the board was considering a possible bond election, happening as soon as May of 2014.
“I think that new facilities can help the learning environment,” Singleton said explaining that current facilities could use improvement.
Singleton said the original 1930 school building, constructed in the art deco style, is worth saving.
“Whenever possible, I encourage school districts to save those old buildings,” Singleton said. “I would encourage you to keep up with the excellent work that you have done in maintaining that old building. You have something special – something a little different.”
A big construction project presents big challenges, Singleton said, noting that if a new gym is built, the old one may need to be kept until construction on the new one is finished. Building a new track presents challenges as well, because tracks require a lot of space because of their size.
Security and safety of students was one of the factors given great importance in the preliminary “what if” plans that he drafted for the district. The goal, Singleton explained, is to have students enter “one big building” and stay in that building throughout the school day as opposed to students having to go outside in between classes in order to get to separate buildings scattered across the campus.
According to Superintendent Janice Sykora, a facility committee meeting is tentatively set for Dec. 5. Committee members and members of the public will have the opportunity to ask Architect Jim Singleton more detailed questions at that time.