The El Campo ISD board of trustees found themselves much in the same boat as other districts at Tuesday’s budget workshop — with little direction from the state after the passage of the school finance bill (HB3) in June.
Board members, Superintendent Kelly Waters and Assistant Superintendent of Finances David Bright know what the bill promises in regard to property tax compression, increases in per student funding, higher teacher raises and funding for full-day Pre-K, but without a summary of finances template from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the numbers from the Wharton County Central Appraisal District the final budget is still up for debate as the 2019-2020 school year approaches.
“As you know, we’re getting a late start this year. Normally, we provide you with a preliminary budget in June. HB3 was passed this year, and as a result, there are a lot of changes,” Bright told the board at the workshop meeting.
The new state template, which looks much like an Excel document like in previous years that the district numbers are plugged into, is based on HB3 but is still being refined, Bright said.
“TEA has two summary of finances posted. One was posted early, and the other days ago, but neither one are based on HB3, but are based on old law,” he said.
The CAD is expected to release the taxable values by Thursday, July 25, Bright said.
“Based on the numbers in the template I do have, which has not been verified, looking at local funding and state funding, we’re going to be compressed from a $1.17 (M&O rate) back to $1.0684. We are losing $1.2 million as a result of that. In state funding, there is a shift. The majority of our money is going to start coming from the state,” he added.
Right now, Bright is showing a surplus in the district’s general fund balance, as it has in previous years, but he was quick to emphasize to trustees that he has yet to verify his numbers.
Board President James Russell expressed the same reluctance as Bright about numbers, specifically in regard to a pay scale for district employees.
“There is so much gray area that this budget workshop is less of a workshop and more of an overview of what we’re dealing with. Usually around this time, we are calling a special meeting to set the tax rate and we are not close to that right now. I think these chips are going to fall pretty quick,” he said.
Waters mentioned districts she has spoken to including Louise.
“They’ve not done anything. I’ve talked to Wharton. They’ve not done anything. There’s a few districts that stepped out there and set their pay scales, but it’s very few,” she said.
“We could do that, but you’re kind of sticking your neck out if you think you’re going to get a certain amount of revenue (but don’t),” Bright said.
State funding for pay raises for teachers, counselors, school nurses and librarians is good for two years.
“That’s just for the legislative cycle. Basically, you will have money for two years, but you don’t know what they are going to do (by the next legislature). That is what you deal with, with any money from the state,” Russell said.
Bright mentioned possible percentages and totals for pay raises for administration since their salary configurations were not part of the bill. A 2 percent pay raise across the board would total $80,000, 3 percent $120,000 and 4 percent $160,000.
Bright hopes to have the verified template from TEA by the meeting Tuesday, July 23. At that meeting, the board must approve a date for the public hearing regarding the proposed budget and tax rate. That hearing is usually held before the regular meeting in August. The board must discuss and approve the proposed budget and tax rate at the regular meeting Aug. 27.
“That’s all I know now. It’s frustrating not to be able to give you more information,” Bright said.
“Responses I have read (from TEA) concerning (questions about) all of this is to do our best job to estimate what these numbers will be,” he added. “If we find out that we really missed it, we might have to do some adjustments next year to catch up.”
The district’s tax rate currently is $1.20 per $100,000 valuation in taxable property.
“I feel certain we are going to be able to have a lower tax rate this coming school year,” Bright said.