District tentatively prepares for tax ratification election
Though it won’t be finalized until June, Denton ISD budget talks got underway at Tuesday night’s board meeting.
Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Debbie Monschke presented facts and figures delineating the district’s revenue and expenditures over the course of five years. She also went over a tentative schedule if the board decides to call for a tax ratification election in September.
A tax ratification election would adjust the district’s maintenance and operations portion of the tax rate, which currently sits at $1.04 for every $100 property valuation. The state caps that rate at $1.17 per $100 valuation.
Bond debt is paid off by the interest and sinking portion of the property tax rate. Denton ISD’s interest and sinking rate is at the state cap of 50 cents per $100 valuation.
Superintendent Jamie Wilson said the decision to call an election depends on future funding estimates.
“We don’t know for sure if we’ll do that until we see what the budget requests look like, what the revenue looks like and what the projections look like,” he said. “This year, we’re looking at it a little more seriously just because of the additional funding that would come with it to us from the state.”
Because of the district’s continued growth, Monschke projects the average number of students attending school each day will increase, bringing in more state dollars. On the flip side, more students require more teachers, driving up payroll costs, which make up more than 80 percent of Denton ISD’s operating budget.
In earlier meetings, board members discussed adding more teachers to bring down class sizes, but Wilson said they need to make sure they maintain the current ratio first.
“What we’ll start with is what we have to do to keep the same level [of students to teachers] that we have now and the expense that comes with that,” he said. “That might be one of the things we look at in the event of a tax ratification election. If it comes to pass, then we can do more of these things.”
The state also requires districts to spend a certain amount of funds on certain programs. Monschke said the district currently spends less than the state requirement in its career/technology and high school allotment programs, but more than the requirement in its compensatory education, special education, bilingual education, and gifted and talented programs.
“As we make budget changes and recommendations, we have to keep all these programs in mind so that we can continue the programs and continue to meet our spending levels,” Monschke said.
Board members pointed out that the current legislative session could impact the district’s budget. Legislators could adjust the state funding formulas, and a proposed school choice program could have a negative effect on funding and enrollment numbers for public schools, they said.
Proponents of the Texas Senate’s school choice bill, which would allow parents to receive state funds to send their children to private schools, argue that public schools would actually see a drop in their operating costs because they would serve fewer students.
Even with potential changes to the state’s system, board member Dorothy Martinez said she’s confident Monschke and her staff will make sure the district’s finances are sound.
“I have a great deal of faith in you,” she told Monschke. “I know you’re a tightwad and I love it. I’m hoping that you have a Plan B already worked out.”
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @CjonesDRC.