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Another Lesson on School Finance
06/18/2018
School Finance QuestionsI recently testified to the Special Commission on School Finance in Austin, Texas and it was a learning experience to say the least.  When I was approached about testifying, I was very excited to get the chance to explain how inadequate state funding and unfunded mandates had crippled the flow of resources, time, and energy in public schools today.  I provided specific examples of strict spending requirements and restrictions that have led to our inability to be efficient with every dollar.  You see, you probably don’t know this, but we have money in different funding codes that can ONLY be spent in certain ways and we do not have the authority or permission to make those decisions at the local level.  This is very frustrating for our staff and the administration.  I provided examples of how compliance driven activities such as redundant postings, mailings, and paper-rich reporting systems cost our district almost $20,000 annually and the entire state millions of dollars each year.  I went on to provide multiple examples of restrictions and mandates that both cripple and burden the local districts’ budgets.   I ended my testimony with a suggestion to provide reductions in costs, specifically fixed costs such as utilities.  Did you know that utilities cost the district over $700,000 last year.  Please know that we have reduced our energy demands by upgrading many of our systems like lighting, heating, and cooling units, and we are doing everything we can to be efficient with these resources.  Our data shows that we have significantly reduced our energy demands.   I recommended that lawmakers incentivize rate reductions for public schools.  This idea seemed to spark some interest with the committee. 

Overall, the experience was both inspiring and disappointing all at the same time.  Let me explain.  I was inspired to see that there were genuinely interested members of both the House and the Senate who wanted to learn more about how education works and the barriers we are facing, specifically with school funding.  I was disappointed in the fact that the politics that so often accompany this sort of work was alive and well.  Alas, the Commission has been charged with providing a report of the findings from the testimonies and panel discussions along with some recommendations for lawmakers to consider in the upcoming legislative session.  I am cautiously optimistic in my belief that my testimony or the comments of the others to this commission will make a difference.  But, we have to try every way that we can to activate change in school funding, flexibility, and local control. Voting is always one way to stay engaged!—I digress.

 

As you probably know, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pursue a tax rate that includes a combined 1.6 cent increase.  This includes a 2 cent increase on the maintenance and operations (M&O) and about a ½ cent reduction on the interest and sinking fund (I&S) for a total of $1.32503.  The I&S side of the tax rate qualifies for a slight reduction, so the Trustees wanted to make this change effective in the next taxing cycle.  So, what does this mean?

 

I received positive feedback from my previous Q&A segment; so I will continue with this format.

 

Who sets the tax rate?

A citizen’s tax rate is made up of several tax rates from taxing entities including the city, the county, road and water, the public school district, and the local community college.  Each entity sets the tax rates that are pertinent to them.  For example, the Board of Trustees of the Pampa ISD set the tax rate for the school district; but it is only a portion of a tax payers overall tax rate.  An increase in the tax rate for the Maintenance and Operations (M&O) for the school district, must go to the voters for approval.  This election will be held on August 25, 2018 at the M. K. Brown center.  Early voting will take place at the Pampa ISD administration building at 1233 N. Hobart street.

 

Who determines the appraised value of my property/home/business?

This is a complex process; however, in the simplest of terms the local appraisal board and chief tax assessor determine the value of property in any given county in Texas.  The board and assessor values are guided heavily by the Texas Comptroller’s office.  The valuations are set following a very detailed and complex system and formula that is ever-changing.  This explains why your rates may change every year or so.  Please know that neither the school district nor the Board of Trustees have anything to do with setting appraisal values.  This is a widely spread myth or misconception.  To learn more about how appraisal values are conducted, you can go to https://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/property-tax/valuing-property.php

 

So, how will this tax rate impact me?

If the proposed tax rate is ratified by the voters in August, then the school district’s portion of the average citizen’s tax rate will increase by 1.6 cents.  This will be about $16 a year per $100,000 of value.  About $32 a year per $200,000 of value and so on. 

 

What about Senior Citizens and the Disabled?   How will they be impacted?

These tax payers have what is called a homestead tax ceiling. It is a limit on the amount of taxes you must pay on your residence. If you qualify your residence homestead for an age 65 or older or disabled person homestead exemption for school district taxes, the school district taxes on that homestead cannot increase as long as you own and live in that home. The tax ceiling is the amount you pay in the year that you qualified for the age 65 or older or disabled person exemption. The school district taxes on your homestead may go below but not above the ceiling amount. If you improve the homestead (other than normal repairs or maintenance), the tax ceiling may go higher because of the new additions. 

As always, I am eager to learn about your questions and concerns. I want to thank those of you that have submitted questions. Please don’t hesitate to send your questions to tanya.larkin@pampaisd.net or give me a call at 669-4700.  Again, I appreciate the never-ending support that our community shows daily to our students, staff, and school system.  We are truly blessed to live and work in Pampa!

 

 

Tanya Larkin

Superintendent


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