Time for another Regular Board Meeting. There were few attendees and even fewer public speakers. As always the meeting agenda was agreed upon last Monday, so we knew the two big items for this evening: 1) The Bond Advisory status update, and 2) the Tax Rate Adoption.
Andy Hutton, the Chair of the Bond Advisory Committee, gave a status update. The committee has had attrition of both a member and an alternate. Andy discussed using the committee's second alternate to replace the resigning member, leaving two open alternate positions.
Andy reported that the Bond committee has ~$12 million remaining in the budget. It was asked if this money could be returned to taxpayers, which triggered a review of past examples of unplanned District costs. The discussion then shifted towards the unexpected request for additional funding for the Administration Building renovation project, as the Committee seems to have initially underestimated cost projections.
There was a lot of discussion about honesty, transparency and trust. Andy said the Bond Committee welcomes the public to their meetings and will issue a periodic report. Such information should always be made available, but I see no evidence of deliberate abuse or dishonesty.
Tax Rate Adoption
By September 30 the Board must vote on the tax rate. Amanda Brownson from TASBO gave an excellent presentation about the complicated tax rates and Texas Legislation changes. I suggest watching this section of the meeting:
The Board asked many questions about the financial details. The answers included many interesting items, such as:
- ~87% of the overall district budget goes to teachers and staff salaries
- Federal funding to the district budget is ~1%
- Hays County is the fastest growing county in the US
The fundamental argument is that the tax rate percentage has decreased over the years while the Dripping Springs property values have skyrocketed. Therefore, each resident's tax bill has increased despite the lowered tax rate. The finance presentation covered many details of the complicated legislative attempts to address the problem.
Stefani Reinold argued that the tax rate percentage is too high and should be lowered. Amanda explained how lowering the tax rate would cause a reclassification of the District which would be difficult to reverse and reduce the overall District budget. Stefani also tried to make the argument that the revenue-per-child has been increasing but again was corrected by TASBO.
Healthy and detailed discussions and arguments should happen. Managing the budget is immensely complicated, especially in a dynamic growth environment. One of the points that Stefani brought up was the need for a fully transparent monthly finance report. I absolutely agree with her. Let's hope the District will include this in their comprehensive communications plan.
At 1:26:00 of the DSISD 27-Sept Board Meeting video, Stefani said the following: "...for my brain to understand [a complicated budget], I have to understand it at a big picture level, and then, how does it relate to me as a mother, as a parent, as a taxpayer in this community." Stefani should add the Dripping Springs District to her list of priorities as an elected board member.
In a previous Board meeting, the Board unanimously approved the budget. Yet, in this meeting, 6 members voted for, and Stefani voted against, approving the tax rate to fund the budget.
What is the consistent theme? We need transparent communications! Currently we have members of the community who are filling the information void with misconceptions or misunderstandings. School district budgets and funding are clearly complicated and special efforts are needed for broader understanding.
On a completely different topic, we've obviously moved past the intense arguing about masks, vaccinations and freedom. It feels like a stalemate, largely because of the COVID-related laws enacted Texas Legislation. Personally, I feel the lack of enforced safety protocols in Kindergarten through 6th grade is unacceptable. I hope we'll see a 5-11yr-old vaccine option soon.