During its March 24 Leander ISD Board of Trustees meeting, the Board:
- Listened to the district’s update in COVID-19 response protocol
- Approved amending 2022-23 budget assumptions based on a Voter-Approval Tax Ratification Election
- Approved a resolution providing for the defeasance of existing bonds
- Discussed the district’s hazardous routes recommendation
- Received recommendations for instructional material selections
- Celebrated the success in #1LISD:
Superintendent Report Includes Update to COVID-19 Health Response Protocols
During his presentation to the Board, Superintendent Bruce Gearing, Ed.D. provided the district’s updated COVID-19 response protocols. Equipped with the latest data and evolving science surrounding COVID-19, we are now in a better position than ever before to fight COVID-19. With the goal to “Stay Open, Stay Safe”, we are moving away from color-coded stages while keeping COVID-19 notifications and isolation times. We will continue to partner with state and local health departments, making adjustments to our prevention strategies as needed.
Shifting Pennies: Board Amends 2022-23 Budget Assumptions Based on a Revised Tax Rate
In light of facing a projected $35.7 million budget deficit for the 2022-2023 school year, the district has been exploring a number of ways to cut expenditures and raise revenue. One avenue to generate additional funding focuses on local property tax rates. The Board approved an amendment to the budget assumptions that takes 5 pennies from the Interest & Sinking (I&S) tax rate and shifts them to the Maintenance & Operation (M&O) tax rate. The M&O fund is used for teacher salaries, programs and other operations costs. I&S is used to pay existing debt obligations.
Shifting the 5 pennies from I&S to M&O does not affect the overall tax rate. Rising property values will continue to generate surplus funds on the debt-service side which makes this transfer possible.
Related to the tax rate, in 2019, state lawmakers passed House Bill 3, which requires school districts to reduce their M&O tax rates to offset the rising property values. This is projected to result in a nearly 2-penny decrease in the tax rate based on current estimated property value growth.
“At this moment in time, when we look at everything, inflation, educator pay, support services and that minimum base pay, I’m wondering what it looks like to take care of our current operations,” Board Vice President Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, Ph.D. said. “I feel like there is a way to be prudent with paying down our existing debt while taking care of our people right now.”
State law requires voter approval of any shifting of the pennies by the Board in what is called a Voter-Approval Tax Rate Election (VATRE). If it failed, Chief Financial Officer Elaine Cogburn explained $19 million (the additional revenue the VATRE would generate) would come out of fund balance (assets – liabilities = fund balance). The losses would impact the following years with no ability to offer pay raises or increase staff and would lead to major program cuts.
For the first time in several years, Leander ISD’s tax revenue will once again be subject to recapture. Recapture is best explained as the state’s Robin Hood plan, which takes money from property-wealthy school districts, who then send those tax dollars to the state to be redistributed statewide.
Cogburn explained the 5 pennies consist of 3 golden (the maximum) and 2 copper pennies. Through funding formulas, golden pennies generate the highest amount of funding and are not subject to recapture. Copper pennies yield a lower amount and are subject to recapture.
“I think the golden pennies are easy to support, the power and leverage make it an easy choice,” Board trustee Aaron Johnson said. “Complicated to deliver because of the election requirement, nonetheless easy to justify. The copper pennies get trickier in terms of relative efficiency from a tax perspective in terms of what our community has to give and what we get. There’s a big balancing act I feel like I have to do on behalf of the community.”
Resolution Providing Defeasance of Existing Bonds Approved
The Board also approved the use of $39 million of excess tax collections on I&S tax rate to be used towards the defeasance of existing bonds. A defeasance is the early repayment of debt which saves interest costs on those outstanding bonds. By targeting Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) from 2014, the district saves $67.6 million in future debt service costs.
Staff Makes Recommendations on Hazardous Routes
With more than a hundred responses for community feedback, district staff made its presentation to the Board on hazardous routes. State law requires school districts to provide bus service to students living more than 2 miles of their assigned schools. In Leander ISD, families living closer than 2 miles are in the “Not Eligible for Transportation Zone,” or NETZone. Students in the NETZone are only provided bus service if their route to school is rated as hazardous. Using a scoring system, staff evaluated routes. Based on their findings, they recommended no changes–not adding or discontinuing routes for the 2022-23 school year.
“I have the hardest time when we have hazardous routes come up in discussions,” Board President Trish Bode said. “We have family and community members who feel the commute to and from school is hazardous. Yet, through the scoring system, they are not eligible for transportation. That requires sensitivity. I appreciate staff’s tremendous work and dedication to community feedback. I hope we continue to look for innovative ways to address concerns.”
The Board will consider the recommendations at its April 7 meeting.
Instructional Material Selections Presented
After a months-long process, district staff presented instructional material selections for the 2022-23 school year. LISD teachers have worked hand-in-hand with district administrators throughout the research and selection process. Input and feedback have been gathered from staff, parents, students, and community members through virtual and in-person opportunities. The Board received recommendations for the purchasing of new instructional materials for the following courses:
- K-12 Health & PE
- 6th Grade Social Studies
- Advanced Placement Environmental Science
- Nutrition & Dietetics
- Kinesiology I & II
“For our students who are taking these courses to have a seat at the table, I think that’s incredible,” Board trustee Anna Smith said. “I know that required extra time, extra meetings. I think it just goes to show that we value student voice. I’m so proud of this whole process.”
The Board will consider the recommendations at its April 7 meeting.
Spotlight on Learning: Canyon Ridge Middle School
Canyon Ridge Middle School had a theme this year of being #BetterTogether. These Eagles showed how they couldn’t #SoarToSuccess without the support of their teachers. Students shared their high achievements in Robotics, Science Fair and Fine Arts. As one student shared, their teachers help them create something they can be proud of.
A pair of #1LISD students wrestle their way to a state championship. With swimming success, one student-athlete kicks it to the top. The Lady Timberwolves make it two in a row. Plus, School Community Relations crystalize their status among the state’s finest. With pride and excitement, Leander ISD is celebrating success at the highest levels of competition.