By SHELLY WILKISON
By a unanimous vote Monday, Liberty Hill school trustees adopted a tax rate of $1.45 per $100 property valuation to fund a $20.7 million general operating budget and help pay down bond debt in fiscal 2012.
The spending plan, which includes a step pay increase for all employees, is 1.38 percent higher than last year’s budget.
Business Manager Frank Watson told trustees that the 2012 plan is a deficit budget. He explained that while it may not be necessary, about $2.7 million would be available from the district’s fund balance to make up for the projected difference in revenue.
He provided a detailed look at monies maintained in the fund balances since 1995, showing the years the district had dipped into the funds to make ends meet. Watson said the current balance in those accounts far exceed the recommended balance of three months of operating expenses.
“We are in good shape,” Watson said of the fund balance. “By using the fund balance, we can keep the tax burden down.”
The tax rate for Maintenance and Operations stayed at $1.04 per $100 value. Watson told The Independent in recent weeks that an increase in property values in the school district allowed the rate to remain unchanged. The increase came in Interest and Sinking or debt where the tax rate climbed from $0.29 to $0.41 per $100 property value as a result of a bond package adopted by voters in 2010.
The tax increase adopted this week means the owner of property valued at $259,102 (the new average property value) will pay an additional $619 in school district taxes in 2012. The average market value of a home in the district increased by $14,254 since 2011. Revenue from property taxes is projected at $16,748,069, revenue from the state at $8,160,708 and revenue from federal programs at $1,529,073, bringing the total revenues to $26,437,850.
Superintendent Rob Hart said the state’s allocation per student has not changed for Liberty Hill since 2005 ($5,459 per student) as a result of pending lawsuits against the state regarding claims of inequity in school finance. While school districts’ expenses have skyrocketed during that time, the state’s share of funding has remained unchanged. Some districts that are not growing in population are struggling.
“The only way to increase revenue is to gain students,” Hart said. “We are gaining revenue because of growth in student enrollment.”
Hart said the district could see as many as 230 new students when school opens Tuesday, August 28.
He said 401 new students had enrolled as of Monday and after subtracting those who graduated in the spring, the difference could be about 230. As school begins, the number will become more solid as the district learns of students who moved away during the summer.
Trustees viewed a 69-page financial document that contained the budget and tax information, which was also provided to The Independent. Only a few questions were asked by elected officials before they voted unanimously to adopt the proposal. Trustee Leslye Pogue was not present Monday.
The salary increase included in the budget will cost about $500,000. The increase in step pay will mean an additional $300-$700 for teachers, up to $1,000 for administrators and an hourly rate increase ranging from $0.10 to $0.50 for hourly workers.
Watson told The Independent that administrators will see a greater increase because they work 39 more days in the fiscal year than teachers. He said the administrators’ increase is determined by multiplying their daily rate by the number of days they are required to work.
In addition to a salary increase for employees, the budget includes a continued computer lease with Dell, two new school buses that will be financed and 50 new band uniforms that Watson said would meet the needs of a growing band program for two years.
The Board will have a special meeting at 7 a.m. August 31 to consider final revisions or amendments to the current year’s budget.
In other business Monday, trustees voted to create an additional teaching position at Burden Elementary School. Hart explained that after the budget was prepared, new students continued to enroll at Burden Elementary creating the need for another teacher.
The Board also approved the 2012-2013 Student Code of Conduct, which is combined with the Student Handbook that was also reviewed.
Special Programs Coordinator Sherry Hall explained that the most important changes in the both documents related to bullying, sexting, harassment and online behaviors although those changes were not described as part of the discussion Monday.
The Board also approved changes to local policy to reflect changes in state law requiring that 15 percent of a high school student’s final grade in a course be his score on the end of course exam.
Hart said he expected this might change when the Legislature meets in 2013 as there has been confusion across the state about the requirement.
The Board also heard an update from the architect and contractor regarding progress on building construction and renovations in the school district. All projects continue to be on schedule.
Following a 50-minute executive session, the Board voted unanimously to accept the resignations of Charla Schooler and Tammy Lensing, and hired Jordan Ball (second grade), Catherine Floyd (LHHS life skills), Thomas Foster II (eighth grade social studies/boys coach), Nicole McConnell (third grade), Brittany Thomas (sixth grade), Tina Wheeler-Vizy (licensed specialist in school psychology), and Becky Williams (licensed speech language pathology assistant).
During public comments, the Board heard from Christopher Landrum who requested they consider naming the new high school campus after Liberty Hill’s first known teacher — Julius Landrum. Christopher Landrum, who is the quadruple great- grandson of the first teacher, shared his presentation earlier with The Independent. It was published August 2nd and can be found at www.LHIndependent.com.