Trustees adopt budget, set tax rate
By SHELLY WILKISON
Liberty Hill school Trustees on Monday adopted a $49.2 million budget for fiscal 2018. While the spending plan is 12 percent higher than last year, Trustees kept the tax rate at $1.54 per $100 property valuation because of the increase in property value.
Of the tax rate, $1.04 generates revenue for maintenance and operations while $0.50 goes toward debt service. With final certified values in the school district at more than $2.39 billion, revenue generated by the property tax is projected at $37,562,721 or 74 percent of the total revenue.
Additional revenue from the state is projected at $10.9 million (22 percent) while federal programs generate $1.98 million (4 percent).
The new year’s budget is based on a student enrollment of 4,177.109. The funding the district receives from the state is based on average daily attendance at that number.
Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Hanna explained that as local revenue goes up, state revenue decreases.
The budget is about 12 percent higher than last year, with the largest increase in the area of personnel. Personnel represents 82 percent of the district’s expenditures or $30.69 million — an increase of 12 percent over the current year.
Debt service is projected to be 9 percent higher than last year at $11,457,384.
The budget shows an increase to Fund Balance of $275,840 for M&O and $950,616 for debt service (Interest & Sinking) for a total of $1,226,456.
In other business Monday, the Board approved changes to a proposed random drug testing policy at the high school. Changes approved Monday were recommended by Texas Association of School Boards after the district submitted a proposed plan earlier this summer.
While the district has not selected a vendor for the program, adopting the policy is the first step.
“Nothing has been decided yet,” said Interim High School Principal Jonathan Bever. “But we need to finalize this language before contracting with a vendor.”
While some board members appeared somewhat reluctant to adopt a policy change, Trustee Kathy Major agreed with Bever that this step comes first.
“I believe we need our policy in place so companies will meet the standards we set,” she said.
In May, the Board authorized district officials to pursue a drug testing policy in response to recommendations by former Principal Mario Bye that students who participate in extra-curricular activities or drive to school be tested randomly for various substances. At that time, the discussion was about urine samples.
On Monday, Bever proposed that saliva be tested rather than urine.
“It’s a little quicker, cleaner,” he told The Independent. “I felt like I wanted kids in class, but at the same time I want them to be responsible for their actions. Testing saliva is quicker.”
Bever said testing saliva is more accurate than testing urine, although he said substances are not detected for as long a period of time.
“It is more accurate, but the time frame is shorter for saliva. Urine picks up more stuff from a longer period of time,” he said.
Bever said the costs of testing saliva versus urine are about the same, although he hasn’t received a specific quote from anyone because the policy needed to be addressed first.
“I feel like this is something to help kids,” he said. “We’re here to help them and provide the resources they need.”
The policy also identifies the following substances that will be tested: marijuana, cocaine, methadone, amphetamines and opiates. Bever said PCP was removed from the list and methadone was added because it seemed to be more commonly used in the area as opposed to PCP.
He said some of the policy changes addressed concerns that had been raised in the community since the announcement was made that the district would be implementing a drug testing program. Those concerns related to student privacy and assuring confidentiality of the results, insuring that testing companies are ethical, responding to positive results for students taking prescribed medications that might be on the list of tested substances, and test accuracy.
Board members heard a presentation on the 2018-2019 Student Handbook, which included few changes from the previous school year.
Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle said the handbook is based on recommendations from TASB, but includes local policy as well.
Among the items noted by Pirtle were the “15-minute rule” that restricts parents from going in the school to pick up children during the last 15 minutes of the school day; and a change in policy prohibiting edible treats.
Parents often bring desserts and snacks on special occasions such as birthdays. Pirtle said the rule is being enforced to protect students who might have food allergies.
“We will still celebrate birthdays, but in some other not-so-tasty way,” he said.
Pirtle said the dress code is the same as last year, and the district is working on more consistent enforcement across all campuses.
Also Monday, the Board approved:
– Internet content filtering contract with IBoss through Region XIII
– Student Technology Acceptable Use Policy and Staff Acceptable Use Policy
– District T-TESS Appraisers and Appraisal Calendar, and
– LHISD Investment Policy.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Andrea Burnell told Trustees that she had withdrawn her two children from LHISD the first week of school after discovering on Meet the Teacher night that her Intermediate School student would spend six of eight class periods in portable buildings.
“The portable classrooms don’t have enough security. My son was at a disadvantage from the rest of the school,” she said.
Burnell also noted the lack of restroom facilities, and during class time, the doors to the building are locked. Unprotected access to the walking trail around Lions Foundation Park was also a concern.
“We reside in Liberty Hill, pay taxes here, we bought property here. We chose it (LHISD) because of what it promised. We were misled,” she said.
Board members do not interact with speakers during the public comments period.