CCISD administration talks tax ratification election, budget concerns
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Should the Copperas Cove Independent School District’s September 8 Tax Ratification Election not pass, the district will have to cut approximately $4 million from the 2018-2019 School Year budget, in the form of capital Improvement projects and vehicle purchases.
That’s the message shared during a public hearing and meeting held on Tuesday evening by the CCISD board of trustees.
June Crawford, CCISD’s chief financial officer, shared the proposed budget, showing what the budget would be, should the TRE be successful and unsuccessful. The total amount budgeted for general operating funds if the TRE is successful is just over $73.1 million. If the TRE fails to pass, that drops to just over $69 million. The district’s debt service fund would be $1.75 million if the TRE passes, but would increase to $5.49 million if the TRE fails, which would result in the bonded debts being paid off sooner, Crawford said. The Child Nutrition Services funds are not affected by the TRE either way, so the amount of $3.57 million would stay the same.
Crawford said the $4.1 million in cuts would come in the form of cutting capital improvement projects, which include any upgrades or renovations to classrooms, upgrades to technology; as well as start charging fees for summer school, and extracurricular activities and eliminating future transportation purchases.
For future years, the district would have to look at eliminating or scaling back some of the other programs offered.
Crawford showed charts breaking down which percentage of the funds went to what areas. More than 77 percent of the general fund budget goes to payroll and benefits.
“We are probably the largest employer within Copperas Cove, so we employ a lot of teachers and most of our money goes to paying for teacher salaries,” Crawford said.
There were also charts that showed the amount of debt the district has. By 2025, the district will be nearly debt free, she added.
The reason for the TRE is to help offset the loss of Federal Impact Aid funds, Crawford said.
CCISD is currently in the last year of the three-year “hold harmless” period, which it entered into after the number of students connected to active duty military dropped below 35 percent in the 2015-2016 school year.
The federal government paid almost $4 million but still currently owes the district at least $7 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, plus $9.02 million for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
Even with that loss of funding, and no source of other funding, the district still needs to maintain its facilities.
“As you all know, the longer you’re in a house, the more things can eventually go wrong,” Crawford said.
In addition to replacing HVAC units and repairing roofs, CCISD is also in need of security upgrades to some of its schools.
During the board’s regular meeting, it approved a resolution to commit portions of the fund balance for the 2018 - 2019 fiscal year, committing $7.5 million for the future purchase of land or construction of facilities and $6.5 million for potential future Impact Aid shortfalls.
CCISD’s fund balance is $64 million, but with the $14 million approved to be set aside for facilities and Impact Aid, the district still must set aside around $8 million for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS)’s retirement liability as well as approximately $24 million for the TRS health insurance, all while maintaining the Texas Education Agency (TEA)’s required three months of operating expenses, which totals approximately $18 million, according to Superintendent Joe Burns. Because the fund balance is $0 after the TRS liabilities, CCISD is considered a District in Need of Financial Assistance by TEA, Burns said.
The district faces only two options to increase funding: asking the voters or seeing astronomical student growth, which would still require new facilities.
Burns stressed that should the TRE pass, the tax rate that residents pay will not increase.
The current tax rate is $1.22 per $100 valuation, with $1.04 making up the Maintenance and Operations rate and $0.18 making up Interest and Sinking rate.
The proposed rate would move $0.13 from the I&S to M&O, bringing that amount up to $1.17. When the board approved the measure to raise the M&O rate, they also approved a resolution establishing a legally binding covenant that, should the TRE pass, guarantees no further action on the board’s part to drop the I&S rate from $0.18 to $0.05. This keeps the tax rate at $1.22 per $100 valuation. Should the TRE pass, the district will see an additional $4.1 million available in the General Fund.
This additional $4.1 million keeps CCISD from having to turn around and cut expenses.
“And we’ve been cutting expenses since I’ve been here, for six years, and we’re to the point where it gets messy now, it gets really messy,” Burns said. “You get into staff, you get into kids and you get into programs. We have always taken pride since I’ve been here, in saying ‘We’re not going to let those cuts touch those kids. We’re not going to let that impact the quality of programming we provide to the kids.’”
Burns estimated that the district would not be able to guarantee that after the next year due to the way they receive funding.
The board went on to approve the district’s 2018-2019 budget during the regular meeting.
Early voting for the tax ratification election will take place Wednesday, August 22 through Friday, August 24, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the CCISD board room, located at 408 S. Main St. Early voting continues on Monday, August 27 from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., August 28 through August 31 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., Tuesday, September 4 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. On election day, Saturday, September 8, voting will take place at the Coryell County Justice Center, 201 S. 1st St. in Copperas Cove, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.