Despite the Lewisville ISD Board of Trustees having had three workshop meetings since May over the 2017/18 budget, the district
has yet to make that proposed budget public on its website or provide it in response to The Lewisville Texan Journal’s requests*. (*See updates at bottom.)
But in the budget workshop meeting Aug. 3, the handful of media and public in attendance got a preview of some of what the board is looking at for the coming school and fiscal year.
The board voted 4–1 to publish a proposed tax rate that is 1.25 cents below this year’s rate.
The certified tax rolls for Denton County show that property values within Lewisville ISD are up 10.05 percent over last year, far exceeding the 6 percent growth in values the district previously anticipated.
The proposed decrease is to the interest and sinking fund portion of the tax rate, which drops from $0.38 to $0.3675 per $100 of property valuation. The operations portion of the tax rate, which provides the funding to pay teachers, remains at $1.04 per $100.
Even though the rate drops a bit, most homeowners will see an increase in total taxes paid due to the rapid increase in appraisal values. From 2016 to 2017, the average home value in the district increased from $279,795 to $300,329. LISD Chief Financial Officer Mike Ball said that the owner of that average home would see their total school taxes increase by about $293 over the prior year.
Ball told the trustees that the State of Texas is the beneficiary of the increase in property tax values. The state reduces its portion of funding for school districts when districts collect more based on increased property values.
The operations budget for 2017/18 calls for expenditures of $466.5 million. At this amount, the district is projected to have a $9.6 million deficit. Trustees previously passed a 3 percent raise for employees in the coming year. That raise will cost about $9.5 million in the coming year. Another $552,600 will be spent reducing employee health insurance premiums.
Any deficits are paid from previously saved money in the district’s fund balance. The general fund balance is part savings account, part buffer. The district’s policy is to keep at least three months of operating funds in the account.
“That fund balance gives us the opportunity to respond in an orderly manner to any potential negative thing that might happen financially, whatever it might be — a downturn in the economy or a change in the funding formulas, or a downturn in our enrollment — you name it,” Ball said.
Ball said the district projects that the fund will grow by $4 million by the end of this fiscal year. The fund balance started the year at $158.6 million. Ball said the fund currently has enough to operate the district for four months.
Ball emphasized to the trustees that the budget needs to be worse than actual. He pointed out that even though the district had budgeted for an $8.5 million deficit in the current year, the district came out $4 million in the black.
“Unlike our personal budgets, we do have to have the authority to spend in the school environment,” Ball said. “So, because it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen 14 months from now, we have to have some excess in the expenditure budget, otherwise we’d have a compliance violation if we overspend the budget.”
The only action item on the agenda for trustees Thursday was approval for Ball publishing the tax rates in a local newspaper, in accordance with state law. The tax rate published in the paper serves as a ceiling that trustees cannot exceed when setting the rate.
Trustees could have chosen the current $0.38 per hundred rate for I&S, which would have raised about $4.4 million more than the district needed for its required bond payments in the coming year.
Board member Kristi Hassett said she wanted to use that extra money to try to reduce the district’s debt by refunding or retiring some bonds as early as next May. Ball said that interest rates could end up rising by then, which could make that a bad idea.
Board Vice President Kronda Thimesch said that she felt that lowering the tax rate would be a gesture of goodwill.
Trustees Trisha Sheffield, Thimesch, Tracy Miller and Board President Angie Cox all voted to publish the $0.3675 rate, with Hassett the sole dissenter.
In May, voters approved a $738 million bond package for the district. Projections issued at that time pointed to a possible $0.387 tax rate, which would have been a 0.7 cent increase.
Even as the district sets its budget for the coming year, a special session of the legislature is under way in Austin, and that could have impacts on the district — either through unfunded mandates or changes in the funding formula.
After the meeting, Rogers said that although he is concerned about the bills before the legislature, he didn’t expect current bills to impact LISD in the upcoming fiscal year.
“Most of the time… they’ll give you a calendar year, whatever, so we wouldn’t expect for something to pass this summer and ‘whammo, too bad,’ because there’s a lot of school districts unlike us that are on a July 1 budget, so they had to adopt their budget in June,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the Texas House of Representatives was also trying to add more money into the biennial budget for education.
The board meets at the Bolin Administration Center, 1565 W. Main Street to discuss the budget and get public participation at 6 p.m., Monday, August 28. The public is invited to attend and provide input.
The Board of Trustees also meets at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 14 at the Bolin Administrative Center, 1565 W. Main St. An agenda will be published several days prior. Although the budget will not likely be on the agenda for discussion at this meeting, the public may submit comment cards and speak to the board if desired.
A summary of the proposed budget as well as a comparison to the prior year is available on the LISD website here.
*Update: 3:15 p.m. – Monday, 8/7:
Sometime Monday, Lewisville ISD removed the web page from their website (linked above) that had previously been used to display the preliminary budget in prior years.
Lewisville ISD CFO Mike Ball responded to one of LTJ’s request for the preliminary budget document citing a section of the Texas Education Code, which requires notifying the public between 10 and 30 days prior to the budget hearing. Ball said “Please know that LISD will post the proposed budget in full compliance with the requirements of Texas Education Code Section 44.0041.”
Assuming the notice is published August 12 or 13, the public should have only two weeks prior to the budget hearing, which the district is holding at a location other than its primary meeting location. The budget hearing would likely be held at the scheduled August 28 “Special meeting” at Career Center East. LISD’s fiscal year begins Sept. 1.
Update 4:50 p.m. – Tuesday, 8/8:
Lewisville ISD today published a high-level summary of the draft budget at this link.
We have updated the story above to note that the meeting scheduled for the 28th is to consider the budget, and will be held at the Bolin Center.