With the 2023-24 school year officially underway the Board of Trustees for Aledo ISD had several important items on the docket for their meeting on Monday, Aug. 21. Chief among those issues was addressing concerns related to budget shortfalls in the wake of the Texas State Legislature’s passing cuts to property taxes during the special session earlier this summer.
The funding issue doesn’t stem from the cuts to property taxes, though. The issue lies with the legislature only doing half the job during their special session.
The state has a surplus of dollars, which is why Governor Greg Abbott pressed the legislature to pass property tax relief across the state when he called for a special session. The legislature came to an agreement on tax cuts just before the deadline, which will significantly reduce the tax burden for property owners across the Lone Star State. As part of the bill, funding the maintenance and operations (M&O) side of the budget for schools across Texas will come from the surplus sitting in Austin.
Here's the problem.
With deliberations running up until the 11th hour just to pass the tax cuts, the legislature did not leave enough time to discern where the dollars from the surplus would go in order to fund the M&O side of the budget for schools across the state. In response to what is rapidly becoming a budgetary crisis for school boards and administrators, Aledo’s Board of Trustees sent letters to each of the area’s state representatives last week advising them of the problems facing school funding and pleading for the legislature to finish the job.
“When we started coming to understand that the legislature wouldn’t be doing anything for school funding – or doing a very, very minimal amount for school funding – certainly nothing to tackle the issue of teacher pay and inflation, we decided that we needed to make cuts,” Superintendent Dr. Susan Bohn stated during Monday’s meeting. “We decided that this community would expect that we would try to get into budget, or as close to into the budget as we can, so we have done a 10-percent operational cut for all campuses and all departments across the district. We will continue to implement those and look for other opportunities [to make budgetary cuts].”
Chief Financial Advisor for the district, Earl Husfeld, mentioned in light of the lack of finalized appropriation of state funding for schools, Aledo ISD, like many others across the state, are having to adopt deficit budgets. Husfeld said the district is working diligently to minimize deficits in the short term, but cautioned the longer the legislature takes to determine where funding dollars will come from, the larger the deficits will become.
Both he and Board of Trustees President Forrest Collins expressed their personal hopes the legislature will reconvene for a second special session as early as October to provide funding relief for schools.
“What we aren’t doing this year is we aren’t cutting staff,” Bohn stressed during the meeting. “We aren’t saying, ‘We aren’t doing that program anymore because we can’t afford it.’ If the legislature doesn’t do anything in the special session, when we’re back here this time next year, we will be talking about that. I don’t think there will be any way that we can’t.”
Property tax rates for Aledo ISD have been on the decline in recent years before the legislature passed sweeping tax cuts this year. The M&O side of funding within the district will see an 18.5 cents per $1,000 of property value decrease this year while the debt services side will see a 2.5 cents increase due to the passage of the school bond in March of 2023.
The net 16 cents reduction in tax burden across the district means overall the district has experienced a 39 cents reduction in property taxes over the past five years.
On top of the decrease in property taxes the district has experienced in the past few years, Husfeld also mentioned a potential increase in the state’s homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000 will be put before voters during the November election. Tax statements sent to property owners in October will reflect the increased exemption rate before the measure hits the ballot to give property owners an understanding of their tax burden in the event the measure passes.
Schools are required to submit their budgets to the state prior to the election to be reflected on tax statements as if the measure has already passed. Voters have historically approved increases to the exemption when it has been on the ballot.
Should voters not pass the measure, Husfeld stated the district would revise the budget at that time to reflect the current homestead exemption limits.
The first day of school last week marked the first time in a few years the district has not opened a new school. Last year the district opened the new McAnally Middle School on the first day of the 2022-23 school year. The new Lynn McKinney Elementary School that is currently under construction is slated to open just in time for the first day of school in August of 2024.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Amber Chrissey added that even though no new schools opened in the district this year, Aledo ISD still added over 100 new teachers across the district.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here