The Georgetown ISD board of trustees called a tax ratification election, or TRE, at its Aug. 6 meeting to ask voters for an additional 4 cents per $100 of property valuation. The election will be Oct. 9.
“We tried to not have to come to this point, but we are here now,” GISD board of trustees member Greg Eady said. “It’s my opinion up here [as a trustee] and as a voter that this is a necessary thing to do now.”
Trustee and board Secretary Sheila Carter was absent from the dais.
The election would change the tax rate for the district’s maintenance and operation portion from $1.04 to $1.08 per $100 valuation. If approved by voters, the average homeowner’s tax bill would increase by $78 a year, said Steve West, GISD’s interim chief financial officer.
“We serve at the community’s pleasure,” board President Scott Alarcon said. “This is not the school board raising the tax. The community will have to decide.”
Three citizens addressed the board at the Aug. 6 public hearing, each speaking against the election.
“[The economy] ain’t getting better,” Georgetown resident John Fenoglio Jr. said. “Now is not the time to raise taxes on anyone. My vote will be no.”
A committee of citizens organized by the board met July 30 to discuss the TRE. After nearly an hour of discussion, the group unanimously voted to recommend the board approve calling the election.
The board of trustees appointed the committee July 16. The group met twice to discuss the possible election with GISD Superintendent Joe Dan Lee, who said the district was at a critical point with its funding.
“It is becoming more of a challenge with the resources we have to continue to provide the same level of services to our students,” Lee told the committee at its July 23 meeting.
In the last two years the district has cut more than $7 million from its budget because of funding reductions from the state and federal government, he said.
“We’ve gotten down to the point now, in my opinion, that the quality of education will go down [if there are more budget cuts],” Eady said. “That’s not what we need for our city. The fact is, what we do now will affect years and years of our [children’s] education.”
The 4 cent tax increase would raise nearly $2.2 million for the district, which would help cover a nearly $600,000 deficit in the 2012–13 budget, West said.
Lee said additional monies raised with the increased tax could help fund needed transportation and technology costs or teacher raises—the district has not given teacher raises in three years, and all major capital purchases have been eliminated from the budget.
However, the money would most likely be put in the fund balance until the district knows the future of education funding in the state Legislature, Lee said.
“We feel confident that [the 4 cents] will carry us through the next two years,” Lee said. “We are not going to spend this additional money until we know what our financial future is going to be. We’re not going to spend it all this year and be in this situation again.”
Lee said he is not optimistic that funding from the state would get better and added that he feared the Legislature would not make education funding a priority until every school district had sought additional local taxes.
“This process has been going on for two years,” board member Ronna Johnson said. “Our government has not figured out a way to fund public education in this state.”
If the increase is not approved, the district would have to make additional budget reductions, he said. The district has already cut more than 200 positions
Although the board has not prioritized future cuts, Alarcon said a last resort could include closing an elementary school.
“This is what we see; this is what we’ve gone through,” Eady said. “The cuts, if we don’t get this passed, will be very dramatic.”