September 2012

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AISD Budget, Tax Rate, and New School Design

Alvin ISD Approves Tax Rate

Manvel Resident Earns College Scholarship

 

AISD Budget, Tax Rate, and New School Design

September 5, 2012

The Board of Trustees for the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) held a public hearing at its August meeting to discuss the 2012-2013 budget and the proposed tax rate property owners will pay this year.

Assistant Superintendent Tommy King summarized the key points for the Board and those in attendance.  The budget projects total income of $143,359,575, the largest portion coming from state revenue at $88.1 million.  The balance is made up of mostly local funds with some intermediate and out-of-state sources at $59.2 million.  Federal programs will contribute approximately $1 million to the budget this year.

Expenditures are projected to be $143,294,099, leaving an expected increase to the district’s fund balance of $65,476.  Instruction consumes the largest portion of the budget at $82.1 million, or just over 57%.  The next largest expenditures are Plant Maintenance and Operations at $12.5 million (8.7%), Administration at $7.1 million (5%), and School Leadership at $6.2 million (4.3%).

The district will see a net increase in total expenditures this year of 7.7% over last year’s budget. 

The district’s Maintenance and Operations tax rate has remained at $1.04 per $100 valuation since 2007, subsequent to the state mandated reduction in tax rates established by the state legislature.  The previous rate was $1.44.  The Debt Service tax rate has fluctuated in recent years and a reduction in the rate for this year of 1.5 cents will return the amount to the 2007 level of .2891 per $100 valuation.

The average taxable value of residences in the AISD taxing jurisdiction increased by $1,037 this tax year.  Taking into account the increased valuation and the lowered tax rate, an average tax payer will see a slight decrease in his tax bill this year. 

The Board of Trustees also approved the Superintendent to execute a contract to begin the process of completing the design development and construction documents for Elementary #15, located on County Road 59 and Kirby Drive.  The architect will be charged with re-siting the Mark Twain Elementary prototype for the new site.  The contract fee will be 3.8% of the final contracted construction price but not to exceed $700,000.  Jeff Couvillion, AISD’s Director of Building Programs, explained that the request is being made now in order to meet the timelines for the possible opening of the new school in the summer of 2014.  A request to both fund and move forward with the construction will be presented to the Board at a later date.

The total cost of the project is expected to be consistent with recent completed Elementary Schools at around $13 million.  The design cost was part of the 2009 bond program, but any subsequent construction costs should the Board approve its commencement will have to come from a combination of sources.  Savings resulting from previous projects along with the district’s fund balance will be needed to fund the construction.

AISD is not expected to put forth a new bond referendum this year, though one will likely be needed in 2013.

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Alvin ISD Trustees Debate Tax Rate

September 19, 2012

The Board of Trustees for the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) approved the tax rate for 2012-2013.  The overall tax rate was reduced by 1.5 cents, leaving a component breakdown of the overall tax rate at 1.04 for Maintenance and Operations (M&O) and .2891 for Interest and Sinking Fund (I&S).  The 1.5 cent reduction is to come from the I&S portion.  The combined rate is $1.3291 per $100 valuation.  The rate was passed with a 4-3 vote.

In dissenting, Trustee Mike Lansford explained the district anticipates a $15 to $20 million surplus for the tax year based on the expenditures in the approved budget.  He described how the unobligated fund balance for the district has increased in recent years from $35.7 million to $55.6 million at the end of the last budget year.  Additional surplus funds are expected when the current budget year is closed out in October.  In the past four years, he claims, the balance has grown by at least $5.5 million each year.  He espoused a reduction in the M&O tax rate of four cents (.04) in addition to the 1.5 cents on the I&S portion, saying it would equal approximately $5.5 million.

Lansford wonders how much surplus the district intends to accumulate.  He believes the public may oppose an expected bond issue next year if taxpayers feel the district is “rat holing” money.  He said he would support the rate if the excess funds were to be used toward new construction or to retire debt that.  But just “having it accumulate” is not acceptable.  He considers it far more prudent of the Board to adopt the increased rate reduction saying it would allow the district to “easily absorb the $5.5 million difference.”  He feels the administration has not provided sufficient justification for the tax rate in order for him to support it.

Trustee Sue Stringer also cast a dissenting vote.  She reminded the Board that the M&O tax rate was increased last year by 4 cents, which she voted against based on comments she claims were made by the county’s tax assessor/collector Rovin Garrett.  According to Stringer, she was told by Garrett that if the school district paid down their indebtedness by $1.4 million that the then existing rate could have been maintained.  Stringer went on to explain that she took issue with that because the district enjoyed a “larger excess” in fund balance than was anticipated.  She considers the decision to raise the tax rate last year as “egregious” and further considers the Board’s decision to not give it back this year as equally egregious when it “never should have been taken to start with.”  Stringer took issue with the fact that the expected year-end surplus amount is unknown before they are asked to vote on the tax rate.   

Acting Board President Tiffany Wennerstrom supported the tax rate, saying the district is well known in the state for being much better off financially than many other districts and that the tax rate is lower than many other districts.  She explained the fund balance as necessary to be able to make up possible shortfalls in funding from state and/or federal sources.  Trustee Charles McCauley also supported the rate expressing his desire to ensure a sufficient nest egg for the district to fall back on if necessary.

Deputy Superintendent Tommy King told the Board that fund balance is expected to be the primary source for the construction costs for Elementary School #15, to be located on CR 59 at Kirby Drive.  The school is currently in the design phase and it is expected that contract bids will be requested later this year.  The land has already been acquired and paid for.  Total construction costs for the new school are anticipated to be around $15 million.

Trustee Lansford pointed out that the district is currently servicing $10 million in bond funds that were sold but not used and said there is an additional $28 million in approved bonds that have not been sold.  “We can handle easily two schools”, he expressed.  King disagreed saying he does not believe “you can and maintain the proper amount of fund balance that is needed for a very growing school district.”     

Trustee Eddie Martinez, the third dissenting vote, asked for clarification from King that the 1.5 cent reduction in the I&S rate was due to the district refinancing their debt at more favorable terms earlier this year.  King confirmed that as well as explaining the increased property value for the district was a factor.  He commended King on his conservative approach to district finances, but also said that “it is hard for the taxpayer to understand when we are sitting on that kind of money”. 

Taxpayers will actually see a slight reduction in their tax bill this year from the previous year.  An average residence taxable value in the AISD taxing jurisdiction is $115,150 this year compared with $114,113 last year.  The increased value is mostly cancelled out by the 1.5 cent decrease in the tax rate so that the typical tax bill will be $1,530.46 this year.  Last year the taxes due on an average residence were $1,533.79.  The district has budgeted expenses this school year at just over $143 million.

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Manvel Resident Earns College Scholarship

September 26, 2012

Manvel resident Nora Figeuroa decided it was time to improve her lot in life.  After working more than seventeen years at Dillard’s as a visual merchandiser, a change in store management resulted in her facing a life change.  After an unpleasant departure from the store she realized that she could no longer fall back on the excuse of not having enough time to complete her GED.  She faced the reality of poor job prospects without it.  She admits fear in returning to school and the difficulty of being told for years that she would never succeed weighed heavily on her.    

But Nora overcame and enrolled in the Adult Reading Center in Pearland to complete the math portion of her GED.  She had completed other requirements for the degree in 1998 but missed the math test by just two points.

Nora says she did not finish high school due to, as she describes it, stupidity.  She dropped out just six months before graduation, having already acquired her senior picture and class ring.  She admits to not actually remembering why she did it.  “I know there was a guy involved,” she says, and then became involved with people who “were not so great.”  At 18, she felt at the time that she would have a better life by quitting school. 

Her two sons never knew their mother had not completed high school.  Nora says she was always embarrassed to tell them and did not want to provide any encouragement for them to repeat her mistake and drop out.  “I want the best for my kids,” she says. 

Nora is 52 years old and admits that only now does she consider her life to be on track.  While attending her GED classes in the morning she realized that she had many hours with little to do.  She wanted to find a job but the reality of her situation would hit her once again that without the education there was little she could hope to do.  She offered to volunteer her time at the Adult Reading Center so that she could learn about office procedures and get some valuable experience.

After four months of volunteer work, she was told of an opening that would pay her to do much of what she was already doing.  They took her in despite the lack of a GED or even a prepared resume.  The director told Nora that she heard nothing but good things about her and that everyone appreciated the work she was doing.  

It was just a week or two after receiving the paid position that Nora learned she had successfully completed her GED math requirements.  She was not thinking at all about a scholarship until her instructor suggested she apply for it.  Thinking she had little to lose as they would either accept it or not, she completed the application.  She would not know whether or not she won until the May graduation ceremony.

As Nora tells it, she did not really expect to get the scholarship and when the winners were announced at the end of the ceremony and her name was not called she assumed it would not be forthcoming.  After winners were declared, however, a speaker was touting the college’s continuing education department and announced that another scholarship was to be awarded.  That is when Nora “got all happy”.  She said it was a “big surprise” and it “meant a lot” as her family was in attendance and able to share the announcement with her.

Nora is the first GED student to receive a Continuing Education scholarship at Alvin Community College.  She was highly recommended by her GED instructor, but indicated on her application that she was only interested in taking computer classes to further her career potential.  Academic scholarships do not normally pay for workforce education classes but with the help of the Director of Continuing Education, additional departmental funding was located and a $500 scholarship was awarded to cover the cost of the computer classes Nora wanted to take.

Nora completed her scholarship classes this month.  She was trained in the various Microsoft Office products: Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word.  She also received training in resume preparation and interview skills.  She thanks God for the opportunity she has received and considers herself blessed.  While taking her scholarship classes, Nora was offered a promotion at her job and has taken on increased responsibility and enjoys a higher salary.  She expresses amazement at how fast everything is happening.

Nora sees herself as an executive assistant someday.  She realizes that she is starting over and it will take time to get where she wants to be professionally and financially, but she continues to pray and keeps her head up.  She is confident that “there will be something out there soon” for her.

College representative Suzanne Jerabeck explained that earning a GED is very important to those seeking good employment.  Citing national statistics, she claims it clearly shows the more education one completes the more opportunities become available and the higher the salary they are likely to earn.  “People who are coming in for GED’s today are in a category where there just are not any jobs available”, she said.  “It’s a sad situation as they are being pushed over to the side.”

Nora would tell those in similar circumstances as she was, perhaps thinking there is little hope, to never give up.  “If nothing else, keep encouraging yourself if nobody is there for you.” 

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