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MCISD talks budget for upcoming school year

A new charter school and a statewide increase to taxpayers’ homestead exemption are forcing Mission CISD to take a hard look at next year’s budget. During a workshop last month, budget officers proposed increasing the tax rate and they said they’re looking at options to increase employee salaries while maintaining a $146 million budget.

In November, Texas voters have the opportunity to increase homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000, but the district was told to assume it’s already approved, said Rumalda Ruiz, the assistant superintendent of finance and operation. The increase means the district will lose $905,550 on property tax revenue. The state will reimburse the school district but budget officers don’t know when that money will be replaced.

MCISDlogoIn 2011, voters approved a tax ratification election, or tax swap. Last year’s increase from $1.30 to $1.33 per $100 property evaluation was to restore some of the funding to the debt service fund, which had money removed from it and put into the general operation fund.

Because the state reimburses school districts more for general fund tax dollars than debt service tax dollars. The district made about $1.8 million with the tax swap.

The Instructional Facilities Allotment is a fund that helps low-income districts pay off debt. But because the district is not collecting enough taxes, the state penalizes the district with reduced funding, Ruiz said. The district is deficient by 30 percent so the state cut funding by 30 percent, as per funding formula.

“That’s why we’ve been working to restore the tax rate so that it’s a win/win situation for Mission, so that we get maximized on property tax and we maximize the revenue we get from the state,” Ruiz said.

This year, the total proposed tax rate is $1.367, increasing the debt service tax rate from 16 cents to 19.7 cents.

The district’s state revenue for the new fiscal year is based on an assumed 14,134 average daily attendance, including the full-day pre-K program that will be implemented in the fall. However, MCISD did not have the influx of numbers it hoped for during pre-K preregistration.

Attendance, which is different from enrollment, has been steadily decreasing for the past few years, Ruiz said. But this is not a Mission-specific problem. It’s happening all over the Valley, and in large part due to the formation of IDEA schools.

A new IDEA campus opening near O’Grady Elementary means competition for students, Ruiz said.

“So based on ADA trend, I want to be conservative because ADA drives our funding,” Ruiz said. “I don’t want to be overestimating.”

So far, there are 649 prekindergarten students registered. In the preliminary phase, the district intended to hire 29 additional teachers and 20 additional teacher’s aides. But in order to balance out the budget, there will only 20 additional teaching positions. The total cost of the teachers and aides is estimated at $1.7 million.

During the 84th legislative session, a high-quality prekindergarten grant was approved, which would allow up to $1,500 per eligible four-year-old student in grant funding. The state also restored $55 million for instructional facilities allotment, a fund created to help low-income districts pay off their debt. If Mission CISD wishes to consider applying for the funding at a later time, it would need to reverse last year’s tax swap.

In regard to raises, the district had three propositions for salary increase – 1.5 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent, which would push the district over budget.

According to findings from the Texas Association of School Boards, Mission’s teacher pay is mostly above the target market median. The findings are based on a study that included eight other school districts in the Valley. The starting teacher salary is 2 percent above the market median, but is mostly below the 75th percentile.

The district is also changing its fiscal year to begin Sept. 1, hoping to improve teacher recruitment, align the fiscal year with the school year and provide efficiencies to the campuses.

“By the time (teachers) leave for the summer break, they should have in mind more or less what the compensation package is going to look like for next year,” Ruiz said. “They can make their own choices, if it’s a good decision to stay with us. I hope they do.”

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