La Joya Independent School District on Aug. 24 approved a $358.5 million budget, including debt service costs, for the 2016-17 fiscal year and adopted a tax rate of $1.311. The district has had the same tax rate for at least five years.
While La Joya’s tax rate is lower than Mission CISD and Sharyland ISD, La Joya has far more students and receives more state and federal funding.
Mission CISD lowered its tax rate for the 2016-17 year by nearly a penny, setting the new rate at $1.3582. Sharyland ISD approved a 4-cent tax rate increase, setting the district’s tax rate at $1.3755.
The local revenue per LJISD student is expected to increase from $1,046 last year to $1,062 in 2017, due to increases in local property appraised values. However, the state revenue per student will drop $334 per student — from $9,002 to $8,668, according to figures provided by the Hidalgo County Appraisal District.
According to LJISD Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Finance Alfredo Vela, La Joya ISD teachers will receive a $2,100 pay raise this year, while other professionals employed by the district will see a four percent of midpoint pay raise. Auxiliary staff and paraprofessionals will receive a $1 per hour increase.
By comparison, Mission CISD and Sharyland ISD are giving teachers a $1,000 raise .
This year’s pay raises at LJISD will cost an additional $8.8 million compared to last year’s payroll costs. The teachers’ pay raises will cost the district $4.6 million; auxiliary staff, $1.7 million; para-professionals, $1.4 million; and other professionals $975,000.
Overall payroll costs will increase $21 million this year and fringe benefits will rise $5.4 million. Although the total budget is more than $20 million less than five years ago, payroll costs have continued to climb each year from $198 million in 2011-12 to $251.9 million in 2016-17, a 27% increase. This year’s $21 million increase is by far the largest increase in recent history.
Meanwhile the growth in ADA (average daily attendance) has stagnated. The ADA increased a total of 2.6% over the past five years, from 26,132 to 26,798. This year, the district is projecting zero growth, and last year the ADA increased by only 24 students.
This is a dramatic change from the growth patterns the district experienced over a decade ago. According to the district’s 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the district’s ADA grew by well over 1,000 students per year between 2002 and 2006. Between 2007 and 2009 ADA increased over 700 students.
Vela explained in an interview Monday the budget is based on a 98 percent collection rate of local property taxes, which is about the same collection rate the district expects at the close of the 2015-16 fiscal year ending Aug. 31.
“We (still) have two months to report, which will be July and August, and we should be very close to 98 to 98.5 percent,” he stated.
The taxable values for properties located in La Joya ISD increased from $2.19 billion last year to $2.25 billion this year, producing an estimated $31.6 million in local tax revenues.
Most of the district’s debt from the 2004, 2006 and 2008 bond issues have been refinanced to take advantage of lower interest rates, Vela said. The total outstanding balance on the bonds is $246 million. Principal payments and interest payments due in 2016-17 will be nearly equal, at just under $12 million each.