By Leslie Gibson

Herald-Banner Staff

Though appraisals are flat, and student population growth requires additional staffing and facility improvements, the Rockwall Independent School District Board on Monday night was able to adopt a 2008-09 budget which keeps the same tax rate as last year.

The new budget maintains the Board of Trustees’ goal of a 20 percent contingency, funds new positions, raises salaries, accommodates fuel costs, and pays bond issues for facility improvements in the works for the 13,000 student-district for fiscal year 2008-09.

An overall increase in property values will bring in an additional 5.1 percent in ad valorem revenue over last year, though the tax rate per $100 valuation remains at $1.47.

Of the $1.47, the $1.04 for maintenance and operations is expected to be bring in almost 5 percent more than last year. The other .43 will bring in about 6 percent more to the debt service. Collection rate is figured to be 98 percent.

Property appraisals throughout the county stayed within 2 percent over or under of last year, it has been noted recently by the Rockwall County Central Appraisal District.

That trend shows in RISD. The tax bill on an “average” home went up 1.3 percent up from last year. An “average” taxable home value in RISD is $205,298 making the tax assessment $2,797.38. The total number of accounts in the district is almost 30,000.

General Fund

Local, paid-on-time taxes provide for more than half of the maintenance and operations budget (general fund) of the district; for the upcoming fiscal year, the projection is $56.1 million. Another $3 million from other sources, everything from interest in investments to donations, to gate receipts, rounds out the local support.

The state provides $41.5 million, and the federal government kicks in $100 thousand. All three sources taken together give maintenance and operations $101.7 million.

However, operating expenses are $104.7 million. In spite of having to decrease the fund balance for next year by $3 million, that balance is still projected to be within district goal, sitting at 20 percent of budget, at $22.5 million.

Of note, the district had added just more than $3 million last year to give this fiscal year’s ending balance of $25 million.

Just about the same percent of the general fund goes to instruction as is taken in ad valorem on-time taxes: 57 percent. Payroll is the bulk of that, which along with services, supplies and other, comes to $59 million.

Maximizing the learning capabilities for each student is a stated initiative, or trend of the district, as noted in the budget’s written introduction. “Highly qualified staff is fundamental” to mission, has been noted by board members and administrators in written and stated opinions. In any board meeting this past year, in which teacher salaries or benefits have been discussed, trustees have always supported salary increases and benefits to not only keep Rockwall ISD competitive, but at a high level.

In-district teacher tenure of 10 years or more, will continue to be recognized with stipends. A new Doctorate degree salary schedule is $1,000 above the masters degree schedule. Salary recommendations made by the Texas Association of School Boards in Spring 2008 are included. Step adjustments are being added. A mentor stipend is new. Substitute pay is increasing for number of days substituted, with Friday substitutes getting an extra $10.

The district continues to pay 100 percent of the each employee’s insurance premium.

Overall, the compensation package is increasing 7.2 million, of which 5.2 million is for teachers and staff, financial director Mike Singleton told the board in a budget workshop Aug. 18.

Of the 42.5 new positions, 31 are teachers. The rest are principals, assistant principals, paraprofessionals, and aides in bilingual and special education.

Student transportation expenses are increasing $835 thousand over last year, which is nearly 6 percent. Fuel cost increase is $650,000, according to Singleton, finance director.

“There is no big increase in the general fund budget,” he said in the special meeting Monday.

Debt Service

Debt has been issued per past voter approval to build, add onto, or remodel facilities. The .43 of the tax rate will generate nearly all of the $24.3 million in debt service revenue.

Expenditures will be $25 million. The debt service fund balance will be decreased accordingly, bringing it from this year’s Sept. 1 $2.05 million to next year’s expected $1.3 million.

“Selling $90 million in bonds is a big increase in debt service,” Singleton told the board, referring to bonds which were sold as part of the capital improvement plan of 2006-07.

Spending Targets

Thanks to a “very narrow restrictive” definition of spending targets, as superintendent Dr. Gene Burton said in a prior workshop, the budget will not meet the “Spending Targets” set by the Texas Commissioner of Education in the summer of 2006. Those are percentages the state believes should be spent on particular categories: Instruction, leadership, student-based support services, non-student-based support services, and administrative.

In instruction, the Texas Education Agency set 65 percent; Rockwall is at 58.5 percent.

“We have established what is best for the Rockwall school district,” Singleton said in his presentation on the budget to the board. “The model we have in place for staffing, professional development, for facilities, is all related to board goals.”

Hitting the target would require removal of $6.7 million, or 15 percent, of what the district has allocated to maintenance, counseling, custodial and libraries.

“When there was a broader definition (of spending targets), we met it,” Dr. Burton said, and added, “Research Mr. Singleton has conducted — there will be a significant number of districts, especially with fast growth, which do not hit the target.” Thirteen of the 19 districts Singleton surveyed won’t meet it, Singleton had said in the Aug. 18 workshop.

No penalty is imposed for not meeting percentages. Staff is looking closely at the coding structure as part of its investigation into meeting the targets.

The board unanimously passed a resolution Monday night stating that the board is aware of the targets not being met. The budget with accompanying introduction and appendixes is on the school district website.

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