HUNTSVILLE — The Huntsville ISD Board of Trustees set the same tax rate for the 2013–2014 fiscal year at the same rate as it has been since 2007-2008.
The board unanimously approved the tax rate at $1.21: a combination of the Maintenance and Operations rate set by the board at $1.04 and the $0.17 additional taxes from previous bond elections.
“As you can see, we’ve remained the same for a long time,” Board President J.T. Langley said.
The last change in the tax rate was during the 2007-2008 school year, which saw a decrease from previous rates. Even if the school board was to want an increase in tax rates, it wouldn’t have happened at Thursday night’s meeting.
“Even if we wanted to change it, it would require voter-approval,” board member Dr. Karin Olson-Williams said. “There wasn’t going to be a surprise tonight.”
State law set a cap on the so-called M&O rate increase that is able to be set by a school board without voter approval. HISD’s current M&O tax rate is at the maximum of $1.04. The school board could have called for an election to raise M&O tax rates at a maximum rate of $1.17, but any increase would have been in need of an election.
The second part of the total tax rate currently at $0.17 cannot be changed barring voters approving a bond.
Superintendent Dr. Steve Johnson said HISD is in a unique position in terms of tax and state revenue because the taxable property is low due to the number of state and federally owned property in the area.
“When you look at our tax base, it’s low compared to the number of students we have enrolled,” Johnson said. “Some other superintendents and myself will get together and discuss with state representatives (John Otto and Dr. Charles Schwertner) on receiving, for lack of a better term, state impact funding.”
Huntsville’s taxable land boundary includes lands owned by the City of Huntsville, Walker County, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University and the lands owned by the national forest. None of those properties are taxable as governmental entities, reducing the total revenue the school district could receive.
The board also approved the 2013-2014 budget, which remained largely unchanged except for funds added back into revenue that was restored as a result of Texas legislative action.
HB 5 restored just under $2 million to HISD in the last regular legislative session after more than $4.2 million was cut during budget talks in the previous legislature.
HISD Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Marjetta Spriggs presented the accountability reports to the school board, in which all HISD schools met the state standard.
Langley congratulated all the schools on their achievement after years of disappointing results.
“(This and previous school boards) have been looking forward to (positive results like this year’s) for the last few years,” he said.
Williams approached the new system as a major improvement over the last accountability system, but maintains reservations. She said the focus on student progress rather than stagnant test scores wasn’t as punitive on school districts.
In the previous accountability standards, school districts could be denied ratings based on one student in one sub-population (economically disadvantaged and racial groups), regardless of how well the rest of the campus did on the standardized test. The new system won’t fail a campus or district solely on those results, but also measures sub-group progress.
“We’ll see how these standards work going forward,” she said. “I hestitate, though, to compliment anything (the state) puts out, so I’ll keep my guard up.”
During public comment, William Elmer, who claimed to be a 12-year Huntsville resident, said the accountability ratings were a confusing way to rate the district.
“This is a cloudy standard (the Texas education system) goes by,” he said. “I have no idea what this means. How are you going to tell the public how schools are actually doing?”
Johnson responded later on in the meeting by partially agreeing with Elmer’s point.
“I think that (Elmer’s) argument has merit in that these standards are new to all of us and we aren’t exactly quite sure of how it all works yet,” Johnson said.
Maintenance Director Larry Brown also presented to the board all major projects completed during the summer including flooring renovations and painting projects like the insides of HISD gyms and the outside of the old Mance Park gym.
Communication Director Shannon Duncan and Johnson also presented four Employees of the Month. Rudy Carreno, a crafts assistant in the maintenance department, and Rob Kennedy, in the technology department, were selected as the June recipients. Jessica Jeter, communication department assistant and mail clerk, and Ester Zamudio, administrative assistant to the assistant superintendent, were selected for August.
Stacy Bennett, Samuel W. Houston Elementary principal, was also recognized for being elected the President of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, a statewide group with more than 5,800 members.