Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD considers tax hike, cites drop in state funding

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Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD

The Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District is considering a tax increase of four percent, claiming state funding for its schools has dropped $5.6 million in the past ten years.

The district in suburban San Antonio would join several others around the state, adopting property tax increases which must be passed by voters after school board approval.

The proposed increase of five cents on the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD’s maintenance and operations levy would move the district’s rate from $1.49 per $100 property valuation to $1.54 per $100.

School districts and their advocates point to the state’s funding structure for public schools, which they contend is not providing enough to support their enrollments and costs.

SCUC Superintendent Greg Gibson claims that enrollment is expected to fall, a reversal of projections of spiraling growth two years ago. When the district was selling a $137 million bond program, it told voters that the district would grow by 4,000 in the next decade, according to a demographer’s projections.

“We import the demographer data, we use this data to plan,” Wayne Pruski, SCUC executive director of facilities planning and development, said at the time.

Gibson added that the proposed package was a prudent measure to accommodate the influx of students.

“We only have projects in here that are related to student growth,” Gibson said. “What we’re trying to do is take care of things, like we recently renovated the press box. We did that not out of our bonding capacity, but we did that out of our savings account, if you will, our maintenance and operation fund balance. I think we will continue to do that. There is probably not enough in that to do large-scale projects, so we’ll always have to do smaller projects.”

Voters approved the package in November 2016 but the growth has yet to come, although the district’s state funding has increased.

The district’s most recent bond disclosure shows a 25 percent increase in state sources of funding between 2012 and 2016 to $64.7 million.  

At the same time, enrollment in the district increased nine percent to 15,384 as the district increased its number of employees — by 13 percent — to 1,904. Enrollment in October was 15,653.

Removing the debt service for the voter approved bonds, the district’s spending has remained about the same from 2012 to 2016, adjusted for inflation. Between 2009 and 2013, as enrollment increased 19 percent, the district cut expenditures by 25 percent.

Gibson declined an interview request.

Since 2006, 637 school districts have held tax ratification elections; 78 percent of them have passed, a marked increase in the decade previous, when 108 districts put the notion on a ballot and 16 percent, or 17 measures, passed.

The increase comes as lawmakers have changed the laws regarding taxation, giving the public more say in the taxes.

“School districts don’t hold tax ratification elections unless they are confident they will pass,” said Sheryl Pace, senior analyst at Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which supports the current method of school financing.

Before 2006, she said, districts could raise taxes six cents per $100 valuation without a vote. Now, anything over four cents takes a vote.

Districts are funded through a combination of state money, federal allotment and local revenue. As a district’s property values increase, its state funding is pulled back, a formula that should allow a district to maintain its spending. If it can’t control its spending or costs go up, a district will resort to a tax increase.

“There are so many different reasons for losing funding for a school district,” Pace said. “For example, they lose it because of increased property values in the district. They can say ‘well, the state is not giving us money to use anymore.’ But actually it is a shift between funding sources.”

Advocates for public education want the state to provide money equal to property tax revenue, and contend that the formula for school funding is, in part, based on calculations made over two decades ago.

“Our school finance system is much like an old cabin built in the 40s that is in need of serious renovation,” Chandra Villanueva, program director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, told a state school finance committee last year.

Enrollment projections like those at SCUC have been skewed most recently by the increase in charter schools, which draw students from traditional public schools.

Charter schools had 273,000 students at the end of the 2016-17 school year, a ten percent increase from the previous year and a 236 percent increase in the past decade.

Financial officers say the loss of students impacts districts, as charters can pop up within months, putting a dent in budgets that have been in the works for over a year.

“We can compete very nicely with charter schools, academically” Mark Youngs, chief financial officer in the Keller ISD, told The Texas Monitor in March. “But we can’t compete with someone who can open a school so quickly. I am doing the budget for the 2018-19 school year right now, and if someone comes in and takes 500 kids, that’s $2.5 million that I lose.”

Whatever the cause of the alleged lack of money, districts have an edge once the tax increase goes to voters. A Dallas Morning News report shows how districts get around the prohibition on taxpayer-funded advocacy that includes “informational” videos.

The SCUC board is expected to vote on the increase next month, in time for the ratification proposal to be on the November ballot.

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

75 COMMENTS

    • Well, currently the teacher retirement system is a giant mess that desperately needs funding, retirees haven’t had a cost of living raise in decades while their insurance is so high they have nothing to live on, local taxes are going up to make up for the decrease in state funding, the state continues to give districts unfunded mandates…cutting costs is the opposite of what needs to happen.

    • Katy Henderson Thanks for the reply. Boiling your answer down, that would be a big old No, they haven’t engaged in cost cutting measures.

      Teacher retirement needs funding? Here’s a hint! Take more out of teachers pay to pay for it.

      Cost of living raise? Is this a welfare entitlement program or a retirement plan (where teachers supposedly draw down what they’ve put in, plus interest). Guess what? Pensions nationwide are underfunded… and, if all of them were to be, via taxes… only people with cash would be those on pensions… the rest of us would go bankrupt paying them. If you’re a teacher, I’m sorry, if you were unwise enough to depend upon a piece of paper to guarantee an income after ‘retirement’. Things happen, and paper pensions can evaporate in a nanosecond.

      Insurance? Poor things… they’re insurance is going up. Guess what? Some of us cannot afford insurance at all.

      Sorry, the ‘teat’ has gone dry…. join the rest of us, and start taking care of yourselves.

      But if you believe we should be paying ‘more’ to schools… you, and Billy Leonard, have done ‘just’ that, right? When you go in to pay your school taxes, you volunteer more… you know, the extra you think poor folk like myself are expected to pay? If you haven’t, why not? Tax districts would be glad to have extra donations…

  1. Time to oust all govt fat cats. All Judges; Corrupt its never enough all Property taxes should be lowered cut in half and they should work with what they already have and less.

  2. Texas public schools rank were highly ranked when i graduated. 35 years ago but rank pretty low nationally now. There are many areas for them to improve. If it takes more money to fix the problems, so be it. Texans are worth it.

    • And you blame Democrats and liberals for the school problems- Why? They’ve had no power in the state since 1993, 25 years ago. Makes me think it’s the Reps’ fault. Can’t you see that? How much was your affordable college tuition back then compared to the amount now at “public” schools? You love Trump, claim Obama’s wife is a tranny, and ridicule CA while that state’s economy is booming. What happened to Texas? Why is Houston still largely uninhabitable- what is a Rainy Day fund for if it doesn’t help a city of millions when it had a helluva “rainy day”?

    • I don’t know where you live in Texas but the majority of those elected in South Texas and big cities are democrats. Look at the red and blue election maps or crime maps, they’ll show you where all the democrats and legislature voting power comes from. If you think the Republican governor runs the state, you obviously don’t understand how a republic or a representative democracy works. If your representatives are failing you, you are obviously voting in the wrong ones. My point on teachers is they should be adequately paid and should participate in SS so they can reap the full benefits of that system when they retire also. The state or district making the decision for them not to participate just to save their matching payment portion has screwed teachers. Most educators and school district administrators, often former teachers, are by and large liberals choosing not to participate in SS and later crying that the SS offset is unfair and demanding full SS. There are many solutions to Texas education problems like centralized district sports programs and vocatonal high schools. Educatiin here needs fixed. If not we will continue with dummies voting for dummies.

  3. That’s happened all across the state, Terry- here in Dallas too. When the state CUTS their school funding portion over 10% in the last decade, the money has to come from somewhere. Where have those billions of tax dollars gone? You’d think the state would want an educated work force, but my guess is Republicans in power feel an educated populace will ask the same question and vote out all the old white men running the state.

  4. One thing the story doesn’t mention is that many of us in Schertz have gotten large appraisal increases the last two years while tax rates have remained the same, resulting in large increases in our property tax bills.

    • Appraisal boards do not have taxing authority, the taxing entities know the appraisal roll prior to voting on the rate each year. Therefore, they know that they are voting for a tax increase if the rate is the same but appraisals have increased.

    • Not all citizens have kids or kids in school any longer. The economy got tight and taxpayers have a hard time justifying paying skyrocketing property taxes period. Schools declining in performance with little accountibility for the millions they are already getting looks like the problems require more than just more money thrown at them. Democrats running the public school systems and large cities need to move away from tax and spend philosophies and look for result driven solutions.

    • Exactly, we all benefit from schools producing educated students. Many of those using the “i don’t have any kids” complaint would complain less if their taxes were being used benefitted education producing better educated young adults into the work force instead of larger administrations and dumber students graduating.

    • School tax rates were capped at $1.04 by the legislature in 2006. The maximum tax rate is $1.17 for maintenance and operations. To raise the rate above $1.04, a TRE..tax ratification election…must be passed by the voters. The I&S tax rate is for bonded indebtedness, which also requires voter approval. Roll back elections also control adjustment of the tax rate when values increase. Voters have control…IF they exercise it.

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