BY JUDY SHERIDAN
By press time last week, Aledo ISD trustees had not yet set the tax rate for the FY 2013-14 budget but were expected to do so during regular session last night.
Setting the rate was an action item on the Monday, Sept. 16, agenda. State statutes call for the rate to be set within 60 days of the district’s receipt of its certified values, a Sept. 25 deadline, according to school administrators.
The FY 2013-14 general fund budget adopted Aug. 26 included $38.7 million in expenditures and $36.7 million in revenues. The approved debt service budget was balanced at a level of $9.6 million, including a $1.6 million infusion from the general fund.
After six years of the same $1.42 per $100 assessed valuation tax rate, trustees published a possible rate nearly 13 cents higher in a notice announcing a public hearing on the budget this year.
Instead, the board adopted a budget fueled by a 6.5-cent increase, but delayed setting the tax rate to discuss options with the community.
About 30 residents attended a public forum Tuesday, Sept. 10, to hear a presentation by Chief Financial Officer Earl Husfeld, ask questions and offer opinions.
Mary Frances Wood targeted the “$27 million football stadium,” saying residents were told that it would pay for itself as other districts staged their playoff games there.
“How much money have we made since the stadium’s been built?” she asked. “Is the district paying all the utilities that support the games, or do the schools that come and play have to pay the operating costs?”
Husfeld said the stadium cost $10 million to $11 million, with the entire complex in the $13 million to $14 million range.
Trustee Steve Bartley said that during the 2012 football season, the district generated $276,000 in revenue from the football program.
Husfeld said ticket sales and stadium rental fees make football “more than a break-even,” but added that the recent UIL alignment had caused walk-up ticket sales to drop by half.
David Denman told trustees he was surprised at the district’s $400,000 payment to the Parker County Appraisal District — which Husfeld said was common — and shocked that the district spends 50 cents on debt service per every dollar of instruction.
“I think we should think long and hard before we get into a deeper hole,” he said. Husfeld replied that a new high school was 10 years away, based on current numbers.
Denman said he was not opposed to his taxes going up, but was opposed to the “breach of trust” that happened when a former AISD superintendent said — in the newspaper — that the 2010 tax ratification election wouldn’t affect taxes or bond payments.
“It looks like in 2010 it was pretty clear that it was going to have to affect the bond payments and it was going to have to affect the tax rate,” he said. “So I guess my question is, how could it not have affected our tax rate?”
Trustee Johnny Campbell replied that if the valuations after 2010-11 had continued to trend upward — as they did in the four years prior to 2010-11 — the situation would have been much different.
“We were squeezed by something we flat did not know about,” he said.
“The superintendent led the community to believe something that was not the case,” Denman continued. “Let’s not hide the issue, and let’s talk about that taxes need to go up because we want great schools.“I would recommend that we revert back to the old rate and deal with the election on a fair and transparent basis and let everybody decide what they really want.”
Farida Goderya, a City of Fort Worth employee who said she was comfortable with numbers, asked the board to take “a good hard look” at efficiency.
“When I look at the classroom expenditures, they are pretty much consistent or have gone down,” she said, “but the other gentleman mentioned that all other functions have drastically increased — from $13 million to $17 million — and it keeps going up. “I don’t know if you have really taken a good hard look over all other expenses or not, but it doesn’t seem like that.”
Trustee Hoyt Harris said the district had opened two new campuses since 2007, to which Goderya replied that the campuses should then have been reflected in classroom instruction costs.
Husfeld attributed the increases to changes mandated by the state, higher utility costs due to the new campuses and Texas Education Agency accounting changes. Goderya said the “a little bit shocking” increases were also reflected in expenditures per student enrollment — a 10.3 percent increase projected next year from the current year, with almost all of it due to the all other functions category, not classroom instruction.
Husfeld said most of the increase was due to adding back positions and increasing the salaries of staff uninvolved with instruction.
“I know it’s kind of hard times,” Goderya concluded, ”but I see this as an opportunity — and I know that we have done it in our households all over our city — but take a good hard look at the numbers and expenses and try to balance the revenues against the expenses.
“Because this is probably not the best or only solution sometimes to go with a tax rate hike. Probably quite a few of us can afford it, but that’s not sustainable.”
Stringer invited all present to attend monthly school board meetings, where he said the board goes through the budget line by line.
“This board takes its business seriously,” he said, “and more importantly, this board takes the children of this district extremely seriously.”
Charlie Hayes, a resident of Stone Bluff in Aledo, said he wanted to talk about “need versus greed.”
“If you look at the campus around Aledo High School, it looks like a college campus,” he said, spotlighting the indoor football facility.
“Do we need the very best of everything, the fanciest light pole that money can buy? Is there some compromise that we can do?”
Campbell replied that he had not yet made his mind up on the tax increase and was trying to find a solution, a sentiment echoed later by Board President Jay Stringer.