The Ector County Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to publish a proposed tax rate of $1.22975 per $100 valuation for 2018 during a special board meeting Monday.
They voted to adopt the tax rate for fiscal year 2018-19 before receiving the certified appraisal roll and before adopting a budget. The vote on this was 5-0-1 with Board President Carol Gregg abstaining.
Board Secretary Donna Smith was absent.
They also approved a request to determine the amount of proposed tax rate to be published to give notice of a future board meeting to discuss and adopt the proposed tax rate. This was a 4-2 vote with Gregg and trustee Delma Abalos voting against it.
This is a prelude to calling a tax ratification election for September. Mike Atkins, the attorney for the school district, said the election would have to be called June 15.
A bond and tax ratification election failed in November 2017.
Over the last three years, Superintendent Tom Crowe has said $30 million has been cut out of the budget. With the estimated increase in assessed values, he said the district will get about $14 million. If a TRE is approved by voters, it would bring in about $11 million.
The board has tentatively set a June 15 meeting to adopt a tax rate. Atkins said if at that meeting they adopt a tax rate that exceeds the rollback rate, they would have a future meeting, possibly on June 26, to call a tax ratification election.
If the 8 cents is added, the tax rate would be $1.22975 per $100 valuation adding $89 to the average home price of $170,587. But with an estimated 4 percent increase in property values, the total increase to the average home would be $152.80, Chief Financial Officer David Harwell said.
The current tax rate is a total of $1.15 per $100 valuation.
If on June 15 the board doesn’t call a TRE, the tax rate would stay at $1.04, Atkins said.
Atkins told the board that having a tiered TRE where voters could be offered options on what the tax dollars would go for was not allowed.
When the bond and TRE failed in November, the tax bills had already gone out so the district had to pay $50,000 to have them reprinted.
Although they acknowledged that there is a need for added revenue from a TRE, Gregg and Abalos said they did not feel like they were prepared to support a one.
Gregg said she doesn’t think there is enough community support and there is not enough time to spell out why it’s needed.
Gregg and Abalos said they would like more community input so any TRE would have broad-based support.
Crowe said he presented the TRE at the Odessa Chamber of Commerce retreat and it was well received.
Board Vice President Doyle Woodall said he would have some issues with raising the tax rate because he has no confidence that a TRE will pass, even though he, like the other board members, say it is desperately needed.
Woodall said he doesn’t have any problem posting the proposed $1.22975 tax rate, but he wants to talk to people and see if there is support. He said the money is needed for the students, but he doesn’t want to waste taxpayer dollars if it’s not going to pass.
Board member Nelson Minyard said there would be plenty of time to present the TRE to the public.
Both Gregg and Abalos said they have asked community members for their opinions and they aren’t positive about it. They want more information and more time. Abalos said she would like to have teachers and parents behind the TRE.
Board members also said Crowe’s retirement in December would also make it more difficult to recruit a new school chief if the tax election failed.
Board member Steve Brown said they have a preconceived notion that a TRE will fail. He said part of their role as trustees is to inform the public and people tell him they’re ready to vote for a TRE.
Brown said the board has a responsibility to the public to let them decide.
Gregg said the last time the election wasn’t even close.
Brown said having the bond election and TRE at the same time was not a wise move, but everything was done with the best interest of the students in mind.
Gregg and Abalos said they found the idea that all of the board members don’t have the best interest of students in mind is offensive.
Karen Howard-Winters, a bond advisory committee member, said she didn’t know the discussion on the tax rate and TRE was going on. She heard about it at the election office Monday.
“We were not apprised and I felt that we were kind of left out of the decision to move forward with this election and I thought that maybe we should have been more in the loop,” Howard-Winters said.
“I don’t want to say anything bad about the school district because I want what’s best for the kids — all of us do,” she said.
Howard-Winters added that she thought the district and bond committee would be more in tune with each other on something “that was this important.”
The bond advisory committee next meets on June 11.
“Being part of the bond committee, I thought we would be all of us are trying to do what’s right for the kids and I’m 110 percent behind Mr. Crowe and what he is doing for the kids. I do believe that he has the kids’ best interests at heart. I really do believe that, however, that being said I really do wish that we had been apprised of this prior to when we were going to meet again,” Howard-Winters said.
Lorraine Perryman, who is involved in the Education Foundation and the Education Partnership, said she thought the board was “very confused” about this process during Monday’s meeting.
“I think if the school board is confused, the community will be very confused because they’re the ones that are supposed to understand this before they cast a vote, and having sat in the meeting, it was very clear that they did not understand either,” Perryman said.
Perryman said the board has 10 days to discuss this with the community and get input, which is too little, too late.
“I’m afraid that the same mistakes are being made that were made last time. They have understood that the TRE and the bond need to be on separate ballots. That is progress, but both things should be community driven,” Perryman said.
“The community should be the one that brings this up from the grassroots and not have an edict come down from the school district, yet again, without community participation. Even the bond advisory committee has not discussed this and that is a group of (70) citizens that are trying to work with the school district,” she said. “That is a very obvious group that should have been talked to.”
Perryman added that the Education Partnership should have been consulted, or been asked to put it on their agenda. She said the Education Foundation has not been asked to put this on an agenda, nor has it been discussed with them.
Public Information Officer Mike Adkins said now that the school board has taken action, they will get an update on the TRE plans.
“So even the groups that are the biggest advocates, and I’m a part of every one of those because nobody is a bigger supporter of ECSID than me, and those people that are in those organizations we want what’s best for these kids and this school district, and therefore, our whole community and its future,” Perryman said.
“And when it’s being done not from the community up, but the administration down then you’re not going to get broad-based community support to do that and the community needs to be involved in what they want a TRE to cover, how much money it should be and bring those community opinions to the administration and the school board, not the other way around,” Perryman said.
She stressed that she believes 100 percent that a TRE is needed, but it would be disheartening if it failed. The entire community needs to feel like it has a part in whatever passes, she said.
“I agree with comments made by Carol and Delma tha
t everybody wants what’s best for these kids. Because we don’t think it’s being done correctly right now does not mean we don’t want what’s best for kids. … In fact, we want what’s best for kids even more because we want to do in a way that will increase the possibility of passage and the community will get behind it; not top down, but bottom up,” Perryman said.