Early voting has begun for the Sept. 10 Tax Ratification Election (TRE) for Friendswood ISD.
Early voting is taking place at the Annex, FISD’s former junior high campus at 402 Laurel in Friendswood. Voters can come by Aug. 24 through Sept. 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. No voting will take place on Labor Day, Sept. 5. On Sept. 6, the poll will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
If approved, the tax rate increase will be used to balance the budget, which includes a $1,500 salary increase for teachers. The salary increase was given for FISD teachers’ salaries to stay competitive.
A TRE is a special election to approve an increase in a district’s Maintenance and Operations (M&O) tax rate above $1.04.
The school board has the authority to levy an M&O tax rate up to $1.04 but any increase above that amount requires voter approval.
On June 13, the Board adopted an M&O tax rate of $1.13, an increase of 9 cents, and lowered the I&S rate by 7 cents for an overall tax rate increase of 2 cents. Since the M&O amount is greater than $1.04 voter approval is required.
For voters over 65 years in age or with a Disabled Persons exemption, taxes will not be affected by a tax rate increase since taxes at that point are frozen.
The District’s tax rate is composed of two parts: Maintenance and Operations (M&O) tax rate and the Interest and Sinking (I&S) tax rate.
The M&O fund pays for day to day district operations such as payroll, utilities, and maintenance of schools and facilities. The I&S fund is used to make payments on district bonds.
Currently, the District’s tax rate is $1.367 ($1.04 for M&O and $.327 for I&S). The board adopted a tax rate of $1.387 ($1.13 for M&O and $.257 for I&S) for 2016.
Current property taxes and state funding do not provide enough funding for district needs, according to FISD officials. Many districts tax above $1.04 in order to meet the educational needs of their students. FISD has not increased its M&O tax rate since 2002.
While local revenue increases from higher appraisals, the school district does not benefit from this. As local revenue increases from higher appraisals, state funding decreases.
The only increase to funding is through increased student enrollment/attendance, increased tax rates, or changes in state funding.
FISD has the lowest funding per student in all of Region 4 which is comprised of more than 50 districts, according to district reports.
During the past few years, FISD has put into action several changes to assist the need for additional funding.
In March 2016 FISD refinanced its bonds to save $16.7 million in interest. The district has had overall reductions in campus and department budgets, frozen salaries, had minimal increases, reduced personnel positions, utilized donations for technology upgrades, postponed major priority maintenance projects, consolidated and eliminated bus routes, charged fees for facility rental, sold advertising on buses, athletic scoreboards and website, and charged student participation fees in athletics and course areas.
If the election fails, the district will be forced to withdraw $1.8 million from reserves to balance the budget in addition to cutting $690,000 from capital improvement or priority maintenance projects from the budget.
In the county, Galveston and Texas City ISDs have both had successful TREs in the past two years.
Story by Karolyn Gephart