By Bill Spinks

Property owners in Waxahachie Independent School District will see a 1.885-cent drop in their property tax rates after the board of trustees approved the 2020-21 district budget and proposed tax rate during a special meeting on Monday evening.

The board unanimously passed an ordinance to adopt ad valorem tax rates for the new fiscal year, setting them at a total rate of $1.3654 per $100 valuation. The maintenance and operations rate will 98.15 cents per $100 valuation, and the interest and sinking rate will be 38.39 cents. The no-new-revenue tax rate, which new state legislation requires the district to calculate, is $1.317.

The board also approved the 2020-21 fiscal year budgets for the general, debt service and child nutrition funds, but the motion to approve the budgets passed only by a 5-2 margin, with trustees Debbie Timmermann and Kim Kriegel voting no.

Timmermann inquired about a pay increase for auxiliary staff whose pay was the lowest in the district, including custodians, cafeteria workers and groundskeepers. WISD assistant superintendent for business and finance Ryan Kahlden agreed that raises were needed for these workers, but that his biggest concern was a possible state funding cut next year.

During a public hearing that preceded the vote, Kahlden noted challenges the district faces in the new fiscal year, which include rapid growth, the COVID-19 pandemic, construction projects both completed and upcoming, implementation of new funding changes and requirements, and a possible state budget reduction in 2021-22.

Property values in the district have grown 13% from last year, Kahlden said, and student enrollment has grown 4.5%, approaching a total enrollment right on the cusp of 10,000 students in WISD. Kahlden said he anticipates total general fund revenue to top $100 million in 2020-21.

The only changes in the expenditure budget are a slight decrease in support services and a slight increase in instruction, Kahlden told the board. The debt service fund shows a surplus of $2.5 million, which the district plans to use to retire some bonds early if the market allows it.

The child nutrition fund will increase 11% from last school year, mostly due to additional staff at the new Simpson Elementary and increased food costs. Kahlden said it might be necessary at the end of the school year to shift funds from the general fund into the child nutrition fund.

Other items

• Superintendent Dr. Bonny Cain said as of Friday, 9,634 students were enrolled, of which 6,539 students were face-to-face, and the district was working toward having a device for every student. Cain later added that WISD will publish a chart on its website that will track daily COVID-19 cases in the district.

• The board also held a public hearing on the school’s District of Innovation program. WISD executive director of elementary learning Lisa Mott proposed an amendment to allow elementary classes in grades K-4 to exceed the 22-to-1 student-teacher ratio for at-home learners. An amendment, Mott said, would allow classes to exceed the limit without having to come to the board to apply for a waiver from the state each time.

• The approved consent agenda included amending the final 2019-20 budget; approval of a list of T-TESS appraisers; approval of a contract for election services with the Ellis County Elections Office for the Nov. 3 trustee election; and other items.

• A change to the calculation of final rankings for valedictorian, salutatorian and distinguished scholar (the No. 3-ranking student) was reviewed. District executive director of secondary learning Dr. David Averett said grading periods in WISD have changed to six-week periods, and therefore the fourth and fifth six-week periods would be used to calculate the semester grade. Previously, the third nine-week period was used.

• An adjustment to the 2020-21 academic calendar was approved. Homecoming was moved to Oct. 30, which was already a student holiday, to reflect a change in the Indians’ football schedule. The previous homecoming date, Nov. 6, is now an away game and will also now be a regular school day.