Officials with the Agua Dulce Independent School District hope to begin much-needed improvements to the district's infrastructure, now that voters have authorized a tax increase that will also bring additional state funding.
On Nov. 15, voters approved a tax ratification election that will allow the district to increase its tax rate 13 cents over what is normally allowed by the state. Through a special program offered to poor school districts in Texas, the state will provide a near-identical match of all additional tax revenue brought in.
Agua Dulce Superintendent Donna Hilliard said she learned of the district's severe need for infrastructure improvements when she was first hired in 2007 and began asking teachers what they needed.
"Normally, you'll hear in most places 'better benefits, better pay,' basically to make their jobs easier," Hilliard said. "What I heard was, 'We're afraid to put our kids on the buses at the end of the day.'
"So I knew right from the beginning that we had some facilities concerns."
Last fall, Hilliard created a Facility Needs Committee made up of members of the community, parents, faculty, two board members and maintenance staff.
That committee went through buses, climbed roofs, dug up water lines and reported their findings to Hilliard and the board.
The board briefly considered a bond election, but bond elections historically have not been successful in the small community, Hilliard said.
As an alternative, the board authorized a Tax Ratification election, under which the district may receive state funding in return for increasing its tax rate by 13 cents.
In an election held Nov. 15, voters approved the new rate in a 51 to 25 vote. The results of that vote were canvassed in a Nov. 17 board meeting, and the board unanimously approved the new rate.
Although school district tax rates in Texas are capped at $1.04 per $100 valuation, the new rate authorized by voters will be $1.17 per $100 valuation.
That rate is expected to bring in an additional $150,000 in tax revenue to the district next year, with a state match of $125,000. Combined, that revenue will mean an additional $275,000 to the district next year, money Hilliard said will be used to address facility concerns
"It's a win-win," Hilliard said. "It's not just coming from local dollars, and you're not having to do a bond election, which requires that interest be paid back."
Items to be addressed include the installation of a surveillance system, the replacement of an 80 year old water and sewage system, roofing replacement, water drainage in front of the elementary campus, the replacement of a fire alarm system, the purchase of new buses and vans, expansion and renovation of a cafeteria and kitchen, and improvement to outdoor athletic facilities.
While the estimated $275,000 will not fund all of those projects this year, Hilliard said the increased tax rate will remain in place until the Texas Legislature changes funding laws or the district decides it no longer needs the additional revenue. That means the district will be allowed to work its way through the list of needs through the coming years, Hilliard said. And, because the money will come in gradually through tax revenue, the district will have to choose to spend it carefully, Hilliard added.
"It will keep us conservative, because the money will come in slowly," Hilliard said.
For a district with a small tax base, the new tax revenue will be the boost needed to provide a better learning environment for the district's students, the superintendent said.
"We were never in fear of not being solvent. We are solvent, but we are a poor district," Hilliard said. "This will help us to make some repairs that are necessary."