By Bill Spinks

The Midlothian Independent School District remains in solid financial standing in spite of the COVID-19 economic depression, the MISD board of trustees were told in a special meeting last Wednesday morning.

The board heard a subdued, but not exactly grim, report on the 2020-2021 budget at an early-bird workshop at the L.A. Mills Administration Building boardroom that lasted more than three hours.

The message delivered by assistant superintendent for finance Jim Norris was that the district won’t lose much revenue based on property taxes assessed in the months before the COVID-19 pandemic set in. After that, however, the devil is in the details.

Norris told trustees that the major impacts to the district’s general fund budget are student growth, student population, tax appraisals, tax roll growth (new property), state funding, payroll and personnel, and other major or capital expenditures.

Norris said the district needs to forecast conservatively, and the latest low estimate by district demographer Brent Alexander reduces student growth by 122 and also reduces state funds by a minimum of $845,000.

“No one knows because of the COVID what our enrollment might be this fall,” Norris said. “I have good feelings that we’re still going to have kids here. I still believe we’ll have growth and we’ll still have houses going up.”

The district still expects to open the 2020-2021 term with more than 10,000 students for the very first time. That ranks MISD among the top 100 in the state in growth rate among more than 1,500 school districts.

MISD’s tax appraisal for 2020-2021 is more than $5.7 billion, an 11.29-percent increase over the prior year versus a state average of just over 4 percent estimated by the Texas Education Agency. New value added to the district through development bumped the tax roll by almost six percent.

Norris said county property tax appraisals are to be distributed this week based on Jan. 1 market value, with numerous questions on whether counties will roll values back.

Norris also indicated that health insurance premiums will change for district employees up or down, based on level of coverage and number of family members covered.

Other items

• Karen Fitzgerald, MISD assistant superintendent for engagement and strategic innovation, presented options for a district-wide survey. Costs of the survey ranged from $15,275 for parents and staff only to $27,375 for parents, staff and students grades 4-12, with an option to delay the survey to October with no costs. Fitzgerald said the students’ learning experience, in particular during at-home learning, is a valuable data point in any survey. After an hour-long discussion, the matter was tabled to May 18 so that complete survey results could be seen.

• The board heard a message from Travis Domke, an MHS senior and class officer, who urged that the district continue to hold graduation at MISD Multipurpose Stadium. The board scheduled another special meeting for Wednesday evening after the Mirror’s press deadline to discuss graduation plans.

• Responding to a question by trustee Gary Vineyard on a consent agenda item, Norris said a $305,000 payment to the city of Midlothian for a plan review and building permit for the Heritage High School Phase II expansion project is in line with what the city normally charges and is comparable to what the district paid for Dieterich Middle School and other projects. The board unanimously approved the payment, which will come from 2016 bond funds.

• The board also approved the installation of flashing school zone lights for J.R. Irvin Elementary in the consent agenda, at a cost of $2,846.