By Bill Spinks
The proposed ad valorem tax rate in Midlothian Independent School District for the new fiscal year would remain unchanged, after the MISD board of trustees voted last week to hold the line on rates while enacting the so-called "golden penny" option.
A final setting of the 2020-2021 property tax rate won’t take place until after a public hearing, followed by a final board vote next month.
The Tier 2 tax rate, also known as the enrichment tax, is a method of accessing additional state funds under the present funding mechanism. Under the board’s resolution, the district’s enrichment tax for next fiscal year would rise from four to five cents.
To balance this one-cent increase, assistant superintendent Jim Norris said the debt service portion of the tax would drop from 50 to 49 cents, resulting in no net rate change to property owners.
Norris said potential uses of these extra funds would be to supplement pay of teachers and staff, and to defray extra expenses created by COVID-19 not covered by any of the four governmental grants the district has applied for.
The board also agreed to spend about $2.8 million for the "defeasement," or early payoff, of a 2017 bond, which Norris said will save the district $3.8 million in future interest charges. The district has saved a total of $74.5 million over the years with similar actions, Norris also stated.
Norris said the district will have a chance to pay off even larger bond amounts in upcoming meetings, with interest savings of up to $30 million.
The board’s standard operating procedures, which have been visited a number of times in recent months, came up once again for discussion.
Board secretary Heather Prather said the biggest changes noted are that the time reserved for public comments needs to be lengthened to five minutes to reflect district policy.
Trustee Andrea Walton raised a number of questions related to legal review and accountability of board members within the new document. Walton said that a new panel of attorneys has reviewed it since its last update, and she requested hearing from those attorneys before approving the SOP.
Walton also inquired into the definition of "accountability" according to the document, bringing up hypothetical examples of speeding tickets and social media postings that could potentially be used against board members.
"The point I’m elaborating on is, who’s the police?" Walton asked. "Who’s the accountability? Is it the rule of the majority, is it the board president, is it the two board members who talk about it first? We have a document here that’s not been followed because we’ve called it ‘guidelines’ … I want to make sure it’s not selective accountability."
The SOP will be revisited yet again in a future workshop at a time to be determined.
• The board, following an executive session to start the evening, approved the hiring of Chalisa Fain as the district’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Currently, Fain serves as Civil Rights Investigations Supervisor (EEO/Housing) for the Texas Workforce Commission, Civil Rights Division.
• The board recognized Steve Moseley as the PCAT Bus Driver of the Year.
• All consent agenda items were approved eventually, although six of the items were pulled for further explanation and approved separately.
• Trustee Walton will serve as the district’s delegate and trustee Bobby Soto will serve as an alternate to the Texas Association of School Boards virtual convention in October.
• The School Health Advisory Council presented its 2019-2020 annual report. Responding to a question from Walton, MISD director of college and career readiness Becky Wiginton said suicide prevention training is a curriculum that is taught directly to students and not to teachers. Wiginton said the SHAC committee will have a more in-depth presentation to the board in October.
• Board president Matt Sanders mentioned that presentations are online as part of the Board Book. These presentations are available for the board to review prior to meetings. Additionally, these presentations are made available to the public as part of the agenda.
• Superintendent Dr. Lane Ledbetter said the 2020-2021 school year, which began remotely last Thursday, will begin transitioning back to campus on Sept. 8 only for those students who have chosen face-to-face learning. On-campus students will alternate attendance days alphabetically. Ledbetter said the breakdown of students remained at about 70 percent of families choosing face-to-face and 30 percent choosing remote learning.