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BISD trustees approve budget increase

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Bandera Independent School District trustees approved a budget for the school district in the upcoming fiscal year at a special meeting on Thursday, June 25, but could not finalize what is expected to be a slight drop in the tax rate, said Michael Neuman, the district’s new chief financial officer.

At the beginning of June, he took over from Scott Tipton, who took on a similar role at the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah Independent School District in West Texas.

“In the past we set the tax rate based on our (property) values and tabulations from the appraisal district. What changed this year because of (House Bill 3) is we have to wait for the (Texas Education Agency) to tell us what our rates will be, and that is late July at the earliest,” Neuman said.

BISD trustees last week approved a 2020-21 budget of $21,363, 637, up $389,789 from the current budget. Trustees heard the CFO say the proposed tax rate for the new year will be of $1.0964 per $100 valuation, down from current tax rate of $1.10 per $100 valuation. Officials said the final rate will not be higher than the proposed rate.

If the rate stays at the level proposed, it would raise the tax bill for the owner of an average-priced home in the district by $7, officials have estimated. That’s because the value of the average-priced home in BISD is about $488 more in 2020-2021 than it was this year, so tax payments would rise even with a lower tax rate.

Trustees had three separate meetings – a workshop, public hearing and a special meeting - during a two-hour period on Thursday. During that time, Superintendent Jerry Hollingsworth gave trustees information about the how the district is handling the unprecedented challenges that have arisen as the nation and world battle the COVID-19 outbreak.

The superintendent praised the district’s staff for being innovative in addressing the challenges that have arisen. In response to questions about what kind of changes and upgrades are envisioned in the new budget, Hollingsworth made a variety of points. He said in order to address the health and safety of students and staff, the district has worked diligently to acquire additional cleaning and health monitoring supplies, including large quantities of hand sanitizer and touchless thermometers.

Hollingsworth said the district learned last month that the State of Texas would provide each district with additional safety supplies for the new school year as well.

The district evaluated its staff structure to see if existing personnel could be shifted to address the district’s instructional needs in light of the possibility of diminished funding from the state. For example, an instructional coach position was funded by the elimination of a teaching position at the high school that did not appear to be needed this year, the superintendent said. That allowed the district to fund the instructional coach without adding to its staff count.

As a result of House Bill 3, BISD had hoped to add positions to better support students, Hollingsworth said. For example, it had hoped to add an instructional coach at all four campuses to help teachers implement new “Blended Learning” practices. However, because of the unknown financial impact COVID-19 would have on the state and ultimately on BISD, the district felt it would be best to be more conservative in its funding outlook, Hollingsworth said.

It added one instructional coach for both elementary campuses to provide teachers with hands-on, daily support in the best use of technology to enhance student learning. Hollingsworth also said the district has focused in the last several months on improving its infrastructure to assist teachers, students and the community.

One of the improvements was increased WiFi access in the parking lots in front of BISD buildings. That was competed, the superintendent said, to ensure that the public would have better access to WiFi in the event some families did not have adequate internet access at home.