I am a self-admitted Abraham Lincoln buff, having read multiple biographies about him, along with nonfiction works about his leadership and the era in which he lived. Lincoln was known for opening the White House to citizens so they could share with him their issues and concerns. Lincoln referred to this as his “public opinion bath.”
In response to the failed 2019 bond proposition, the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District invited those people who voted to share why they voted for or against the bond election. Almost 300 people responded to the survey, which was 12 percent of surveys distributed.
The BCISD Board of Trustees and administration have reviewed the results of the survey, including every comment provided. The survey served as a public opinion bath, and the results are helping to inform a future, revised bond program. Especially in light of the fact that actual enrollment numbers indicate Bertram Elementary School could exceed its capacity as early as 2022, instead of the original projection of 2025, the district will need to consider calling a bond election sooner than later. I look forward to sharing specific details of a revised bond program as they are finalized.
In the meantime, I want to address some of the questions and comments that I read as I reviewed the survey results.
Property tax rate: The Board of Trustees is committed to having the lowest possible tax rate while maintaining a commitment to planning for the future, offering the highest quality educational programs and being fiscally responsible while servicing its debt. This is evidenced by the board voting four years in a row to lower the tax rate, positioning BCISD to have the second lowest tax rate among surrounding school districts. In discussions of future years’ budget projections, the intention is to continue to lower the rate again in 2020.
Debt load: The district is committed to managing its level of debt. This is evidenced by BCISD having the second lowest debt-to-student ratio of surrounding districts. Since 2012, the district has realized over $3.5 million in interest cost savings through refinancing previous bonds and paying previous bonds off early. The district is planning on paying off early an additional $1.3 million in debt in 2020. In no way has the refinancing of bonds or paying off debt early extended the length of any debt obligations.
Appraised values: Burnet CISD does not determine property values, but it is important to understand that state law requires the Burnet Central Appraisal District to appraise properties at least at 95 percent of market value; if they do not, the appraisal district fails the comptroller‘s ratio study and the state reduces funding to local schools. The state comptroller’s ratio study compares sales prices with appraised values set by the county appraisal district. If Burnet County does not pass the comptroller’s ratio study, BCISD and Marble Falls Independent School District could both lose millions of dollars in state funding.
Academic outcomes: BCISD’s current Texas Education Agency academic accountability rating is a letter grade “B.” Principals from each campus presented plans to the school board October 21 on how campuses are addressing student achievement for all students.
Teacher compensation: Bond funds cannot be used for payroll expenses, but Burnet CISD is proud to lead area school districts in teacher pay and benefits by using its budgeted operating funds. BCISD is ranked number one in teacher pay among area districts.
Fiscal management: Burnet CISD’s current TEA financial accountability rating is “Superior” or letter grade “A,” which is the highest rating possible.
Facility projects: There were no projects in the 2019 bond program being repeated or replicated from the 2014 bond program. As an example, the roof of the main building at R.J. Richey Elementary received an elastomeric coating as part of the 2014 bond program. The R.J. Richey gym roof did not receive the coating in 2014 because there was no need at the time for that work to be done. Five years later, there is evidence that the coating is needed at the gym area, and it was included as part of the 2019 bond program. So, roof work at R.J. Richey was listed on the 2019 bond program, but it was addressing different areas than when it was listed on the 2014 bond program.
School finance options: A bond election does not indicate that a district is not living within its means. The school finance system that the state uses to distribute funds was not designed to support new construction or large renovations. This is evidenced by the fact that 86 percent of all school districts in the state have current bond debt.
The Board of Trustees and administration appreciate the feedback provided by community members on both sides of the issues. We are committed to listening and learning while we continue to plan for 5-10 years into the future.
Next week, we wrap up the first semester of the school year and head into Christmas break, which is scheduled for December 23-January 6. We look forward to welcoming students back to school for the second semester on Tuesday, January 7, 2020. On behalf of the staff, students, Board of Trustees, and administration, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Keith McBurnett is the superintendent of Burnet Consolidated Independent School District.