School tax hike only 1.34 cents

Proposed 5-cent increase avoided with strong values
Reporter Editor

School taxes in the Rockdale ISD aren’t going up 5 cents as planned.

They’re going up 1.34 cents after certified taxable values in the RISD came in much higher than expected earlier in the summer.

School trustees, meeting in regular session Monday in the Central Administration Building, okayed a $1.2384 tax rate for 2012 and also discussed what board president Lee Jenkins termed a potential “crisis” concerning the new STAAR end-of-course testing.

TAX RATE—In June, after preliminary values from the Milam Appraisal District (AD) showed a $364 million (28 percent) drop in the Rockdale ISD tax base, the district based its 2012-13 budget on a $1.275 tax rate, up 5 cents from the current $1.225.

According to AD Chief Appraiser Pat Moraw, the major factor in the taxable values drop was Luminant’s Sandow power plant, especially a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) pollution control exemption.

But when final values were released in late July, the drop was only $165 million (13.7) percent.

Marla Wallace, RISD chief financial officer, said that enabled the district to adopt a tax rate 3.66 cents lower than originally planned.

Wallace said the $1.2384 tax rate includes $1.04 for maintenance and operation and 19.84 cents for debt service. All of the increase was in debt service.

‘CRISIS’—Board members discussed the district’s plans for future improvement af ter counselor Lynet te Guerra repor ted 76 RHS students must st i ll pass the new STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) tests in several subject areas.

Those tests have now become prerequisites for graduation. Guerra said students will have more opportunities to take, and pass, the exams.

Jenkins said he was worried the process would develop into a crisis and asked “is this the beginning of the end.”

“(If students continue to fail the tests) at what point do some just give up and say ‘I’m not coming back to school’?” he asked.

Joey Geletka, RHS principal, said the district is already responding with student interventions and after school assistance.

He said former teachers are being recruited to assist with the efforts.

Dr. Howell Wright pointed out the entire state is facing the same situation with the new STAAR testing, which will become even more rigorous in two years.

“This (STAAR) is designed to fail, just like AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress, the federal program which now lists one half of Texas schools as failing to meet standards),” Dr. Wright said.

ENROLLMENT—Dr. Wright said latest enrollment figures at Rockdale ISD campuses show 434 in the elementary, 347 in the intermediate, 347 in the junior-high and 449 in the high school.

Dr. Wright said the total of 1,577 is about 30 fewer than the total at the same time in 2011-12 but “is 20 higher than the 1,557 we estimated for budgeting purposes.”

In other business Monday, trustees:

• Hired Elizabeth Saegert as a pre-kindergarten teacher.

• Heard Dr. Wright report on the implications for education in the 2013 Texas Legislature session.

• Okayed a memorandum of understanding with the Texas Education Agency, involving the schedule of Dr. Nancy Vaughn, who is monitoring the district for the TEA due to past academically unacceptable ratings assigned to Rockdale High School and Rockdale Junior-High School.

• Okayed application of a waiver application by Wallace to the TEA for purchase of attendance credits under Chapter 41 legis- lation.

• Accepted annual agreements with the Milam County Extension Service retaining county agents as “adjunct faculty” for extra-curricular activities such as the Rockdale Fair.

• Accepted a memorandum of understanding for Project Head Start and Rockdale ISD pre-kindergarten collaboration.

• Accepted the recommendations of Pam Kaufmann, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, for appointments to the School Health Advisory Committee.

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