Rusk discusses accountability rating

by Cristin Parker

Rusk Independent School District has their numbers set for the upcoming school year.

During a special meeting held Monday, Aug. 27, RISD board members, unanimously approved the district’s proposed property tax rate for the 2018-19 fiscal year at $1.04 for maintenance and operations and 0.1125 cents for interest and sinking, for a total of $1.1525 per $100 property tax valuation – the same rate as last year.

“We feel like we were very fiscally responsible on both our tax rate and our budget,” Superintendent Dr. Grey Burton said. “Our revenues are up, so the tax rate saw no change from last year’s rate.”

The district’s tax revenue will increase this year, as property values are up by more than 4 percent, according to the Cherokee County Appraisal District.

Trustees held a public hearing on Monday on both the tax rate and the 2018-19 proposed budget on Monday as well. No public comments were shared on either matter.

Former Finance Director Lesa Jones attended the Board’s July 16 meeting to present data on the 2018-19 budget. Rusk ISD receives its funds from three sources, local property taxes, which constitute the majority of the district’s income; state revenue based on the district’s average daily attendance; and federal revenue.

“It’s a pretty tight budget this year,” Jones said in July. “We usually budget at a 98 percent (property tax) collection rate, but this year, because it’s so tight, I budgeted at a 99 percent rate.”

Jones said some of the biggest expenditures in the upcoming budget include staff payroll raises of up to 4.6 percent -- which include the district’s STEP pay, longevity raises and performance reward incentives – totaling $407,000 in raises; $100,000 for new band uniforms; and adding the two assistant principal positions and staff at the district’s Transportation Department. Jones also said fuel costs were up by 20 percent; health insurance costs rose overall 4.56 percent; and text book costs, which are usually covered by IMA, were not this year – leaving the district to have to come up with $250,000 for text books.

“We want to make sure we stay competitive (in salaries) with surrounding districts,” Jones explained, adding 76 percent of the annual general fund budget is payroll expenses. “We also built in money for new band uniforms, since the last time we got new ones was in 1995.

Jones said part of the reason the upcoming budget is so tight is because the district’s Average Daily Attendance dropped by 58 students across the district, resulting in a signification decrease in the district’s state funding.

“We’re usually a fairly stable district attendance wise,” Jones said. “But this year we were hit with a 3 percent decrease, amounting to $337,988 less in the budget. I don’t know where the kids are going, but we are feeling it.”

Items that were cut from the budget included an air-conditioned school bus; various technology supplies and equipment, excluding replacement costs; and a passenger vehicle.

In other business, board members received information on the district and campus accountability rating. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) posted accountability ratings for all multi-campus school districts and charter schools on Aug. 15, and RISD scored a B -- an overall grade of 84 of 100. All of RISD’s campuses met standards.

“We’re very pleased with our grade this year,” Burton said. “With the tweaks the state has made to the old system, we feel like we did a really good job – scored solid Bs across all the system’s domains. Of course, we’re continuing to work hard to get those up to As, but overall, we feel really good about where we are.”

RISD trustees also approved hiring Kim Henson as the district’s new Human Resources director; and received updates on various construction projects, including the new baseball/softball field.

“The plans on our baseball/softball complex have been approved, and bids are coming in this week,” Burton said. “We hope to be able to present the guaranteed maximum price at our next meeting.”

Contractor on the field project is Berry & Clay of Rusk.

The Rusk ISD school Board will meet at 6 p.m., Monday, Sept. 10, at the district’s Administration, 203 E. Seventh St., in Rusk. All district citizens are welcome.