School Board Discusses Tax Increase
Last Wednesday, May 16, Lexington ISD trustees discussed several items that would warrant a tax increase for the district, including a $353,000 loss of state and federal money, the deteriorated facility conditions and buses. The amount being discussed is a 3¢ tax increase per $100 valuation.
Dr. Frances McArthur, Superintendent of Schools said, “The condition of walkway covers at Lexington secondary campuses is greatly deteriorated. Complete rust removal is necessary if the covers are to hold up.”
Allen Retzlaff, LISD’s Director of Maintenance, recommended the complete tear down of the covers and rebuilding them to match the elementary school. “However, more critical than replacing these walkways is the replacement of the press box,” stated Retzlaff. His reasoning is safety. “Extensive termite damage over many years has weakened the structure. Although it has been strengthened by steel supports, damage to the floor, walls, and roof that cannot be observed on the surface is of grave concern.”
One reason the press box deterioration has not been addressed is that ADA compliance issues are triggered when press boxes are rebuilt, including providing access for people with disabilities, either with an elevator or a lift. The cost of an elevator or lift is cost prohibitive for Lexington ISD. This past March, a new waiver for press boxes under 500 square feet came into play that would allow the press box to be replaced as long as it did not exceed 500 square feet. A decision to replace or repair the press box will be made at a special called meeting on Wednesday, May 30.
McArthur continued, “Lexington ISD has looked at many cost saving options to try to address the drastic cuts in state funding. We will lose up to $353,332 this coming year with the reduction of federal EduJobs money and further cuts from the state. In order to meet this shortfall, we will be forced to make additional reductions and/or look at other possibilities for increasing the revenue. The addition of transfer students this past year paid for one teacher and we expect the number of transfer requests to continue. However, transfer student revenue alone will not provide enough money for us to offset state funding cuts of this magnitude.”
Consequently school administrators and trustees have deliberated over many revenue generating and cost cutting options. One option discussed last week was combining bus routes. LISD is a very large district geographically and its busses travel a great deal on unpaved roads.
McArthur said, “Two of the busses still in the bus fleet are over twenty years old and the district can no longer purchase parts for them. Although the district budgets $60,000.00 per year for the replacement of two busses every three years, replacement of these two busses, in addition to those budgeted, will cost the district $180,000.00. Analysis of the district bus ridership revealed four routes that could be combined. However, combining the four routes would mean reducing the number of student riders who are within walking distance to school.”
Trustees were reluctant to discontinue bus service to in-town students. “They may only have to walk a block and a half,” stated Trustee David Boettcher, “but what if it is raining?”
Trustee Joe Green said, “I sure would like to find another way to increase revenue than to discontinue ridership to those kids.”
All the trustees agreed that this was not a cost saving measure they were willing to take.
Trustees discussed the impact an additional penny tax increase on Lexington ISD’s tax rate would have on the average homeowner in the district. McArthur said, “The average market value of residences in LISD is $107,067 and the average taxable value is $87,642. Increasing the tax rate from 1.119 to 1.129 would increase the average homeowner’s taxes by $8.74 a year, or 73¢ a month. The district generates approximately $41,000 in revenue for every penny raised.”
Trustee Doug Havard asked Dr. McArthur, “In your opinion how much do we need to increase taxes to take care of our needs?”
Dr. McArthur replied, “We are very good at getting by in Lexington. We have gotten better results with a lot less than any other district in the area. We will continue to tighten our belts and make ends meet, if that is what the community wants. Unfortunately, we cannot continue to neglect some of the safety issues in our aging facilities. I am very cognizant of our responsibility to be good stewards of our tax payers hard-earned money. At the same time, I know that providing a quality education to the young people of Lexington is one of this community’s highest priorities, and we cannot continue to provide the same level of programs that we currently have unless we increase our revenue. We need an additional $120,000 in revenue, which equates to a 3¢ tax increase, just to maintain our current level of services and not have to reduce any more positions.”