By Anton Riecher
Uncertainty over final appraised property values might make it impossible for Devine ISD to meet its budgeted salary increases for teachers without additional funds from other sources, school district director of finance Shannon Ramirez told trustees Monday night.
She cited property value protests, ADA losses and provisions in state tax law as contributing to the expected shortage. The expected losses in tax collection and state funding is projected at $2.5 million
“To increase our salaries we need additional funds either by increasing ADA (appraisal district appraisals) or reducing staffing positions,” Ramirez said.
Trustees proposed referring the matter back to the individual campuses to identify possible budget cuts. Trustee Renee Frieda said she would expect strong recommendations in view of the situation.
“It would need to be zero based budgeting where you go in and say ‘I want you to revalidate every position you have and convince us’ or ‘I’ve identified these as improvements we have to have.’ If we are going to make this happen we need an X percent reduction and each campus needs to identify that reduction.’”
The report comes in the wake of the district’s failure to win approval for a $32.3 million bond issue earlier this month.
Ramirez reported that as of April 30, 2023 preliminary district property values show a 25 percent increase in certified value for Medina County. By contrast, neighboring Frio County showed only a nine percent increase from 2022 certified values.
Chief among the issues leaving appraised values in flux are property value protests by landowners, she said.
“We adopt our budget on preliminary values in June taking into account protests under review,” Ramirez said. “When we received certified values in August they were much lower than projected due to the number of protests approved.”
Reductions due to appraisal protests resulted in a $500,000 shortage in tax collection estimates. Add to this another $500,000 short fall expected due to appraised value loses, Ramirez said. Trustees based their 2022-2023 budget on a projected ADA of 1830.
However, as of May 5, six weeks ADA stood at only 1804.993.
A further loss of $1.5 million in state funding is forecast due to the provisions of Texas tax law. For the last three years the state comptroller’s office has ruled Medina County property values invalid based on their own property value studies.
The law provides that after three consecutive years of invalid values a school district must use the state’s values versus those arrived at by the county.
“This creates a loss of over $1.5 million in state aid,” Ramirez said.
As are many other Texas school districts, Devine ISD to appealing the state comptroller’s action. However, proceedings regarding the conflict are not expected to be resolved until August or later.
Devine and Natalia school districts are among approximately 25 percent of Texas districts in which the state comptroller has assigned values after ruling the county appraisals invalid.
Frieda said the two percent “step” increase adopted by the school district in keeping with Texas Education Agency proposals lags far behind the inflation rate of 8.3 percent reported in the United States in 2022.
Board president Nancy Pepper said the salaries increases lag behind those offered in neighboring counties.
“I just don’t like seeing us under surrounding districts,” she said.
By Anton Riecher