By Anton Riechcer
The Devine ISD school board voted unanimously Monday at adopt a 2022 tax rate of $1.0946 per $100 of property value to support a general fund budget of $20.3 million.
On a motion by trustee Carl Brown seconded by board vice president Henry Moreno, the board approved a maintenance and operations (M&O) tax rate of. 8546/$100 combined with an interest and sinking (I&S) rate of .24/$100.
Action on the tax rate has been pending since June awaiting the final calculation of local tax rate compression as dictated by the Texas Education Agency. Financial consultant Robert Tijerina of Tijerina Galvan Lawrence LLC, addressing the board, recommended a 24 cent I&S rate based on district property values of $624.8 million.
“The values went up just under 23 percent,” Tijerina said.
Seventy-four percent of the 2022-23 general fund budget goes to salaries. It also includes $16 million in payroll costs, $2.2 million (11 percent) in purchase and contracted services and $154,350 (one percent) in debt service.
In other business, the board heard a presentation by Devine High School principal Juan Michael Gonzalez regarding a dual credit program proposed in conjunction with Palo Alto College, part of the Alamo Colleges District in San Antonio.
“I’m here today to present on the dual credit program and the idea for CTE (career technical education) courses to connect high school to career and college,” Gonzalez said. “The best way to do this is in partnership as we matriculate students from junior high to high school going toward associate degrees, certifications and then getting on to bachelor’s degrees.”
He said his proposal called for creating six dual credit academies in partnership with Alamo Colleges over the next five years – emergenices and public services; agricultural, animal and plant science and veterinary medicine, digital animation and visual arts; health sciences, medical and nursing; business, marketing and entrepreneurship, and building trades and manufacturing.
Adding partners to the academies opens to doors to expanding the range of career choices available, Gonzalez said. Students will be earning dual credit applicable as college credit either immediately or some future date.
“What I’m trying to highlight is students can get, number one, certification if they chose to go into the work force right away or continue on a four-year degree plan if they want to go get a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “These academies will offer both.”
Palo Alto College currently operates 26 dual credit programs serving 22 different school districts with 30 high schools, Gonzalez said. The list of Palo Alto partners include school districts in Jourdanton, Lytle and Somerset.
A previous dual credit partnership, since dissolved, with Devine ISD cost students more than $550 to earn six college credit hours, Gonzalez said.
“My view is that students shouldn’t have to pay for dual credit,” he said. “We should make that available to them.”
Under the agreement with Palo Alto, the dual credit program will operate on a cost share model. Cost to the school district will be $28,500 per semester. Gonzales said $32,465 has been identified in the school budget to cover that cost.
“We have $10,000 for the school for each semester and $5,000 from the education foundation per semester,” he said. “Then the students will invest themselves about $150 for six hours credit.”
That represents a 70 percent savings over the previous dual credit partnership agreement, Gonzalez said.
Finding teachers for the coming school year remains a problem for the district, though not as severe as in other locations. Devine ISD Superintendent Todd Grandjean reported to the board that nearly all vacant teaching positions locally have been filled.
“That’s not true for every school in the state,” he said.
During the public comments portion of the agenda concerns about the proposed cost associated with the Fire Academy project with the Devine Volunteer Fire Department continued to be heard. Monica Taylor, a teacher with Devine ISD for 24 years, said she has also been associated with local fire and EMS operations for many years.
“I’ve been hearing things about the fire academy and what we’re trying to present to the kids,” Taylor said. “I think it’s a wonderful idea but I’m very concerned about the ambiguous nature of the cost.”
As a teacher, she said she was familiar with fighting for needed programs and having to be very specific about the costs.
“As a citizen I’m very concerned about what are the numbers, and how much is start up versus operational/educational,” Taylor said.
Another speaker, Blain Martin, said he wanted to address funding for issues such as school security. He specifically challenged drawing money to support the fire academy from the budget fund balance while waiting for grant money to finance greater security measures.
“I think both of them are important, don’t get me wrong,” Martin said. “I’m a supporter of the fire academy.”
He said he appreciates what the district has already done regarding school security. On television, the news constantly reports on new measures local school districts are now taking to protect their students. Martin said he often finds himself saying the same thing.
“I say ‘This district already does that.’”
Devine ISD Board took no action at the special meeting last week, deciding to stay the course as planned and promised with the fire academy staying local for this upcoming year.
Local fire academy stays the course
At a special meeting the week prior, Devine HS Principal Gonzalez addressed the board, noting the possibility of significant cost savings if the fire academy is done in Devine HS partners with Palo Alto, rather than Devine VFD.
Chief Greg Atkinson voiced his concerns as well, stating that Palo Alto would not be able to offer this for quite some time, while Devine VFD is ready, and it was an apples to oranges comparison. Devine’s program would make them career ready at graduation.
The board opted to leave plans in place to partner with Devine VFD for the fire academy, which will be offered to the students this school year.
It has also been noted that a partnership between Devine schools and local fire department will boost the volunteerism for our community’s fire department at the same time while giving the students hands on experience invaluable experience you can’t get from a book.