Carthage ISD expects to be getting an approximate $2.1 million increase in state funding this year now that House Bill 3 is official.

But district officials were quick to note Monday that the increase doesn’t make up for the millions taken away by the state since 2006.

“There is new money coming into the district, but it’s very important that our taxpayers, that our board, that our teachers understand that it’s not to the level that we had anticipated,” Superintendent John Wink said. “Of course we kind of said from the very beginning there’s no way they’re going to go back to where we were two years ago, let alone back in 2006.”

Wink and Business Manager Kathy Worley discussed the ramifications of the newly-adopted House Bill 3, school finance reform and property tax reform that came from the most recent legislative session at Monday’s school board meeting. They also discussed plans for the anticipated $2.1 million, namely $1.2 million for across-the-board raises and the rest for additional hiring for some academic support positions and additional funding for custodial and maintenance items.

“We have some positions, whenever we had to really cut last year to get close to a balanced budget, we were below bare bones, and there are some positions if we want to make this an academically sound district, we’ve got to have some people that will help us,” Worley said.

Wink called HB3 “the driving force of our financial future for years to come.”

“While we do not have a lot of information to bring to you — hard and fast numbers — we are learning how the bill works,” he said. “We will have more information in July. We do have some rough numbers and how it’s going to affect us.”

Wink disputed an $11 billion figure touted by state officials as the increase in education that has been approved, saying from their perspective it’s a $6 billion increase in education funding and $5 billion earmarked for property tax relief.

That property tax relief will compress the district’s tax rate on the maintenance and operations side of the budget by seven cents.

“What we need to recognize is that that money is going not to the schools, that money is going directly back to the property taxpayers,” Wink said. “So that’s why the $11 billion from our vantage point is not an increase in education, but really $6 billion increase to education and about $5 billion decrease in property taxes collected from property taxpayers.”

Wink said the final version of legislative effort means teacher raises, but not a set number statewide.

“Initially you heard that teachers were going to get an across-the-board $5,000 raise, then it went to $4,0000 raise,” Wink said. “The way it came out, there’s not a dollar amount that boards will be required to be approve. However the legislators did choose instead to tie raises to a percentage of the district’s overall funding increase, and that’s going to be something that we’re working on in the coming months.”

Budget Woes

Worley gave school board members a background of the district’s state funding, discussing the millions of dollars taken away by the state.

It started in 2006, when the state compressed the M&O tax rate from $1.50 to $1.00 over a two-year period. That kicked off the ASATR, or additional state aid for tax relief, program. ASATR funding was supposed to fill in the gap between what the district was collecting and what they could collect under the new tax rate, Worley said.

“That was fine for a year or two,” she said. “2011, five years later, is when they said ‘Oops we don’t have the money to fund all of ASATR,’ so that year is the year they grabbed $2 million out of our budget. Immediately grabbed it.”

The next year, Worley said, they restored only 15 percent of that funding.

“So that still left us a gap of $1.7 million that we had to fill ourselves,” she said. “That’s when we started — I say we started; we started before then making cuts through attrition, trying to do everything we could to shore up our money. We managed to work through and make a few changes and get that $1.7 million cut.”

When the legislature met in 2017, they repealed ASATR — meaning Carthage ISD lost $7 million from its budget. The district cut personnel, employee benefits and programs, Worley noted.

“That hurt the district tremendously,” she said. “Then we had to go in and eliminate our tax discounts, we raised our tax rate 14 cents. That hurt our taxpayers. So that’s where we are going into the House Bill 3, where we are right now.”

Under HB3, districts will see an increase in their basic allotment of state funds. The highest the tax rate the district can have is 93 cents, Worley said, with the ability to maybe add four cents to that.

“How that works is we won’t be able to collect as much in taxes because our tax rate has once again has been compressed, and that will reduce our recapture costs tremendously,” she said. “Our recapture costs will go from a little over $6 million down to around $3 million, but that’s not new money in the district. That’s not new money that we’re going to get to put our hands on; That’s just money we’re not going to be able to collect.”

In all, Worley said the district has lost about $8.8 million since 2006. They’ve gained back $2.1 million.

“So that still leaves us $6.7 million we’re never getting back,” she said. “We’ll never have that back.”

Reporter

Carthage native Meredith Shamburger has worked for the Panola Watchman since 2018. Before that, she worked at sister papers in Longview and Marshall; the Dallas Morning News; and The Daily Voice, a hyperlocal news company in Westchester County, New York.