Miller Grove ISD holding final meeting on tax rollback rate Thursday night

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News-Editor

Oct. 29, 2008 - Administrators and school board members for Miller Grove school will be hosting a town hall meeting Thursday night to give voters one last chance to ask questions and glean information about the pending tax rollback election.

Miller Grove's budget is balanced, with a maintenance and operations tax rate of $1.19 per $100 of property valuation. The problem, district officials say, is that the rate leaves no additional funding for needed repairs nor extra pay to recruit and keep teachers, much less any emergencies that may arise.

Thus, the school board is asking voters to approve a 13-cent tax increase to replace aging buses, buy two kitchen appliances required to meet state standards, repair and replace air conditioning units, to maintain existing operations, and keep up with and possibly offer additional teacher pay incentives.

The higher rate would generate $52,493 from local sources, but even more money from the state of Texas -- $87,423, school officials have calculated.

"We, the Board, and the administration have studied the finances closely and would not be asking for the rollback unless it was necessary for the kids and school," Miller Grove Superintendent Steve Johnson and Board President Carolyn Burns wrote in a letter mailed to 500 district taxpayers regarding the tax rate. "This would bring in an additional $139,916 for the school."

Johnson said the continued financial demands on school districts mandated by state and federal governments are difficult to match when "the school's income is frozen at the 2005-2006 level."

Johnson added increased costs -- 30 percent for electricity, 30 percent for fuel, 46 percent for propane and 28 percent for food and cafeteria supplies -- have also taken a toll.

About 80 percent of the annual budget goes to teacher salaries, which are only at the minimum base allowable by state law. The remaining 20 percent of revenue goes to run the school.

The lack of money has also had an impact on instructional support inside classrooms. Since the rate was frozen two years ago, MG has had to cut two aide positions, three full-time teacher positions, two half-time teacher positions, converted one full-time cafeteria worker to a half-time position and consolidated four bust routes into three.

Of the three remaining aides, the district has to rely on government funding to pay for the positions. One librarian, required by law, is funded with state and federal monies. A special education aide is also paid for by state and federal dollars. The pre-kindergarten aide is mostly funded by tuition charged for the students in the preparatory class, the letter to taxpayers states.

The district is down to 21 full-time teachers who cover Pre-K through 12th grade.

School officials also say that the additional funding would help address transportation, food service and maintenance needs.

For example, the average age of the district's bus fleet -- 14.67 years -- is higher than the number of years students spend in school. The buses have been around the block plenty of times, too -- the odometers average 127,521 miles each.

"We have been very lucky that the buses have held together this long, traveling some of the back roads they do, but it is past time to start replacing at least the three route buses over the next couple of years," the letter notes.

The district also is having to replace kitchen equipment to comply with changing state and federal laws.

"We have been able to obtain some surplus equipment from other schools but are still having to purchase a convection oven and still need a new cook stove," Johnson and Burns explain. "The current cook stove is over 12 years old and has been worked on many times. The repairman has informed us that he is not sure he can even get parts if the stove breaks down again."

A couple of air conditioning units installed when the new elementary building was constructed have gone out and had to be replaced. Since all units were installed at the same time, repairs or replacement of other units are anticipated. That's another cost the district won't easily be able to afford without the additional tax dollars, Johnson said.

If the rollback rate is approved, the average tax bill for homeowners in the district would go up the equivalent of $5.66 per month. Last year, the average taxable value of a residence was $54,138. That value has increased to $59,282 this year. Last year's tax rate of $1.17 would have cost the average homeowner $714.62 for the year. This year, the $1.32 rate will increase the annual payment by $67.90, with the average total tax for the year coming to $782.52.

The town hall meeting begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, in the school gym. Any questions related to the rollback tax election may also be directed to Johnson or Burns at the school by calling 903-459-3288.

OPTIONAL TRIM

Voters may cast ballots early in person through Friday at the Sulphur Springs Public Library. The early voting site will be open until 8 p.m. tonight and Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

The final ballots will be cast from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 4. Miller Grove ISD voters in Hopkins County Precinct 1 will vote at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 100 Texas St. in Sulphur Springs; Precinct 16 votes at Miller Grove Community Center, 658 FM 275; Precinct 25, Brashear Community Center, 160 FM 2653; and Precinct 36, Arbala Community Center, 550 FM 1567. Miller Grove ISD voters in Rains County Precinct 3 will vote at Della Blanton Memorial Hall, 200 Rains County Road 4370 in Emory.

Miller Grove voters may also select up to four of the five candidates to fill four seats on the school board. The candidates are Doug Hall, Lewis Russell, Johnny Burns, Eric Mabe and Rolanda Hasten.

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