School board talks, budget, Robin Hood, uncertainty in last workshop of the school year

Kevin Rogers, Kristi Hassett and Kronda Thimesch wait outside for board president Angie Cox, who was delayed by the thunderstorm. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

In a final meeting before summer break, the Lewisville ISD Board of Trustees brushed up on the more uncertain details of making their next budget in a workshop session June 7.

After board member Tracy Scott Miller pointed out at the last board meeting that the district frequently ends years with more money than they thought they would have, CFO Mike Ball explained that it is against state law for them to go over their budget.

Ball said the district consistently has breathing room in the budget because of uncertainties in budgeting, the need for unassigned money to spend on contingencies and the need for a large cushion because going over budget could have severe consequences — and explained how they’re trying to use a higher percentage of the available money this year.

Currently, the district is waiting on the county appraisal district to come back with their final property values, on which property taxes, and thereby a significant portion of the district’s budget, will be based. The appraisal district is currently hearing value protests, but has a “line in the sand” date of July 25 to come up with a final number. The schedule right now is the school board will have a final budget meeting Aug. 2 and come up with a budget that will be put to a vote at the regular meeting Aug. 27, five days before the beginning of fiscal year 2019. Under this schedule, the budget would be published for public consumption Aug. 10. 

The appraisal district comes out with preliminary values in April and then finalizes them in late July after months of negotiations with individual property owners, and after that, the school district has around a month to finalize their budget in August, meaning most of the budget-making process is reliant on some guesswork.

Ball said that in the past the district has estimated how much money will come off the initial appraisal values after protests, and then assumed even more would come off in order to be safe. This year, the district is trying to guess that number more precisely and stick more tightly to it in the budgeting process, meaning district officials are operating on the assumption they’ll have more money to work with than they usually do at this point.

Ball said the number of property value protests in the county has been trending up for years. Board member Katherine Sells said, based on what friends had been telling her, she was concerned that the appraisal district had been overwhelmed with protests, and she was worried the district wouldn’t get their final appraisal in on time.

Ball also addressed the potential for flattening property tax revenue growth from year to year, an idea that has been kicking around in the state legislature at various numbers. Ball said that the district’s certified property value roll increased by 10.2 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Payments into the state’s “Robin Hood” recapture plan, however, are much easier to calculate because they are calculated based on the previous year’s certified property value.

“There’s not nearly as much uncertainty in calculating recapture as there is in the rest of the expenditures,” he said.

The district projects to send a little more than $37 million back to the state next fiscal year.

After that discussion, superintendent Kevin Rogers reaffirmed plans to form a community budget advisory committee in order to get community feedback on what programs to cut in the likely event that LISD will need to tighten its belt even further in the future. He said they would aim to approve a charter and membership by August.

Rogers said he’s already asked key community members with desired experience — bankers and CFOs living in the district — to participate. Board member Kronda Thimesch suggested selecting a student from each high school to serve on the committee as well. Miller said it would be important to make sure the committee understood that not everything was a dollars and cents issue with the district, and that some of its more important endeavors would not have a good return-on-investment.

As much as the conversation was mostly limited to what the district can control about its budget, Sells said she was more worried about surprise expenses from the state government.

“It’s not our ability as a district to tighten the belt that I’m as concerned about as I am with what may come down in unfunded mandates,” she said. “I think that we just need to sometimes be prepared that it’s going to be a bit of a rocket ride.”

The school board will convene again in August.