McKinney, TX - On Tuesday night, the McKinney ISD Board of Trustees approved four ballot items that will go before voters on Saturday, May 1, 2021. The items include an Attendance Credit Election (ACE), a Voter Approval Tax Rate (VATRE) Election, a $245 million school bond program and a $30 million technology bond program.
The ballot items were submitted to the board for consideration by Project Kids, a 50-member committee comprised of parents, community members and former educators. At the December board meeting, Project Kids Chair Jim Robertson stood before the board and presented the committee’s recommendations.
Now, those items have been approved by the board and will be placed before voters in May.
MISD has traditionally held a bond election at five year intervals as part of its long range plan to maintain facilities and support schools. The district held school bond elections in 2005 and 2011, a TRE in 2013 and a school bond election in 2016. Each of those elections passed.
“This spring’s elections are extremely important as they not only provide for capital improvements, but also will ensure the continuation of sufficient operational funds to support teachers, maintenance costs and other programmatic costs,” said McKinney ISD Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel.
“Like all elections involving McKinney ISD constituents, it is very important for those affected by the results of the upcoming elections to be involved,” McDaniel added. “Our duty as a district this spring is to clearly communicate all facets of the elections so that stakeholders can make an educated decision.”
While voters may be familiar with ballot items related to school bond programs, the Attendance Credit Election is likely to present new terminology for many voters.
The ACE deals with the way in which MISD makes mandatory payments to the state as a “property wealthy” district; it does not address the tax rate. Under the auspices of what is commonly referred to as the Robin Hood plan, districts deemed property wealthy are required to send money to the state each year in a process called recapture.
MISD has been making recapture payments since the 2014–2015 school year through a commonly used method called “purchasing attendance credits.” This method is the most cost-effective for MISD and is the approach used by every school district in Texas that is required to make recapture payments.
A new law that came out of the last Texas legislative session now requires property wealthy districts such as MISD to hold a one-time Attendance Credit Election for voter approval to continue making its annual payments by purchasing attendance credits. If the measure passes, MISD will move forward, making its annual payments as it has for the past six years.
If the ACE does not pass, however, things become more complicated. The district would not be authorized to make its mandatory recapture payments, and the state would recoup those funds by permanently detaching $2.9 billion—or roughly 17 percent—of McKinney ISD’s tax base, sending those tax dollars to other school districts in a move called “detachment of territory.”
Those detached funds would go to other districts every year, permanently, and could necessitate MISD raising the Interest and Sinking (I&S) tax rate by approximately 8 cents to continue serving the district’s current debt schedule.
The Voter Approval Tax Rate Election impacts the district’s maintenance and operations (M&O) budget, which MISD uses for teacher and staff salaries, books, classroom supplies, utilities, food service, educational resources and other items that help MISD educate students.
District funding comes from a total tax rate that combines the M&O rate and the I&S rate. The I&S is used solely to pay MISD’s debt obligations and cannot be used for items covered on the M&O side.
Recent legislation has capped property value growth for school districts at 2.5 percent, even though MISD’s property values have grown at a much higher rate. As a result, even if tax values grow in McKinney, the funding the district receives from the state will go no higher. The VATRE allows the district to increase the tax rate on the M&O side in order to help pay for daily operating costs.
If the VATRE measure passes, it will maximize the M&O funding allowed under HB3—an increase of approximately $3.1 million. However, due to conservative management of MISD debt obligations, it would also allow for a net decrease of $.0317 to the total MISD tax rate and an annual savings of about $112 for the average single family home ($354,159) in McKinney.
“Raising the M&O will allow for our district to offset the loss of revenue from the state in response to the state-approved cap on property value taxation rate,” explained McDaniel. “It will also allow us to continue to offer highly competitive salaries to our teachers and staff. This salary structure will continue to make MISD a district that is sought out by quality teachers and other professionals. And, it will also allow us to keep the student to teacher ratio as low as possible. Finally, raising the M&O tax rate will enable us to continue providing first-class career and technical education programs, fine arts programs and athletic programs.”
If the VATRE does not pass, the district would have to cut an additional $3.1 million in funds for the next school year. This would impact a broad range of positions and programs, resulting in actions that could include cuts of teachers and administrative/support staff; an increase in K-12 class sizes; reductions in CTE courses and programs, the gifted and talented program, non-mandated programs such as art, athletics, literacy and fine arts and extra or co-curricular programs; reduced tutoring or pull out support for students; and additional cuts to campus and department budgets.
The third ballot item is a School Bond program focused on two primary goals: 1) to update and renovate existing campuses and 2) to accommodate growth through campus expansions and a new school.
MISD campuses are renovated every 15 years to ensure that they remain in the best possible condition for students and teachers. The renovations called for in the 2021 School Bond include new heating and air conditioning, roof replacements, new paint and flooring and other preventative maintenance.
The vast majority of the bond funds will provide for 10 MISD schools across the district to undergo significant updates or expansions: McKinney Boyd High School, Scott Johnson Middle School, Evans Middle School, Webb Elementary, Slaughter Elementary, Finch Elementary, Burks Elementary, Bennett Elementary, Minshew Elementary and Wilmeth Elementary.
The bond includes a virtual reality lab; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) expansion; CTE expansion; and a fine arts expansion at McKinney Boyd High School.
In response to current and projected growth in the northern sector of the district, an expansion of Scott Johnson Middle School and a new elementary school are included in the bond. Scott Johnson will receive additional classrooms and a fine arts expansion that will bring its capacity from 1,200 to 1,500, and a new elementary near Trinity Falls will accommodate growth for younger learners.
“Former bond elections have allowed for us to develop a long-range plan that includes refurbishing and renovations of all district campuses over time,” said McDaniel. “This bond election will allow us to both continue the refurbishing cycle, as designed, in addition to adding a new elementary school in the fast-growing northern sector of our school district.”
In addition to campus renovations and refreshes, every campus will be impacted by the 2021 bond in the areas of technology and safety and security. Improvements to the technology infrastructure will ensure that students and teachers have reliable access to the internet and district network, and the bond will enable the district to add more security cameras and lock-down buttons at schools.
Elementary playgrounds across the district will be refreshed and fenced, enhancing both their usability and safety, and the bond will help pay for athletic and fine arts equipment and uniforms, so that every student has an opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities.
The final ballot item for the May election is a Technology Bond that will ensure that McKinney ISD can continue its student laptop initiative, which provides a computer for every child in the district as well as classroom computers and computers for STEM and CTE programs.
“This is an important election with a variety of components that the community may not be familiar with,” said McDaniel. “In light of that, I encourage the community to read and learn about the information that the district will be making available throughout the coming weeks—and to vote in May.”