Keller school officials consider asking voters to raise tax rate

KELLER — Looking down the barrel at a deficit that is $16 million and growing, Keller school district officials acknowledged Thursday night that they will likely ask voters to approve a property tax increase.

At a budget workshop, trustees and top administrators discussed calling an election, possibly in September, to ask voters to allow the district to raise taxes. Called a tax-ratification election, if successful it would allow the district to raise the rate for daily operations by 13 cents per $100 in assessed valuation and generate about $16 million in revenue. The current rate of $1.04 is at the state-allowed cap.

The cost to a taxpayer with a home valued at $200,000 would be an additional $260 annually, officials said.

Deputy Superintendent Mark Youngs acknowledged that the tax increase could be a tough sell in this economy.

“When we do a bond, we end up with a shiny new building to show for it. When we do this, we get to keep the lights on,” Youngs said.

Officials plan to craft two budgets — one with the extra $16 million from higher taxes and one for a $16 million shortfall if the election fails.

While board members said giving raises to teachers and support staff is a priority for the 2011-12 budget year, they would consider cuts to every area outside of core academics for the “no frills” budget.

Since most of the district’s costs are tied up in salaries, laying off employees could be part of the equation, officials said.

“As far as areas, I think that anybody who is not a core classroom teacher is up for grabs,” Trustee Kevin Stevenson said.

Board members asked administrators to give information on cuts that would have the least impact on academics.

Trustee Lara Lee Hogg said she liked the idea of employee raises but wanted information on the long-term impact of such increases.

Several board members said they wanted input from teachers on the impact of increasing the student-teacher ratio, a cost-cutting move officials have included for grades 5-12 in the last two budgets. The current 27-1 ratio reflects an average formula for staffing campuses, not a cap on actual class size.

While a tax increase would temporarily fix the district’s budget woes, officials wondered what will happen in future years.

“We’re a successful district academically and financially, but how long can we afford to maintain a recognized status?” Stevenson said.

Superintendent James Veitenheimer said, “This is really a challenge for a district that has mastered the art of being efficient.”

Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231