‘Tax rate swap’ would mean more money for Azle and Keller schools, if voters approve

It’s election season, but not all voters are scrutinizing the campaign messages of candidates for U.S. Senate or Texas governor — some residents in Tarrant and Parker counties are being lured to the polls by the prospect of new schools, security upgrades and millions of potential tax dollars for academic programs.

Voters in the Azle and Keller school districts have already been casting early voting ballots in Sept. 8 elections that officials promise will generate money for schools without raising the overall tax rate. These elections have a proper name in Texas — a tax ratification election, or TRE.

Meanwhile, in the Birdville school district, voters will decide the fate of a proposed $252.8 million bond package that includes replacing five campuses with four, renovations, technology upgrades and security enhancements.

Election Day for Birdville’s bond program is Nov. 6.

“We are telling people we can do this without a tax rate increase,” said Mark Thomas, spokesman for Birdville schools. He added that another message to voters on Nov. 6 is not to forget the bond election.

“There is a lot on the ballot,” Thomas said. “Vote all the way through the ballot.”

School districts have rolled out information that aims to explain projects, impact on tax rates and even answer the question: “What the heck is a TRE?”

Simply put, a school district’s overall tax rate has two sides: maintenance and operations and debt service. State law says a district can’t collect more than $1.04 per $100 of assessed valuation on the maintenance and operations side without going to the voters for approval.

“Most districts are at $1.04,” said Tanya Anderson, superintendent of Azle schools.

Azle and Keller schools said they can add millions of dollars to their budgets by swapping money from the debt service side of the tax rate to the maintenance and operations side. District leaders said the move is a viable option for districts as they pay off their debt and communities experience increased property values.

“We want to take advantage of this opportunity to increase revenue without increasing the tax rate,” Anderson said.

Azle’s ‘Penny Swap Authorization’

Azle school leaders want to generate $2.5 million by moving 13 cents from the debt service side of the total tax rate to the maintenance and operations side.

Azle’s total tax rate is $1.3290 per $100 valuation. If voters approve the proposal, the total tax rate would remain the same. However, tax bills may not drop because of increased property values.

Anderson said that as long as the tax structure remains the same, Azle schools would be getting the estimated $2.5 million annually.

That money would help pay for teacher salaries, facility maintenance and academic programs in career and technical training that allow Azle students to graduate with professional certifications.

Azle has a unique industrial refrigeration program that allows students to enter the job market prepared to work for large food processing or storage plants. The district also has a drone program it wants to support.

Keller’s ‘Swap & Drop’

In 2011, voters in Keller schools voted down a TRE.

At Keller schools, officials want to raise $19 million while dropping the total tax rate through an effort coined “Tax Rate Swap & Drop.” The district said it has evolved from a fast-growth district to one that doesn’t have growing student attendance dollars boosting daily operations.

“We’ve been locked into a funding formula that really puts us at the bottom 20 percent of funding in the state of Texas,” Superintendent Rick Westfall said in a recent Facebook Live session.

Under the proposal, Keller’s overall tax rate would go from $1.52 per $100 valuation to $1.51. The district would raise the maintenance and operations portion of the tax rate by 13 cents and then lower the debt service side by 14 cents.

This plan will allow the district to pay for facility needs without borrowing as much bond money in the future. If voters don’t approve the TRE, there will be no raises for this school year and the district will face an operating deficit of $6 million.

Azle and Keller schools Tax Ratification Elections

Tuesday is the last day to vote early

Voters can cast ballots from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the following locations:

Azle ISD Administration Building, 300 Roe St. in Azle.

Summerglen Branch Library, 4205 Basswood Blvd., Fort Worth

Keller Town Hall, 1100 Bear Creek Parkway, Keller

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram