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Board of Trustees calls for November VATRE to increase pay, decrease school tax rate, and potentially decrease tax bills

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LISD

On Monday evening, the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees unanimously voted to increase pay for all employees, decrease the school tax rate, and potentially decrease voters’ tax bills through a Voter Approval Tax Ratification Election (VATRE) this November. 

The VATRE would generate $3 million to increase staff pay and address unfunded school security mandates. If approved by voters, the VATRE will decrease the school tax rate from $1.1123 to $0.9569. If not approved, the tax rate will decrease to $0.9269. 

If voters also pass Senate Bill 2 in November, their school property tax bill will also decrease. SB 2 proposes increasing the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000.

“After the Texas Legislature refused to fix school funding issues this year, LISD was forced into a budget deficit,” Board President Michael Wright said. “Our history of financial conservatism has enabled us to offset the state funding loss by utilizing the district’s fund balance. However, this will not be sustainable beyond the 2023-2024 school year, thus requiring a VATRE.”

LISD cut staff raises and free school supplies from the 2023-2024 budget after funding gaps from the State of Texas left the district in a $710,000 deficit.

LISD and nearly 150 other school districts — mainly in rural areas — are facing unprecedented levels of underfunding from the State of Texas this year. 

School districts are funded first through local property taxes, and the remainder of the funding is provided by the state. The Texas Education Agency calculates a district’s state funding by estimating how much tax revenue the district should collect based on local property values.

This year, however, county property appraisals in LISD’s taxing zone haven’t kept up with the Texas Comptroller’s rising property value estimates, leading to a $3.1 million loss in state funding.

The VATRE (Voter Approval to Raise Earnings for All) would enable voters to put 3 pennies back into the maintenance and operations part of the school tax rate, offsetting the loss in state funding. The VATRE would generate enough funds to provide raises for all employees and add safety enhancements to all schools.

The average LISD taxpayer’s bill will decrease by $496 a year if the VATRE passes. It will decrease by $536 a year if the VATRE does not pass. That is a difference of $3.33 a month to generate $3 million.

If November’s VATRE is approved, LISD will have decreased its overall school tax rate by 38 cents since 2018.

“Lockhart ISD is proud to have the second-lowest school tax rate in Central Texas, but we also have one of the lowest starting teacher salaries,” said Superintendent Mark Estrada. “Passing the VATRE means LISD can ‘Raise Earnings for All’ to retain and recruit the best teachers while lowering taxes.”

The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 10. Election Day is Nov. 7.

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