The Sherman Independent School District’s board of trustees held a special meeting Monday night at which the group approved a $1.44 per $100 valuation property tax rate for the year and got its first look at the $170-million-plus bond packages developed by the Citizens Advisory Committee.
“When you go to school board school, they teach you that there’s only a few things that are the most important parts of your job, that’s policy, hiring a superintendent and then setting these rates for the community and making decisions on the capital nature of bonds,” Sherman ISD Board President Tim Millerick said. “These are a large part of what we do.”
Tax rate gets nod
With members Juston Dobbs and Britton Brooks absent from the meeting, the board gave its unanimous approval on a $1.44 tax property rate for the 2017 tax year. Under the rate, $1.17 will go toward Sherman ISD’s maintenance and operations and the remaining 27 cents will be allocated for the district’s debt service, otherwise known as interest and sinking. In July, The Grayson Central Appraisal District announced its 2017 certified property values within the district at $4.05 billion — an increase of roughly $122 million over that of 2016. School boards historically wait for property values to be released, if possible, and are required to hold a related public hearing before setting their tax rates.
Sherman ISD Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Tyson Bennett said the 2017 tax rate, which will remain the same as it has for the past ten years, will allow the district handle its finances on all fronts.
“It meets the needs on our maintenance and operations side, which is our daily operating, our salaries and everything we do to run our facilities,” Bennett said of the 2017 tax rate. “And on our I&S or deb service side, we’re able to make our bond payments throughout the year, and we’re also able to prepay bond debt, which means we’re able continuing to aggressively pay down our debt.”
Bennett said the district was largely on the money when it came to estimating what the certified values would be this year. He explained that the district benefited from weekly preliminary value updates provided by the GCAD and the accurate estimate was a relief to Sherman ISD, whose budget year begins in early July, but must wait for certified values to be released later in the month.
“It’s always good to be very close from your preliminary values to your certified values, particularly for districts that are July 1 budget year starts,” Bennett said. “It’s a little bit easier for a September 1 start district, because they have the advantage of having the certified values when they project their revenue. We have preliminary values, and we have to do our best guestimates, based on historical trends and many other factors.”
Four choices for a bond
The trustees also learned of the four different bond packages they will have to choose from, should they decide to call a November bond election. Following the failure of the $308 million May bond election, the Citizens Advisory Committee — assembled by Sherman ISD and staffed by educators, elected officials, business leaders and others with the goal of developing and prioritizing projects that would address aging facilities and a growing student population — reconvened with new faces and ultimately reached an agreement on a $170 million base package.
Under the base package, a new $157.8 million Sherman High School would be built on district-owned property near the intersection of OB Groner Road and FM 1417 in South Sherman. The building, as proposed, would boast more than 370,000 square feet and a 2,300-student capacity. The package also funds a $12.6 million districtwide technology update by way of expanded digital infrastructure and new devices. The expected total price tag of $170.5 million reflects projected construction and purchasing costs incurred in December 2018. The package would be funded by a 20-cent increase in the I&S tax rate.
But the committee also left the board with the option to choose from three other bond packages: a $176 million package funded by a 21-cent I&S tax rate increase, a $182 million package funded by a 22-cent increase, and a $187 million package funded by a 23-cent increase. The added revenue, if approved by voters, would be used for renovations at Piner Middle School and at Sherman High School, which would find new life as the district’s second middle school.
At their final meeting last Thursday, the 32 present members of the Citizens Advisory Committee took a vote on the four packages and voiced their thoughts on which packages they both liked and supported and felt the community would support. The members voted 30-2 in favor of the $170 million package, 25-7 in favor of the $176 million package, 23-9 in favor of the $182 million package and 16-16 on the $187 million package — an even split driven by the group’s hesitance to push the I&S tax rate to the 5o-cent maximum allowed by the state of Texas.
Millerick, who attended several of the Citizens Advisory Committee meetings, said he feels the dollar amounts where people are confident and unsure were relatively easy to identify. It was the area in between where he said he believed the tough decisions would have to be made.
“I think with every time we ask a group, that the 20-cent (approval rating) gets more solid and that the town is ready for that and the district is ready for that,” Millerick said. “Equally similar, is probably that 23 cents is a little bit of a stretch for where everybody is at. I think the big question for everyone is right there at 21, 22 cents and what we gain with the middle schools. I think that’s where the rubber really meets the road.”
The trustees expressed gratitude to the present members of the Citizens Advisory Committee but took no action on the bond packages. The board is expected to take the next two weeks to mull the options over before getting greater detail in a formal presentation from the committee at the board’s next meeting on August 21 — a date which happens to be the cutoff for the calling a November election.
“The 21st will be big because I think everybody is at the same place,” Millerick said. “They’ll give us the details of what a cent does for us and how we can really get there. I’m excited, and I think people are ready to get going on the things that we’ve talked about.”