McAllen school board considering tax rate election

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McALLEN — Facing a financial situation that’s increasingly tight, McAllen school board trustees will consider this summer calling for a tax rate election, or TRE, that could be held in the fall.

An election would allow trustees to ask the community to raise the district’s maintenance and operations tax rate by a possible 4.14 cents, which the district estimates would bring in an additional $3.53 million that it would use for staff compensation.

Locals would still see a tax decrease if the board calls an election and voters favor it.

The district expects local taxpayers to see a 9.53 cent decrease without the election passing. If it passes, it would only decrease by 5.39 cents.

“So the community would still experience over five cents in savings and we’d have over three million dollars to compensate staff,” Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez told trustees Monday. “That’s the only thing that the TRE would be used for. So if we do not go out for these pennies and our neighbors do, it’s gonna make it that much more difficult to compensate at the rate that our neighbors do.

“Because from what I’m gathering from my colleagues, (a) vast majority of communities will be going out for TREs for compensation only. So I think that this is a perfect time for us.”

On Monday, trustees approved a budget with over $7 million in estimated cuts, along with a compensation plan that will cost the district almost $4 million.

The effort to get there at its core reflected last year’s budget struggle: trustees want to increase employee compensation, though they have relatively little excess money to do so.

Almost exactly a year ago, that budget work prompted trustees to move toward an election, though the effort fizzled out amidst some angry feelings before the summer ended.

Going for a tax rate election on Nov. 7 would require the board to order one by Aug. 21.

The district would also have to have an efficiency audit completed and made public by October.

The board tapped Austin-based consultants Moak Casey on Monday to conduct that audit.

According to the district’s administration, an efficiency audit would cost $30,000 and an election — if called — would cost $100,000.

Two trustees — Lucia Regalado and Sofia Pena — voted against continuing to move toward an election. Both said they were uncomfortable with the pace of the proposal, describing it as rushed.

“I want us to be set up to succeed, particularly if we go out for a TRE, and I don’t think that we are setting ourselves up to do that when we do that at the last minute,” Regalado said. “Because I want to be able to be advocating for it as well, and we need to be united if we do it, and I don’t feel like I will be in a position to be a proper advocate in the community to get this passed.”

Pena added that she felt a failed TRE push would poison the waters for any possible future bond push.

“If we don’t pass a TRE, a bond is definitely not gonna pass,” she said.

Gonzalez and Board President Debbie Crane Aliseda were sympathetic to the timing argument and the fact that an efficiency audit hasn’t been completed yet.

Crane Aliseda said the May elections likely prevented discussions from happening on the board.

Both, however, described a tax rate election as a likely necessary option to stave off drastic staffing decisions.

“It scares me to think of the position that the next board is gonna be in, in a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. I see this as an opportunity,” Crane Aliseda said.

Gonzalez also expressed his faith in the community supporting a tax rate election.