Brownsville ISD voters approve new tax rate, raises

Voters drive up to a curbside voting location on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, at Sharp Elementary in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)
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The Brownsville Independent School District will keep its promise to employees and award 2% pay raises after BISD voters ratified the district’s restructured 2023-2024 tax rate in Tuesday’s election.

By a 3-2 margin, BISD voters approved Proposition A, which ratified the district’s 2023-2024 tax rate of $1.030964 per $100 valuation and and cleared the way to award the raises.

The tax rate is nearly 18 cents lower than the rate of $1.20869 for 2022-2023.

With all 21 precincts counted, Proposition A passed with 4,210 votes, or 59.7% in favor, to 2,838, or 40.3% against, final results from the Cameron County Elections Office showed.

“I am extremely excited with the outcome of the VATRE as we support and value the dedication of our teachers and staff,” Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said Wednesday morning, referring to the election by an acronym that stands for Voter Approved Tax Ratification Election.

“The VATRE will generate approximately $10.4 million dollars in additional funding to be used for employee raises. We appreciate the community and stakeholder’s solid support on this important proposition, which allows us to continue to prepare students to excel in higher education and offer a high-quality instruction,” Gutierrez stated in a news release about the election.

Gutierrez said the 2% pay raise will be implemented for teachers, classified and administration in December. District employees will receive a retroactive pay in December, while the Payroll and Human Resources departments will work on executing the process of the decompression rates for classified employees.

Gutierrez said the raises will go into effect “regardless of what they do in Austin.”

The reference was to Gov. Greg Abbott’s insistence that any plan for public school teacher and employee pay raises include what proponents called education savings accounts, or ESAs, and critics called vouchers to divert funds from public education.

After lawmakers deadlocked over ESAs, and allowing state and local police to detain and expel undocumented immigrants, the year’s third special session lasted the full 30 days allowed for a special session.

Abbott on Tuesday called the Legislature into special session for the fourth time. Even though Republican infighting was largely responsible, Democrats celebrated blockage of the school choice and border security measures.

“There is more work to be done,” Abbott said in a news release. Lawmakers must “complete their critical work to empower Texas parents to choose the best education pathway for their child while providing billions more in funding for Texas public schools and continuing to boost safety measures in schools.”

The Brownsville ISD school board meeting room in the district’s Administration Building is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy: Brownsville ISD)

The results of Tuesday’s election still have to be made official, a formality known as canvassing the vote. The BISD Board of Trustees is expected to post a meeting to do just that.

The board ordered Tuesday’s election to gain voter approval to restructure the tax rate to pay for the raises when it approved the district’s 2023-2024 budget.

School districts in the Rio Grande Valley and across Texas held similar tax-ratification elections Tuesday as a way to pay for employee raises after the Legislature failed to provide additional funds.

Tuesday’s ballot also included 14 constitutional amendments, including Proposition 4, the so-called homestead amendment, which raises the homestead exemption to $100,000 from $40,000.

The measure, which allowed the state to spend $18 billion on property tax cuts for homeowners and businesses, cut school districts’ tax rates and enact other tax changes, cruised to victory, with 84% of voters supporting the change.

The $1.030964 per $100 valuation tax rate would result in a savings of $641 in BISD property taxes for the owner of an “average” home valued at $156,250, information presented at an Aug. 29 budget committee meeting indicated.

The calculation figures in a homestead exemption of $100,000 for 2023-2024, compared to a $40,000 homestead exemption in 2022-2023 when an average home was valued at $125,000.

Without voter approval in Tuesday’s tax-ratification election, BISD taxes would have fallen an additional $16, information presented at the Aug. 29 meeting indicated.