REFUGIO – The Refugio Independent School District Board of Trustees’ unanimous approval of the proposed 2020-21 tax rate means the district will have extra money for its upcoming budget.

During a meeting on Aug. 31, the board’s unanimous vote in favor of a .9664 tax rate for maintenance and operations (M&O) (meaning 96 cents per $100 property valuation) means the district will have access to what the Texas Education Agency (TEA) refers to as five “golden pennies.” if the board vote had not been unanimous, the district would have gotten four “golden pennies.”

What are “golden pennies?”

According to the TEA, they are the first few cents of a district’s M&O budget, and they consist of extra funding that the state provides to a district.

The M&O budget is then combined with the Interest & Sinking Fund (I&S). Simply put, M&O funds the daily operations of a school district, including salaries, while the I&S fund pays for debt services for long-term expenses such as facilities.

The total tax rate for RISD for the 2020-21 school year will be $1.28 per $100 property value.

One of the losses in funding the district is having to absorb is a decline in property values, which diminishes the amount of tax money which can be collected.

“The property tax roll has been devalued (within RISD boundaries) by $307,000, which is a pretty good-sized decrease,” said Lisa Herring, director of finance and accountability for the district. “We try to budget revenue to match expenses.”

That’s one reason Herring said it was crucial for the district to get all the revenue it can, adding that each of the “golden pennies” represents $37,000 to $38,000 for Refugio ISD.

Tax rates which schools can levy were reduced with a new school finance formula in 2019, but the state had pledged to make up the difference in funding for school districts.

That’s why the 2019-2020 tax rate for RISD was $1.24 compared to the 2018-19 tax rate of $1.49.

“Out of the last six tax rates, four times we were higher than the $1.28 tax rate (for 2020-21),” Herring said. The 2015-16 and 2016-17 tax rates — before the impact of Hurricane Harvey — were $1.04 per $100 valuation. After Harvey, that rate climbed, with the $1.49 rate for 2018-19 being the highest, before school finance rules were overhauled by the state legislature. 

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