BISD debt rate sees drop, honors Special Olympics athletes

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By Katelyn Robertson, Correspondent


Mixed emotions filled the Pittenger Fine Arts Center on Monday, May 13 as the Belton ISD board of trustees met for its final meeting of the school year.

The meeting began with board president Sue Jordan opening the floor for board members to share memories of Joe Pirtle, who passed away over the weekend.

Spirits were quickly lifted when Jennifer Ritter of Specialized Public Finance launched the board workshop by presenting the board with an update on the bond sale.

In May 2017, voters approved $149.7 million in new bonds. BISD then sold $130 million of those later in 2017. Recently, the remaining $19.7 were put up for sale. The bonds were sold on April 30, using a competitive method where 13 bidders vied for the purchase. Bidders included financial giants such as J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Citigroup Global Markets Inc. However, BISD sold to the bidder with the lowest interest cost, IFS Securities, Inc., which in turn saved taxpayers some money.

“We told the voters we would be coming in, hopefully, a little bit under 46 cents,” Ritter said. “Well, two things happened. We did better on the interest rate than we anticipated.”

Ritter also explained that a seven percent growth rate in the tax base was projected the last time the bond sale came before the public, which aligned with the rate at which the tax base had been growing. However, after receiving preliminary numbers, Ritter said the tax base for next year is expected to jump up to nearly 16 percent. This could mean a significant drop in the rate taxpayers are faced with.

“Basically, if legislature doesn’t change or do something that might impact this one way or another, instead of having to be the 41 cents I told you two months ago that we were hoping for, we’ll actually be coming in at about 37.5 cents,” Ritter said.

Jerrod Sterzinger of O’Connell Robertson also had good news for the board, announcing that substantial completion has been reached on the new Charter Oak Elementary campus.

“We were able to achieve substantial completion on April 18,” Sterzinger said. “Over the next week, we will be working through the punch list checking off those items in order to reach final completion.”

Although it may seem that progress is slowing down on the construction of Lake Belton High School, Sterzinger said the work has simply moved to the interior of the building.

Lake Belton High School and the Belton High band hall renovation are both on track to be completed and ready for the 2020-21 school year.

With the school year coming to an end, the district’s annual review of salary structures was conducted, and Todd Schiller shared the results with the board Monday.

According to Schiller, the Texas Association of School Boards releases a survey annually comparing districts to those in similar markets and of similar size. BISD’s beginning teacher salaries are five percent higher than the average starting salary for the districts surveyed. Salaries remain above average when years of experience are made a factor.

As a result of the survey’s findings, Schiller said the district is looking at ways to adjust pay for paraprofessional and auxiliary positions, as well as for substitutes, in order to make rates more competitive compared to other districts.

Jennifer Land then outlined several differences between two bills facing the Texas Legislature currently that could impact next year’s budget but said that regardless of changes, the focus of the district’s budget is, and always will be, the education of the students.

After a brief closed session meeting, the board reconvened for even more good news as nine groups of students were recognized for recent achievements.

Students from the Special Olympics team were recognized for their efforts at the Spring Games, where students earned 22 medals, including eight gold medals.

Students were also recognized for earning State and National Recognitions for the Duke Talent Identification Program, where middle school students take college entrance exams and are ranked in comparison to graduating seniors across the nation. Fourteen BISD students earned State Recognition, with three earning National Recognition as well, placing them among the top 90 percent of college-bound seniors.

Winners of the Texas History Day Award were also recognized Monday, as were Texas Bioscience Institute Graduates, who have earned an associate’s degree while working on their high school diploma. Performers from the UIL Band Solo-Ensemble Contest were recognized, as well as members of the Color Guard and the Future Farmers of America.

With election results now official and final, several members of the school board were sworn in Monday for another term, and the board will remain in its current structure, with Sue Jordan continuing to serve as president.

“We’ve got a good thing going here, and we are doing great work for the district,” board member Ty Taggart said. “I don’t see any reason to change it.”