McKinney ISD is slated to receive about $16.5 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education to help address unexpected costs incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the funds, the district is proposing a $0.07 total tax rate decrease for the 2021-22 school year.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced the release of $11.2 billion for Texas public schools from the third round of federal funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund in an April 28 press release. The funds will be used to help districts address student learning loss and costs incurred during the pandemic. Due to federal requirements, just two-thirds of the funding is available immediately, Abbott said, through grants administered by the Texas Education Agency.

“These relief funds could not have come at a more critical time,” MISD Superintendent Rick McDaniel said in a news release. “Students and teachers have been significantly impacted by the effects of COVID-19, and we are focused on restoring normalcy to campuses next year, while at the same time ensuring the health and safety of our learning environments.”

The final piece of funding could give the district additional funding of up to $6 million, but the approval and the amount will not be confirmed until at least June, said Jason Bird, MISD’s deputy superintendent of business, operations, accountability and technology.

With the relief funds, the district will maintain its current staffing with smaller class sizes, Bird said.

“McKinney ISD has maintained our full staffing, so the dollars will go to assist with continuing to have full staffing,” Bird said. “Obviously, we hope all of our students come back in person, ready to go. And we are prepared with seats and teachers.”

The district lost about 1,100 students this past school year, but it kept all its teachers with the rationale that some of these students would return and the district should be ready to teach them at the same level it had been previously, Bird said.

This spring the district asked voters to support four different ballot items. One of these items, Proposition B, was proposed to provide additional funding for the district’s maintenance and operations budget. This would increase this portion of the district’s budget by $0.02, and upon approval the district would lower its debt service tax rate by $0.05, resulting in a net decrease of $0.03.

Although the measure passed in the May 1 election by more than 65%, the relief funds the district is set to receive has given McKinney ISD the opportunity to use these funds rather than increasing the maintenance and operations tax rate, Bird said.

“With the [relief] funds coming into the district, that is going to allow us to maintain our full staffing as we had anticipated, and we're going to be able to provide a 2% pay raise across the board, all while not accessing the pennies that were approved by our voters,” Bird said.

The 2% pay raise for teachers would result in an estimated raise of about $1,250 for teachers with a $500 mid-year stipend, and would also increase the starting teacher compensation at McKinney ISD to $58,300, factoring in the mid-year stipend, Bird said.

The district will still lower its debt service rate, as it had promised voters. But instead of the total tax rate decrease of $0.03, taxpayers will instead see a total tax rate decrease of a little over $0.07. This reduction will present an approximate savings of $275 for the average single-family household in McKinney, rather than the originally proposed $122, according to an MISD news release.

“We cannot thank the McKinney community enough for their ongoing support of public education and McKinney ISD,” Bird said in the release. “McKinney has always supported strong schools, and our residents understand the impact that quality schools have on our community. When we received this funding, we saw an opportunity to meet the needs of our students and also provide additional tax relief to our taxpayers.”

Under current legislation, the district has to expend this emergency relief funding by September 2024. However, there is pending legislation that would provide an extension for districts so they would have five years to spend the relief funding.

“Either way, we're happy as clams, whether we have to expend the funds in three years, or have to expend the funds over five years,” Bird said. “Either way, McKinney ISD is well-positioned to make that work.”

Should the district be in financial need by the time the funds are exhausted, there is confidence voters would support a future tax rate election, just as they had done this year, Bird said.

“If we can provide a bigger tax cut than we originally thought, I think we owe it to our community,” Bird said. “They have always supported McKinney ISD students and schools, and we trust they will do so in the future.”