Spring ISD inched forward in the voter-approval tax rate election, or VATRE, ballot initiative process—which would be held in November, if called—after two board of trustees votes on June 11.

Current situation

As SISD faces a $25 million general fund budget shortfall for fiscal year 2024-25—cut down to $13 million in May—trustees are in the process of considering a $0.05 increase to the district’s tax rate. If called by trustees and approved by voters, the VATRE would generate an additional $20.4 million annually for the district, including a 2% raise for all staff.

On June 11, trustees:
  • Approved the FY 2024-25 budget—in a 4-2-1 vote—with the potential VATRE revenue included, leaving a balanced budget; for the budget vote, board President Justine Durant and Secretary Kelly P. Hodges dissented, while trustee Carmen Correa abstained
  • Unanimously selected finance firm Whitley Penn as the auditor of the district for the VATRE process under the consent agenda, which includes multiple items voted on in one motion
“If the board would like to move forward with calling the VATRE, we have to first approve the budget that includes the revenue from the VATRE, then approve the tax rate that would support it, and then call the election,” SISD Chief Financial Officer Ann Westbrooks said. “So we have to take those necessary steps in order to have the option to call for the election.”

If the board opts not to call for a VATRE or if the VATRE is not approved by voters in November, district leaders will adjust the budget and present the new totals to trustees in February, Westbrooks said.

Those in favor

“This VATRE is another avenue to improve the well-being and future for our children. ... Ultimately, when teachers earn more, higher-quality educators are present, and that directly impacts the quality of education students receive,” said Shawn McHellon, an SISD teacher and parent, on June 11.

Those opposed

“I know that there's a lack of [public education] funding. However, your funding is not in our bank accounts. ... Everything is going up, except for your taxpayers' paychecks. ... Go get your funding from [Gov.] Greg Abbott. He withheld the funding that you need for your school district,” said Michelle Williams, an SISD taxpayer, on June 6.

Learn more

In a June 11 interview with Community Impact, Westbrooks said a big misconception about the VATRE process is the difference between a VATRE and bond funds. Westbrooks said:
  • A VATRE supports the district’s maintenance and operations budget as well as the general fund—where the district expects the $13 million shortfall.
  • VATRE funds can be used to give employees raises.
  • Bond funds are restricted to capital expenditures, such as buildings, deferred maintenance and vehicle purchases.
“If the board does choose to move forward with calling for [a VATRE] in November, we will spend a lot of time with our [communications department] to make sure that our community is well-versed, and they understand the difference between the two and what impact it has,” Westbrooks said.

Stay tuned

SISD’s board of trustees has until Aug. 8 to adopt a FY 2024-25 tax rate and until Aug. 13 to call for a VATRE.