“Fact Checker” will take topics that have surfaced in community conversations and use a Q&A format to provide accurate, factual information as well as background if appropriate, and link to any related resources on the district website.
Q: What process will the school follow if a student/staff member receives a COVID-19 diagnosis?
A: The district reports positive cases to the Health Department and notifies classmates of the individual, as well as fellow bus riders. Federal privacy laws prevent a patient from being identified by name. The school deep-cleans classrooms or areas where that individual had been. The individual may return to school when all three of the following criteria are met: 1) At least 24 hours have passed since recovery (resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications); 2) The individual has improvement in symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and 3) at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
Q: What safety precautions are being taken this year?
A: Our schools have several safety precautions in place, including: sanitization stations and readily available hand sanitizer, extra outdoor seating in cafeterias at lunch, ability to opt out of field trips or bus transportation, a hold on school-wide assemblies, COVID-19 positive notifications for all classrooms and buses, and request that all staff and students self-screen daily for any symptoms. Parents may request a classroom divider for their student to provide an extra layer of separation.
Q: What is the district process for budget approval and setting the tax rate?
A: Dripping Springs ISD builds its budget priorities around its vision, mission and strategic plan, while also meeting the challenges created by enrollment growth. The district’s charge is to monitor spending in a way that results in the most efficient use of resources, within the limitations and mandates placed upon public schools by statute and regulations. Alignment is maintained between the overall budget and the district/school planning that helps DSISD be more efficient in meeting established priorities. DSISD’s proposed budget is prepared by the Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer, with participation of campus and department stakeholders. Budget presentations are made at Board of Trustees meetings in the spring and the fiscal year budget, which goes in effect July 1 each year, is adopted in June following a public hearing.
The district may not adopt a tax rate until after the certified appraisal roll is received as required by the Property Tax Code, typically on July 25, and the district must adopt its tax rate no later than Sept. 30. The tax rate is determined based on the amount of budgeted expenditures allocated to the General Fund, which accounts for operating expenses to serve the district’s growing student population (M&O), and the amount of money needed to meet payments on the district’s debt (I&S). Our district also must consider the recapture payment that is required by the state.
Q: How have factors related to COVID-19 impacted our budget?
A: Both the 2019-2020 and 2020-21 fiscal year budgets were impacted by COVID-19 and related expenses. Examples of expenses that were not included in the 2019-20 last year’s budget are distance learning and associated technology needs, sanitizing products, and safety gear such as masks. We also lost revenue in areas like PreK tuition and childcare in the spring of 2020, as we did not provide those services in-person after Spring Break. Fortunately, because schools were closed during the pandemic's initial phase, they provided a buffer on the expenditure side (utilities, for example), which helped reduce the overall consequences. In the 2020-21 year, we had continuing costs related to the COVID and ensuring student and staff health and safety needs were met when they returned to campus. We have submitted expenses that qualify under the federal CARES Act for reimbursement. However, we may need to use some fund balance to cover these overages. Our district is fortunate to have a fund balance that can absorb unseen anomalies in the short term, but the long-term effect of the pandemic would be detrimental in several areas.
Q: If recapture payments to the state are calculated based on property tax revenue compared to student enrollment, would the district be able to just lower tax rates and keep more of its revenue?
A: No. Recapture payments are based on property values (not revenues) and student attendance (not enrollment). The state uses property values to calculate what's called the Maximum Compressed Rate, or MCR, and what it calls Excess Local Revenue. The Excess Local Revenue is subject to what's called recapture, or "Robin Hood" payments to the state. The MCR is our basic tax rate authorization, and may be slightly enhanced by what are referred to as "golden" pennies or "copper" pennies. If we lowered our tax rate below the authorized amount, it would reduce local revenues for that fiscal year, but the amounts that the district would have to pay to the state in recapture would not be reduced, as the key element is property values. Lowering the rate below what the State of Texas authorizes us to tax would result in lower revenue, not greater.
Q: What is a fund balance and what is it used for?
A: A school district’s fund balance is simply defined as the difference between assets and liabilities in a governmental fund as of the close of the fiscal year. By board policy, DSISD fund balance must include at least four months’ worth of expenses. As a rule, the Financial Integrity Ratings System of Texas (FIRST) requires that districts have at least three months’ of cash on hand in fund balance. Just like a family checking account, a district’s fund balance varies greatly throughout the year, or even the month. It is important to look at the fund balance at various points in the year, not just at one point in time, to understand how the district’s cash flow operates. DSISD’s fiscal year starts July 1 and tax revenues, which make up the vast majority of school district revenue, do not begin to come in until late in the calendar year. As a result, the fund balance covers operating expenses for about five months, including a $5+ million recapture payment. Also, DSISD maintains funds in fund balance for unforeseen or emergency expenses. Most recently, DSISD’s fund balance was used for expenses incurred as a result of the pandemic, which the district could not plan for in advance.
Q: What is the availability/capacity of district after-school childcare programs?
A: DSISD hosts Kids Club after-school care at all elementary campuses for district employees’ children as well as other students. DSISD is committed to operating a quality program where students are cared for by dedicated staff using available space at our campuses, which results in capacity limitations. One ongoing challenge in offering this service is the district’s ability to recruit and hire after-school care workers; any potential employee who may be interested in this opportunity may apply here. Once the available capacity is full, a wait list is used. Our goal is to open up additional Kids Club spaces if we can successfully hire employees to increase our staffing. Capacity restrictions that were implemented due to COVID have been removed. We know this service is beneficial to our families and will do our best to offer as many spots as possible at each school.
Q: What are the benefits of renovating the former Walnut Springs Elementary for a DSISD Administration Building and Childcare Center?
A: The current Administration Building, which was constructed in 1948, is at the end of its life cycle. In 2017, a facility assessment report identified significant issues with internal and external building components, including roofing, walls, windows, HVAC, electrical, and plumbing. The study assigned the Administration Building a Facility Condition Index (FCI) score of 80% (an FCI of 50% or higher is considered poor condition). FCI is an industry-standard measure to compare the condition of building conditions. The current building also is at capacity in terms of space. Rather than directing funds to construct a new administrative building, by repurposing a school at a much lower cost, the district can focus resources on instructional facilities rather than offices by repurposing the WSE campus to a new administration building. The additional space at the repurposed Administration Building will allow for support services to grow as the district grows. In addition to office space, this repurposed building will serve as a district and community hub. The childcare center will double in size to accommodate additional children of staff and DSISD will have appropriate space for professional learning and staff training activities, community education programs, and expansion of support services in all areas. For more on the benefits that this facility will provide to the district’s staff and students, see this fact sheet.
Q: Are there any additional plans for traffic changes or road improvements on Darden Hill Road now that Cypress Springs Elementary is open?
A: The county is planning to complete a roundabout at the intersection of Sawyer Ranch Road and Darden Hill Road, likely in the summer of 2022. According to the traffic study that was completed for the elementary school, a four-way stop at that intersection was approved to accommodate vehicle traffic in the upcoming school year. Additionally, the county’s Transportation Plan includes consideration to widen Darden Hill Road from FM 150 to 1826.
Q: What other facilities could be built on the property where Cypress Springs Elementary is located?
A: The Darden Hill Road property is 155 acres and a feasibility study showed that the site is large enough to potentially accommodate a high school and a middle school. However, no final decisions have been made regarding what facilities will be placed at that location or when they would be built. The district also owns 24 acres northwest of the intersection of RR12 and Mt. Gainor Road and 64.5 acres towards the west side of the Headwaters subdivision.
Q: Is there a citizen advisory committee that works with the Board and the district to oversee progress on bond projects?
A: Yes, the Bond Advisory Committee consists of community members who get updates and information regarding project progress, and expenditures from the district’s facilities team, project manager, and architect. The nine members (and two alternates) were appointed by the Board following a formal application process and review. The committee advises the Board of Trustees on these issues through periodic reports. This webpage provides updates on the BAC.
Q: Where will the district’s next elementary school and middle school be built?
A: In addition to the property on Darden Hill where Cypress Springs Elementary is located, the district owns 24 acres northwest of the intersection of RR12 and Mt. Gainor Road and 64.5 acres towards the west side of Headwaters. Decisions regarding the location of future schools will be part of the long-range facility planning process. The Mt. Gainor property could accommodate an elementary school. The Headwaters site is large enough for an elementary school and a middle school.
Q: Are there plans to expand Sycamore Springs Middle School?
A: When Sycamore Springs Middle School was originally designed, there was an option to add a wing at some point that would expand the capacity to 1,200 students. The wing would add classrooms to the building, but the current common areas were designed to accommodate the larger enrollment. The project in the 2014 bond program was an 850-student middle school, which was constructed and opened in 2017. As enrollment has grown, the idea of expansion has resurfaced for discussion. This would be dependent on securing funding through a future bond program.
Q: Has DSISD made any decisions about a future bond program?
A: No. Based on enrollment projections, we can identify when relief will be needed at various grade levels, but no decisions have been made about proposed facilities that may be included, the size/dollar amount that a bond package could be, or when a bond election would be held. Many factors will impact the timing and composition of a future bond package, including demographic updates. One of the most critical decisions will be the future of high school(s) in the district, a decision that will be made in conjunction with community input. The Long-Range Facility Planning Committee is expected to be re-formed in the fall of 2021 to resume discussions that will lead to recommendations for future facilities. A facility planning process also considers information about a district’s capacity regarding the issuance of bonds. The state of Texas sets limits on how high the tax rate can be when considering the amount of debt incurred by a school district, which can come into play when discussing what facilities should be potentially included in a bond package. The district will continue to post information about the facility planning process.