As the district continues to focus on our vision of inspiring and equipping students to be life-long learners and positive contributors to the world, district leaders often are asked questions about the operations of the district or hear statements that may include inaccurate information. “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 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: When formulating the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget, COVID-19 and its impact on our world was unknown. As such, many substantial expenses were not in last year’s budget, such as distance learning, expanded learning, and technology needs. We also lost revenue in areas like PreK tuition and child care, 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 last year. In the 2020-21 year, we have seen increased costs related to the COVID expenditures listed above that were unbudgeted. We also have incurred significant unbudgeted costs related to ensuring students' and staff's health and safety when returning to campus. We will submit any expenses that qualify under the federal CARES Act for reimbursement. However, we likely will need to use some fund balance to cover these overages. Our district is fortunate to have a fund balance that can absorb any 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: The district makes budget assumptions that determine the tax rate assessed, but the Texas Education Agency (TEA) also does a tax rate calculation. TEA compares each tax rate throughout the fiscal year; if there is a large disparity in tax rate calculation, the district could receive a negative hit on its Financial Accountability Rating. Good practice among districts is to use the most current information available and come as close to the state tax rate as possible during the budget process.
DSISD takes a very conservative approach when setting the tax rate during budget adoption. Still, each year there is a settle-up process with TEA, as actual property taxes and actual student attendance become known with a greater degree of certainty. The settle-up could result in the district receiving additional local or state funds, or owing the state additional local funds. If we arbitrarily lowered our tax rate, it would reduce local revenue projections, directly affecting our expenditure projections for that fiscal year budget adoption. We try to use the best historical data and current projected information (i.e., local property tax growth, average daily attendance, student enrollment) to find the proper balance. In the end, our district is potentially receiving a minimal amount of funds at "settle-up."
Q: How does DSISD’s debt compare to other districts statewide?
A: Debt varies each year, depending mostly on where the district stands related to payment schedules for previous bond programs. Districts with growing student enrollments that are building new schools are inclined to have higher debt. The most recent statewide data is available for 2018, at which time DSISD was in the 80th percentile in I&S Tax Rate ($0.35), and the 89th percentile in both Total Debt ($179,094,999) and Debt per Student ($27,757), and the 64th percentile in Voted Tax Debt to Assessed Valuation* (4.07%). Meanwhile, DSISD’s five-year enrollment growth rate is in the 95th percentile in Texas.
When comparing DSISD to 30 other fast-growth districts, DSISD ranked 19th highest (out of 30) in both I&S Tax Rate and Debt per Student. The district also had the 14-highest (out of 30) Total Debt and the 22nd highest (out of 30) Voted Tax Debt to Assessed Valuation* when compared to districts experiencing similar levels of growth. (The 30 fast-growth districts in this comparison were defined as “districts with the largest five-year growth rate with more than 2,000 students in 2018.”)
While DSISD’s Debt-per-Student figure is available for 2019 ($39,890), state data is not yet available to be used for comparison. DSISD’s 2018 bond proposition was one of 136 approved by voters across the state in the past two years (2018 and 2019).
*Voted Tax Debt to Assessed Valuation=debt as a percentage of total assessed property value in the district
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 traffic changes/road improvements are expected with construction of the new Walnut Springs Elementary and Cypress Springs Elementary?
A: As the DSISD Facilities and Construction team, the architect, and contractors for the two projects have planned for opening both the new Walnut Springs Elementary and Cypress Springs Elementary in August of 2021, auto and pedestrian traffic flows have been an important element throughout the process. DSISD has worked collaboratively with Hays County, the City of Dripping Springs, and the Texas Department of Transportation on this project. All entities have been diligent in studying and planning improvements that will serve the Dripping Springs community at both sites.
WSE-Tiger Lane improvements will include new sidewalks, paving, restriping, curbing, and the installation of a traffic signal at Tiger Lane and Highway 290 to better accommodate increased traffic. In addition, a portion of Tiger Lane will be converted to a one-way street (west to east) for safety purposes. An agreement with TxDOT for the new traffic light was approved by the DSISD Board of Trustees in January of 2021, then slightly refined in May at the request of TxDOT. Peabody Place will mainly be used for elementary bus traffic and emergency access.
CSE-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.
Q: How were the new attendance zones determined?
A: Organization for this process started in fall of 2020 as the Board of Trustees approved parameters and a timeline, and an administrative attendance zone committee formed. The committee worked with the district’s demographer to develop starter options for boundaries. Community input was collected through a Thought Exchange, two Google surveys, and comments shared at three public forums. Starter options were adjusted based on community feedback and additional options were introduced. Eventually on March 22, Elementary “Option E” and Middle School “Option 1” were recommended to the board, and trustees asked if the committee had reviewed all possible scenarios to avoid splitting elementary campuses. The committee made three adjustments to create Elementary Option E-1 and Middle School Option 1-A; these modified versions were approved.
Q: What benefits did the new attendance zones capture?
A: The approved attendance zones met the most board-approved parameters to the greatest extent possible, provided capacity relief for SSE and DSE, avoided splitting up any elementary school into two different middle schools, provided a closer elementary school and middle school location for many students, maintains all Sycamore Springs Elementary students matriculating to SSMS, avoided moving any student to a school that is farther away from his/her current assignment, created fewer changes for students over time by avoiding multiple moves of students likely to be impacted when Elementary School 6 and Middle School 3 are built, maximized the use of SSMS as the middle school that is geographically desirable for many students, avoided breaking up Sunset Canyon neighborhood, created a plan for flexible building use in future years with extra space expected to be available in DSMS (shared collaborative classrooms) if needed by WSE and extra classroom space available in SSE if needed by SSMS, minimized the need for staffing changes, eliminated any immediate need for portable buildings, and aligned well with public input.
Q: What are the benefits of building a new Walnut Springs Elementary near Dripping Springs Middle School?
A: The relocation of Walnut Springs Elementary will create an updated learning facility for the WSE school community located adjacent to DSMS, which will provide greater access to academic programming, and resolve a need for expanded employee child care facilities and district support services and programs.
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.
Walnut Springs Elementary students, families, and staff will get a building designed for a 21st Century learning environment. This relocation represents another elementary/middle school pair, which creates opportunities for collaboration, mentoring, and elementary students to accelerate in certain subject areas without requiring transportation. The current WSE campus is getting “squeezed” in terms of space as the adjacent residential neighborhood builds out, and the lots in front of the school become commercial properties. FOr the past several years, Dripping Springs ISD has partnered with the City of Dripping Springs, Hays County, and the Dripping Springs Library to work towards creation of a Town Center that would be located adjacent to the campus as well. The district administrative offices would be a natural fit with other public services at this location.
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 child care 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: What renovations will take place at DSMS? Did this change during the planning process?
A: Dripping Springs Middle School will receive a number of upgrades and improvements as part of this project. Some highlights include: renovated classroom areas for Functional Academics, new collaborative spaces for students, renovated/enlarged teacher lounge and collaboration space, several outdoor improvements in courtyard areas including a shared amphitheater, upgraded lighting in gyms and cafeteria, replacement of portions of the HVAC system, new HVAC and lighting controls, new monument sign, and several electrical/plumbing upgrades. To minimize disruption, most of the renovations will take place during the summer months. During the planning process, input was gathered from DSMS staff that led to a few expanded projects, such as the teacher workroom/lounge and courtyard.
Q: How does our projected construction costs of Cypress Springs Elementary and the new Walnut Springs Elementary compare to the industry average?
A: Our two elementary projects will cost between $280-$290 per square foot. Based on our research of other current projects in Central Texas and information that is available from our contractors, elementary school buildings are ranging from around $275 to $325 per square foot at this time. Every project is unique, and many variables impact total construction cost. For instance, site costs can vary greatly depending on topography and access to utilities. Flat property with readily available utilities will result in lower site costs, while land with varied topography and/or lack of nearby utilities will result in higher costs. Cypress Springs Elementary's costs are affected by topography, utilities, and longer access drives based on the location near the back of the property; however, we have been able to keep the total construction costs to right at $290/square foot.
Q: Is there a citizen advisory committee that works with the Board and the district as the construction projects associated with the 2018 bond are implemented?
A: Yes. The Board approved guidelines for a Bond Advisory Committee in October of 2019. According to approved guidelines, the group consists of community members who get updates and information regarding project progress, change orders, 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 was appointed and started meeting in April 2020; it will advise the Board of Trustees on these issues through periodic reports. This webpage provides updates on the BAC.
Q: Has DSISD made any decisions about when a future bond program will be held or what would be included in it?
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. During the fall of 2020, the district's demographer (Population and Survey Analysts) is working on a demographic update. The district's Long-Range Facility Planning Committee met several times during the 2019-20 school year and held productive conversations regarding future planning. All meetings were open to the community, then the last two were livestreamed after the switch to a remote format. A number of decisions will impact the timing and composition of a future bond package. One of the most critical decisions would be what the community would like regarding the future of high school(s) in the district. 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.
Q: How often are stadium lights used at the district’s three secondary schools and are they turned off when not in use?
A: Our outdoor facilities are used most weekdays and some Saturdays as playing fields are very much in demand in Dripping Springs. A majority of the schedule consists of DSISD team practices and games, but as a good community partner the district also rents facilities to local groups and teams. We limit the rental facilities to one outdoor field at each of three locations: the DSHS track field, and the football fields at both Sycamore Springs Middle School and Dripping Springs Middle School. While it seems like there should only be one sport in season at a time, in fact each sport generally consists of multiple teams. For instance, high school football has a varsity team, two junior varsity teams, and two freshman teams. Seasons also overlap. DSISD facility staff is diligent about scheduling the times that lights come on and off. In fact, the district uses a software application that allows the light schedule to be changed remotely from a laptop or device. This is helpful if a practice is canceled or ends early; those using the field are asked to immediately text or call a facility staff member so the lights can be turned off. Of course this system is not perfect as human error can come into play, but most coaches (and rental contacts) follow this practice. The fall time change also results in lights being needed at an earlier hour.
CLICK HERE to suggest a topic for Fact Checker