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: How does the school closure/switch to remote learning impact the district's budget?
A: It is too early to know the exact dollar impact, but our change on school status impacts items on both sides of the balance sheet. We are still paying employee salaries, which represent 84 percent of our budget. That being said, our overall expenses won't drop significantly. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have saved expenses in the areas of utilities, transportation, student/staff travel, substitute costs, and supplies. At the same time, revenues have been lost in Child Nutrition, as well as child care, after-school care and tuition-based Pre-K (refunds were provided starting March 23 for those three programs). As a district, we always work hard to be fiscally responsible and prudent during the school year, which can result in savings that allows surplus to be added to fund balance. By Board policy, our fund balance must equal to or exceed four months of operating expenses.
Q: Why is there a difference between the approved budget and final budget?
A: Each spring the DSISD Finance and Operations Department develops the budget for the next fiscal year, based on projections of enrollment, appraised property values, and state funding (including recapture). Many of these variables are estimates based on data that is available at the time. In general, the district uses a relatively conservative approach when estimating these variables to ensure that more funds are not committed that what will be available. For instance, enrollment projections have a range from low growth to moderate growth to high growth. We typically use the low to moderate numbers when building a budget. Because a key piece of state funding formulas is student enrollment (district get funding per student), a higher-than-anticipated enrollment can result in more funding. Certified property values are received in July, but DSISD must adopt a budget in June, which again means we must rely on the best data and projections we have.
DSISD also has some guidelines in place to ensure fiscally responsible budgeting. The adopted budget cannot have more than a 2 percent deficit and the district must maintain at least four months of operating expenditures in the fund balance. The fund balance is important to school districts because tax collections are not received all at one time; the district must continue to pay its expenditures during the collection period and sometimes may need to temporarily dip into reserves.
Most years, the actual final revenues vs. expenditures is a surplus, even if the original budget using conservative projections showed a slight (less than 2 percent) deficit. Any surplus is transferred into fund balance, which by DSISD policy must equal four months of expenditures. It is relevant to note that, as the district grows and its annual budget increases, the required fund balance also increases.
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: Why did the district switch to the Canvas software?
A: Dripping Springs ISD, its schools, and classrooms use a variety of tools to provide dynamic classroom instruction and monitor student progress. An important component of providing a personal and exceptional education to all students was identification of a product that had the ability to create learner profiles. Canvas is a Learning Management System (LMS) that has a tool to create these profiles, which will assist our teachers in providing a personal learning experience while helping students become more aware of how they learn. Teachers can access digital resources such as interactive learning modules, class calendars, assignment and grading notifications, and collaboration tools. Once fully implemented, learner profiles will include information on a student’s strengths, interests, abilities, cognitive and content progression, social and emotional traits, class schedule, and academic pathways. An additional benefit for students is that products like Canvas are widely used by many colleges and universities, providing our students with another tool to make the transition to higher education easier. The Canvas webpage includes tutorials for parents and students.
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. The proposed Town Center, which DSISD is partnering with the City of Dripping Springs, Hays County, and the Dripping Springs Library to create, 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 an expanded child care facility for teachers and employees; currently, capacity limits our ability to meet these demands. We also will be able to expand our afterschool and community education programs. As DSISD enrollment grows, the need for additional space for district-wide support systems, including Learning and Innovation, Technology, Student Services, Special Education, Business Services, and Human Resources, also will grow. The Facility and Construction offices, currently located in portable buildings, can be moved to the admin building rather than being at a separate location to centralize services. Space in the converted campus will be explored to expand the Career and Technology Education (CTE) course offerings at Dripping Springs High School. Due to the short distance between the two properties, students could potentially earn credits and certifications in areas of study such as Hospitality/Tourism and Education.
This project offers an opportunity for the district to meet the needs of the district and community and plan for future growth while directing most construction dollars to instructional facilities.
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: Is Dripping Springs Middle School capacity being reduced?
A: Originally, there was discussion of connecting the two schools in a way that would have resulted in the loss of 8-10 classrooms in DSMS for use as elementary classrooms, but the final plans will only have a minimal impact on middle school capacity. A total of six classrooms are being converted to create new collaboration spaces, and four of them in the upper A wing will be specifically for the middle school use; two classrooms in the DSMS B wing (near the connection with the new Walnut Springs) will be a shared collaboration space for the middle school and elementary school. Capacity at DSMS will be approximately 1,200 students.
Q: How was it determined to place the district’s fifth elementary school on Darden Hill Road and what is the timeframe for this project?
A: Funding for a fifth elementary school was included in the 2018 bond package. The target date for opening the school is August of 2021. At that point, the cumulative DSISD elementary population is projected to be at approximately 115 percent of current capacity. DSISD owns two pieces of land: 155 acres on Darden Hill Road just southeast of the intersection with Sawyer Ranch Road that the district has owned for nearly a decade and 24 acres at the northwest corner of RR12 and Mt. Gainor Road that the district purchased in 2016. After receiving the demographic report in the spring of 2019, it was clear that the eastern part of the district is most in need of relief (additional capacity) at the elementary level. The Darden Hill property is large enough to potentially accommodate an elementary school, middle school and eventually a high school if the community decides to move towards a multiple-high school model. The district also is in the process of purchasing land in Headwaters, and is expected to close on that property until 2020.
A feasibility study was completed to see how the 155 acres on Darden Hill could be used to accommodate future facilities, starting with Elementary #5. Input gathered on preferred elementary design features through various means has been used in the design process, and the involvement of a Design Input Committee provided direct input. The design process occurred in the fall of 2019, then the construction documents phase was completed. Bartlett Cocke General Contractors is the construction contractor. Throughout the spring of 2020, the district worked closely with the county, traffic engineers, and the architect to plan for road enhancements. Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) #1 for Elementary #5 was approved by the board on May 11 and sitework started immediately afterwards.
Q: When will attendance zones be determined for the new elementary school?
A: When a new school is slated to open, the district intentionally waits until the semester prior to the opening to determine and announce new boundaries so that the most accurate and current data can be used. Redrawing attendance zones is never an easy task, but we involve community input throughout the decision-making process and offer multiple options for discussion. In working with our demographers to determine where new schools are built, the demographer offers planning maps, often with sample zones or “catchment areas” carved out. These maps are designed for the district to get an idea of how our enrollment numbers might fall and they (or updated versions) can be used when the time comes to begin attendance zone discussions and develop options for consideration. In our district, because of our population distribution and the location of schools, all families cannot attend the school that is closest to their home. The great news is that all four (and soon to be five!) DSISD elementary schools and both middle schools offer outstanding educational opportunities.
Q: How does our projected construction costs of Elementary #5 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. Elementary #5'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: The Board approved a contract to purchase land in Headwaters neighborhood. How did that come about and what is the status of the purchase?
A: The 2018 bond program included $9 million for land acquisition. As stated during bond informational presentations that occurred in spring 2018, a targeted area where the district was seeking land was north of Highway 290 between RR12 and Sawyer Ranch Road. Identifying potential parcels of land is an ongoing process for DSISD. Once this available property was identified and assessed, the negotiation process and development of the contract took many months to complete. The Board gave approval for the contract to move forward at the August 19, 2019, meeting. This was followed by a 120-day inspection period to confirm suitability of the land for the district’s intended purpose. Then, at the Jan. 30, 2020, meeting, the Board approved a Resolution and amendment regarding the purchase of the property for approximately $1,715,000, based on the price of $26,585 per surveyed acre, together with the costs of the conveyance, and the Post Closing Development Agreement for development of utilities and roadways, and the District's reimbursement to WFC Headwaters Owner VII for such development as set forth in the Real Estate Sales Contract.
This land parcel is large enough to accommodate an elementary school and a middle school, and it is not yet certain what year these would be built, as funding will be dependent on future bond programs.
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. The district reconvened the Long-Range Facility Planning Committee in November, 2019. 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.
Q: How does DSISD communicate with parents in the event of an emergency, time-sensitive or safety-related incident?
A: DSISD uses the emergency notification system through Blackboard Communications for emergency and time-sensitive notifications, including school closures or delays. DSISD can send a message district-wide or can send to staff and/or parent groups from specific campuses. This system allows parents to set preferences including e-mail, phone calls, texts, or alerts through the DSISD mobile app. In addition, parents may set notifications for multiple phone numbers: home, cell and/or work. Selecting notification preferences is one step in the annual enrollment verification process that is completed online for all students. Preferences can be changed at any time by logging into Blackboard.
Please note that when an incident is initially brought to the attention of district personnel, it may take a short time to gather and verify information to ensure accuracy. In addition, if other agencies are involved, DSISD coordinates with them (for example, Hays County Sheriff’s Office or North Hays Fire/Rescue) to develop accurate and consistent messaging. Once the message is programmed into Blackboard, it will reach its intended audience quickly.