Williamson, we have a problem…

And it’s not a spending problem. Of the top 10 districts* in terms of academic performance (measured by ACT/TCAP), WCS has the lowest per pupil expenditure. WCS spends only $8,945 per student – $1,790 less than the average PPE of the top 10 districts. For reference, Franklin Special School District, the K-8 district that sits in the heart of Williamson County, spends $13,386 per student – almost 50% more per child than WCS. WCS also spends below the state average – $554 per student less than Tennessee’s average $9,499. Keep in mind that Tennessee is typically in the bottom ten states for per pupil expenditures. (See former School Board member Eric Welch’s graphs for comparison to state and national figures as well as to area private school tuitions.) Additionally, WCS’ average teacher pay of $49,934 is $3,729 below the average of the top 10 districts in the state. Williamson’s spending on salaries is not out of control, and in fact, is less than peer districts. Again, for comparison, FSSD’s average teacher salary is $55,305. The bottom line: There’s a revenue problem, not a spending problem. We created this property tax map to show how Williamson County compares to other middle Tennessee counties. The current property tax rate in Williamson County is $2.15 (per $100 of a property’s assessed value). This rate represents the lowest tax rate in middle Tennessee and the lowest among Tennessee counties with populations greater than 100,000. At their 6/19 meeting, the Williamson County School Board approved a $6 million cut to the WCS 2017-18 operating budget from $343 million to $337 million. The County Commission Budget Committee had voted...

Sales Tax Referendum

Prior to the May 8 County Commission meeting, District 6 Commissioners Paul Webb and Jeff Ford and District 12 Commissioner Steve Smith filed a late resolution for a referendum to be held asking voters to support a sales tax increase from 9.25% to the maximum 9.75%. If approved by registered voters, the increase would generate approximately $11 million in revenue. The measure did not make the agenda, and Commissioners Barb Sturgeon (D8) and Kathy Danner (D4) objected to hearing the late-filed resolution saying they preferred that it follow the normal committee process, first with Tax Study and then the Budget Committee before making its way to the full commission. The Tax Study Committee will vote on the sales tax resolution at their meeting Tuesday, May 16, at 5:30. Gregg Lawrence (D4) is chair and Judy Herbert (D2), Sherri Clark (D9), Jeff Ford (D6) and Matt Williams (D10) also serve on the committee. UPDATE: The resolution passed 2-1 with Commissioners Gregg Lawrence (D4) and Jeff Ford (D6) voting yes. Judy Herbert (D2) voted against the measure saying that her constituents prefer a wheel tax. Sherri Clark (D9) and Matt Williams (D10) were absent. Now the resolution will go to the Budget Committee to be heard at their meeting Monday, June 5, at 4:30. Dana Ausbrooks (D12) is Chair, and Mayor Rogers Anderson, Lew Green (D5), Dwight Jones (D1), and David Landrum (D10) also serve on the Budget Committee. UPDATE: A formal resolution was not filed so the matter did not go before the Budget Committee for a vote in June. If filed, it could be heard at the Monday, July 3, Budget Committee meeting and then by the...

Straight Talk on School Funding and Taxes

There’s been a lot of talk—and a lot of confusion—about school funding. We’re all for reality-based debate, so here is some info in the service of that. First off, the $17.2 million requested for the BHS/BMS expansion is an appropriation from current county funds. Likewise, initial funding for phase 1 of the $43 million three-phase Page Middle and High expansion comes from existing county funds. Typically, the County funds capital projects like these by going to the bond market, not by generating new revenue. These resolutions will be voted upon at tonight’s County Commission meeting. Second, the County Commission Budget Committee just approved a $5 million cut to the 2017-18 WCS operating budget. The final vote on the operating budget will be on July 10.   Long Term Revenue Sources WCS expects 20,000 new students over the next decade. This boom will require capital investment (building new schools) and increased operating budget (to fund teachers, building operations, etc.). According to the WCS 5-Year Capital Outlay Plan, the district will need $429 million in new school buildings, renovations and expansions over the next five years. No one thinks we have a revenue system equipped to address this growth.   How should we fund schools? There are a few ways to increase funding for schools. All involve fees or taxes. It would be awesome if there were another magical way to produce revenue. If there is, we have no idea what that is. (See “How about more money from the state?” below) The Education Impact Fee  This is a fee on new construction. It is expected to raise a little less than $15...

Schools and Revenue – A Few Basics

Here’s something that doesn’t happen every day: Approximately 550 people attended a parent-organized meeting at Brentwood Middle School Wednesday night. And here’s another thing that doesn’t happen every day: A WCS parent asked if attendees would be comfortable with a property tax increase to pay for schools, and almost every hand shot up. Williamson County School Board member Jay Galbreath wrote on Twitter that he “didn’t see any hands that weren’t raised.” The need to expand and update the Brentwood Middle/High School campus as well as the need to upgrade and expand Page Middle and High while continuing to build new schools and make capital improvements is highlighting the urgent need for revenue to meet the school demands associated with growth. At Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Rogers Anderson explained there are only three ways to increase revenue in the county – raising property taxes, raising the wheel tax, or raising the sales tax. A sales tax or wheel tax increase would both require a referendum. District 6 Commissioner and former Brentwood Mayor Paul Webb said: “We have to pay for it, and we have to have 13 votes [out of 24 County Commissioners]. And we can’t snap our fingers and do it. There’s a process. I am going to support the schools. My granddaughters are coming through. I am going to support it when we figure out the funding. We can’t just say go build it and bankrupt the county. We have to figure out how to do it, and we can’t change the property tax rate in the middle of the year.”   Property Tax Property tax is based on the value of your...

Can We Avoid Building Schools?

Saturday morning there was a Debt Financing Workshop at the Administrative Complex. About half of the County Commission and half of the School Board attended. There were no reporters present. There will be a second workshop on Saturday, April 22. Williamson County 2017-2018 Budget Prep presentation Stephens Financial Consultant presentation Yesterday, we shared information on the property tax rate and the share that goes to schools. Below are three proposals (and some commentary) from the Saturday debt workshop. A few County Commissioners floated ideas to prevent the county from building new schools to accommodate explosive growth. 1) If WCS has schools that aren’t at capacity, why do we need to build new schools? (Kaestner) Most of the schools with the lowest projected fill rates over the next five years, such as the Fairview schools and Hillsboro, are on the edges of the county. They are not affected by the current rezoning plans because of their distance from the highest-density population areas.   Projected 2021-22 Fill Rates (not including the elementary and middle schools on Clayton Arnold or the elementary school on Split Log scheduled to open in Fall 2018) Elementary Schools – 116% Middle Schools – 116% High Schools – 109% “Most parents would rather have their kid in a portable than have the tax rate raised.” – District 4 Commissioner Kathy Danner, June 2015 “I encourage cities to contribute to transportation and infrastructure needs of the school district. Cities have the obligation to help with infrastructure. Schools contribute to the community’s livability. Schools drive property values up and in turn increase property tax values and eventually revenue in cities.”...

BREAKING NEWS: Schools Cost Money

Saturday morning there was a Debt Financing Workshop at the Administrative Complex. About half of the County Commission and half of the School Board attended. There were no reporters present. There will be a second workshop on Saturday, April 22. Williamson County 2017-2018 Budget Prep presentation Stephens Financial Consultant presentation One way or another we are headed into a discussion and some decision-making (by the County Commission) about how to fund the schools and the growth anticipated over the next decade. Below are some things you need to know. Today: two facts. Tomorrow: three proposals from the County Commission. 1) 66% of Williamson County’s expenditures are for Williamson County Schools.   2) Our tax rate is the lowest in Middle Tennessee.  At $2.15 (per $100 of a property’s assessed value), Williamson County also has the lowest tax rate among Tennessee counties with populations greater than 100,000. We had the highest growth rate at 19.61%.     Notes on School Funding Tennessee is typically in the bottom ten states for per pupil expenditures. The average based on ADA (average daily attendance) was $9,499 for the 2015-16 school year. For comparison, WCS spent $8,945.60 per student (56.1% local) while FSSD, which has its own taxing authority and is usually #1 in the state, spent $13,462.40 (68.8% local). This interactive map shows slightly lower figures because it’s based on ADM (average daily membership) or the enrollment. The darkest blue districts have the highest per pupil expenditures, and the lightest have the lowest.   See also Part 2: Can We Avoid Building Schools? and Schools and Revenue – A Few Basics....