GISD Superintendent Breaks Down VATRE for upcoming election at Chamber Lunch and Learn
Groesbeck ISD Superintendent Anthony Figueroa brought lots of groovy vibes to the Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Lunch and Learn meeting on Thursday, Sept. 14, where he spoke about the Voter Approval Tax Rate Election (VATRE). As an enthusiastic participant in Spirit Week and the themed dress-up days during the week of the GHS Homecoming Football Game, Figueroa was dressed to impress with his disco getup for Decades Day on Thursday, bringing a splash of fun to the important topic he covered in the lunch meeting.
“When I interviewed in December, everything kind of looked good on the surface, but when I got hired and looked a little bit deeper, there were a lot of red flags, and some things that would put us in a pickle to the tune of $1.3 to $1.5 million.”
Figueroa was candid about the lack of transparency with the school’s budget in previous years, and Board Vice President Jim Longbotham, who was also in attendance, was quick to back up his claims. Instead of dwelling on the mismanagement of district funds in the past that had been masked by federal relief money provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, Figueroa focused on how to make up the deficits by cutting an expensive but low-participation RTI program and increasing revenue through improved attendance. Still, the district still needs significant funds to keep a balanced budget.
“If we increase the Maintenance & Operation (M&O) side by three cents, the state calls those golden pennies- anything you tax above the allowed M&O rate, which they tell you what that rate is going to be, will generate additional state funding. Three golden pennies will generate $800,000 more. To balance that, I need to bring the Interest & Sinking (I&S) rate down three cents. M&O pays all our bills and staffing, and I&S pays for our debt (past bonds).”
Figueroa further explained that the government decreased taxes this year by 20 cents, so the district’s tax rate last year of $1.18 has already decreased to 0.97 cents.
He provided those in attendance with a detailed infographic, breaking down the tax rate and what will happen if the VATRE does or does not pass. Though the total rate will remain the same regardless of the election results if it passes, the district will receive $800,000 in state funding, and if it fails, Figueroa will have to drastically adjust the budget and cut staff positions immediately so that the district can remain solvent.
Groesbeck Chamber Vice-President Diana Diaz was in attendance and stated that voting yes seemed like a “no-brainer”, and asked what the fine line was. Figureroa responded that while increasing the M&O rate requires voter approval, increasing the I&S rate does not, and in his past experience as a school board member, he had seen a superintendent do a similar tax swap to what he was proposing, but “bamboozling” taxpayers the following year by raising I&S rate which increased the total tax rate.
“What I’m saying to you is this: I’m going to go up three and down three, and I don’t see us ever needing to go up three on the I& S side in the next five to nine years. If I try to raise the I& S side on you while I’m superintendent in the next five years, come after my job! That’s what the other superintendent didn’t say or put on the line, but I feel 100% comfortable saying if I lie to you, come after my job. I’m not trying to trick you.”
Melissa Smith, the district’s Business Manager, chimed in, stating that voters may be thrown off by how the ballot is worded.
“On the ballot, we only have to have voter approval to move that (M&O) rate up, so that’s all you’re going to see as a taxpayer,” Smith said. “When you go in to vote, you’re going to vote to raise that M&O up three cents, so some people may get in there and say ‘Oh this is not what you told me’, but you’re not going to see the other side of it with three-cent decrease because the other side going down doesn’t require voter approval.”
Figueroa agreed, emphasizing that his main goal is getting the word out to voters, to ensure a complete understanding of the impact this tax swap will have on the district. Several meetings are planned between now and Election Day (November 7), and Figueroa will also be sending postcards explaining the VATRE to all registered voters in the county.
Questions about the VATRE can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Groesbeck Chamber hosts a monthly Lunch and Learn meeting every second Thursday of the month at 12 noon with different speakers/topics. To learn more about chamber Lunch and Learns visit their website www. groesbeckchamber.com