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Local school districts differ on benefits of transfers

By Sherry Koonce
July 17, 2012 at 11 p.m.

While Hallsville ISD is again throwing open its doors to transfer students in an effort to raise funds, a Longview school district is taking a different route, keeping its doors closed and asking voters to OK a tax increase.

The coming school year will be the second for Hallsville to accept out-of-district transfer students in an effort to close the budget gap created by about $3 million in reduced state funding, district officials said.

Spring Hill ISD, meanwhile, is asking voters to approve a tax increase rather than open its campuses to students from outside the district, officials said.

Both districts are grappling with how best to make up revenue lost when state lawmakers reduced funding to public schools by $5.3 billion statewide during the last legislative session.

"This (loss) has been devastating to school districts across the state and, in particular, to Hallsville," Superintendent Jim Dunlap said.

Dunlap was rehired as Hallsville ISD's full-time superintendent this past week after serving part time since May 2011. It is his second stint as the district's chief - he retired after serving as superintendent from 1994 until 2003.

Hallsville's pitch for transfers this year includes advertisements in area newspapers and highway signage aiming to entice students from outside school boundaries.

"Your family can join our growing community and school district," a recent two-page newspaper advertisement stated. "There is room for you."

Much of the room was provided with construction funded by a $96 million bond issue approved by voters in 2007.

The latest addition - Hallsville's new high school - is set to be celebrated Aug. 4 with a dedication ceremony and open house. Its completion marks the last of three new or renovated campuses included in the bond issue. North Elementary School was built, while East Elementary was realigned and renovated from an intermediate to an elementary campus. Both elementary schools opened this past school year.

Because of the building program, the district is in a position to add students, Dunlap said. Those students equate into additional revenue.

This past year, Hallsville gained 109 students transferring from other districts, netting roughly $687,000.

For each transfer student, the state last year paid the district about $5,500, though that number could fluctuate depending on the student's attendance, said David Edgar, Hallsville ISD business manager.

On top of the state funds it gains, Hallsville charges an additional $800 per student, or a maximum of $1,200 per family if more than one student from the same family transfers in, officials said.

This year, Hallsville hopes to gain even more transfers. A student's acceptance is based on disciplinary history, attendance records, instructional staff and space, officials said.

The district's capacity for all campuses is 4,700 students. This past academic year, Hallsville's enrollment reached 4,571, which is 129 below capacity.

Carol Greer, public information officer for Hallsville ISD, said the district intends to maintain a 22-student per teacher ratio at each of its elementary schools.

While Hallsville welcomes transfer students, Spring Hill ISD would rather generate revenue needed to offset state funding losses in a different manner.

Wes Jones, Spring Hill ISD superintendent, said the district looked at accepting transfer students, but opted instead to ask the community for a tax rate increase.

Spring Hill ISD lost $1.3 million this past year in state funding, he said. Jones said the district looked at several options before the board decided to take the tax increase to voters in an election set for Sept. 15.

The district is asking voters to approve a 13-cent tax rate increase to raise $890,000. If approved, the district would still be short $400,000. Spring Hill could have received about $4,700 per transfer student, but the amount generated would have been an unknown the first year, Jones said.

"Without knowing how many transfer students the district would see, there was no concrete number to count on," he said.

The board based its decision to ask for a tax increase, in part, on Spring Hill residents' opinions received during a May town hall meeting.

In addition to increasing taxes, the district looked at eliminating the 15 percent local homestead exemption, early payment discounts, and accepting transfer students and charging them tuition.

Jones said Spring Hill residents felt it was not fair for students living in other districts to get the advantage of going to Spring Hill schools while living in less expensive neighborhoods.

"People who live in this district support the district. They pay taxes and feel they don't want to take in transfers who don't," he said. "The people here are very possessive, they pay the high taxes to keep their kids in school here, so they don't want to allow transfers because they are not taking ownership of the district."



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