A new report by the office of Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is shedding light on just how much debt public schools and colleges are incurring, including those right here in Central Texas.
Combs’ office released a report titled, “Your Money and Education Debt” last week, which highlighted Texas public school districts, community colleges and universities — all of which incur tax-supported debt for a variety of purposes including facility construction, renovation, vehicle and technology.
One of the most surprising pieces of data found in the report was that Central Texas College was one of very few community college districts in the state that had no debt whatsoever.
While the report detailed that community colleges quadrupled their outstanding debt since fiscal 2001, data showed that CTC was one of just three community college districts in Texas to be debt-free for the 2011 fiscal year.
Thomas Klincar, the college’s chancellor, said the college was able to remain debt-free in large part because of the contracts it has to offer services to military personnel at campuses overseas in places like Europe, the Far East, South Asia and other installations around the world.
“Unlike a for-profit institution, we don’t generate a return for our shareholders,” said Klincar. “We have a small buffer so we don’t operate at a loss ... there’s a considerable return that comes to CTC.”
That return means the college didn’t need to ask taxpayers to approve a bond for construction projects like its $23 million nursing building, or the Killeen campus’ new Anderson Student Center, but was able to foot the bill without raising taxes or incurring any debt.
For local residents it has also allowed CTC to keep its tax rate low. In August, the college’s board of trustees approved a rate of 14 cents per $100 of assessed property value, 0.9 cents lower than the current rate.
“For the last 19 consecutive years, (the college) has either left the tax rate alone or decreased it,” Klincar said.
The reports stated that debt from community colleges only made up about 2.2 percent of all local government debt, while public school districts are the largest issuers of local government debt, roughly 33 percent.
Area school districts
Locally, the comptroller’s data showed that the Killeen Independent School District had a total debt of $107.1 million, more than the Copperas Cove, Lampasas, Salado, Belton, Temple and Gatesville school districts.
It may come as no surprise that Killeen ISD, one of the largest districts between Austin and Dallas, has more debt than the smaller district surrounding it. The data also showed that its per-captia debt was just $555.47, significantly lower than many of the smaller districts such as Lampasas ISD, where it was more than $2,420.
Shane Jones, the Lampasas district’s chief financial officer, said most small districts higher per-capita and per-student debt simply because of their size.
“When you are going out for bonds and building facilities in a district where there are less people to spread out the debt, it increases those numbers,” he said “There’s not a lot you can do about it.”
Jones said that more often than not, most districts need bond measures to help pay to build new schools for growing enrollment. LISD last passed a bond in 2007, which paid for the construction of a high school as well as the Taylor Creek Elementary School.
R.J. DeSilva, a spokesperson for comptroller’s office, said the goal of providing taxpayers with such information was to help them make informed decisions.
“The major purpose is to give taxpayers information so they can ask questions and make decisions about what they have to pay for,” said DeSilva. “Having that information is important because, in the end, it is the taxpayer that pays the bill.”