BASTROP — A Central Texas school district devastated by wildfires in 2011 has recovered enough to lower its tax rate and gear up for hundreds of additional students since the disaster.
Rapid growth has more than made up for money lost by the Bastrop Independent School District, which this fall knocked 2 cents off of its tax rate, the Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday.
Wildfires that started Labor Day weekend two years ago destroyed nearly 1,700 homes and burned about 32,000 acres. The disaster also wiped out $1.7 million in property tax revenue for schools. Records show 138 students left the district, costing an additional $815,965 in funding for per-student attendance, according to the newspaper.
The blazes destroyed the homes of 152 students, 14 teachers and a principal. Two people died in the fires in Bastrop County, about 30 miles east of Austin.
Property values in the Bastrop school district have gone up by nearly $40 million, about 1.5 percent, since 2011.
The school district now has 350 more students than before the fire, according to Superintendent Steve Murray. Enrollment was projected this year at about 9,400 students.
“Bastrop’s in a good place right now,” said James Allen, president of the school board. “Our community’s growing. Our schools are where they need to be academically. We’re financially sound. We’ve had our setbacks, but Bastrop’s a great place. We’re excited about the future.”
The district also refinanced bonds, cutting $5.8 million in debt. The 2 cents the district is cutting from its tax rate would have gone to pay down debt.
“This year is the first year we kind of got our head above water,” Murray said. “We’ve been in budget-cutting mode. When the fire hit, we had to dig a little deeper. You’ve got to find a way to take care of yourself, because if you try to rely on the state or the federal government, you’re going to be disappointed.”
Millions of dollars in state and federal disaster relief flowed to Bastrop County and residents, but just $40,000 went to the school district — reimbursement from the federal government for the use of its schools as shelters and for other help the district provided after the fires.