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Debate continues on cost of Bevil Oaks’ move to Hardin-Jefferson ISD

March 25, 2019

The Beaumont and Hardin-Jefferson school districts may be close to resolving a financial dispute related to Bevil Oaks’ move last year.

Lawyers representing the districts in the matter reached a tentative agreement late Monday morning, said Haley Turner, who is representing H-JISD. The attorneys will take their proposal to their respective clients before returning to the Commissioners Courts in each county at a later date.

The two districts have been at odds over how much Hardin-Jefferson ISD owes Beaumont ISD for its share of school bonds issued before Bevil Oaks and its 48 or so students were annexed into H-JISD at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

RELATED: Beaumont ISD releases Bevil Oaks to Hardin-Jefferson

Hardin-Jefferson had offered to pay a lump-sum of $652,155 to cover its share of bond debt to be incurred over the next 20 years. That figure is based on taxable property values in Bevil Oaks in 2018 — the year after Tropical Storm Harvey decimated the community and sent real estate prices plummeting.

Beaumont ISD officials want to use pre-Harvey values from 2016 in part because those were the figures cited when the petition for the annexation was sent to the state in 2017.

Under that formula, H-JISD would owe BISD a total of $2.18 million over the next 20 years, Miles Bradshaw, an attorney representing Beaumont schools, said Monday. The number was found by calculating what percentage of BISD’s overall tax base came from Bevil Oaks in 2016, he said.

RELATED: School swap fuels hope in Bevil Oaks

“Now the question is, Do we continue using those pre-Harvey values, which were being used in the annexation all along, or do we use values from 2018, which are more than 100 percent lower in the Bevil Oaks area?” Bradshaw said.

The matter was addressed in a Jefferson County Commissioner’s Court workshop. A similar meeting in Hardin County was canceled after the tentative agreement was reached, Turner said.

No further information on the proposed agreement was disclosed.

If the counties can’t reach an accord on the percentage of BISD bond debt to be allocated to H-JISD, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will make the decision.

Turner, the attorney for Hardin-Jefferson, said the two sides were legally required to use the 2016 numbers to file the petition in 2017 but those values were not meant to be binding.

Even Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said that trying to use 2016 numbers was “just not realistic.”

Commissioner Eddie Arnold pointed out that, even if BISD had retained Bevil Oaks, it would now be bringing in post-Harvey revenue. He proposed setting a new payment each year based on property values at that time, whether they rise or fall.

RELATED: Beaumont ISD projects $1.6M revenue decrease

Another sticking point was a 13.62-acre tract that BISD was forced to transfer to H-JISD as a result of the annexation. Bradshaw argued that BISD should be compensated for the land since it was purchased by the district.

Turner said H-JISD did not choose to gain the property and noted that it is in a flood plain and of no value to the district.

Turner said H-JISD would consider selling the land and giving the proceeds to BISD. Bradshaw said he would be open to discussing that.

haley.bruyn@beaumontenterprise.com

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