Friday, May 13, 2016

Preliminary Budget Built on Cost Efficiencies

Recapture or ‘Robin Hood’ climbs to $190 million over three years

During a May 9 Board of Trustees workshop, Spring Branch ISD leaders projected a preliminary Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Budget with revenues of $287 million, including a $4.9 million payment to the school district requested through a special filing for refund from TEA due to adjustments in property values. 

Despite a projected small increase in state funding, SBISD faces ongoing and serious challenges in the foreseeable future. The district does not benefit from higher property values, which may increase by 10 percent, based on Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) estimates for the year ahead. SBISD taxable values are expected to increase $28 million to about $305 million.

Under the state’s “recapture” law, also known as Robin Hood, the school district is considered property-wealthy, which will require state payments to double from $33 million to $66 million, and then go up to more than $90 million. 

Over three years, SBISD’s estimated Robin Hood payments to the State of Texas – not students or teachers in SBISD – are projected to skyrocket to a projected $190 million.

At Monday evening’s workshop, SBISD Trustees expressed deep displeasure over a continuing siphoning off of taxpayer dollars to the state through the State of Texas’ recapture system. 

“Sixty-six million [dollars in recapture] . . . this is not equitable,” said Karen Peck, SBISD Board of Trustees vice president. The dollar amount reflects 22 percent of district revenue. On hearing the recapture estimate, Trustee Pam Goodson said, “I’m mad. I’m just too mad to comment right now.”

Both the Superintendent, Scott R. Muri, and longtime Trustee and former administrator, Wayne Schaper, Sr., noted that the district faced serious issues if nothing changes soon. “If something doesn’t change, we’ll be looking at huge layoffs in two years,” Schaper said. 

Despite such difficult circumstances, SBISD leaders will budget $2 million or more to pay for an estimated 38 new teachers needed to match student enrollment growth. By 2017, the student count in Spring Branch may increase to about 35,700 pupils overall. 

This year, SBISD used a modified zero-based budgeting process for central office to identify more than $1 million in cost savings or program modifications and stops.

SBISD leaders acknowledge that the current funding situation makes employee compensation a critical, but under-funded issue. Due to the state’s current funding model, SBISD can’t give and then sustain employee raises. Instead, the district proposes using remaining fund balance to pay for a one-time, 1 percent employee bonus to be paid in December 2016 and June 2017. A bonus of this size would cost the district about $2.5 million. 

Several Trustees have asked district leaders to explore additional compensation options as the preliminary budget moves through the annual review and public comment process. 


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