Superintendents wary of promises about new legislation
The landmark school finance reform bill signed by Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday, June 11 has been hailed as a big win for public education, but preliminary budget estimates indicate mixed results for school districts in Uvalde County.
As a result, area superintendents are hesitant as they begin to decipher the outcomes.
“It is still early to know how this will all turn out for us,” said Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell of House Bill 3.
According to the Texas Tribune, lawmakers estimate the negotiated version of the bill would lower tax rates by an average of 8 cents per $100 valuation in 2020 and 13 cents in 2021.
The tax cuts equate to a $200 annual savings for the owner of $250,000 home in 2020 and $325 in 2021.
For UCISD, budget estimates show a new maintenance and operations tax rate of $1, down from $1.08.
House Bill 3 provides for several other changes, from increasing the base funding per student from $5,140 to $6,160, to additional allotments for early childhood programs, which could be used by some districts to create a full-day of pre-K for eligible 4-year-old students, and increased revenue to be used for pay raises for teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors.
According to the legislative budget board, under HB 3, UCISD will see a change of total maintenance and operation revenue of $535 per current student based on average daily attendance. For UCISD, the current law requires an average daily attendance of 3,807 students, for a total increase of $2,035,942.
For the full-time pay raises, the conference committee report for HB 3 requires that districts use 30 percent of the M&O revenue gain for compensation increases for full-time employees other than administrators.
Of that amount, 75 percent must be used for full-time teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians, prioritizing differentiated compensation for classroom teachers with more than five years experience.
Harrell said estimates show that with the district’s $2 million-plus increase, the initial 30 percent amount to be used for raises at UCISD equates to approximately $610,782 – which is to be dispersed district wide.
The resulting calculations via the tiered stipulations is an estimated $458,086, to be used at the discretion of the district for compensation gains for 208 full-time teachers, librarians, and counselors working at UCISD with more than five years experience. That’s an approximate $2,202 per person annual compensation gain, should the district decide to distribute evenly.
The remaining 25 percent of the gain may be used for increased compensation for full-time district employees who are not administrators.
“At this point, we are somewhat skeptical about the sustainability of the funding,” said Harrell. “We would hate to start these changes and find out they are not sustainable in the long run, especially for our staff.”
Overall, Harrell said that he wasn’t sure the district did win – especially when looking at projections for other districts in the state. He said they will know more as information about the changes continues to emerge.
“The bill is the biggest transformation in school finance in the last 30 years,” said Chris Yeschke, Leakey Independent School District superintendent. “Due to Leakey ISD being a chapter 41 school district, a property wealthy district, the new legislation will see significant relief in our recapture payments.”
Under the new legislation, Leakey’s recapture payments will decrease from $1,655,950 to $1,042,287.
“We are still finalizing a plan on how to formulate the pay increase equitably,” said Yeschke.
His excitement is shared in Utopia.
“This is an exciting time for Texas public schools. I am very excited about the new school finance bill and what it means for rural schools,” said Jessi Milam, Utopia Independent School District superintendent. “Rural schools are expected to be some of the biggest winners out of the legislative reform. Our staff will greatly appreciate the increase in salaries.”
For the 2019-2020 school year, Utopia ISD is expected to see a change in total revenue for maintenance and operations of $35,287.
Richard Grill, superintendent at Sabinal Independent School District, said that for Sabinal ISD, the budget run for 2019-2020 shows that there is approximately $6,400 in additional maintenance and operations revenue, and of that amount 30 percent – or less than $2,000 – is for raises for teachers, nurses, and librarians for the entire district.
“In actuality, the raise amounts for Sabinal ISD are not what the public is hearing,” Grill said, “I am concerned about how this news will impact staff morale.”
Early reports of the proposed Senate version of House Bill 3 indicated a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers and librarians. During negotiations, the teacher compensation and incentives portion was revised, which is reflected in the stipulations for the M&O revenue gain.
He added that the district addressed this issue with staff at an end-of-year meeting just before summer break.
“Unfortunately, our district falls victim to the property tax evaluation discrepancies by the county appraisal district and state comptroller,” said Grill.
For Knippa ISD, budget runs show a change in M&O revenue of an estimated $859,080.
Part-time interim superintendent Elda Alejandro said the district is evaluating its next steps to continue sustaining Knippa ISD’s status as a premier school district in Texas.
Reports indicate that the cost of the school finance reform will be $11.5 billion in 2020 and 2021.
A June 6 article by the Texas Tribune describes a confluence of “fiscal coincidences” in 2019 that allowed for lawmakers to “pump almost all of the new revenue at their disposal into the education portion of the state budget.”
Included in the 2019 budget windfall was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling “which poured $550 million or so into state coffers by allowing the state to collect additional sales tax revenue from online sales, and a “historically full state savings account, which helped pay off pressing infrastructure needs, alleviating pressure on other programs competing for funding in the two-year spending plan.”
Budget estimates were obtained from the Legislative Budget Board.
According to its communication officer R.J. DeSilva, “the district runs are estimates based on information available to our office at the time of the runs. The actual amount of state and local revenue received by a school district may vary from what was provided in our district runs.
“Many factors are used in determining a district’s calculation of total M&O revenue in the district runs, but there are some primary areas that contributed to a difference between Sabinal ISD and neighboring districts: Sabinal ISD has more local property wealth per student and would receive less state aid than some neighboring districts, but the district does not have the level of wealth to benefit from changes made to local revenue recapture; also, Sabinal ISD is not projected to receive a fast growth allotment, which is additional funding for districts that reach enrollment growth thresholds.”
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