Stafford MSD has a dilemma, and it’s not unlike that of many school districts across Texas.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced school districts to implement or accelerate plans to provide students with tablets or laptops for use in the classroom and for at-home virtual learning.
As I wrote in the top story on our front page this week, the SMSD Board of Trustees voted to cut two administrative positions this week as a result of budget strains caused by the pandemic.
The district saw a decrease in enrollment of 300 students from the start of the 2019-20 school year. The result is a loss of $9,948 in local revenue and $2,384 in state revenue per student, or $3,699,600.
In November, I spoke with SMSD officials about their application for reimbursement for the $2.3 million it spent on iPads and their plans to apply for up to 75 percent of those expenditures to be covered by a program jointly managed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), which use federal CARES Act dollars.
The district’s current tax rate is $1.2223 per $100 valuation. The way the Texas education system is set up, local property taxes and the state are the two main sources of funding for public schools in the Lone Star State.
The district approved a balanced 2020-21 budget, with revenues and expenditures each totaling $36,327,135.
Fort Bend ISD’s current tax rate valuation is $1.2402 per $100, and Lamar CISD’s tax rate is $1.2691 per $100.
Property taxes are anathema to Stafford residents, given that getting rid of them was the most enduring legacy of former Mayor Leonard Scarcella’s tenure. So perhaps that isn’t politically palatable, but fiscal responsibility sometimes requires creativity and imagination. So it would be worth studying at the very least to see if implementing even a relatively low property tax rate could help generate additional revenue to have in a fund balance.
Or, perhaps the Texas Legislature could push to tap into the state’s rainy day fund of more than $11 billion, just as SMSD had to dip into its fund balance to cover its technology expenses.
The Texas Comptroller, which oversees the state’s finances, has a long list of suggested reforms or ways for school districts to get the most out of every dollar, a result of the Texas School Performance Reviews (TSPR) conducted by the state’s legislature.
Their “Top 10 Ways to Improve Public Schools” are as follows:
1.Equitably allocate resources.
2. Get rid of the piles of paper.
3. Make administrators into facilitators.
4. Plan before you build.
5. Use the "Yellow Pages Test".
6. Buy what you need, when you need it, at the best price you can get.
7. Have a vision; plan how to get there; live it.
8. Tag 'em; count 'em; track 'em.
9. Adopt policies and procedures -- who knows who will be doing this job tomorrow.
10. Find every dollar you can.
While the ”Yellow Pages Test” may be replaced by the “Facebook Test” or “LinkedIn Test” in 2021, some advice is timeless. Whether the funding comes from state or federal sources, if you are a Stafford MSD parent and want to contact your state and federal elected officials about school funding, drop them a line:
State Rep. Ron Reynolds, House District 27
(512) 463-0494 (Austin office)
(281) 208-3574 (District office)
State Senator Borris Miles, Senate District 13
(512) 463-0113 (Austin office)
(713) 665-8322 (District office)
U.S. Rep. Al Green, 9th Congressional District
(202) 225-7508 (Washington office)
(713) 383-9234 (District office)
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz
(202) 224-5922 (Washington office)
(713) 718-3057 (District office)
U.S. Senator John Cornyn
(202) 224-2934 (Washington office)
512-469-6034 (District office)