A $47 million budget shortfall, unexpected multi-million dollar mold renovations and a decline in student enrollment because of the pandemic – it’s been a difficult stretch for Fort Bend ISD.
But after months of uncertainty, a plan for addressing the district’s fiscal woes might finally be emerging.
District administrators at a school board meeting last month discussed the possibility of bringing a $1.1 billion bond referendum and an 11-cent tax ratification to voters in the November election – moves they hope would fix some of the most immediate financial woes.
“The tax rate increase will help us stay competitive with teacher competition for the area, while also tackling the budget shortage,” Trustee David Hamilton told the Fort Bend Star last week. “The bond will enable us to build some new schools that are needed, build a natatorium for student-athletes on the east side of the district and fund our school safety priorities.”
The board of trustees has been mulling a possible tax rate increase to solve the budget shortfall ever since trustees signed off on an almost $768 million budget for the 2023 fiscal year.
Trustees have until Aug. 22 to decide whether or not to call for either election in time for them to appear on the Nov. 8 election, according to district documents.
The tax rate election would increase the district’s tax rate by about 11 cents – the highest amount the district could charge – up to a rate of $1.26 per $100 of property valuation, according to district financial numbers. The increase would add about $62 million to the district’s revenues, according to the district.
“That tax rate is actually slightly less than what our tax rate was in 2020,” said Bryan Guinn, the district’s finance director. “It is important to point out that although our residents would pay more because of property value growth, the tax rate is still relatively lower than what it was previously.”
If approved, it would also help cut the district’s budget shortfall.
“Our CFO and deputy superintendent have done a good job laying out all of the options,” Trustee Rick Garcia said, adding his opinions were only speaking personally and not on behalf of the board. “So, we will be making a decision on that very soon.”
Staff, meanwhile, presented a bond proposal that included $505 million in rebuilding Clements High School, Briargate Elementary and Mission Bend Elementary along with an additional $558 million to handle facility issues.
Facility conditions are fresh on the minds of trustees, who just recently approved $7.3 million for mold remediation work and renovations at Barrington Place Elementary School.
Funding for the work will come via leftover money from a 2018 bond referendum, Hamilton told the Star last week.
Administrators discovered non-airborne mold in the water pipes at Barrington Place Elementary School during a facilities assessment in June, according to the district. Insulation surrounding the piping had deteriorated and allowed mold to grow, according to the release.
Because of that, children set to attend the school for the upcoming school year will, instead, be transferred to other nearby campuses, according to the district.
Staff will perform remediation work and renovations on the campus and students should return in the next school year, according to the district.
Garcia told the Star he was confident in district leadership’s handling of budget issues.
“Given the financial situation we had to go through during the pandemic, the district has done a good job by cutting costs and streamlining a lot of our business procedures,” he said. “We still have work to do, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.”