Written by Trish Hanks, Friendswood ISD Superintendent
Academic performance is a priority for Friendswood. Recruiting and retaining quality staff is essential to remain in the top 3% of the state in student performance. On September 10, the Friendswood ISD will join many other districts by holding a tax ratification election to increase the overall tax rate by 2 pennies. It will require a vote to increase the maintenance and operation rate by 9 cents while the Board of Trustees exercised their authority to lower the debt service rate by 7 cents, made possible by refinancing bonds and saving $16.7 million in interest payments. The net two-cent tax increase will be used to make up the 2 million dollar reduction in state funding due to higher property values in the 2016-17 school year. The additional funds will be used to pay for teacher and staff salaries, which have been significantly less than surrounding districts and to balance the budget. Without approval of the tax rate, the District’s overall revenue is projected to be a half million dollars less than last school year due to a decrease in state funding.
School District funding is different from cities and counties that also rely on property taxes. When schools receive more money generated from higher property appraisals, the state reduces its funding to schools. Basically, revenue only increases from higher student enrollment, higher tax rates, or a change in the state’s formula. Property values have increased significantly the past two years but student enrollment in FISD has not. That is a bad combination for school funding. FISD teacher salaries were competitive but the District began losing ground as the state adjusted the funding formula, which relied more heavily on student enrollment growth.
Three fast-growth districts border FISD. Though Alvin, CCISD, and Pearland have also experienced growth in property values, the resulting reduction from the state has been more than offset by additional funding for enrollment growth. FISD is a stable enrollment district. There has not been enough enrollment growth to keep up with the reduction in state funding and cost of living increases due to higher appraisals.
In 2011, FISD lost $2 million in state funding when the state cut 5 billion dollars from education. Being a District that has been recognized by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and others as a Most Efficient and Effective district for our low spending but high student performance, the District was already operating on a lean budget. The loss of $2 million necessitated a freeze in salaries, the reduction of programs, higher class sizes, and the loss of over 30 personnel. Only this year has the District returned to staffing all elementary schools with a full-time nurse, a full-time counselor and a full-time teacher for GT students… something that had been provided for more than 30 years.
A survey of parents indicated that hiring and retaining quality teachers and staff was a top priority. Since the District froze salaries or gave modest increases while neighboring districts’ salaries were outpacing salaries in FISD, the gap between what a teacher here was making and could make in a neighboring district had grown to as much as $7,000. The Board decided to take action in 2015 to increase salaries over a two-year period in order to narrow the gap with the three bordering districts. Although still, the lowest, FISD teachers’ salaries are now much more competitive. By adopting a higher tax rate and calling for an election, the Board decided to trust the community’s message conveyed through the survey, a message that valued quality teachers and staff. If the TRE fails, the District will face a $2.5 million budget deficit this year
Additional TRE information can be found on the District’s website at myfisd.com.