Tough choices ahead, Friendswood ISD officials say
With a budget shortfall as high as $25 billion looming next year in Austin, Friendswood school officials are considering some tough choices at home to keep the district's economic head above water.
School district officials may hold a tax ratification election next year to allow for a hike in the district's current tax rate of $1.36 per $100 valuation, Superintendent Trish Hanks said.
If that fails, the next option would be to allow limited open enrollment at Friendswood schools. Otherwise, Hanks said, the district would be forced to "significantly take money out of reserves or make drastic cuts" in staff and services.
"In January, the (school) board will be discussing the budget and possible options to address a projected deficit at the district level," Hanks said. "Next (school) year, the deficit will be about $600,000 to $1 million with no enrollment increases."
Statewide, lawmakers are considering cutting up to $5 billion from educational funding as a way to address the possible $25 billion budget shortfall.
"The discussion among the (school) board is that they would probably want to go for a tax rate election first, and if that didn't pass, they would probably do open enrollment," Hanks said.
If the district adds 10 students at each grade level through open enrollment, the move would generate about $600,000 without the need to hire additional teachers.
Even without the projected cuts in state funding, Friendswood trustees would need to raise the tax rate 4 cents per $100 of assessed value just to maintain the current level of operations, the superintendent said.
But if the state's $5 billion in educational cuts materialize, district officials would need to raise the tax rate 13 cents per $100 valuation – the maximum school district can raise taxes under the law, Hanks said.
When times get tough, Board President Rebecca Hillenburg said, the best approach is practical planning.
"This year, we once again need to look at all the ways that we can balance the budget," Hillenburg said.
"We'll have a goal-assessing meeting in January to look at our options for the coming year.
"If the board chooses to continue the mandate for a balanced budget, we will look at a reduction in force, including (cuts to) programs and any other ways or means that we can do the best for our children," she said.
"That's the bottom line."
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