‘Disastrous budget cuts on the horizon’: Spring Branch superintendent claims lawmakers won’t adequately pay per student

HOUSTON – This week, Spring Branch Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Blaine, Ed. E., sent a worrisome message to district families.

The message was simple, the district may need to cut $50 million from the 2023 – 2024 school year if lawmakers don’t increase funding for the basic allotment.

The Texas Education Agency describes the basic allotment as, “the legislatively mandated apportionment of funds from the general revenue funds that go to each school district to provide a basic level of education for the district’s residents.”

Blaine shares, from her understanding, legislators are looking at increasing the basic allotment anywhere between $50 to $90, far below the $1,000 per student she says is necessary.

“We find this insulting and so should you,” Blaine said in the letter. “The proposed legislation sends the message that our efforts have not been taken seriously.”

Blaine said if the legislature does not increase the basic allotment by at least $1,000 the district would have to consider the following:

  • Combine schools/change boundaries
  • Change staffing models, including class sizes
  • Eliminate 10-20% of SBISD staff
  • Remove the 20% local optional homestead exemption
  • Discontinue the block schedule model for Stratford High School
  • Reduce programming and/or institute pay-to-play models for athletics, performing and visual arts
  • Discontinue choice and specialized programs
  • Cut safety and security, counseling and mental health services
  • Cut centralized instructional supports, including but not limited to, interventions, Dyslexia services, and college and career counseling
  • Cut business and operations functions that support the district’s safety, security and fiscal management
  • Raise the tax rate

“We do not want to consider these drastic measures, but if the Legislature does not raise the basic allotment by at least $1,000, we will have no choice,” Blaine said.

The Board of Trustees would be the ones to make those cuts if it were necessary. The president, Chris Earnest, says if they had to make $50 million in cuts, it would bring the district to the “bones.”

“The current student allotment right now is $6,100,” Earnest said. “They’re pushing private school vouchers at $8,000 a kid. So, what I’ve been pushing for is how in the world is that not the same? Fund public school students the same way you’re pushing to fund private school students and let’s all compete for that money. We’re not afraid of competing and those dollars. If you fund our students, the same way you’re pushing to fund private school students and so I think we would come out ahead in a lot of cases.”

In an interview with KPRC 2, Blaine said Senate Bill 4, which unanimously passed in the Senate and would cut the school property tax rate, wouldn’t help the district.

“That action does not put more money in public education,” Blaine said. “By the very virtue of reducing our recapture payment by $25 million, it’s not that we get that $25 million back, we never see it. Our taxpayers will benefit from it and that’s great, but we will never see that $25 million.”

The district gave parents a call to action: Reach out to legislators and convince them to increase the basic allotment.

Here are the responses KPRC 2 received from lawmakers that represent Spring Branch Independent School District:

Statement from Senator Joan Huffman and Senator Paul Bettencourt on Spring ISD leadership: Education has been, and will continue to be, a top priority of the Legislature. The Senate’s proposed budget fully funds the Foundation School Program entitlement, which includes an additional $2.4 billion to school district entitlements for increases to the golden penny yield. Additionally, the Senate’s budget includes $5 billion in new funding for education reforms such as increasing funding for teacher compensation, school safety and security, and special education. Further, the Senate commits $5.2 billion to ensure active teachers do not experience skyrocketing healthcare costs and for our retired educators to receive a cost of living adjustment and supplemental payment. These investments amount to a 31 percent increase in funding for the Foundation School Program and constitutes the largest increase of public education spending in state history, while reducing recapture paid by districts.

It is extremely concerning that school district leadership would threaten students and families with cuts in services and increased taxes while state aid to the district is increasing, the district’s fund balance is growing year to year, and the state is committing billions of additional dollars to keep school district tax rates manageable for homeowners. These scare tactics are nothing more than a misguided effort to distract parents from how the school district is managing their local, state, and federal funds like their recent hiring of Austin lobbyists.

The basic allotment is one lever the state can pull to increase state aid to our local school districts, but is not the only lever. Targeted increases ensure funding goes where the Legislature intends – directly to improve student outcomes – not to be placed in district fund balances and in administrative budgets. The proposal to raise the basic allotment by $1,000 would have a biennial cost of $14.3 billion to the state on top of the $63 billion already included for the Foundation School Program. Committing to this amount would result in the Legislature having to cut other critical needs such as property tax relief, retired teacher benefits, public safety enhancements, improving mental health care, and would potentially result in future reductions to education when revenue forecasts are less favorable.

The Legislature will continue to ensure that school districts have the resources necessary to meet the needs of their students and we want to thank the parents who have contacted our offices on this issue.”

Statement by State Representative Mano DeAyala, House District 133: “Today, the Texas House overwhelmingly passed HB 2 delivering meaningful property tax relief to millions of Texans. The total tax relief package totals $17.3 billion, saving homeowners on average $733 annually beginning in 2025. More importantly, HB 2 reduces the recapture payments by $45.2 billion, reducing Spring Branch ISD’s recapture payment by over $60 million next year as well as investing a record amount for public education. As a parent of SBISD graduates and a graduate myself as well as a former SBISD Finance Committee member, I am working hard and will continue to do so to ensure SBISD and every school district in HD 133 is fully funded and meaningful tax relief is delivered to its residents.”

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