‘I don’t apologize for calling out our elected officials to do their job’: Spring Branch ISD Board responds to lawmakers

HOUSTON – Senator Joan Huffman announced plans to meet with Spring Branch ISD leaders after a Friday board meeting where several members expressed their frustrations with the legislature.

The Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees special meeting had several items on its agenda, but the focus was directing frustrations with two state legislators.

“I am not going to backdown,” said Chris Earnest, President of the Board of Trustees. “I don’t think any of my colleagues are going to backdown. We’re backed into a corner.”

“I don’t apologize for calling out our elected officials to do their job,” Board Vice-President Lisa Andrews Alpe said.

The two responded, during the meeting, to the joint statement Senators Huffman and Paul Bettencourt released Thursday evening.

The letter was in response to an email the district sent out earlier in the week warning the district of “disastrous budget cuts.”

“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,” the joint letter said.

“These are not scare tactics,” said member Josef Klam. “If things don’t get taken care of these are real people that will no longer have jobs in our system.”

“The cuts will be deep, and it will affect all areas of our district and all schools.”

Spring Branch ISD is one of 160 school districts in the state considered property wealthy. Plus, the district maintains roughly 33,600 students annually. Since the district is property wealth, with more property value per student than the state formulas allow, the state does a calculation to recapture revenue in excess of what the state says the district is entitled to – money that then goes to the state.

For example, for every dollar collected through property taxes, currently, 21% goes straight to the state, according to the district Associate Superintendent for Finance, Christine Porter.

Senator Paul Bettencourt R-Houston says Senate Bill 4, which cuts school property tax rate, would help the district. But the superintendent says while it will help property tax owners, the district won’t ever see the money.

The board president said they’re looking for a happy medium, “what I believe the senators have proposed and the letter we got yesterday is reducing our recapture payment by providing property tax relief which I think everybody here would be in favor of but there’s got to be a happy middle ground where we can add more funding to our students and provide property tax relief to our community.”

In the worst-case scenario, Porter said they must look at the possibility of letting go 700 people to meet the $50 deficit for the 2024-2025 school year if funding does not increase.

“The cuts will be deep, and it will affect all areas of our district and all schools,” Porter said.

Board members said they understand teachers and staffers are anxious, but they believe they are doing everything they can to be transparent and to help.

“We are not trying to give anxiety,” Alpe said. “We are very appreciative of everything our great teachers, our great police officers, our nurses, our staff, everyone does for our children. Because we’re doing this all for one purpose, which is to educate our children.”

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