As many of you have already heard me say, public school districts in Texas are facing budget challenges that are going to begin having a serious impact on staffing, student performance and taxpayer contributions to their local school district. Many, if not all, school districts will be facing some type of budget deficit for the upcoming school year. This is, in large part, due to the Texas Legislature’s decision to not increase funding for public education since 2015 while raising expectations of our public schools. I am attaching an article that ran in Monday’s Houston Chronicle that shows how the decrease in state funding is affecting many school districts in the Houston area.
As you can see in the article, Alief ISD is in good financial shape, as compared to several other large school districts in the Houston area. However, like others, we are projecting a reduction in revenue for the upcoming school year. The reason for the projected reduction is based on current property value projections from the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) and the state’s funding formula. Suffice it to say, if local property tax appraisals are low, we will experience a budget deficit for the 2018-2019 school year. Obviously Hurricane Harvey is having an impact on our lcoal property values.
While we are currently in sound financial shape, we have begun looking at ways to reduce expenditures to try and simply balance the 2018-2019 budget while continuing our best to provide resources for our District Priorities and meet a few overarching goals: 1) provide our campuses the resources required to provide the best possible education for ALL students, 2) maintain a safe and secure environment for students and adults, and 3) keep our employees among the highest paid in the area with the lowest health insurance premiums.
I realize several districts are discussing plans for a Reduction in Force (basically laying employees off). Please know there is no plan, nor is there any discussion on a plan, that would cause an employee to lose their job in Alief ISD. Every year we make appropriate changes in staffing levels based on projected enrollment and revenue, and we will continue to do so. Position reductions, if any, are accomplished through normal attrition (retirement/resignations) at the end of the school year.
We started working with the School Board in February on strategies to reduce expenditures while we continue to support our Priorities. Our School Board has always prioritized staff compensation. This priority has ensured that our employees take home pay is significantly higher than all Houston area districts, thanks to the combination of our extremely competitive salaries and low health care premiums.
However, at this time I am not in a position to be able to announce any type of salary increase for our staff. I wish we were able to figure out a way to fund a meaningful salary increase, but that is not possible at this time. We will continue to work closely with the Board, as well as our formal employee representatives, as we work through this difficult budget year.
This is a tough time for all of us in public education. Heck, it’s been one tough school year for everyone. From Harvey, to snow and ice, to school safety and security after the Florida school shooting, to ever increasing expectations and demands on our schools, and now to be told the state is not helping with additional public education funding… to put it bluntly – I am frustrated. We should all be frustrated. After the school year we have had, it bothers me to not be able to provide some type of salary increase. It bothers me to not be able to fund one of the most critical and fundamental academic programs like full day pre-K. It bothers me that while expectations placed on all our public schools by the state of Texas increases, there is no resource alignment to support the increasing standards.
As I travel throughout the district and visit campuses, classrooms, programs, departments, etc., I watch in awe how each of our teachers continue to help our students and their colleagues recover from Harvey and deal with the day to day expectations of educating each student. I am appreciative and grateful to be a part of an organization like Alief, where everyone knows their role and comes to work each day trying their best to make a positive impact on every student. I know that some days are better than others but I think if we are honest with ourselves, we have far more better days than bad ones.
Thank you for serving as a Key Communicator.