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FBISD facing $12m budget shortfall, property taxes down

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Special to Voice of Asia
Fort Bend school district has plans to tighten its belt after it had to use nearly $12 million from a reserve fund in order to balance its budget for the 2017-18 school year.
But in spite of that, the board of trustees intends to lower the district’s property tax rate by two cents, from $1.34 to $1.32, counting on the raise in the average home value to bring in higher local tax .
Several members of the board of trustees blamed the shortfall on the Texas Legislature for failing to provide sufficient funding for public schools. The Legislature’s attempt at overhauling the school finance system died when the Senate and House could not agree on a version of House Bill 21, which, in its original form, would have funneled $1.64 billion of additional funding into school districts. Fort Bend ISD would have received $8.5 million in revenue from the state this coming year if the bill had passed, according to information from the district.
Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session to reconvene the Legislature beginning July 18. Among the 20 issues to be addressed are several that might affect Fort Bend ISD’s upcoming budget, including a possible mandatory $1,000 raise for teachers, school finance reform, school choice for special needs students, rollback elections for property tax increases, caps on state and local spending as well as the so-called “bathroom bill” that would put restrictions on school bathroom use for transgender students.
Since Fort Bend ISD designated $23.9 million in raises for teachers and staff in the proposed budget, district officials are hoping that, even if the Legislature passes a $1,000 raise, it wouldn’t be mandated on top of the existing raise. If it is, the district would have to increase its budget by $5 million.
Another issue that strained Fort Bend ISD financially this year is that local property tax growth came in lower than expected just as the district plans to open three new elementary campuses this coming school year to keep up with enrollment growth.
Fort Bend ISD has a proposed operating General Fund budget of $633.4 million for 2017-2018, which amounts to about $8,405 for each of the district’s 75,355 students. The district’s revenues will come mainly from local sources, making up 63 percent of the revenue, with state revenues making up 35 percent and federal revenues making up two percent of the total $619.9 million in revenues.
The district’s proposed expenditures would go primarily toward instruction and instructional related services, making up 61.2 percent of the expenses. Expenditures on non-student-based support services make up 13.3 percent of the budget, student-based support services make up 12.1 percent and instruction and school leadership expenses make up 9.7 percent. Administrative support services and intergovernmental services together make up less than four percent of expenses as proposed.
The district increased its revenue this year over last year by $22 million, mostly due to the increase in property values, and added $36 million in expenses due to teacher and principal pay increases, hiring additional teachers for new schools and additional staff, as well as pay increases for non-teaching staff.
The $12 million required to balance the budget comes from an economic stabilization fund that the board of trustees created in 2015 to aid the district should it come up on hard times. While the fund made it possible to balance the budget for 2017-2018, the district could be looking at an $11.5 million deficit in 2018-2019 and a $13 million deficit in 2019-2020 if nothing is changed.
The board is set to the tax rate in September 2017.


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