Although the passage of House Bill 1 during the recently ended 84th legislative session will add $1.5 billion to Texas public education funding, some school districts, such as Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, are still adopting budgets that contain deficits for the 2015-16 school year because of the state’s recapture system and tax rules.
With no changes to the recapture system, known as “Robin Hood,” which requires property-rich districts to pay into funds that are redistributed to poorer districts throughout the state, GCISD will still be sending more money to the state than the state will be sending to the district. GCISD will have to take money from its $54 million fund balance, or reserve funds, to cover the deficit.
GCISD Chief Financial Officer DaiAnn Mooney said the district is expecting to receive an increase of $2 million in state funding for each of the next two school years from HB 1.
However, on June 15 the GCISD board of trustees adopted a budget that includes an estimated $28.4 million in recapture payment to the state, which is nearly $4 million more than last school year’s recapture payment.
“Recapture is based off of your comptroller’s property values,” Mooney said.
She said based off those values the district can only keep $504,000 per student, but they are currently at $690,000 per student.
“So the difference between [the $504,000 and $690,000 per students] is what gets sent back [to the state],”
Mooney said GCISD has paid recapture since the program began in 1994 and has paid about $500 million in payments since then.
Dealing with a deficit
The 2015-16 general budget totals about $150 million, which includes a $9.8 million deficit. Mooney said the deficit stems back to 2011 when the state cut education funding.
“[The deficit is] because of the state not funding us like they should be funding us,” she said. “In 2011 they cut our state funding by $14 million, so we have been kind of reeling from that every year, and then in 2013 they restored $1.6 million for that biennium. So we are still having an effect from that cut of $14 million in 2011.”
The only way to fix a deficit is to bring in more revenue than expenditures, but Mooney said the state has taken away that possibility.
“The state has taken away any ability for us to increase our taxes,” she said. “Local taxes are our largest part of revenue, making up more than 90 percent, and we cannot go above $1.04 on the tax rate.”
She added the district has been very conservative with budgeting, only adding cost of living adjustments for employees or other expenditures when the district could cover it.
“Eighty-seven percent of our budget is payroll, so to make large cuts or decrease the deficit we would have to get rid of people,” she said. “At this point we have the fund balance to help us sustain the deficit budget, so there’s not a need to cut a bunch of people.”
Realignment of conferences
Another factor that contributed to the deficit is the University Interscholastic League realignment that resulted in Colleyville Heritage High School moving from Conference 5A to Conference 6A starting the 2014-15 school year. UIL realignment is based off student population.
“The schools that we play in our districts changed, and our schools are now in districts that aren’t really well-supported by the visiting teams [at GCISD home games],” Mooney said. “So we did see a decrease in our athletic receipts last year, and we are adjusting it for
GCISD Communications Coordinator Heather Wilden said the district does not control whether it moves into a new conference.
“UIL tells us what schools we will play with, and then the coaches and principals get together and come up with a schedule,” Wilden said. “The schedule depends on factors like field availability, who was the visiting team versus who was the home team last year and things like that.”
This school year the district is budgeting more than $54,000 less in revenue from athletic event entry fees than the previous school year.
The 2015-16 budget includes an addition of teachers, which GCISD Chief Learning Officer Rick Westfall said is because of the Advancing Scholars in Pursuit of Innovation, Real-world connections, and Excellence in education, or ASPIRE, Academy as well as science technology engineering and math, or STEM, program growth.
“This is the first year that our ASPIRE Academy, which is designed for the gifted and talented, is moving into the middle schools,” he said. “So with the addition of sixth grade we have to add another teacher.”
Teachers will also be added to continue the growth of the STEM program as it adds seventh grade this year.
“The entire campus of Cannon Elementary is a STEM campus,” Westfall said. “We wanted to give the fifth-graders an opportunity to continue with the STEM program, so they have the option now to continue that at Grapevine Middle School if they choose.”