Area superintendents talk school finance reform at State of the District address in Richardson

From left: Richardson ISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone and Plano ISD Superintendent Sara Bonser spoke Sept. 11 at the State of the District address hosted by the Richardson Chamber of Commerce.

From left: Richardson ISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone and Plano ISD Superintendent Sara Bonser spoke Sept. 11 at the State of the District address hosted by the Richardson Chamber of Commerce.

Leaders from Richardson's two school districts met with the community Sept. 11 to discuss the state of public education.

The annual State of the District address is organized and hosted by the Richardson Chamber of Commerce. Plano ISD Superintendent Sara Bonser and Richardson ISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone answered questions about their respective districts in a conversation moderated by chamber President and CEO Bill Sproull.

After brief introductory remarks, the discussion quickly turned to House Bill 3, signed into law June 11 by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The legislation drastically alters the amount of funding public school districts receive from the state.

Despite their geographic proximity, PISD and RISD were impacted differently by the bill.

Funding changes included in HB 3 combined with increased property tax revenue meant RISD began the 2019-20 school year without a deficit, Stone said. 

"We are in a really good place in RISD," she said.

PISD, on the other hand, budgeted a $16.2 million deficit heading into the school year. This is in part due to the fact that PISD is still subject to a hefty recapture payment of $160 million in the 2019-20 school year, whereas RISD is only responsible for $500,000.

Bonser said the budget has been tailored to ensure the shortfall does not affect students or teachers.

"We have tackled harder things before, and we will do it again," she said.

Both superintendents commended lawmakers for funneling money toward full-day pre-K. They also thanked the legislature for recognizing that certain populations are more expensive to educate, such as low-income and dyslexic students.

There were some downsides to the school finance changes, Bonser and Stone said. Both railed against the state's requirement to base funding on current year property values rather than certified values from the previous year. They said this heightens the possibility of inaccuracies during budget planning.

When asked about the sustainability of HB 3-era increases, Bonser said it all depends on the health of the Texas economy. Both leaders expressed their continued commitment to advocating for adequate funding from the state.

"We've got this momentum, how do we keep it going?" Bonser said.
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