Q&A: Cy-Fair ISD chief financial officer Stuart Snow talks revenue challenges, misconceptions

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Stuart Snow has served as the chief financial officer of Cy-Fair ISD for more than 10 years. In this role, Snow is responsible for all financial and fiscal matters of the district—including budgeting, financial accounting and reporting, bond sales to finance capital projects, payroll and employee benefits, property insurance, risk management, cash management and working with a legislative delegation regarding school finance issues. He also oversees districtwide technology—including network infrastructure, the email system, the telephone system and wireless connectivity—to more than 100 district facilities.

What are some financial challenges CFISD faces as one of the largest districts in the state? 

Our greatest financial challenges are to provide the necessary financial resources for a $1.6 billion organization while our student enrollment continues to increase each year, maintaining competitive teacher salary levels as well as responding to the increasing societal demands and expectations—all while our operating revenue continues to decline.

Why does the state keep decreasing its annual contribution to the district? 

Our operating revenue from the state of Texas has declined from 50 percent of total revenue to 37 percent within the past four years due to the antiquated and dysfunctional structure of the school finance system and a diminishing priority for funding public schools by our state legislators. This places a greater burden on our taxpayers to fund public education. Since 2014-15, state revenue has declined over $80 million while tax revenue has increased $99 million for a net total revenue increase of $19 million over four years. State revenue has declined $823 per student while tax revenue increased only $700, resulting in a net revenue loss of $123 per student in the same period. Clearly, the state Legislature is not funding student enrollment growth.

What are your predictions regarding school finance in the upcoming legislative session?

I really do not anticipate any meaningful changes until the legislative body restructures the system of school finance, determines the true cost to educate a Texas public school student and funds public schools to that appropriate level. I believe the primary focus will be on school safety and security. I hope the state will provide the funding necessary to implement any safety and security measures that come out of the session.

The district approved a deficit budget for 2018-19. If the district received more funding, what would be the first areas to benefit? 

Although the district approved a deficit budget of $12.6 million for 2018-19, that amount is [a result]of $21.7 million of reductions in the 2017-18 budget achieved through administrative department cuts, elimination of unfilled positions and various renegotiated contracts. If the district were to receive additional funding, we would certainly look to providing additional resources for school safety and security and to support those campuses and programs with large populations of economically disadvantaged students.

What are some best practices the district implements to make the most of taxpayer dollars? 

These include evaluating the cost/benefit of programs to ensure they are meeting our expected outcomes at the expected cost; utilizing a pilot system for new and innovative programs that allows us to evaluate efficiency; providing the same curriculum written by CFISD at all 91 campuses; a centralized food production center; transferring teachers from over-staffed campuses to under-staffed ones; and implementing an educator attendance incentive award program that saves millions of dollars in substitute costs.

What is the biggest misconception about how the school finance system works?

The biggest misconception is that for district operations, the district [benefits]from property value increases. Any tax revenue generated from property value increases is offset by a dollar-for-dollar reduction in state funding. The Legislature continues to fund public education inadequately. A report by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that Texas ranks 46th out of the 50 states in funding per student from state sources.

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Danica Smithwick
Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper in May 2016 after graduating with a journalism degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. She covers public education, local government, business, demographic trends, real estate development, nonprofits and more in the Cy-Fair community.
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