The budget prioritizes salary increases for teachers and staff, provides additional resources to the Humble High School feeder pattern and prepares the district for its future financial challenges because of the state’s public school funding formula, Superintendent Guy Sconzo said.
The budget assumes a $1.52 per $100 valuation tax rate and features a $2 million surplus. The proposed tax rate, which will be approved in the fall remains unchanged from last year.
“[Crafting the budget] is a seven-month process that begins at the campus, even the department level,” said Sconzo, who retired this summer. “It’s a very meticulous review of current resources and how they can be redirected to meet anticipated needs.”
HISD has dedicated $30 million toward salary increases over the past three years as a teacher shortage has increased the demand for high-performance instructors in Texas, Sconzo said. The 2016-17 budget calls for an average raise of 3.5 percent for teachers, which helps HISD remain competitive with its neighboring districts, he said. The starting salary for teachers in HISD is $52,300.
“For a few years now—and this next year with our proposed budget it will be no different—the board has really prioritized trying to have salaries be as competitive as possible, particularly where teachers are concerned,” Sconzo said. “It’s no secret that—as a state—we’re experiencing an increasing shortage of teachers, and so it really underscores the need to be competitive.”
The budget also includes funding for 10 temporary classroom buildings at seven overcrowded campuses in the southeast quadrant of the district, six school buses to replace aging vehicles and a replacement cycle program for fine arts instruments and uniforms.
“A good portion of our inventory is aging and near the end of its life cycle,” HISD Fine Arts Director Houston Hayes said. “Our board and administration have been very proactive in addressing this issue ahead of time.”
The budget provides more support for the Humble High School feeder pattern, which will receive additional students from Summer Creek High School and where about 70 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, Sconzo said.
Humble High will receive more students after attendance zones were changed to create a direct feeder pattern from Humble Middle School to Humble High in March. High school students along the Wilson Road corridor will attend Humble High instead of Summer Creek High beginning in 2016.
To address the Humble High feeder’s specific challenges, the Humble High feeder was allocated 10 staff members above HISD’s teacher-allocation formula. Additionally, each teacher who works in the feeder pattern will be provided a laptop, Sconzo said.
“We’re going to be able to [better] differentiate the staffing that we’re providing to all of those campuses as opposed to the staffing we’re providing to all of the other campuses in our district,” he said. “We think that that’s critically important: to not only recognize the needs of our students in that feeder pattern, but to be able to address those needs by providing additional instructional staffing.”
The rezoning decision was made March 8 to accommodate rapid population growth in the district, HISD Public Communications Director Jamie Mount said. The decision was protested by parents who live along the Wilson Road corridor and others in the Humble High feeder who said the new attendance zone will increase Humble High’s percentage of students who are classified as economically disadvantaged.
Between 2009-14, HISD’s enrollment grew by 4,600 students to 39,522 and is expected to surpass 50,000 students by 2025, according to a study by the demographics firm Population and Survey Analysts.
“The district gains about 1,000 new students every year,” Mount said. “Attendance areas must be adjusted whenever new schools open to establish a service area for the new campuses and prevent overcrowding at existing campuses.”
HISD anticipates receiving an additional $22 million in funding from state in 2016-17. However, with several new neighborhoods and businesses added to the district’s tax roll, Sconzo said he expects the more than $190 million in state funding to decrease in the coming years.
HISD was one of more than 600 school districts in Texas to challenge the public school funding formula in a lawsuit against the state. However, the state Supreme Court ruled the formula constitutional in May. In the court’s 100-page opinion, Justice Don Willett called the formula “Byzantine” but said the role of the court was not to micromanage policy but determine the system’s legality.
“Texas’ more than 5 million school children deserve better than serial litigation over an increasingly Daedalean ‘system,’” he wrote in his opinion. “They deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.”
Sconzo said the funding formula could cause HISD to transition from surplus to deficit budgets by next year. The funding formula is especially damaging to rapidly growing districts like HISD because growth in tax revenue is met with a reduction in state funding the following year, he said.
“[For] every dollar of new local property tax revenue we realize for schools, in the subsequent year we lose a dollar in state funding,” Sconzo said. “So we’re able to do in [the 2016-17] budget what we’re proposing because we’re growing. It’s flawed from keeping pace with not only the requirements set by the Legislature but the changing demographics of children being served in the state of Texas.”