On May 19, at the district’s first FY 2020-21 budget workshop, officials proposed a conservative budget that accounts for the effect of the coronavirus on the community as well as accommodates for enrollment growth. The next budget workshop will be on June 2, and the board of trustees will approve the budget June 16.
Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said that before the virus began, HISD expected to have a “favorable” budget season thanks to continued financial relief from House Bill 3, the school finance reform bill passed last summer in the 86th Texas Legislature.
However, as the coronavirus pandemic spiraled the economy, the district is taking a more tentative approach to the FY 2020-21 budget.
“We want to keep the family whole; we want to make sure that we maintain all the wonderful opportunities children have in this district and all the wonderful staff we have in this district by being very responsible in our budgeting process and understanding that fiscal year [2021-22] and [2022-23] could be more challenging, and that we need to prepare for those while we do the budget for [2020-21],” Fagen said.
Bracing for less funding
HB 3 was estimated to add almost $22.9 million and $24.3 million to the district’s budget in 2020 and 2021, respectively, according to the Legislative Budget Board's model runs for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscal years.
While the district still anticipates receiving an additional $24.3 million from the state for the 2020-21 year, HISD Chief Financial Officer Mike Seale said the district is putting aside money to prepare for funding shortfalls in state budget cuts.
Seale said the district’s budget typically increases $16 million to $20 million per fiscal year, but the district has proposed an increase of only $10 million to $11 million for the next fiscal year. Additionally, the district is setting aside nearly $18.7 million to rollover in funds for FY 2021-22 in case there are budget cuts.
“We want to take care of our present needs ... but that we take a hard look at preparing for the future,” Seale said. “If we go in and add a lot of stuff and a lot of new expenses in the current year that aren't absolutely necessary that they might end up costing us jobs or costing us problems in the future.”
Fagen echoed this idea, saying that while the district hopes for a quick economic recovery from the coronavirus, HISD is setting funding aside to help prevent future layoffs and program reductions.
“We feel like the responsible thing for us is to preserve capacity, so that we would not be in a position—if there are reductions handed to us—where we would have to start with cutting people, programs, salaries or anything like that,” Fagen said. “It is our goal to keep the Humble ISD family whole.”
Additionally, HISD officials said they believe the coronavirus crisis may limit local property tax revenue in future budgets. Although the district received most of its property tax collections prior to the virus, Seale said the district is expecting property tax payments to decrease over the next few years from commercial businesses closing as well as property values dropping.
“Very likely that property value growth is going to go flat for the next couple of years," he said. "This year we're fine, because the values were set prior to COVID. Next year, there are people that are saying they believe that it can take us two or three years to recover the property value growth.”
Due to anticipated revenue declines in future budgets, HISD will largely not be offering salary increases to employees. Chief Communications Officer Jamie Mount said the district does generally provide cost of living increases.
Last year, HISD was able to provide salary increases due to additional funding from HB 3. Incentive pays in addition to a general pay raise increased pay for teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses by a minimum of $4,000 last year.
Rick Gardner, associate superintendent of human resources at HISD, said all teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors will once again receive an additional $1,400 incentive, which is funded by HB 3, in the 2020-21 fiscal year—half in December and half in May. The district will also once again offer a $1,000 stipend for all other employees. The proposed compensation plan will increase starting pay for year-one teachers by $100.
“[The compensation plan is] trying to continue to keep Humble ISD in a good position to compete with our competition and our ability to continue to recruit qualified candidates as well as retain and reward existing employees, as well as just trying to keep the family whole by maintaining compensation for all employees to receive no less than what they received in 2019-20,” Gardner said.
While salary increases are not available this year, Fagen said the district is seeking health insurance options that could offer reduce employees' health insurance costs.
Despite a limited budget, district officials said they are planning to allocate more funds to specific programs, including special education personnel, career and technical education, and safety and security.
One effort the district intends to fund is expanding its Wi-Fi coverage areas onto school playgrounds and parking lots. Fagen said state leaders have been discussing the digital divide between students who have access to high-speed internet and those who do not.
“We want to make sure that our elementary schools are equipped so that families can be on campus in the parking lot in a car [or] sitting on a blanket on the playground have access to our expanded wireless system, so that everybody inside Humble ISD is close proximity to quality internet if they would like to do that,” she said.
The district is also expanding CTE programing to add veterinary technician courses and more health science courses.
The district is also hiring 29 special education teachers and 22 special education paraprofessionals to work across the district’s schools.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated CTE programming would be expanded at the CATE Center. The CATE Center will be the new Quest Early College High School campus. CTE classes will be expanded at campuses.