As school districts across Texas await state legislative action to receive financial support in the face of ever-tightening budgets, Fort Bend ISD is considering alternative methods to afford increasing pay for its teachers and staff.

What’s happening

The board approved the 2023-24 balanced budget June 26, which did not include recurring staff pay increases. Instead, a retention and recruitment supplement was provided, which entails a $1,500 payment for staff on a teacher pay scale, $1,000 for nonteaching staff and $500 for part-time staff, according to a July 24 presentation.

FBISD officials say a lack of state support prevented the district from being able to afford compensation increases for staff without taking on a financial deficit in the coming school year.

Chief Financial Officer Bryan Guinn said to stay competitive with teacher and staff salaries and provide an ample salary increase without state action, the district could hold a voter-approval tax ratification election, or VATRE.

The details

If successful, a VATRE could increase the district’s tax rate by 2 cents, or $54 per year. Simultaneously, the district also estimates that the state’s Senate Bill 2 could reduce taxes by $997 if successful.

“Senate Bill 2 will be successful,” Guinn said. “When you look at the last election to increase the homestead exemption, it passed with over 80% approval.”

The last VATRE held by FBISD in 2022 did not pass, with 54% of respondents voting against the district’s effort to maintain its property tax rate—instead of lowering it—and avoid a budget deficit.

Superintendent Christie Whitbeck said FBISD’s tax rate of $1.13 per $100 of valuation is the lowest since 1982. She said should a survey show positivity towards the VATRE, the new rate would “not be much of a difference” and would properly compensate FBISD workers. She also indicated the tight budgeting and cuts this year did not lead to any changes in teacher-student ratios.

“We have one of the lowest tax rates in the entire area, this is one of the reasons why we don't have the revenue that others do,” she said.

By the numbers

Guinn said during the presentation that FBISD intends to remain competitive on teacher and staff compensation.

Data from the district shows FBISD is the only large district in the area that has a starting salary below $60,000. Guinn said the district would be roughly targeting a starting salary of $62,000 should the VATRE pass.

In a previous interview with Community Impact, Guinn said many districts that moved to increase teacher compensation took on a budget deficit to do so.

What happens next

The state mandates that a VATRE must be called 78 days prior to the election, making Aug. 21 the latest the district can call for the election.

The district may conduct a public opinion survey on the issue to learn about community perspectives before taking action.

Board meeting agendas can be viewed on the FBISD official website.