Conroe ISD eyes funding, distance learning plans in 2021

Following the passage of the school finance package House Bill 3 by the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019, Conroe ISD Chief Financial Officer Darrin Rice said the district is not expecting similar large-scale changes from this year’s 87th Legislature. However, education funding statewide could be affected by overall budget adjustments at the state Capitol this spring.

“We haven’t seen any topics the size of House Bill 3,” Rice said. “What we do know, and what the state comptroller’s office has been putting out the warning sign is, it’s going to be a tight budget year. The school districts and education is the largest piece of the Texas budget.”

Rice said CISD is well-positioned to address possible state funding reductions, and the district’s response could resemble changes made during the economic downturn in 2011. With the majority of CISD’s own budget dedicated to payroll, Rice said staffing adjustments may be on the horizon, but job losses are unlikely.

“We are in very good shape financially, our board has done an excellent job,” Rice said. “Our fund balance is very strong. ... We would not lose positions. People would not lose their jobs.”

Remote learning

Rice said another state-level decision the district is anticipating this year will be the outlook for continued remote learning.

Remote learning participation has gradually declined throughout the district during the 2020-21 school year—from more than 20,000 students as of Oct. 8 to 12,703 students as of Jan. 6—but the future prospects of the virtual option remain uncertain. Rice said funding from the state has so far been unaffected by students choosing in-person or remote instruction, although statewide decisions on whether remote learning can continue at all in 2021-22 is a key component of the district’s planning.

Sarah Blakelock, CISD’s administrative director of communications, said in an email that planning for remote instructional offerings could be considered by the district even after the pandemic if the option is permitted. For the time being, the district plans to keep remote learning in place for the thousands of participating students.

“We believe [requests for remote learning] could continue to drop but anticipate there will be a portion of our community who will always view it as a desirable option,” Blakelock said. “Conroe ISD will continue to offer remote/online instruction as long as we are able.”
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2019 as a reporter for The Woodlands area and began working as Austin's City Hall reporter in April 2021.