Just in time for the start of the new school year, the Conroe ISD board of trustees approved a balanced budget of $473 million—a 3.8 percent increase from the FY 2016-17 budget of $447.6 million—during its Aug. 15 meeting.
As part of the budget, the district announced starting teacher salaries will increase to $52,500 a year, up from $51,500 in 2016-17.
Additionally, teachers in the district will receive a 2 percent pay increase, CISD Chief Financial Officer Darrin Rice said. Bus drivers in the district will see a new starting salary of $16 per hour.
“We believe that [these salaries] will keep CISD competitive with peer school districts in the Houston area,” Rice said.
For the 2017-18 school year, the district added 157 new positions, Rice said. Some of the staff total are allocated for the district’s newest campus, Lucille J. Bradley Elementary School, which opened in August.
Overall, salary increases across the district totaled $8.1 million, according to the CISD budget.
While the district’s largest expense—payroll—accounts for 89 percent of expenditures at $89.2 million, the district has also allocated $19.1 million to supplies and materials and
$25.1 million to contracted services.
The district is also working to set aside funding for two new schools—Grand Oaks High School and an unnamed intermediate campus—slated to open in the 2018-19 school year, according to budget documents.
Although the district’s budget increased slightly, the struggle to receive adequate state funding remains a challenge, Rice said.
“The state has to come up with finding ways to alleviate the property taxes,” Rice said. “As values have increased, the state is the actual beneficiary of those increased values, so they’re able to balance their budget based on property taxes.”
In FY 2009-10, CISD received $121 million in state funding—or about 40 percent of the total budget. In FY 2017-18, the district will receive less than $100 million from the state, which equates to less than 25 percent of the total budget, Rice said.
The board adopted the same tax rate from FY 2016-17 of $1.28 per $100 valuation—lower than peer districts like Klein and Cy-Fair ISDs. However, the district remains the highest-taxing entity on the bills of property owners due in part to the lack of state funding, Rice said.
Matt Beasley, chief of staff for Montgomery County Precinct 3 and a district parent, voiced concerns about the proposed budget regarding property taxes during the meeting’s public forum.
“I’ve been paying [property] taxes to [CISD] since I was 24 years old,” Beasley said. “I understand you guys have a tough job. But when the budget continues to increase, I’m almost to the point I can’t pay for that anymore. I can’t pay the increasing cost of my taxes in general.”
In addition to receiving less in state funds since 2009, CISD’s student population has increased by nearly 24 percent, CISD board President Melanie Bush said.
As CISD’s student population grows, Rice said the district predicts an enrollment of 61,360 children by the end of the 2017-18 school year—and increase of 1,400 students from last year.
Although the district could use more state funding, trustee Scott Moore said he believes it is in good shape compared to neighboring districts.
“I’ve looked at some of the other budgets from our surrounding districts, and many of them are looking at running a deficit budget this year,” Moore said. “That is a big deal for a district this size to be able to present a balanced budget.”