March 2, 2012
Dear Weatherford ISD Family and Community,
I want to take this opportunity to visit with you regarding school finances and our financial picture as we move forward into the budget development process for the 2012-2013 school year. I will start off by saying please do not panic. The Board of Trustees and administrative staff were forced to make some very difficult decisions last year that addressed the projected decline in state funding for the 11/12 and 12/13 school years. Salaries were frozen, positions were eliminated, and programs were cut.
These were heartbreaking decisions that were not made lightly. But, as a result of their forward thinking and the work done last year, we do not anticipate having to take extreme measures this year to develop a budget for the 12/13 school year. We are not planning on instituting any of the drastic draconian strategies that some school districts will have to resort to, such as furlough days and reductions in force.
Our employees do not have to live in fear that their job may be cut this year because of a funding shortfall. In fact, we are working hard to see if there is any way for the district to provide an increase in pay for its employees. Please do not take this as a promise but know we are going to do all that we can to make that happen. Again, this is only a possibility because of sacrifices made this year and great stewardship of the district’s finances. I want to assure you that we are going to manage the budget as efficiently as we can. We will make good decisions that will best serve the children of this district and will continue to institute best practices to achieve this goal.
With that said, I want to remind all of you of what Weatherford ISD has endured as a result of the reduction in state funding. WISD realized a reduction in state funding of $3 million for this school year and anticipates an additional loss of $1.5 million for next year. This shortfall resulted in 44 positions being eliminated from the budget when comparing last year’s staff to our current year. Many of you may not understand what created the budget shortfall in the first place. I would bet that most people place the blame for the state’s budget shortfall squarely on the shoulders of the downturn in the economy. This is certainly a factor to consider but it is not what created the hole we are in. If you will recall, back in 2006 school district property taxes were compressed by the legislature from $1.50 to $1.00 per $100 of property value for maintenance and operations, with a local option to add an additional $.04 for enrichment. To offset this 1/3 reduction in funding from the state, the legislature created a business margins tax, as well as increased taxes on tobacco and alcohol. These taxes were meant to replace the 1/3 of the revenue that was removed through compression but they have not even come close to replacing the money lost to the system by property tax reform. This failure, along with a decline in revenue from sales taxes, created the budget shortfall for public education that we all felt. Because our funding mechanism for public schools does not have the capacity to replace the lost revenue resulting from the tax compression there is a structural deficit created that will continue to grow year in and year out until the school finance system is significantly reworked. The legislature created the crisis we are experiencing by reducing taxes and not replacing the lost revenue or providing an adequate mechanism to do so in the future.
You may have heard some of our elected officials declare that the legislature put more money into public education this biennium than the previous biennium. This is a true statement but one that really does not tell the whole story. You have to go back two legislative sessions to see that in 2009 the legislature reduced funding to public education by over $3 Billion of state dollars and filled this hole with $3.2 Billion of federal stimulus money. The federal stimulus money was a one-time payment to the state that was not going to be continued in following years. The legislature knew this money would not be available to them for future use and they were advised to distribute these funds as supplemental money to public schools and to not infuse it into the budget, yet they ignored this advice reducing the state’s contribution to our public schools along the way. In 2011 the legislature did increase the amount they were funding schools over what they funded schools in 2009 but this can be likened to your boss coming in one morning and cutting your pay by 15% and then after a period of time he comes back and gives you a 5% raise. Well, he can go out and say that he gave you a 5% raise but the reality is you are still down 10%. That is how some of our elected officials across the state have spun what has happened to school finance.
As a result of the legislature’s refusal to address the school finance crisis, a majority of school districts across the state are aligning themselves and bringing litigation against the State of Texas to reform the school finance system. Weatherford ISD will be joining this effort by engaging the law firm of Thompson & Horton LLP. This firm is representing a broad and diverse group of public school districts that will assert claims aimed at improving the school finance system for all Texas students. We believe that the present school finance system fails to meet the high standards of the Texas Constitution in at least three aspects: 1) adequacy – the current system is not funded and structured so that there is a close relationship between the State’s performance expectations for all students and a funding system actually designed to support those expectations, 2) statewide property tax – a majority of school districts find themselves with significantly increased State requirements as compared to 2005 and with little or no discretion remaining other than to cut programs important to their communities, parents and students, and 3) efficiency/suitability/arbitrariness – the current finance system has significant differences between school districts that cannot be explained, the system is complex, antiquated and largely unexplainable. This is a major litigation effort that involves issues that are critical to the future of public education in Texas and we believe Weatherford ISD should have a voice in this debate. Our goal is to benefit all school districts by requiring the Texas legislature to establish a rational and understandable funding system actually tied to the high standards it has set for all students, rather than simply leveling down to fit available funds. We believe this legal team has the expertise, experience, and record of success to represent a diverse coalition of districts seeking this common objective.
So what can you do? Our State Legislators have to hear from you, your friends, your neighbors, your relatives, your church family – all people who have an interest in the education of our children and the future of Texas. They have to hear from the voting public how the significant cuts will have far reaching implications to the future of the children we serve and the future of Texas. Our state representatives must make education a priority.
Jeffrey M. Hanks, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools